contents THE PHOTO STORY
Till the cows come home Descend with the Appenzeller cows in Switzerland
Snow globe-trotting The other side of Switzerland? Does it even exist? Yes. And not only does it not have Yash Raj fanatics, it’s got fantastic roads fringed with beautiful landscapes, fondue stops along the way, and palm trees, too [bad ragaz, davos, st moritz, ticino, zurich]
A Swiss detour If you think you’ve seen everything there is to see of Switzerland in Bollywood movies, you’re wrong. Basel and Gstaad, as we discovered, are two sides of this country that will delight even the most hardened traveller [basel & gstaad]
Smoke on the water Just a short way from Interlaken, Leukerbad is about getting wet. In this Swiss thermal spa destination, you’re literally stepping into hot water [leukerbad]
Cold comfort You’ve read about the land of fondue and the Alps before, but have you taken it in from a knee-high perspective? Switzerland plays the family card [lausanne, interlaken & jungfrau, canton ticino]
Snow big deal You might not feel your fingers or your nose after a while, but there are walks in a quaint village, snowshoeing, and unreasonable amounts of fondue to be had as compensation [gstaad]
ON THE ROAD
Storming the castles The Seetal near Lucerne is a feast of lakes and culture
Walking the way of the water The irrigation canals of the Valais are a flowing history of the region
Geneva Geneva has culture, science and fantastic architecture, proving it is much more than just a pretty Swiss city
Zurich Don’t let the sheer prettiness of Zürich overwhelm you — this city has a lot of hidden corners waiting to be explored
THE PHOTO STORY
Till the cows come home We travelled to the tiny hamlet of Appenzell in Northeast Switzerland to join a family of farmers for a rather unusual tradition. At the end of summer every year, families – like the Kochs – and their livestock descend from their abode in the alpine pastures to their winter home in the plains. The harmonious sequence of the procession amazed us. First came the Appenzell goats, led by the family’s children, followed by cows, bullocks and calves... even a bull. Towards the end of the parade was the head of the family accompanied by his loyal Bläss (mountain dog), who, though not more than two feet tall, miraculously managed to keep all the animals in order. Also keeping things together were four herdsmen yodelling to the clanging of the humongous bells around the necks of the three leading cows. We had thought it would be a leisurely stroll through the pastures. We couldn’t have been more wrong! It was more like a marathon, with us dodging cow poop at every corner. Luckily, our inbuilt Indian instinct for dodging all things icky and squishy came to our rescue.
LPMI’s Research Consultant FRIYAN DRIVER and Photo Editor JEREMIAH CHRISTANAND RAO were in Switzerland to see the descent of the Appenzeller cows. Although quite embarrassed at the hanky-panky between some of the cattle on the journey down, Friyan was more excited than Jerry, who had to choose between getting these great photographs and putting his feet into cow poop. He has since thrown away his shoes.
The Koch family senn (alpine dairyman) strikes a pose in the traditional garb of yellow-painted leather breeches, a red sleeveless jacket and decorated suspenders
The family horse pokes his head out of the stable window. He draws the lediwagen (a four-wheeled horse-drawn wagon bearing the wooden cheesemaking equipment) in the procession
Maria Koch, mother to five sons, ties the traditional headdress onto her goddaughter’s head. The delicately-embroidered velvet bodice has silver filigree clasps and a decorated brüechli (bib)
The gentle rolling hills of the Alpstein region cocoon some of Switzerland’s most scenic walking trails
We too had a bowl of piping-hot fenz â€“ alpine comfort food made with whey, flour, butter, eggs and semolina, slow-cooked over an open fire
As the procession passes through the town, innkeepers and townsfolk ply the herdsmen with refreshments
Human population in Appenzell: 16,000. Cow population: 15,000! â€™Nuff said
A Koch family member loads dairy equipment into the lediwagen before the descent
The children sleep in two attic bedrooms. Although the Appenzellers are playfully teased about being among the shortest people in Switzerland, it is not a joke Indians in particular should crack
Homemade alpine cheese and fresh berries equal a scrumptious cheesecake at a small cafĂŠ 500m outside Appenzell town
Meinrad Koch, head of the family, walks in front of the lediwagen at the end of the procession, behind his son leading the family bull
The other side of Switzerland? Does it even exist? Yes. And not only does it not have Yash Raj fanatics, itâ€™s got fantastic roads fringed with beautiful landscapes, fondue stops along the way and palm trees, too WORDS VARDHAN KONDVIKAR | PHOTOGRAPHS HASHIM BADANI
THE OTHER SIDE SWITZERLAND
PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES (FONDUE)
Land of enchantment, of so many Yash Raj films, the most important stop on your 65 countries in 1.5-day tour, where your Indian chef doles out Indian meals amid snowy mountains (who wants to try that local rubbish, anyway? On holiday?), where you can climb said mountains, and eat vada pav and dance the dandiya to your heart’s content atop them… Ack. God, no. The last thing I want to do is go hang out with the least imaginative of tourists – I’m an urban professional, for heaven’s sake, I have more exotic places to go to. And yet… Switzerland is clearly not one big vada pav stall – Primrose, my managing editor, who argues incessantly with me, says it’s misrepresented completely in my mind. And DDLJ certainly looked good, didn’t it? That song where Shah Rukh Khan drives his Merc SL past precarious green slopes and past bridges – it did look astonishingly pretty (even if that was supposed to be his commute from King’s Cross Station in London to Hampstead, a journey that does not take in Switzerland, to the best of my knowledge). And if I didn’t want to go to the Indian tourist’s (and Yash Raj’s) favourite haunts around Interlaken, Gstaad, Lausanne and Jungfrau, there was still half the country left to explore, said Primrose. “There are palm trees in that half,” she said. Right. A more compelling argument was presented by a TopGear TV episode, where they set off to find the best driving roads in the world, and end up nominating the one from Davos down the Stelvio Pass into Italy. That I could handle. A boys’ own trip, in a nice car, down great roads that would make the vada pav gang sick,
1. The ’Roman Bridge’ in the Verzasca Valley – not actually Roman, but definitely pretty
and with the promise of some adventure sports on the way. Drooling at Ferraris in ultra-swish St Moritz. The idea that I could hurl those cow bells and eat a nice steak instead. Oh yes, that I could handle…
2 & 4. The Grand Hotel Bad Ragaz is a great base from which to explore the countryside 3. Lounging by the lake in Lugano: extremely easy to get used to
10 DAYS IN SWITZERLAND You can do this route in either direction: this way is best for the first-timer to Switzerland, as you’ll see typically Swiss scenes in the beginning and gradually uncover the secrets. For veterans, it’s more fun to immerse yourself in the unknown bits first, and immerse yourself in the spa at the end. The best time to go is late May, when the weather is changing and it’s low season, or October, during autumn. 3 days – Bad Ragaz: You’ll need a few days here, whether you stay at the Grand Hotel Bad Ragaz, or in the village and use the public Tamina Therme spa. Roam the villages of St Martin, Quinten and Maienfeld, and little Liechtenstein, and spend some time in the spa. 2 days – Davos/ Klosters: Stay in Davos or its cosier sister, Klosters, and try rope-walking, ziplining or stunt-biking at the Adventure Park Färich (davos.ch). Get a bite and a local beer in Monstein Village (13km), or the traditional Walserhuus Sertig, with its fantastic views. 1 day – St Moritz: The Flülapass-OfenpassStelvio Pass-Livigno route to St Moritz is great if you enjoy twisty roads (it goes through Italy); the Julier Pass is the easier route. There’s many hiking options here, but it’s more fun pretending to be rich and famous, and getting the ‘paps’ to notice you. 3 days – Ticino: Bellinzona, Lugano and Locarno have their own charm – stay in any one and explore the area easily. Look up Mt Tamaro (www.montetamaro.ch), it’s good for families, and the Verzasca Valley, and if you’re brave enough, do the bungee jump (trekking.ch). 1 day – Zurich: Drive to Zurich, along one of the longer, more scenic routes via Disentis or the San Bernardino Pass.
