Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Celebrating Cheese, Swiss Style

Trip date: September 2018

The girls and I had wrapped up our time in the Swiss Alps, and after riding a gondola and four trains we made it to the lakeside city of Lausanne. We were on our way to the town of Le Pont for the Fête du Vacherin du Mont-d'Or. A festival to celebrate the awesomeness of Mont-d'Or cheese!

The original plan was to have a fancy lunch in the 2* Michelin restaurant Anne Sophie Pic which is in the very posh Hotel Palais Beau Rivage in Lausanne. Unfortunately our trains were late and we arrived after the restaurant ended their lunch service.

We were already at the beautiful hotel so we decided on a more casual (but still pricey) lunch outside at their café overlooking Lake Geneva. I had the delicious fried perch, which comes from the lake, and we sat around with a bottle or two of Grand Cru Dézaley, a local white wine.

I offered to drive the 45 minutes to the town of Le Pont, where we were meeting Thibault. We had a great Airbnb right on Lac du Joux in the tiny town that sits just a 10 minute drive from the French border. Too small to have a proper grocery, we drove another 20 minutes to a large shop to stock up for the weekend.
That night Nic made a big, delicious salad for dinner, and we hung out listening to music and drinking wine. Unfortunately we realized too late that our fridge had no freezer (what is it with the Swiss and no freezers?) so we were martini-less. At one point we put a few beers out on our front steps to chill down faster as the fridge wasn't super cold, and when Thibault went to get them they were gone!!!

The next morning Forest and I walked to the nearby town of Les Charbonnieres for the Fête du Vacherin du Mont-d'Or. The festival happens yearly on the first Saturday after the Swiss holiday, lundi du Jeûne. The day is spent celebrating and tasting the first of the seasonal Mont-d’Or cheese. We arrived just in time to see some of the farmers bringing their cows down from the Alps and parading them through town. It was quite a sight! And a sound!

There are a few thousand people who attend, mainly from the surrounding towns. I'm pretty sure I was the only person visiting from America!

We tasted through the 12 cheesemakers who make the cows milk cheese Mont-d’Or, surprised by how different a few of them were. There were other alpine cheeses from goats and sheep which we also sampled. And wine tasting of course. We even did some cheese and sausage shopping. All while jumping out of the road whenever we heard the tell tale sounds of more cows being led from the hills.

Thibault met us (sadly Nic didn't feel well and had to miss out) and we explored more of the festival; displays of cow bells, craft booths, cages of small animals like rabbits and ducks. We then made our way to a large communal hall where fondue was being served for lunch. Yum. Fondue in this area is made of 50% Gruyère AOP and 50% Vacherin Fribourgeois and is sooooo good!

After lunch we toured the pens where some of the winning milking cows were on display. What they won or won for I couldn't say. Then there was a border collie sheep and calves herding demonstration which was super cute!

More wine. More cheese. nom nom nom.

We arrived back in the center of the festivities to watch both a demonstration on rope cracking performed by some burly Swiss men, and also a flag toss accompanied by a performance of the alpenhorn. Cue the Ricola commercials!

As the festival wrapped up, we headed back to Le Pont, stopping at an open restaurant to beg a bag of ice. We sat outside our Airbnb and had drinks and some snacks and watched the sun set. Such a fun day!

The next day, after packing up, we drove up the hill to Buvette de la Dent de Vaulion for lunch. It was so foggy when we arrived, we could hardly see the parking lot! We had one last awesome lunch of fondue in the funny chalet where people kept bonking their heads on the cow bells hanging from the rafters!

The skies had cleared and the drive down out of the valley was beautiful. Not completely done with our cheese shopping, we stopped in the village of Vaulion at the Gruyere dairy. Sadly, as it was Sunday, it was closed. Happily, they had a Gruyere vending machine outside!
A VENDING MACHINE OF GRUYERE!!! The wedges that weren't a full 10 Swiss franc had coins taped to them as change. God love the Swiss!

In Lausanne we caught our train back to Paris, said goodbye to Nicky, and ordered pizza back at Forest and Thibault's. The next morning I flew out of Orly on Icelandair with a short connection in KEF. With about 20 pounds of cheese in my suitcase. And some sausage.

All these cheeses, horns, bells, cows, sunny Swiss skies were a blast! If you have reason to be in the canton of Vaud in early September, I'd highly recommend checking out this festivus of cheese! If you go, it's a cash only affair and my $100 went quick!

