Travel

Lennox Herald - - READER TRAVEL -

So, it turns out I’d never re­ally used my lungs to their full ca­pac­ity be­fore. They’d been as de­flated and wrin­kled as three­day-old birth­day bal­loons.

Un­til, that is, they got stripped out by Swiss moun­tain-fil­tered air, so clean and crisp I want to drink it down and then store the rest in tanks to take home.

The cool­ness of it flows through me, help­ing to take the edge off the fact it’s too hazy to see across the cres­cent of Lake Geneva.

I’m faced in­stead by an im­pos­ing mud­dle of sky and wa­ter, with navy chunks of shad­owy land spik­ing through in­ter­mit­tently where the Jura Moun­tains ought to be.

Still, dis­cov­er­ing what it feels like to be able to breathe prop­erly seems like a good a start to a week­end-long health, food and well­be­ing jaunt in Switzer­land.

My plan is to rat­tle along the Lake by rail from Geneva to Lau­sanne, and on­ward to Vil­lars, stop­ping off along the way. With the view scrib­bled out by frothy wisps of mist, I find my­self drawn in­stead to the scraps of land be­side the tracks. Every­thing is so blind­ingly green.

Earth that’s not been wran­gled into per­fectly reg­i­mented al­lot­ments is over­run by labyrinthine vines, all strung with grapes. They lick rub­bly screes, twist round stark 1970s of­fice blocks and tuck them­selves be­tween con­crete road cross­ings, while minia­ture vine­yards burst out of nooks in al­most ev­ery gar­den we zip by.

None is as neatly wrought as Do­maine Croix Du­plex in Grand­vaux. A fam­i­lyrun vine­yard on a lush slope, it’s famed lo­cally for its Chas­se­las grapes, grown year-round and har­vested in au­tumn to make mainly white wine – and the Swiss take their Chas­se­las oh-so se­ri­ously.

“If it doesn’t say it on the bot­tle, it’s def­i­nitely a Chas­se­las wine,” says Maude, who runs Do­maine Croix Du­plex. That’s be­cause 75% of Chas­se­las wine pro­duced in Switzer­land isn’t ex­ported and gets drunk here.

She re­calls how her grand­fa­ther started with just three hectares of land.

Now they have 10 times that, pro­duc­ing 300,000 bot­tles of wine for ev­ery hand­picked har­vest.

“Work­ing in the vine­yard is good for you,” says Maude wryly as we stand on the bal­cony, lodged above a car­pet of grapes and lake. “When your back hurts, you just look at the view.” That view is both spec­tac­u­lar and restora­tive.

So is duck­ing be­tween the in­door and cooler out­door pools of the spa at the mag­nif­i­cently tur­reted Ho­tel Royal Savoy. Built in 1909 over­look­ing Lau­sanne’s har­bour, Port of Ouchy, the Savoy ex­trav­a­gantly blurs the line be­tween Dis­ney’s Cin­derella Cas­tle and Wes An­der­son’s Grand Budapest Ho­tel.

For a Fri­day night, I’m struck by how peace­ful it is along the har­bour’s prom­e­nade, where el­derly men play chess, raff­ish teenagers skate­board and the non­cha­lant hoots of Lake Geneva’s his­toric pad­dle steam­ers punc­tu­ate the lot. Every­thing in Lau­sanne just seems to chug along steadily and har­mo­niously.

In­land, in the belly of the city, the for­merly in­dus­trial Le Flon dis­trict has been trans­formed into a hub of col­lab­o­ra­tive hip­ster en­ergy and eco vi­sion – 18,000 plants frost the liv­ing roof of the Lau­sanne-Flon metro sta­tion.

Mean­while, the tan­gle of nar­row, hig­gledy-pig­gledy streets here are pitched at an an­gle that makes your calves ache as you edge up to­wards the caramel-coloured stone of the 13th cen­tury Cathe­dral of Notre Dame.

“There’s a night watch­man you can visit,” says our guide, Hi­lary, who ex­plains the cathe­dral has been manned ev­ery evening since the 1400s. “He’s up there un­til 2am, so if you can’t sleep, he likes the com­pany. It gets cold though.”

She steers us through Place de la Riponne, where mar­ket stalls spill over with fiery arcs of pump­kin, frilly spears of rain­bow chard, tatty Per­sian rugs and more bread than you can shake a stick at. We sam­ple the silki­est hot cho­co­late from cobalt blue mugs at Cho­co­la­terie le Bar­bare.

Then it’s back on the train to Vil­lars, a moun­tain sports vil­lage south of the eastern tip of Lake Geneva.

Ap­par­ently, there are in­cred­i­ble views out over the Rhone Val­ley, but huge whorls of fog scup­per us, ob­scur­ing the craggy moun­tains with a chilly mist that muf­fles every­thing ex­cept the eerie ring­ing of bells.

We for­tify our­selves on ro­tis­serie chicken and sticky tarte tatin at the alpine Ho­tel du Lac in Bre­taye, be­fore an hour­long hike down to Vil­lars proper.

We find the source of that strange ring­ing from ear­lier when we stum­ble upon a herd of roam­ing cows; their tra­di­tional cow­bells re­ver­ber­at­ing off the peaks around us.

They’re rather charm­ing, but our ELLA WALKER moun­tain guide, Anne is adamant: “The sound of those bells isn’t so charm­ing at 5am.”

Mush­room pick­ing is the norm among home cooks here, with a bona fide moun­tain cui­sine based largely on for­ag­ing. Take our ho­tel in Vil­lars, Chalet Roy­alp – just days be­fore we ar­rive, head chef Alain Mon­tigny earned his first Miche­lin star.

And af­ter a meal of chestnut foam, olive oil roasted scal­lops and whipped hazel­nut pra­line, you can see why.

Stretch­ing lan­guorously while do­ing yoga on our fi­nal morn­ing, moun­tains glint­ing through the win­dow, it would be tempt­ing to just stay put.

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