5. The tiny village of St Martin: just three houses and an inn, and breathtaking beauty 6. A hot pot of fondue: perfect for keeping out that Alpine chill 7. Changeable spring weather – if you can handle it – makes a Swiss holiday a mini adventure 8. Bellinzona, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, has a very different vibe from the rest of the country 9. The dramatic Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, by architect Mario Botta, atop Mt Tamaro Previous pages: A sudden shower turns St Moritz in the spring to a frosty paradise
THE OTHER SIDE SWITZERLAND
5 1. Style – from a different era – in very traditional Maienfeld 2. The Bad Ragaz area is known for its boutique wines 3. Craftsmanship is taken seriously here: every detail is delightful 4 & 5. There are Alps here, and cows, but very different from the SRK-Kajol variety 6. The Swiss do chocolate very well, even when it’s in a cup 7. Lovely St Martin, a little gem at the end of a breathtaking drive through the Calfeisental Valley 8. The Tamina Gorge, mouth of the hot springs 9. The villages here date back to the Middle Ages 10. The village of Bad Ragaz is charming, with bridges flung across the Tamina River
‘THIS IS ONE OF THE PRETTIEST DRIVES I’VE BEEN ON: TURN – IN ANY DIRECTION – AND IT’S A PICTURE POSTCARD’
THE STEAMY BIT T
N 1242, a pair of hunters chased a deer into a narrow gorge, and came out post-haste, screaming, babbling and crossing themselves, believing they’d found the entrance to Hell. Recovering their wits a while later, they explored the gorge, and discovered a natural hot spring emptying itself into the cold waters of the Tamina River, sending up eerie clouds of steam and a gentle tang of brimstone. The hot water, it was discovered, was the same temperature as the human body, and immediately deemed curative. This being the Middle Ages, being cured meant you had to be lowered into the gorge on a rope in the most hair-raising way possible, and stuck in the hot-water pool for days. These days, it’s a bit more comfortable. The Grand Hotel Bad Ragaz hotel complex, built around what was once the tollcollecting station for visitors to the hot springs, feels like one of those grand 19th-century places, where people stayed for months “to take the waters.” It feels like a place you need to pretend to be James Bond on sabbatical, driving up in something shiny and expensive, sprawling out in large rooms and trying to be dignified while wearing a bathrobe in the hotel lobby. It’s entirely possible that the men in black walking purposefully towards you could be hired killers – or they could simply be waiting to give you a massage; the sequoia trees (whose existence here, very far from California, is a huge mystery) could have agents lurking behind them, or could simply be part of a very relaxing view. And there are unlikely to be any tarantulas in either the hotel’s private spa, or the (even prettier)
public spa, so you can let your guard down. What I would not recommend is staying put at the hotel – the area around is simply too picturesque to not ramble around. This is the land of Heidi, a sort of Swiss Enid Blyton character, a young girl from the city who’s sent to live with her grandfather in the countryside; she became so popular that this region is even called Heidiland now – and you can see why she liked living here. Go around the town of Maienfeld (4km), central to the story, walk along the hopelessly European alleys, all cobbles and cafés and a frescoed Rathaus (the town hall, despite what it sounds like), and look around little Fläsch (4km), where people grow wine in their backyards – literally. More than anything else, though, take half a day and go out to the Calfeisental Valley, to the village of St Martin (24km). This is – and I know what I’m talking about – one of the prettiest drives in the world. Narrow roads snake up into the hills south of Bad Ragaz, and you find yourself face to face with cows that look like they’re being marched to the hairdresser’s. Turn around – in any direction whatsoever – and it’s a picture postcard. This is probably the most beautiful place I’ve been in, ever: near-vertical green slopes looking like velvet in the distance, icy mountains, villages perched on any bit of even remotely horizontal ground they can find. And the Swiss seem to understand that a small cottage or needle-pointed church steeple, placed just so in one of these Alpine views, can lift everything massively. It’s pristine, perfect, and it goes on and on like that, past little villages, past the blue-green waters of the Gigerwaldsee reservoir, through tunnels
THE OTHER SIDE SWITZERLAND so narrow it feels like that scene in Star Wars where they land on an asteroid and go down a tunnel, only to discover they’re inside some gigantic space worm. You know what I mean. Anyway. The road ends – just ends – in the little, four-house village of St Martin, including an inn. Remote, cold and right out of a fairy tale. Equally cool, if just for “I went here” value, is a visit to Liechtenstein, a ridiculously tiny country nestled between Switzerland and Austria. With a history dating back to the Holy Roman Empire, it’s the equivalent of your five-year-old making a ‘house’ out of boxes in the bedroom: it’s basically Swiss,
with just a little sign on a bridge indicating you’re in an Entirely Different Country. Unlike most five-year-olds, though, it’s very rich: it’s a big tax haven, and its royal family is Europe’s wealthiest, according to Forbes, with a huge art collection. Check out the capital, Vaduz, with its wonderful schloss, looking like the residence of one of Dracula’s milder relatives (the prince still lives here), and enjoy the feeling of being part of a country of around 35,000, where everyone knows everyone. Incidentally, Liechtenstein also has a UEFA-recognised national football team, which probably includes someone’s grandmother.
Schloss Vaduz, home to the royal family of incredibly tiny Liechtenstein Facing page: 1. A little fondue, a little schnapps, and you can brave even an icy row on the lake at St Moritz 2. Switzerland isn’t known for beer, but its microbreweries make some good stuff
‘WE DRIVE PAST STEELY LAKES, PAST PINE TREES THAT SEEM DESIGNED TO HIDE CROSSDRESSING WOLVES AND WITCHES’ COTTAGES’ 1 2
THE SNOWY BIT
PHOTOGRAPH: ADAMGOLABEK/ 123RF (CAR)
WITZERLAND’S a big country. Well, of course it isn’t that big on the map, but here’s the thing: it’s an extremely three-dimensional place. I bet that if you pulled all those vertical surfaces flat, like smoothening out a very messy carpet, it’d probably be the size of China. What this very vertical landscape does is create bizarre microclimates, little pockets of odd weather that have nothing to do with the weather just a mile away. The village of Quinten on the Walensee (‘see’: water body), accessible only on foot or by boat, is shockingly warm for Switzerland, and even grows pineapples – but we can’t get there because on our side of the lake, we have cold, drippy, sleet. Oh well. This sleet follows us to Davos, and into the grip of Achim, a wonderfully crazy German who spends every minute climbing mountains. He admits, sadly, “You shouldn’t trust me. If I say a walk is flat, it is probably not.” Achim works for the tourism agency of Davos and its less-famous sister, Klosters, and has in fact been a volunteer driver for the World Economic Forum. He’s even driven around a certain former British prime minister (the one with the bigger-thannormal ears), and doesn’t have too many nice things to say about him. We’re impressed, but still suspicious – where are the rioters? Where are the stony-eyed security guards? But Davos, it turns out, is fairly quiet most of the time, a nice ski resort with plenty of mountains all round. It’s the discreet ski resort, he tells us: while the flash set go to St Moritz so they can pretend to hide from the paparazzi, Davos is where the big players come to actually hide and have a quiet time on the slopes.
Davos is pretty good on the adventure stuff: unwisely following Achim, we first head to Monstein microbrewery (also featuring meat and bread made using the barley by-product of the brewing), and then, naturally, onto a rope-walk course and ziplining, requiring the sort of coordination we didn’t have even before the beer. Bad idea for us, but a good day out if you have a head for heights. More interesting to me is a little hike through the Sertig Valley: pleasant, stress-free, and heading towards a waterfall between mountains that look like chunks of sugardusted brownie, and others, interestingly, that look exactly like blocks of Toblerone. Clearly, I’m hungry. The thing is, Swiss food was designed for farmers in winter: it’s solid, stick-to-yourribs stuff, high-calorie and protein to keep you going up and down hills in a blizzard. Capuns, for example, are little logs of amazingly dense pasta, wrapped in a layer of spinach and served in a cream sauce. Then there’s veal in cream sauce. And everything else in cream sauce, too: it’s tasty, but even Achim looks a little worried – he has lactose intolerance, and we’re worried about the drive home. To take his mind off his digestive problems, I ask him about the weather, which has been off-schedule (the Swiss seem terribly upset about this lack of punctuality – they’ll hold a referendum on it any minute now), and we’re hearing threats of snow. “Oh no, it’s only 8 degrees; we won’t get snow until the temperature drops to 2 or 3, so all your roads to St Moritz will be open.” Morning, naturally, brings a whiteout, thick inches of snow on every surface we can see. And it’s what you think snow should be like,
WHAT TO DRIVE Given the highly changeable driving conditions (and the excellent roads), what you drive here will make a difference. GPS and four-wheel-drive are a big help (though an SUV isn’t necessary), and though speed limits are quite strictly enforced, a powerful car will help on steep slopes. Remember that the roads are narrow, though, so splurging on a very wide sports car might not be the best option. Also, some routes in this area go through Italy, and insurance rules for most high-end cars won’t allow you to go through Italy, so plan carefully. We used Europcar, but both Europcar and Hertz will not allow you to take a luxury car into Italy, while Avis will allow a BMW/ Mercedes/ Audi, but not a Porsche or other sports car. Driving into Germany, however, is not a problem.
THE OTHER SIDE SWITZERLAND
1. Freshwater spouts are everywhere in the villages, with cold, clear, pure water 2. The Walserhuus Sertig, a traditional Swiss restaurant with a terrific view 3 & 4. Winter is a fact of life here, and is dealt with a stoic attitude and lots of firewood 5. Snow might block roads, but it makes everything look spectacular 6. The rope course at Färich: great fun if you have a head for heights 7. Driving in the snow takes a little skill, a fair bit of patience, and gives you a gaping jaw from all that beauty 8. No, that’s not the church from DDLJ, though it’s certainly pretty enough to be in a movie 9. Swiss food is hearty, warm stuff, served over multiple courses
the fluffy, cotton-candy stuff you imagined as a kid, before finding out that most snow is like the stuff you get inside old refrigerators. The bad thing about snow is that it shuts great driving roads: the Stelvio Pass, the road TopGear loved, is firmly shut. The good news is, snow makes absolutely any drive spectacular. We drive past steely lakes, past pines that seem designed to hide cross-dressing wolves and witches’ cottages, into high, craggy mountains softened by icing – villages seem to float on a sea of mist, and our car has heated seats, so we can crack the windows open and let an icy wind shriek in. It’s fantastic, eerie – at times we’re the only car on the road, driving through a snow globe. And then we stop for a hot chocolate and a bubbling pot of fondue, and I find I could die happily here in this pine-panelled café, snug against that frigid, beautiful view. The road snakes up and up towards the Julier Pass – and the sun comes out. We’re feeling a little silly here: our little SUV is capable, but there are Bentleys and BMWs swooshing past us, and our hotel in Davos was host to some sort of Ferrari demonstration team. I’d recommend you splurge a little on this drive and get something shiny (see What To Drive). And we learn an important lesson: even on the gloomiest of snow days, keep sunglasses handy, because Hashim, the photographer, immediately goes snow-blind. I notice when he looks around worriedly, unfocussed. “Can you see anything? It’s all white, isn’t it?,” he says. And the minute we pop over the top of the Julier Pass, it’s blue skies and frosty loveliness everywhere: clearly, the rich of St Moritz get better weather than the rest of us. Perhaps they deserve it: this is a pretty town. We don’t get to see too much of it, what with there being about 700ft of snow in the streets, but the lakeside setting is spectacular, and as Hashim’s stupefyingly rich downtown Mumbai buddies attest, it’s one of the best places to come to in the winter. Our host, Franz, who puts paid to the notion that the Swiss are serious people, tells us it’s nice in summer, too. Waving a rueful hand at the whiteness outside, he says, “Of course you can’t see it now, but it’s great for hiking and cycling. But, of course, in winter there are all the parties, all the stars. You have to go to the Badrutt’s Palace – that’s the place to be seen.” Look, this place has S-Class taxis. Taxis! More than anything else it reminds me of the ski resort in the original Pink Panther movie: I imagine tinkling pianos, fireplaces, tanned French ladies lounging on furry rugs with a glass of après-ski 9 Chablis. It’s easy to get carried away here, but we have one last bit to explore.