All photos of the canton of Vaud here.

Other posts from this trip:

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Round Two in the Swiss Alps

Trip date: September 2018

Day 2 of hiking in the Swiss Alps was even warmer and sunnier than the first. As with the day before, we started by hiking thru our town of Mürren and riding up the Allmendhubel funicular. But this time we headed away from the peaks of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau towards the village of Sonnenberg and picked up the North Face Trail.

It was a spectacular view as we descended into this pretty valley. The trail was mostly flat as we hiked thru a cattle farm and past Pension Suppenalp, which is accessible only by foot. But soon we started to a moderate climb until Mürren was just a small sight below us.

We hiked along this ridge for a bit, passing only a handful of other hikers, and a lot of cows with noisy bells ringing. Absolutely gorgeous!
We stopped when we got to the cheese making hut Schiltalp; the word alp refers to these mountain farms. There is a group of mountain farmers who own this land and share the self-serve/honor snack business. We bought some alpine cheese and some cured sausage along with some fresh juices and sat for a snack. Lovely.

There are only a handful of these huts/alps left, and they are communal with the farmers sharing cow herders and equipment. If the cows are still up in the hills (until late Aug or early Sept) you'll see cow bells hung in the eves of the huts. When the cows are taken down to lower altitudes for the winter the bells go with them so the eves are empty.

This was the highest point at about 6,000 feet and about 1/2 way into our 4.5 mile hike. We continued along the trail, into another valley, over streams, through fields. It was just beautiful, the only sounds from birds and cow bells, and super fun to be hiking with these great girlfriends.

We entered into a small forest and all of a sudden we lost the trail. We reread our notes, looked at the photo of the trail map again, but could not see how to get to the Sprutz Waterfall that we were in search of. Unfortunately we chose the wrong direction and ended up sliding down a hillside dense with saplings and fallen logs! Not the trail! We scrambled back up and finally saw the trail leading in the opposite direction.

As we got closer to the falls we could see that the trail would take us right under it! We had such a blast getting wet in the spray and taking photos and videos from underneath! The view of the snow-capped mountains from behind the water was awesome! And there wasn't a single other person around!
We were near the end of our hike and all of us were pretty hot and tired. We continued through the forest until we came out above Gimmelwald, and saw we still had a pretty steep walk down into the town.

On our descent into town, we passed one more cheese hut and as we were going thru the honor cooler selection of cheese we heard a helicopter. We looked up and the helicopter was transporting something from it's hanging cable. Was it a person? Was it a piece of machinery? Forest snapped a quick shot with her good camera and when we zoomed in we saw it was a cow!!! Flying thru the Alps!
When we sat down at Pension Gimmelwald (the only restaurant in town) I asked the waitress if she had seen the helicopter and she said "no! was it carrying a cow? I've been waiting all season to see that!" OMG! Turns out that the farmers will have a hurt or dead cow taken off the mountains. Our cow was not dead as it was being airlifted out like this flying cow.

We enjoyed sitting down with a bottle of wine and the view at 4,484 feet before catching the gondola back to Mürren, this time coming in at the other end of town. There was a restaurant with a terrace that had cozy blankets and sheepskin throws, so we grabbed some seats, another bottle of wine and relaxed. These mountain views do not get old!

For our last dinner we went back to Eiger Guesthouse where the owner again treated us like family! A round of 007 martinis and some delicious schnitzel were exactly what I wanted for my last dinner in the Alps.
The next morning we checked out of our chalet and said goodbye to lovely Mürren. If you are trying to decide where to base yourself for a hiking adventure in the Swiss Alps, I highly recommend this sweet place! It was sad to be leaving but we were very excited to be on our way to the Mont d'Or cheese festival!

But first we had to get down from these mountains!

-BLM train from Mürren to Grutschalp
-Gondola from Grutschalp to Lauterbrunnen
-Train from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken
-Train from Interlaken to Bern
-Train from Bern to Lausanne

All Bernese Oberland photos here.

Other posts from this trip:

Swiss Ms Behaving

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Swiss Ms. Behaving

Trip date: September 2018

Forest and I met Nicky at Paris' Gare de Lyon, we were heading off to Switzerland for 2 days of hiking in the Swiss Alps followed by a weekend cheese festival. I was beyond excited!

