THE HILLS ARE ALIVE . . .

Linda Thomp­son en­joys three Euro­pean coun­tries in one day

Herald on Sunday - - EUROPE -

You can tell we’re head­ing into moun­tain­ous coun­try. Gary, our tour direc­tor, has put The Sound of Mu­sic on the coach video sys­tem.

But far from sound­ing trite, in this con­text it works, and we all sing along. We’re on our way to Lucerne, Switzer­land, driv­ing through beau­ti­ful Bur­gundy wine coun­try, pass­ing through the Jura moun­tains.

It’s 650km of out­ra­geous scenery, tow­er­ing moun­tains, wind­farms — amaz­ingly peace­ful af­ter the bus­tle of Paris, our first stop on the In­sight Va­ca­tions’ Road to Rome guided hol­i­day.

Lucerne looms as a cool oa­sis af­ter the heat and we go straight to a cruise on a windswept Lake Lucerne to see how the other half lives, the Swiss Alps in the back­ground ev­ery­where.

Next day we head out to see the sad lion mon­u­ment carved into a lime­stone cliff in the town, a trib­ute to Swiss Guards who died pro­tect­ing King Louis XVI dur­ing the French Rev­o­lu­tion.

There’s a Je­suit Church with fine carv­ings and fres­cos, then later in the day we head up stun­ning Mt Stanser­horn by fu­nic­u­lar rail­way and open-topped cable car. From here you can see as far as Al­sace and Ger­many’s Black For­est.

Breath­tak­ing views from ev­ery quar­ter. Some of us trek up a gen­tle slope to Heidi’s House, where friendly mar­mots live in bur­rows. But you just can’t stop look­ing at those views and spot­ting the edel­weiss.

Many here have a smat­ter­ing of English and a lo­cal asks where I’m from. She says isn’t New Zealand just like Switzer­land? Well, sort of, but your moun­tains are higher and more in-your-face and . . . pointier.

In the dis­tance we can hear bells of graz­ing cows let out into the fields for the sum­mer. My child­hood favourite book of Heidi comes to life.

Later a small group of us head up into the moun­tains to visit a lo­cal farmer, Ulli, to learn more about dairy farm­ing in the alps — which she says stands for “A Lovely Place”. Her 40 cows live in­side dur­ing the harsh win­ter so we enjoy lunch snacks of home­made cheeses and salami and smoked beef, strudel and choco­late cake in the spot­less cow­shed. All washed down with cof­fee and Sch­napps. Then there’s a horse and car­riage ride around the vil­lage. Oth­ers browse the shops and buy choco­late. Lots of choco­late.

That evening there’s a mu­sic fes­ti­val on by the Reuss River so I join thou­sands of happy con­cert-go­ers of all ages to watch their lo­cal su­per­star play. No idea who he is but he’s good.

Next day we pass through the tiny prin­ci­pal­ity of Liecht­en­stein, its quiet cap­i­tal Vaduz’s streets nearly empty, bar the shops sell­ing cuckoo clocks and more choco­late, and some very ex­cel­lent ice­cream.

This dou­bly land-locked state of just more than 162sq km makes its money from skiing and has a very long, proud his­tory. It has a pop­u­la­tion of about 38,000 but they must all be at work and school.

For €3 you can get Liecht­en­stein stamped in your pass­port. That’s a bit of a rar­ity in these days of Euro­pean Union when the only way you know you’ve changed coun­tries is when your phone sends you a message say­ing wel­come to France/Switzer­land/Aus­tria/ Liecht­en­stein.

But we’re off to moun­tain-ringed Inns­bruck, in Aus­tria.

I’d seen those multi-coloured houses by the Inn river in a dozen pho­to­graphs. And here they were, in the flesh. Stun­ning, and they’ve stood there since the 14th cen­tury.

The Gothic old town of Inns­bruck is glo­ri­ous, un­changed for cen­turies. The build­ings date from the Mid­dle Ages but the town is bustling with 21st-cen­tury com­merce in­side these an­cient build­ings.

Max’s Golden Roof is dec­o­rated with 2657 gilded cop­per tiles, a rather un­sub­tle message from Em­peror Max­i­m­il­ian about his wealth and power.

In the dis­tance the

Nord­kette moun­tain range hov­ers over it all.

The cathe­dral just off the square is be­ing re­stored but in­side it is yet an­other ex­am­ple of the wealth of a church that dom­i­nated ev­ery life for cen­turies.

Back in the square, a group of men in leder­ho­sen ap­pear to crack whips to mu­sic. Where else could you see that?

And then there’s shop­ping time at Swarovski.

The women in our group light up, the men sigh. It’s worth go­ing into the build­ing just to ad­mire the crys­tal-in­laid steps, the gi­ant crys­tal boobs in­side the foyer — and of course there’s a sale on. Credit cards may be dam­aged.

That night there’s a real Ty­rolean din­ner of schnitzel and pota­toes — a bit too packed with sev­eral tour groups in at once — and dancers in na­tional cos­tume show­ing as­tound­ing skill in thigh-slap­ping dance, yo­delling and play­ing tra­di­tional in­stru­ments, in­clud­ing those mas­sive alpine horns. Some­how it’s not even twee.

They fin­ish their show with a song ded­i­cated to ev­ery na­tion in the au­di­ence. There are at least 20. Our song is Now is the Hour, and I’m the only Kiwi. Some­one pinches our trans­port home to our ho­tel, but one of the nice ro­bust men in leder­ho­sen of­fers to drive us back.

No lan­guage is­sues — he speaks no English, the two other Chi­nese guests in the car speak no Ger­man or English and my Ger­man is a bit hit and miss. No one cares. Lots of smiles and thanks. To­mor­row we head into Italy and con­tinue our jour­ney through his­tory via Venice, Florence and on to the cra­dle of democ­racy, Rome. But that’s a whole other story . . .

Inns­bruck. Photo / Getty Im­ages

Mar­mot in the Swiss Alps.

Ty­rolean horns at din­ner per­for­mance Pho­tos / Linda Thomp­son

Inns­bruck’s coloured houses

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