THE OTHER SIDE SWITZERLAND
‘IT’S FANTASTIC, EERIE: AT TIMES WE’RE THE ONLY CAR
ON THE ROAD, DRIVING THROUGH A SNOW GLOBE...’
THE OTHER SIDE SWITZERLAND
‘IT’S LIKE MONACO OR CANNES: EVERYONE’S GOOD-LOOKING AND FIT, AND VERY, VERY RICH AND EVEN MORE STYLISH’
THE SUNNY BIT
ET’S play a game. Let’s pretend we’re illiterate and still try to figure out whether we’re in the German part of Switzerland or in Ticino, the Italian-speaking bit. Frankly, it’s terribly easy. The second you cross the line into Ticino, it’s sunny, washing is hung out of the windows – and people aren’t being imprisoned for it. Drivers are looser and faster and ready to stand on the horn, the pointy, buff-coloured churches give way to frillier, pastel-coloured ones, the houses have delicate metalwork and slate roofs – and even the GPS lady starts waving her arms about and getting us lost. It’s like being in a different country. And lordy, there are palm trees in Switzerland. You see them as you swoop down the hills towards Lake Lugano, completely incongruous, like punks wandering into a Republican convention (but much prettier) – it’s bizarre that just hours before, you’ve been shuffling through snow. We walk along Lugano’s promenade: it’s weather for ice cream in the sunshine, for slinging your jacket over your shoulder – even the panhandlers, for some reason all Spanish, are beautifully dressed. It’s terribly relaxed here: rent a boat to putt-putt around the lake in, people-watch from the benches, give unnecessary advice to locals playing with outdoor chess pieces. And then wander over to the street parallel to the lakeside, and marvel at the swish boutiques hidden away in little alleys. Rest your feet at an open-air café in the main square, have a beer and a breathtakingly expensive pizza, and eye the dessert menu – lazily. You could have a perfect life here, really. Actually, Locarno (43km from Lugano),
not an hour away, is even swankier. A gorgeous vintage Merc SL gleams below a palm tree, there’s a smell of garlic and wine in the air, and this promenade is even prettier. It’s like Monaco or Cannes – everyone’s amazingly good looking and fit, other than yourself, and you can gawk all day. There’s an Aston Martin nearby, sounding like some nutcase god’s using a jackhammer as a musical instrument, my polenta-andrabbit is excellent, and my pistachio gelato, though a strange putty colour, is even more so. I’m amazed there’s no grand prix or internationally-famous film festival here – it’d fit in so perfectly. A little outside town is the other, other side: the Verzasca Valley. It’s pretty enough to make you throw yourself over the side, and many do. The good thing is they’re at the end of a bungee cord. The Verzasca Dam, also called the Contra or Locarno Dam, is where the dam-bungee scene in Goldeneye was shot, and it’s hugely popular. There’s even a man dressed in a bridal gown to make the jump – I’m not saying anything. And it’s high – you can hear them screaming for, oh, an hour at least, before they hit the end of the line and bounce back up an incredibly long way. Makes me sick. Then, wander up the valley, past any number of gorgeous Italian villages, perched among boulders, roofs sometimes inches from the road, nestled alongside streams, waterfalls, everything you could want in a rustic getaway. Don’t take recommendations to visit the Roman Bridge too seriously: it’s graceful, and the river is stunning, but it’s covered with tourists, and the rocks aren’t necessarily safe to hop across. Instead,
7 1. A gelato by the lake: standard practice in sunny Ticino 2. The wonderful, un-touristy chapel at Lavertezzo 3. Relaxed style is everything in ultra-swish Locarno 4. Dramatic views from the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Mt Tamaro 5. Try the bungee jump at the Verzasca Dam: in a bridal dress or otherwise 6. Lake Lugano is neatly divided between Switzerland and Italy 7 & 8. Pizza and sausage: food gets more typically Italian here 9. After days in the cold, dining alfresco in Luganoâ€™s main square feels like a massive change 10. The villages in the Verzasca Valley are unapologetically pretty Previous pages: An epic, lonely drive along a snowy Julier Pass â€“ with hot chocolate at the end
THE OTHER SIDE SWITZERLAND
of sexed-up cars we see outside our restaurant at the central station. It’s like an episode of Pimp My Ride: chrome wheels, neon light, matte paint and massive tailpipes everywhere, every bite of pasta accompanied by a thump of huge speakers. It’s completely unexpected: this is clearly the working-class sister to the big two, and with a charm all its own. And it’s a kind of contentment all its own, too: if there ever was another side to the country, this is it. Under the perfect views, seemingly so carefully organised, lurks a real place, with real (and often eccentric people), like the lady who went “Thpah!” in response to Hashim’s “Good evening,” though in all fairness it was a steep slope and she might just have been out of breath. It’s amusing, silly, warm, un-touristy – all the stuff I knew I needed Switzerland to be before I could lose my heart to it. Job done, I’d say. Job very well done indeed. LP
1. The lovely Castello di Montebello in Bellinzona, one of the three castles in this small city 2. Art is taken seriously here: a door-knocker in a Ticinese village
2 PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES
walk into the superb chapel at Lavertezzo, the village next door, and walk around the cobbled alleys. Drive along the valleys – stop at every village if you want, they’re all worth it – and end up at Sonogno (14km from Lavertezzo), probably the best-kept of the villages in the valley. It’s certainly touristy, but we also see a kid hurling herself at her grandmom, shrieking happily in Italian, and old men puffing grumpily on pipes – there’s nothing fake about that. Despite the style of Lugano and Locarno, my favourite city in the region has to be Bellinzona (22km from Locarno). You never hear of this little city, but it’s brilliant: it feels the most real of the three, with a wonderful Saturday-morning bazaar, and no less than three castles, making you wonder what on Earth this city faced in the Middle Ages. Most amazing and bizarre was the veritable parade
MAKE IT HAPPEN
AUS T R I A Vaduz
Bad Ragaz S W I T Z E R LA N D 2
ESSENTIALS Getting there Swiss, Emirates, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Aeroflot, Turkish Airlines and Jet Airways fly to Zürich from New Delhi, Mumbai and other Indian metros, some with a stopover. Return flights start at ` 43,000. Getting around On this trip, it’s best to hire a car. We used Europcar, but Hertz, Avis and Budget are also available for rent from Zürich’s airport (from ` 9,520/ day). While booking your car, tell the rental company about your likely routes – not all cars can cross the border into Italy or Germany (see What to Drive). Roads are sometimes closed due to weather conditions; if in doubt, ask at your hotel about the condition of your likely route for the day. Visa Apply for a short stay tourist visa (valid for Schengen countries) through VFS. The visa fees are ` 4,200 (plus ` 672 service fees), and it takes a minimum of five working days to process (vfs-ch-in.com). Further reading Lonely Planet’s Switzerland travel guide and the official tourism website, myswitzerland.com, are both good resources.
Currency 1 Swiss Franc CHF = ` 62. Euros are accepted almost everywhere, but change will usually be given in CHF.
WAYS TO DO IT… SLEEP
MAP: NEHA V MADAN
embassy alert Embassy of India, Bern 28, Kirchenfeldstrasse, Bern Tel: 00-41-31-350-1130 Fax: 00-41-31-351-1557 indembassybern.ch, email@example.com 9am – 5.30pm Mon – Fri
St Moritz Livigno
When to go The weather is most settled and pleasant from late June to August, but prices are also high during this time. If you’re fine with changeable weather, try mid-to-late May, when most passes will be open after winter, and prices will be low.
Valle Verzasca Locarno
I TA LY
The Grand Hotel Bad Ragaz offers a choice of olde-worlde, modern and ultra-modern rooms, and if you’re looking to boost your health, also has a resident nutritionist, two excellent spas, and a selection of restaurants. Most important: you can also take their Harley-Davidsons or Porsche out to explore, and pay only for the fuel! (00-41-81-303-3030; resortragaz.ch; Bad Ragaz; from ` 26,750 with breakfast)
At the Grand Hotel Bad Ragaz (see Sleep), check out the healthy but very tasty Cuisine Equilibree menu at the Olives d’Or restaurant (breakfast 7am – 11am, hot meals 12pm – 10pm; mains from ` 1,120), or the Asian specialties at Namun (6pm – 10pm Tues – Sat; mains from ` 2,360). If you’re interested in local food, try the Zollstube restaurant (6pm – 10pm), and put yourself in the grinning care of the beer sommelier.