The train ride was long, at 6+ hours, and we had 4 changes to make. But it was also as beautiful as you’d expect and since we watched the scenery with a bottle of bubbles it was also delicious. We passed gorgeous lakes and rolling green hills that turned into craggy mountains. There’s no other word for it other than stunning. And being from Seattle, I'm use to my fair share of gorgeous mountain scenery!

The scenery was dotted with villages, alpine huts, green valleys, glacier-fed lakes and snow-capped peaks. We rode from Paris passing thru Basel and Bern on our way to Interlaken. Here we changed to a smaller train, the Berner Oberland-Bahn, and continued to Lauterbrunnen.

In Lauterbrunnen we walked across the street from the train station and took a cable car up to the town of Grütschalp. Finally we boarded the small BLM train to our last stop, the town of Mürren. Since Mürren is a car-free village at 5,374 ft, this is really the only way to arrive; it was an entire day adventure and I couldn’t have loved it more!

Forest had wanted to do this type of trip for years, she’d been talking about hiking to and staying in the Swiss alpine huts, which is what we originally looked into doing. But then we found this great chalet in pedestrian only Mürran and decided to have a home base and hike the trails around the area.

It was a 60 step climb up from the sidewalk to our Airbnb chalet, a hike in itself with luggage! I had packed light though, just a day sized backpack and a cube in a small suitcase shared with Forest.

Our chalet was 2 levels, Nic and I had twin beds upstairs, and there was a murphy bed, a small kitchen and dining area downstairs. We also had a great deck with views directly of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. We loved everything about it except for the lack of freezer in the fridge!

After unpacking, we set out to explore, which was easy as it is a very small town of 450 people with just 2 main streets. We got some grocery shopping done before finding a wonderful terrace for cocktails at the Hotel Edelweiss.

It was a little surreal to be sitting outside in the shadow of these magnificent peaks! And the weather was so perfect, completely the opposite of the rain and cold that had been forecasted when we all packed.

We moved inside the restaurant for dinner, and only were able to get a table as we had reserved one when we had arrived for drinks. It’s a popular place, and for good reason. My rosti was absolutely amazing!

We stopped on the way home, begged a bag of ice from a nearby bar, and made a few rounds of martinis at home, enjoyed outside on our deck.

The next morning we set out for our first day of hiking on the Mountain View Trail. The hike started with a trip up the Allmendhubel funicular. Until I came here, I didn’t understand how these towns and trails are all connected by a series of gondolas, cable cars, and funiculars. It was pretty amazing! And not cheap at about $10 per ride.

We were starting with a fairly easy 2+ mile hike that would take us to Grütschalp. At the top of the funicular we had a full view of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we only passed a handful of other hikers the entire time.

We passed a lot of Swiss cows wearing huge bells however, hiked thru pretty fields, and had unlimited photo ops of the mountains as they were never out of our view. It was pretty awesome!

As we descended the trail we all decided that hiking in the opposite direction would have been much tougher as it was pretty steep on our last bit, so keep that in mind if you don't love vertical trails.

We ended up having a sad lunch of landjaeger and bread at the train station in Grütscalp; we should have hiked the trail to Winteregg where there was a proper restaurant. Blame our distraction on the views!

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring Lauterbrunnen. We rode the gondola down, which is pretty steep and had poor Nicky terrified! The town, at an elevation of 2,631 feet, has a population of ~2500 and cars are allowed. It's still absolutely adorable!
It also has the impressive Trümmelbach waterfall which can be seen from all around.

We did a little shopping, then stopped for a glass of wine, before riding the gondola and the BLM back to our sweet chalet in Mürren.

Above Mürren is the Schilthorn summit where many scenes in the James Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" were filmed. So that night we had 007 martinis while sitting outside at the Eiger Guesthouse, which had kindly provided us with ice for our chalet the night before.

We moved inside for dinner where I excitedly ordered the fondue. As the owner served me she asked if I knew how to go about it, and having impressed her with my answer she also brought me a shot of kirsch (and was happy I knew what to do with that too)!

We had another day of hiking planned for the next morning, so we were off to bed, full and very happy hikers!

All Bernese Oberland photos here.

Other posts from this trip:
Long Weekend, Paris Part 1
Long Weekend, Paris Part 2
Round Two in the Swiss Alps

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