The Grischa – DAS Hotel Davos is modern and comfortable, with minimalist styling and the option of a large, two-bedroom suite that works well for the family; it’s also well-located, with its own parking – a rarity in Davos (00-41-81-414-9797; hotelgrischa.ch; Talstrasse 3, Davos Platz; from ` 15,550).
Walserhuus Sertig combines traditional Swiss eating – multiple courses in a warm, wood-panelled setting – with a fantastic view of the Sertig Valley. Try the capuns or the sausage, followed by a walk in the cold air for the real Swiss experience (00-41-81-410-6030; walserhuus. ch; Sertigerstrasse 34, Sertig Döfli; mains from ` 1,025).
Hotel Schweizerhof St Moritz is a good mid-range option in St Moritz, with great views of the lake and a good restaurant. The rooms are on the small side, but are comfortable and well-equipped (00-41-81-8370707; schweizerhofstmoritz.ch; Via dal Bagn 54, St Moritz; from ` 13,100 with breakfast).
Acla, the restaurant at the Schweizerhof St Moritz, has a good selection of Swiss and continental dishes; also, check out the daily set menus – these are often quite exotic, featuring things like kangaroo meat. In Switzerland! (see Sleep; 10am – 11pm; mains from ` 2,800)
Stay in the spacious rooms at the Suitenhotel Parco Paradiso. It has great views of the lake and a choice of local or Japanese cuisine, plus an in-house spa. It is above the town, so it’s a 15-minute walk or a fiveminute bus ride from the centre of Lugano, but the view makes up for it (00-41-91-993-1111; parcoparadiso.com; Via Carona 27, Lugano; from ` 15,600).
Luce al Gargantini is great for a nice dinner out, with a wide menu (from tempura to pasta to Argentinian beef), and a classy, relaxed, pleasant atmosphere (00-41-91-921-1876; lucealgargantini.com [only in Italian]; Riva Giocondo Albertolli 5, Lugano; mains from approximately ` 1,600).
The Belvedere is the best-rated hotel in Locarno, known for its large, clean rooms and friendly staff. Staying here isn’t cheap, but very little in Locarno is, especially if you want to feel like a jet-setter (00-41-91-751-0363; belvedere-locarno.com, info@ belvedere-locarno.com; Via ai Monti della Trinita 44, Locarno; from ` 16,200 with breakfast).
Ristorante Sensi is great for Italian food, particularly fresh fish, homemade pasta and Caesar salad. Prices are high, which is typical in Switzerland, but you’re unlikely to get much better food in Locarno (00-41-91-743-1717; ristorante-sensi.ch; Viale Verbano 9, Muralto, Locarno; mains from ` 1,060).
The utilitarian but comfortable Hotel Internazionale is located bang opposite the Central Station, which is the hub for weekend activity, and very close to the Saturday morning bazaar and the largest of the castles, Castelgrande. Parking will be an extra charge (` 875), as it has to be done in reserved parking at the station (00-41-91-825-4333; hotel-internazionale.ch, info@ hotel-internazionale.ch; Viale Stazione 35, Bellinzona, from ` 11,450).
Eat in a castle tower at the Ristorante Castelgrande; apart from the fantastic location, the restaurant also has some of the best Italian food in Bellinzona (00-41-91-8148781; ristorantecastelgrande.ch; Salita al Castel Grande, Bellinzona; 6.30pm – 12am Tues – Sat, 12pm – 3pm Sun; mains from ` 1,180).
Veg out / Fancy a Curry? Govinda in Locarno is very highly rated for its authentic Indian vegetarian food, particularly the thalis – notably, it uses locally-sourced and mostly organic ingredients (0041-91-752-3852; www.govindalocarno.ch [only in Italian]; Via della Motta 10, Locarno).
A SWISS DETOUR
If you think you’ve seen everything there is to see of Switzerland in Bollywood movies, you’re wrong. Basel and Gstaad, as we discovered, are two sides of this country that will delight even the most hardened traveller WORDS SHALOME POTNIS TUINMAN | PHOTOGRAPHS VISHAL SABHARWAL
THEME & BASEL OFGSTAAD THE ISSUE DESTINATION
ND there you see examples of Basel’s own version of green public transport,” quips our city guide. My jaw drops as she points to the Rhine, in which some people seem to be actually swimming to work – or trying to swim, considering how strong the tide is. “They’re on their way to work. This way they can combine their morning exercise with their commute,” she laughs. Grinning at our surprised faces, she adds, “of course, once they get to the office, they will first shower and change.” While a part of my brain is still trying to digest this, another, less adult, part of me is going, “Cool!” Whatever I expected of Switzerland, this was certainly not it. Yes, of course, I suspected that the country had character and quirkiness beyond being a backdrop for Bollywood, but not this. For one, I really hadn’t expected the warm sunshine (I later discovered that Basel is the hottest part of Switzerland), the outdoor fruit and vegetable sellers in the Marktplatz and the palpable holiday feel that Basel exudes. This unplanned detour to Basel on my trip through fondue
country came out of a casual conversation with my SwissGerman friends in Zürich at the beginning of my trip. While telling me one incomprehensible Swiss-German joke after the other (they have an inexplicably bizarre sense of humour), my friend Urs burst out: “Basel! Yes, that’s where you should go if you really want to see a different side of Switzerland.” And once I got here, and found it to be true, I made a mental note to thank them with kilos of läckerli, a hard, nutty, spiced biscuit from Basel. Basel sits at Switzerland’s northern border with France and Germany on either side.When I think back, I always see it lit by the rose gold of twilight; the chunky-legged Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge) squatting across the broad banks of the Rhine; the tall spire of a 14th-century cathedral spiking the skyline; and the colourful tiles of the pointed roofs blinking like sleepy eyes – a nostalgic vision that the contemporary-minded locals perhaps wouldn’t thank me for. After all, the Art Basel show that they host every year is considered the world’s premier modern art exhibition and the city also
‘I REALLY HADN’T EXPECTED THE WARM SUNSHINE AND THE PALPABLE HOLIDAY FEEL THAT BASEL EXUDES’
1. The 12th-century Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge) is one of the oldest crossings over the Rhine 2. Jean-Paul Basquiat’s evocative portraits of African-Americans 3. The lively Marktplatz in front of City Hall 4. One of the entrances of the red cathedral in Basel 5. An arresting detail in the architecture of the City Hall (Rathaus) 6. Basel’s guardian is the basilisk, the venomous offspring of a cockatrice and a serpent Opening spread Left: St Albans in Basel is a charming quarter with an old-world vibe Right: Basel packs in unexpected colour
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BASEL & GSTAAD boasts of ground-breaking architecture by the likes of Frank O’Gehry and Renzo Piano. Basel has a curious history: that the River Rhine drew the Celts and Romans here is understandable enough, but Basel’s later wealth and importance was a welcome by-product of ribbon-making, of all things! The city’s conversion to Protestantism in 1529 brought Protestant Italian and French immigrants in the 17th century, who brought with them the secrets of ribbonmaking. About a hundred years later, the first dyes were introduced. Going from making vegetable dyes to chemical dyes and on to chemicals was the logical step for Basel’s entrepreneurs. The fortunes of global pharmaceutical giants Sandoz and Ciba-Geigy (who merged later to form Novartis) and Roche were created thus. Ribbons have come to be a symbol of Basel, and even inspired local eccentric designer Fred Spillmann to design his famous ribbon dress in the ’60s. When I am told this, I mentally add yet another personality to the psychological profile of Basel I am building – that of an endearing nerd. Basel has a museum for everything. And by everything I mean like the flavours in Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. There’s a pharmaceutical museum, a cartoon museum, a museum dedicated to papermaking, writing and printing, and, the much more respectable Kunstmuseum, which is the world’s oldest public art collection. I am particularly taken by the Fondation Beyeler, the private collection of humble Mr and Mrs Beyeler that includes works by Chagall, Wassily Kadinski and Mark Rothko. I am awe-struck by a wall-sized painting from the ‘Water Lilies’ series by Monet. Renzo Piano has designed the building in such a way that it allows dappled reflections from a lily pond beyond the glass wall to fall upon the painting. (Yes, I do think Monet would have been pretty pleased with Mr Renzo Piano.) Yeah, Basel is pretty amazing, but what really makes me want to unpack my bags, throw away my passport and live here is St Albans – a quiet, wooded residential area where white-washed houses lean over cool canals. It’s summertime and there are kids jumping off small bridges into the canals, whooping all the time. But I’m brought to a stop by a tiny, two-square-foot balcony that juts out of the side of a house over a canal. There’s a wrought-iron table for two and it’s just the setting to sit and enjoy the view from. It’s late evening by the time we can pull ourselves away from the cobbled streets of St Albans. But we’ve been invited for a many-course dinner at the awardwinning Stucki Restaurant, and our stomachs have now assumed control. And as much as I’d like to come back the next day to St Albans (preferably with a real-estate agent in tow), our itinerary points us onwards. Even though Basel has been pretty much a revelation to me, it is my first visit to Switzerland, and I need to see for myself whether the stereotypical, postcard-perfect Switzerland of the Yash Johar films exists, or is it a wonderfullypulled-off illusion?
‘I MENTALLY ADD YET ANOTHER PERSONALITY TO THE PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE OF BASEL I AM BUILDING — THAT OF AN ENDEARING NERD. BASEL HAS A MUSEUM FOR EVERYTHING ’ 3
The backdrop for every Bollywood song and dance: the luscious green Swiss countryside in Gstaad 1. The cosy interiors of the Confiserie Schiesser 2. Beautiful stereotypes come alive in St Alban’s 3. The Basel Paper Mill museum is dedicated to printing and writing and still has a working paper mill within
ND then I discovered Gstaad. Gstaad is Yash Raj heaven. Here are hills so perfectly green and smooth that they have tourists asking locals whether they mow the lawns. Here are the requisite harlequin cows, complete with large cowbells against classic chalets, cute enough to belong to Heidi. And there’s barely a person or car in sight. I have my nose pressed against the windows of the train and the scene beyond the panes is so impossibly perfect that I wonder (quite seriously) whether there is a hidden contraption projecting these images onto the glass, like the ones in the train at Zürich Airport (which also features a soundtrack of mooing cows). Or are there broad-shouldered, blond men in overalls moving around stage backgrounds while I blink? But after a while, I relax my narrowed, suspicious gaze. Switzerland (or at least this bit of it) is that rare thing: a place that lives up to its postcards. It doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that the village of Gsteig in Gstaad is the most popular setting for photographing a typical Swiss village. Gstaad isn’t really a secret – Roger Moore and Julie Andrews are said to have spent a part of the year here – but it may as well be, for all you hear about it in India, (though it’s apparently Kareena Kapoor’s favourite). And then, there’s that sheer lack of crowds. It’s only the
THEME BASEL OF & GSTAAD THE ISSUE DESTINATION
1. Gstaad is known for the art of wood-carving 2. The gigantic Swiss alphorn has a melancholy, pastoral sound 3. The town centre of Gstaad is right out of a fairytale 4. Possibly the most expensive hut in the world – the ` 70,000-a-night Walig Hut located just outside Gstaad 5. If you haven’t tried Swiss wines yet, you’re really missing out
really rich who can afford a house here. A hotel manager grumbled to me about constantly losing his best chefs to private homeowners – such are the depths of the pocket of the Gstaad ‘local’. At first, Gstaad is larger than it seems. Actually, it is a region made up of 10 villages, all of which have been conveniently chosen to be interesting for differing reasons: Feutersoey’s focal point is emerald-coloured Lac d’Arnon, photogenic Gsteig is where you can take a ride on a sled pulled by huskies atop Glacier 3000, and Zweisimmen features 105km of ski slopes and, for the less physically-inclined, a public outdoor pool in the middle of a forest. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Gstaad is that it truly lives up to all the stereotypical corniness it represents. Take, for instance, the ‘Suufsunntiga’ or drinking Sunday festival, celebrated during July and August, where the high point is the crowning of the Meister Kuh, or prize cow. (Picture cows with a triangular arrangement of flowers on their heads.) I must be honest, Switzerland wasn’t at the top of my list of must-visit European countries. I had seen everything it had to offer. Or so I thought. But Switzerland managed to surprise me. Of course, it did serve up all its clichés and then some more, but while looking down my nose at all things touristy in Basel and Gstaad, I happily stumbled onto quite a few clichés that were completely worth the detour. LP
MAKE IT HAPPEN
BASEL & GSTAAD Getting there We flew Swiss International Air Lines that flies direct to Zürich from New Delhi and Mumbai, and with one stopover from other Indian metros. Most other airlines, too, fly to Zürich from major Indian cities with one stopover (return fares from ` 31,000). A one-hour train ride from Zürich gets you to Basel‘s Swiss SBB train station. The closest airport is EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg (6km outside Basel). To reach Gstaad from Zürich, you have to switch trains twice at Bern and Spiez, and Montreux if you’re travelling from Geneva (sbb.ch). Given the punctuality of the Swiss train system, this is quite easy to do. Getting around Hotel guests in Basel are given a Mobility Ticket, allowing free travel in Basel and around. In the Gstaad region, major villages are linked by the Montreux-Oberland Bernois Railway (check the Gstaad Tourism website, gstaad.ch, for more information). Visa A short-stay visa for Switzerland takes about five working days to process (vfs-ch-in.com; ` 4,200 adult, ` 2,400 child from 6-12 years; ` 607 service charge). Further reading Lonely Planet’s Switzerland guide and gstaad.ch and basel. com for great information Climate 40
J F M A M J J A S O N D
THE FINAL WORD ”But lo! The Alps ascending white in air, toy with the sun and glitter from afar.“ William Wordsworth, Descriptive Sketches (written after a tour of Switzerland)
Switzerland isn‘t just rolling hills and lush greenery – Basel and Gstaad have much more to offer. Discover it all with our guide
WAYS TO DO IT…
Der Teufelhof Art Hotel has modern rooms with contemporary art (00-4161-261-1010; teufelhof. com, firstname.lastname@example.org; Leonhardsgraben 47; from ` 9,150).
The Grand Hotel Le Trois Rois, where Napoleon once slept, retains all its majesty (00-41-61-2605050; lestroisrois.com; Blumenrain 8; from ` 25,800 with breakfast).
The cosy rooms at Alphorn Hotel are all pinewood and fluffy duvets (00-41-33-748-4545; gstaad-alphorn.ch, office@ gstaad-alphorn.ch; from ` 11,250 with breakfast).
The five-star Grand Hotel Bellevue, with its themed suites, is less boutique hotel, more private-estate home (00-41-33-748-0000; bellevue-gstaad.com; from ` 20,900 with breakfast).
The Confiserie Schiesser has been the preferred refreshment stop on shopping trips since the ’40s (00-41-61-2616077; confiserie-schiesser. ch; Marktplatz 19; pralines from ` 630/ 100g).
Think Swiss food only means fondue? Let Restaurant Stucki’s endless courses of delicate and layered flavours open your mind (00-41-61-3618222; bruderholz@bluewin. ch; Bruderholzallee 42).
Lounge on the sun-terrace of the Restaurant Botta, designed by famous Swiss architect Mario Botta atop Glacier 3000, as you sample regional specialties (00-41-24-492-0931; Le Chalet, Rialtostrasse 17).
Located in the centre of Gstaad, The Chesery has wine, cheese and gourmet food all served in a wooden chalet (00-4133-744-2451; chesery.ch; Alte Lauenenstrasse 6; full tasting menu ` 9,500).
The defining monument on the Basel skyline, the red sandstone, 14th-century GothicRomanesque Cathedral (Münster) is a must-see (10am-5pm Mon-Sat, 1pm5pm Sun; entry free).
The charming ChittyChitty Bang-Bang-esque Tinguely Fountain has separate, unidentifiable bits of machinery spouting water as they move (in front of Tinguely Museum at Paul Sacher-nlage 2).
The Alpine Coaster at Glacier 3000 is the highest bob-sleigh track in the world (Apr-Oct; ` 440 per ride/ person, ` 1,740 for 5 rides [children 8 years and under must be accompanied by an adult]).
Entertain the kids at Glacier 3000 with snowbus rides and dog-sled rides (00-41-24-492-0923; glacier3000.ch; Gstaad 3000 AG, Le Chalet; ` 800 each for a dog-sled ride and snow-bus ride).
Good to know
Veg out/ Fancy a curry?
Born in Basel, designer Daniela Spillman (right) calls her locally-inspired clothing “wearable haute-couture“ (00-41-61-261-0891; danielaspillmann.ch, info@danielaspillmann. ch; Rheinsprung 1, Basel). Gstaad has a number of shops and galleries that display local crafts such as paper-cutting and wood-carving. Find
The Gstaad Easyaccess Card gives you free access to various means of public transport as well as offers on leisure activities (available May-Nov at local tourist offices and select hotels; ` 630 adult, ` 370 child).
Mandir Indian Restaurant is a fairly typical restaurant in Basel, serving palak-paneer, chicken and beef curries and more. The restaurant also offers South Indian seafood (00-41-61-2619993; Spalenvorstadt 9, Basel; Sunday dinner from 5.30pm; mains from ` 950).
Train travel in Switzerland is cheap and convenient (Eurail passes are available on eurail.com). some at Steiner Art Atelier (00-33-7442863; ateliersteiner.ch, email@example.com; Bissen, Gstaad).
Bicycles are an easy way to get around the Gstaad region All hotels in Basel provide free transfers on public transport from the EuroAirport/ train station.
Embassy alert Embassy of India, Bern Kirchenfeldstrasse 28, Bern Tel: 00-41-31-350-1130 indembassybern.ch, firstname.lastname@example.org 9am-5.30pm Mon-Fri
MAP: ILAMPARITHI RAJU 1 SWISS FRANC (CHF) = ` 52
PHOTOGRAPHS: LONELY PLANET IMAGES, ALAMY
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NEW SER IES
CITIES BEYOND THE KEN FROM INTERLA , H IC R OR ZU SWITZERLAND
SMOKE on the
WATER Just a short way from Interlaken, Leukerbad is about getting wet. In this Swiss thermal spa destination, you’re literally stepping into hot water WORDS PRIMROSE MONTEIRO-D’SOUZA | PHOTOGRAPHS JYOTHY KARAT
PHOTOGRAPHS: LONELY MAYANK SONI
WO saunas. One you can enter only with an orange towel. The orange towels are in short supply, so we choose to step into the other one. And discover that, in this one, you don’t need clothes either. But we are Indian – and we like our swimmers – so we sit there, and try not to look at the man who knows the rules. Or rather, we try not to look at the man’s jewels oh so close to us. I’ve never been so grateful for the fact that spectacle lenses fog up so obligingly. We try chatting nervously to fill up the warm, moist silence. Till the man gruffly reminds that the sauna is a place for quiet reflection. “Merci!” Perhaps he’s miffed because we giggled at his junk when he was walking about outside? We are at the private pools of the Lindner Hotels, which is a spectacular spa in a town of spectacular spas. It has its obligatory indoor pool, its outdoor pool, its startling orange-towel and nude sauna rooms, and an atmospheric rock grotto in which you can stand beneath a fall of water that massages every kink out of your shoulders and back as it hurtles down through a hole in the ceiling. If ever you wanted to act out a Liril commercial, this is the place.
THEME OF THEHOLIDAYS LAST-MINUTE ISSUE DESTINATION LEUKERBAD
4 1. & 2. The little resort town of Leukerbad is replete with quaint houses, twisty lanes and friendly locals 3. Fog lurks on the mountainsides and just over the thermal pools, but never threateningly 4. Roêsti comes in a whole array of variations – all of them yummy 5. Don’t bother with taking photographs at Lac Souterrain de St-Léonard; the lighting makes photography difficult but the visit will be one you will never forget 6. The little village of Leukerbad comes with atmospheric outdoor eating options Facing page: The outdoor thermal pool is just one of 10 ‘hot’ options at Burgerbad Previous pages: The champagne breakfast at Burgerbad is a not-to-be-missed experience – and well worth the ` 2,500 price tag
PHOTOGRAPHS: LONELY PLANET IMAGES, ALAMY
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ENTRALLY located in the Valais canton in Southwest Switzerland, Leukerbad is a retreat into languor. The dress code for day is swimsuits, bathrobes and towelly slippers. You lie about in hot water for hours on end and it’s considered restorative. There’s even a chance you could quaff huge quantities of award-winning wine and have it certified therapeutic. And then, there is that fondue and raclette – to take you back to the days of childhood when inhaling large quantities of cheese was considered de rigueur till the threat of cholesterol and diabetes raised its ugly head. Indeed, Leukerbad makes a perfect, indulgent end to an active holiday in Switzerland, and is surprisingly close to that fave Indian destination – Interlaken. Everything in Leukerbad is about hot water. Each day, 3.9 million litres of water at 51° C gush to the surface to fill the town’s 30 pools. Melted snow goes underground at a height of 2500m above sea level, descends to the volcanic level within the Earth, and is pushed up again to feed the torrents. It takes 40 years for the water to gather the minerals that made this town a wellness destination long before the concept took on the modern connotations of holistic living. The thermal water in Leukerbad has high concentrations of calcium sulphate, which is good for the bones, and famous for helping with managing rheumatism and nerve disorders, and generally facilitating rehabilitation. Artefacts found here from way back in the second century AD indicate that the Romans knew and used the local springs. In 1501, Cardinal Matthaus Schiner bought the rights to some of the local thermal springs, invested in bathing houses, and commissioned the building of a big hotel. Leukerbad became a town that he and other political and clerical luminaries would visit regularly to ease away their stresses. In time, the baths passed into the hands of other aristocratic families, and Leukerbad became famous as a spa town. In the last century, it became a place where the ailing could come for three-week cures, and insurance companies would cover bills for therapy, including hotel stays. Then, a financial crisis in the 1990s resulted in them cutting food and drink and accommodation costs out of the equation, which meant fewer heads on beds in the town.
But all is well again. You can’t keep ill people or pleasure seekers away; 4,00,000 visitors still flock annually to Leukerbad and spend their money on what really counts – the spas. Most stay in the many apartments across this quaint little town, wander through its higgledy-piggledy cobbled streets edged by atmospheric stone and wooden houses (many dating back to 1760, when the town had to be rebuilt after an avalanche), exchange greetings with its grand total of 1,500 residents, and shop at its many art galleries, food stores, sporting goods and souvenir boutiques. When you stand in the little village square with the Gemmi mountain on one side and the torrents that supply the water on the other, it’s like wandering through a village right out of an Enid Blyton book. And its atmosphere has attracted the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain and James Baldwin who was inspired to write his dark essay, Stranger in the Village, after travelling to Leukerbad.
QUICK ‘HOT’ FACTS ® The term ‘thermal’ is conferred on mineral water above 20° C. ® Really hot water (over 43° C) is for over 16s only. LEUKERBAD’S ‘MAGIC CARDS’ The Mountain & Spa Pass for Summer costs ` 2,800 a day (deposit: ` 290) and entitles you to use the thermal baths at Burgerbad and the Alpentherme, the RingJet shuttle, the Leukerbad-Flaschen-Albinen LLB bus line, the Leukerbad-Inden LLB bus line, the mini-golf and tennis facilities at the Sportarena (sportarenaleukerbad.ch/en/welcome.cfm), and the Torrent and Gemmi cableways. The Snow & Spa Pass for Winter costs about ` 4,235 a day (deposit: ` 290) and includes use of the Torrent and Gemmi cableways, the ski area of Erli, the thermal baths at Burgerbad and the Alpentherme, the RingJet shuttle, the Leukerbad-Flaschen-Albinen LLB bus line and the ice rink and indoor soccer facilities at the Sportarena (look for Packages > All Inclusive Pass on leukerbad.ch).
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O such storminess threatens your stay, though. The little town is cheerful and geared to visitors with different budgets. You can have a comfortable stay in an economical apartment, as many of the Swiss visitors, who currently make up 75 per cent of the tourism numbers, do. There are public baths like the Walliser Alpentherme & Spa (more about that later) and the Burgerbad Therme, Leukerbad’s biggest spa complex (00-41-27-472-2020; burgerbad.ch; Rathausstrasse, 32; 8am – 8pm; ` 1,335/ three hours, ` 1,600/ day). Its 10 pools, spread over three floors, are watered by three springs. The pools include a very hot one in a natural rock grotto, dark with non-filtered – ‘bleeding’ – water, and an ice-cold one in which you close your pores, as well as fun features like a mushroom waterfall, which offers great photo ops (but only of your own family and friends) and the two mad water slides that let you scream your way all the way down from the top. You can also opt for a more active holiday. There is a brand-new cable car up to the top of the Gemmi, but you can also scale the mountain using the via ferrata, a series of iron ladders that promise heart-stopping climbs and challenging footwork (gemmi.ch). We did a Thermal Canyon Walk that demanded some hard climbing, which also made us very proud of ourselves (see box, next page). There are trekking routes to be hit in summer and great skiing to be had in winter – and passes that also give you your public baths entry free. You can rent an electric bike from the Relaction shop in town and cycle around the countryside (00-41-27-470-3161; relaction.ch; Kirchgasse, 6; ` 2,440/ day). Or you could just cut back and sink into a well-deserved break – try some vinotherapy: scrubs with grapes, grape oil massage, and best of all, a righteous glass of vino.
CARRED by our experiences with Mumbai’s communal pools that host a horrifyingly unfair ratio of urine to water, we are wary about dipping a toe into a public pool, but the Walliser Alpentherme & Spa, part of the Lindner Hotels complex, is the best counter to our cringing distrust (00-41-27-472-1010; info. email@example.com; Dorfplatz; 8am – 8pm; ` 1,350/ three hours). And it’s easy getting to the water. You pay (or flash your ‘magic card’), put on your wristband, flash it to enter, get to the locker room and change into your swimmers. Now, most important – go pee and only then shower (ladies, you know how difficult it is to work with a wet swimsuit). People change in the open in the locker rooms, so good lingerie is a must (again, this is for the ladies), though there are changing cubicles. The massive indoor pool sits under a blue sky-like ceiling, the room pleasantly warm from the heat of the water. Four water jets fall hard on your shoulders – because, really, these pools were made for relaxing after a hard day on the ski slopes. The high arched glass windows bring the sun in, but the real drama is outside. Nestled in the mountains, the outdoor pool is like a massive witches’ cauldron of clear water speckled intriguingly with dancing motes of mineral. Steam rises from the surface, a (hotter) tub bubbles violently in the centre, and jets agitate the water at timed intervals along the edges of the pool, where bathers lie on loungers and enjoy the toss and tumble of the roiling waters. Fog hovers menacingly over it all, as it often does in these Alpine climes, but the heat rising off the water banishes any suggestion that you could be cold. The most impressive photographs of Leukerbad are of snow lying all around, while the thermal baths throb with an unseen
1. The indoor pool at the Walliser Alpentherme & Spa comes with a children’s paddling section and easy access to the Bistro Eau La La 2. Take the funicular up to the Gemmi – for the panorama from the viewing platform and the brilliant roësti at the Wildstrubel Restaurant Facing page: The mushroom fountain at Burgerbad: your chance to be in a very wet fantasy – or a Hindi film sequence
MORE NUDE BATHERS! Blending the various thermal and steam baths in Roman bathing culture with Irish bathing traditions, the Roman-Irish Baths at the Walliser Alpentherme & Spa offer a relaxing nude bathing experience to people unafraid to drop their towels. You go through a series of hot, hotter and hottest pools, get a soap-brush massage, and then go into a series of colder experiences, before being wrapped in a fluffy towel and drifting off in the relaxation room (Walliser Alpentherme & Spa; Dorfplatz; 10am – 8pm; only over-16s allowed, registration required; ` 4,300).
PHOTOGRAPHS: LONELY MAYANK SONI
LAST-MINUTE THEME OF THE HOLIDAYS ISSUE DESTINATION LEUKERBAD
LAST-MINUTE HOLIDAYS LEUKERBAD
heat, but we are here in summer – and glad for it. Happy to sit on the loungers under the sun umbrellas at the side of the pool. Happy to chat with other languorous bathers; this is not one of those spas where you’re expected to keep quiet. Happy to demolish an ice cream from the inhouse Bistro Eau La La (00-41-27-472-1000; Lindner Alpentherme, Dorfplatz; ice cream from ` 90, mains from ` 640). Happy to sit forever in this cocoonish warmth – till one of the many big clocks strewn around reminds us that it’s time to discover that there is more to Leukerbad than just thermal pools. No, really.
T’S like going to a dreaded school concert and finding that Cirque de Soleil is playing that night instead. We’re not particularly enthusiastic about leaving the hot water and travelling a little in search of a lake – but it comes as a happy surprise. Of course, part of the surprise does come from the fact that there’s nothing to indicate that Europe’s largest underground lake lurks below the surface here in a magnificent cavern between Sion and Sierre in the heart of the Swiss Alps. And Lac Souterrain de St-Léonard, when you see it, looks like an ordinary-enough patch of dark water (00-41-27-203-2266; lac-souterrain.com; Rue du Lac 21, 1958 St-Leonard; see website for seasonal timings; ` 580 adult, ` 350 child [six to 16], child under 5 years free). But get onto one of the boats – we were escorted, not very willingly, onto the Titanic II – and you will understand why this is worth leaving all that warm water and sun for. Three hundred metres long, 20m wide and 10m deep, the subterranean lake is fed by an underground stream and water that comes in through the 15 stone chimneys when it rains. The water remains at about a constant 11° C – so, definitely not a place to indulge in any jumping in, then. Though long known to locals, it was explored in 1944 by Swiss army scouts looking for defensive hiding posts in the Alps, but the water levels were too high for comfort. Then, in 1946, an earthquake opened cracks in the south wall, some of the water drained away, and it was opened to visitors about 60 years ago. In 2010, the roof of the cave was stabilised, and now geologists make regular inspections. There are bats in a colony that move about at night, and rainbow trout that were introduced about five years ago and must
1. The raclette chef at Restaurant Sternen scrapes the melted cheese: a few seconds on the plate, a lifetime on the hips – but only if you’re not Swiss! 2. Another roësti variation at the Restaurant Wildstrubel – with bacon 3. Andy Varonier at the Varonier winery. It’s a wonder more women don’t take to wine in the Valais 4. A typical Valaisian platter – mixed dried cured meats, Alpine cheeses, and pickled onions and gherkins Facing page: 1. The Thermal Canyon Walk is challenging, but offers great views of the Dala Gorge 2.The Restaurant Sternen should be a must-visit on your Leukerbad itinerary
be fed each day. There’s even a fake crocodile to add some drama. But the really cool part about St-Leonard is how it makes you feel like an explorer – like you’re discovering for the first time the only beach in the world where you’d never get sunburned, the statue of the ‘mother’ of the cave, the two wine barrels placed intriguingly on a high rock shelf (the temperature is ideal for wine), the strange green light that suffuses the cavern. No one really speaks as the boat makes its half-hour tour through the intriguingly eerie cave, but the acoustics are excellent, which makes us sad that we cannot attend one of the monthly concerts during which the musicians play from a boat anchored near the rainbow trout, and the audience listens, seated in the many boats all around the cave, sipping wine and snacking on hors d’oeuvres (see website for event dates; ` 1,745/ person for performance and drinks).
GETTING THERE Take Bus 111 to Leuk Bahnhof (train station: approximately 30 minutes), then a train from Leuk to Sion (about 17 minutes), a bus from Sion Gare (train station) to St Leonard, Le Lac (about 10 minutes). It’s easier to plot this closer to your date of travel on sbb.ch/en (from ` 1,130 one-way).
THEME OF THE ISSUE DESTINATION
HERE’S no escaping the food in Leukerbad, and really, we recommend you don’t fight the descent into gastronomic debauchery. Because you’re not to be blamed for the fact that you were not born and bred to skiing and trekking and climbing and other overactive sports as a way of life. And you need to eat after all that effort you’ve put into taking the waters for your health. Vegetarians have it particularly good in Leukerbad. The family-run Restaurant Sternen is known for its raclette and fondue (00-41-27-470-1120; sternen-leukerbad.ch; Steiner Imboden). Traditionally, raclette can be eaten year round, while fondue is a winter dish, but who cares? Sternen serves both the traditional fondue – made with emmental, gruyère and Alpine cheese, and eaten with hunks of bread – as well as a tomato fondue, which is poured over boiled potatoes (from ` 1,700/ person). We prefer the traditional type. The raclette is the real star – melted goodness scraped onto your plate off a round of cheese, and served with potatoes, pickled onions, gherkins and a homemade onion salad, the recipe of which is a secret (` 1,900/ person). Happily, local tradition also decrees that this be paired with a white wine – like a local fendant – because drinking water will cause the cheese to harden in the stomach,
FOLLOW THE THERMAL WATER The Thermal Canyon Walk is a must-do if you want to get closer to the source of the water that flows so obligingly into the many pools in Leukerbad, and if you have a reasonable level of fitness. You walk 600 metres into the Dala Gorge, along mossy rock faces to a 35m-deep waterfall, walk across a suspension bridge and up iron ladders – which does throw up some heart-stopping moments. Wear shoes with good grip and have your hands free at all times (contact your hotel or the tourist information centre in the Rathaus for more information; late spring to late autumn [usually Jun – Oct]; you can do this yourself [free] or take a guide from the tourist office [` 8,730 for groups upto 30]).
THEME OF THEHOLIDAYS LAST-MINUTE ISSUE DESTINATION LEUKERBAD
The public baths – like this one, the main pool at Burgerbad – are family-friendly places
WINE-TASTING AT VAREN The wine-growing village of Varen has a multitude of wine cellars at which you can indulge in tastings, bolstered by Valaisian platters and cheese. We got our fix at the Varonier winery, where the charismatic vintner Andy Varonier, who looks like a kinder and cuddlier Russell Crowe, is as much a draw as his award-winning wines. And you can buy wine to bring home (C Varonier & Sohne AG: 00-41-27-473-1016; varonier.ch [in German and French]; Hauptstrasse 4, Varen; take Bus 111 from Leukerbad to Leuk, Stadt, then Bus 409 to Varen, Post. You can also walk from Leuk to Varen, or have Andy pick you up by prior arrangement. A taxi from Leukerbad to Varen will cost about ` 4,000. Fendant from ` 815, syrah from ` 1,400, wine tasting tour from ` 525).
causing indigestion, and we wouldn’t want that, would we? If you’re a non-vegetarian, you’re in for a treat with the Valaisian platter: paper-thin slices of dried meats – pork, beef and veal – served with Alpine cheese and gherkins and dark rye bread, which keeps for six months. The local farmers need this high-energy, long-lasting food to sustain them through the summer months when they take the cows to high pasture so that the hay in the valley can be cut and bundled for the winter. Of course, there are restaurants where you get such healthy things as salads and soups – the restaurant at the Hotel de la Croix Federale is a beautiful place to sit out and contemplate a more wholesome life (00-4127-472-7979; croix-federale.ch; Kirchstrasse 43; salads from ` 515); but really? We believe in eating local and eating well – and so we tried that other great Swiss specialty – roësti – at the panoramic Wildstrubel Restaurant on the Gemmi after taking the cable car up. Roësti – coarsely grated potato cooked in butter in a frying pan or oven – served in variations, with cheese, tomatoes, sausage, bacon and herbs. Washed down with a fendant (00-41-27-470-1201; gemmi.ch; Bergstation Gemmibahnen; from between ` 950 for a farmer roësti [grated potato with egg on top] to ` 1,450 for a pork steak roësti). It was a good thing that we looked over the whole Leukerbad area from the viewing platform outside the restaurant before we indulged with such wild abandon.
T’S been a trying holiday. We’ve had to get used to walking around in bathrobes, lying about in bubbling water, getting nekkid at the drop of a towel, drinking and being doused in wine, and eating our way through huge quantities of fondue and raclette to help the Swiss economy. And there’s been that thought, lurking somewhere at the back of the head, that all this hard work was going to make it difficult to get back to our usual lives back home. We distract ourselves with a champagne breakfast at Burgerbad (9.30am – 10.30am; see burgerbad.ch for dates; champagne breakfast: ` 2,500; above-16s only; advance registration required). Your floating tray comes loaded with champagne, croissants with preserves, open-faced sandwiches… it’s a time for fresh learnings. What happens when you tip a flute of champagne into a swimming pool? You swim up to the big floating bark of a table and pour yourself another one. When you drop a croissant into the water? You discreetly swat the water so the ripples push it under someone else’s tray… Then you sink your teeth into a salmon open-faced sandwich, let cream cheese ooze pleasurably into your mouth and wonder – but only for a moment– if you should drink orange juice instead of more bubbly. Nah! It’s nine in the morning, you’re lounging in a thermal pool and what place does OJ have at a champagne breakfast anyway? LP
MAKE IT HAPPEN
LEUKERBAD It takes less time to get to Leukerbad from Interlaken than to make the more popular ascent to Jungfrauhoch. We reckon Leukerbad’s got more character, too ESSENTIALS
Getting around The main town is easy to walk around. The RingJet Leukerbad service is a shuttle service around town (buy tickets on the bus or at the stops; ` 230/ day, ` 925/ week; free with Leukerbad Card Plus, part of your room rate at some hotels). The LLB bus service has easy connection to the surrounding towns, including Varen. Visa Apply for a Schengen visa to Switzerland at VFS (vfs-ch-in. com); it takes a minimum of five working days to process and costs ` 4,200 (plus ` 672 service charge). Further reading Lonelyplanet.com has a small amount of information on the Valais; this is an unexplored paradise indeed. You can also download the PDF chapter on the Valais from the Lonely Planet Switzerland guidebook. The official tourism website is also useful (leukerbad.ch/en).
Alpentherme, Roman-Irish Baths and Bistro Eau La La 1 00-41-27-4721-000; lindnerhotels.ch; firstname.lastname@example.org; Dorfplatz Burgerbad Therme 2 00-41-27-472-2020; burgerbad.ch; Rathausstrasse 32 Restaurant Sternen 3 00-41-27-4701-120; sternen-leukerbad.ch; Steiner Imboden
Rathausstrasse Street Gemmi
00-41-27-2032-266; lac-souterrain.com; Rue du Lac 21
C Varonier & Sohne AG 9 00-41-27-4731-016; varonier.ch; Hauptstrasse 4, Varen
Wildstrubel Restaurant 6 00-41-27-4701-201; gemmi.ch; Bergstation Gemmibahnen
Relaction 7 00-41-27-4703161; relaction.ch; Kirchgasse 6 Lac Souterrain de St-Leonard
Hotel de la Croix Federale 11 00-41-27-4727-979; croix-federale.ch; Kirchstrasse 43
WAYS TO DO IT… SLEEP BARGAIN Apartments are great if you’re
travelling to Leukerbad with family. Book through leukerbad.ch or booking.com. Residence Les Naturelles comes highly recommended (00-41-27-4722-929; residence-naturelles.ch/en; Gribelierstrasse 37; one-bedroom studio from ` 2,800/ night, for a minimum of three nights).
FAMILY Very centrally located close to the
Alpentherme, Hotel Astoria has large rooms and a children’s area in the restaurant (0041-27-4701-415; astoria-leukerbad.ch; Untere Maressenstrasse 26; from ` 8,750).
The Lindner Hotels & Alpentherme is ideally sited in the village square, offering easy access to the public Alpentherme baths and Restaurant Sternen. Burgerbad is just a brisk walk away (00-41-27-4721-000; lindnerhotels.ch, info@ lindnerhotels.ch; Dorfplatz; from ` 12,750 with breakfast).
Good to know The region is called the ‘Valais’ ® in French; ‘Wallis’ in German. ® The Rathaus (council house) on Rathausstrasse is the nerve centre of Leukerbad – it has the tourist information office, the post office, and the bus station. ® Carry as little luggage as possible in Switzerland. The trains are always on time and the change times as little as three minutes; this is not the place
to lug huge suitcases up and down platforms and underground tunnels between platforms. ® Arrive early at the station to figure out where the train will stop on a particular platform and where your compartment will be. ® If you are living in a self-catering apartment, the village has a useful supermarket – PAM Le Mini – as well as great delicatessens and bakeries.
Veg out/ Fancy a curry?
There are no real ‘curry’ restaurants, and don’t bother with the ‘riz Kasmir’ on some menus. Vegetarians will enjoy the fondue and raclette. If you order roësti, do inform your wait staff that you don’t eat meat and fish, or even eggs, if that is the case.
Embassy of India, Bern Kirchenfeldstrasse 28 Tel: 00-41-31-350-1130 Fax: 00-41-31-351-1557 indembassybern.ch 9.30am – 5.30pm Mon – Fri
MAP: RADHA RAMACHANDRAN EXCHANGE RATE AT THE TIME OF GOING TO PRINT: 1 CHF (SWISS FRANC) = ` 58
Getting there Swiss flies direct from Mumbai and New Delhi to Zurich Airport (return flights from ` 46,480). Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Jet Airways and Lufthansa fly to Zurich with stopovers. Leukerbad is just over three hours from Zurich Airport by train, with an easy change at Visp, and a half-hour ride on Bus 118 from Leuk Bahnhof (station). From Interlaken, you get to Leukerbad with two quick changes at Spiez and Visp to get to Leuk in under two hours. Bus 118 will get you from Leuk Bahnhof to Leukerbad in half an hour. Plot your route online on sbb.ch (return tickets from ` 11,570).
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WORDS PRIMRO YA HIMANSHU PAND PHOTOGRAPHS
WARM T R O F COM Y L I M FAIENDLY FR
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LAKE GENEVA DISTRICT: CLOSE TO HEAVEN Seen from the promenade in Ouchy, Lake Geneva gladdens the adult heart. The pedalos look like they need grown-up leg muscles to push them across. Close by is the majestic Hotel Chateau d’Ouchy, part of it from the 12th century; and the Hotel Angleterre et Residence where Lord Byron wrote The Prisoner of Chillon in 1816. The lake that appeared to be a sheet of ice when our train from Zurich Airport chugged towards Lausanne is now an awe-inspiring expanse of water mirroring the French Alps on the far bank. Little eyes don’t lift that high. Under the false walnut trees and weeping willows on the promenade, three just-turned-teenagers, already displaying the Gallic fashion aesthetic that comes from being just across the water from France, giggle over a shared telephone call and ice cream, and the chalked hopscotch grids raise more excitement. At the Olympic Museum, perched just off the Lausanne Riviera, we recognise very few of the famous names. The kids become little bulls in a veritable china shop, rushing from one display to another, marvelling at ancient track shoes and the newest aerodynamic skis. We take matters (read: kids) firmly in hand and begin a game of did-you-know. Did you know that the fi rst Games were played with well-(olive)-oiled but butt-naked men, so women were barred from the stadia? That a winner’s crown could have been of celery leaves? That contestants ate the meat of the animal whose qualities they desired (a kangaroo steak to jump higher, anyone?)? That in 1904, a marathon winner was disqualified because he had travelled 20 of the 42km in a car? That Carl Lewis had surprisingly small shoes, and Michael Jordan’s and Venus Williams’s are appropriately huge? And that the Olympic Museum guides have a fondness for Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea, who was the slowest swimmer in the history of the 100m freestyle at Sydney 2000? He had learned to swim, they point out persuasively, only six months earlier! We leave the bright afternoon sun in the former fishing village of Ouchy (pronounced ’Ooshi’), and
get into the driver-less metro, the kids entertained at each stop by the sound of cows mooing, water gushing, cathedral bells ringing. It takes us 20 minutes to get from the bottom of the lakeside to the city centre, faster, we are told, than with police escort by road. Lausanne Cathedral, completed in 1275 on one of the city’s three historic hills, is awe-inspiring. Externally, the architectural style moves upwards from the Roman to the Gothic, reflecting the pace of building, but the interiors are timeless. Eighty of the 105 panels of the Imago Mundi (pictures of the world) stained-glass rose window are originals; and there is even a representation of the River Ganges around the Lord at the centre. But our aha moment comes after spending 20 minutes in the Painted Portal. The stone apostles reveal their secret only once our eyes accustom themselves to the idea that there is colour to the greyness. And what colour! The blue of the background is achieved with precious powdered lapis lazuli, no less. In the town centre, beer kegs sit high above Les Brasseurs, which promises artisanal beers. Highstreet shopping options include C&A, H&M, Zara and the more upmarket Globus. The covered-over Flon River is commemorated by water fountains at varying convenient heights, so even short legs can reach them to drink. We plunge ourselves into a farmers’ market around the statue representing Justice at the Place de la Palud, chatting with a man selling masalas from India. But in Rome (and Lausanne, then Lousonna, was once a Roman port settlement), do as Romans do – so we do the Swiss thing: leave the spice behind and troop into Chocolaterie Blondel, located in the swanky Rue du Bourg area. This could be Willy Wonka’s shop front, with gourmet chocolate creations far removed from the supermarket Lindt we associate Switzerland with. We put down Rs 500 for 100g of white chocolate bark wrapped around dried fruit and think it well worth it. The children get the Lindt.
SIDE TRIPS Lutry and the Lavaux Vineyards: Walk down from Lutry Station through charming little streets to the harbour in the medieval market town of Lutry to view boats at anchor, lunch on grilled perch straight from Lake Geneva, and hop onto the Lavaux Express. The ride upwards is gentle, with spectacular views of Lake Geneva on one side, and terrace upon terrace of vineyards on the other. The present is so vibrant here that you could almost forget that these are 800-year-old vineyards, but that is why they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Take the train from Lausanne Gare to Lutry (5 minutes) and climb down to the waterfront Hotel-Restaurant Le Rivage: 00-41-217967272; hotelrivagelutry.ch/en.html; Rue du Rivage, Lutry; mains Rs 1,200 onwards Lavaux Express: From the Lutry waterfront; one hour; Rs 450 adult, Rs 225 child. There are also walking and hiking trails in the vineyards. Castle of Chillon : The 11th-century castle on the edge of Lake Geneva is full of treasures. Discover the frieze of the crucifixation of Christ and the ring to which the famous prisoner of Chillon – Genevois monk François Bonivard – was inhumanly tethered from 1532 to 1536, the views of Lake Geneva from the narrow windows, and the primitive latrines that were security risks. The audio tour takes about an hour-and-a-half, and kids may find all the climbing a bit difficult, though you can skip some parts. Train station Veytaux-Chillon (38 minutes from Lausanne Gare); 00-41-21-9668910; chillon.ch/ en; 21 Avenue de Chillon, Veytaux-Montreux; Rs 500 adult, Rs 250 child, Rs 1,200 family; audio guide Rs 250 additional Montreux : Montreux is music. This is where Deep Purple recorded Smoke on the water, after a smoker accidentally burnt down the casino where all the big bands used to record. Walk along the lake promenade; look up at the hotels built during the Belle Epoque. In the garden in front of the Montreux Palace, sculptures of legendary musicians who played at the annual Montreux Jazz Festival (now in its 44th year), held at the nearby Montreux Music and Convention Centre, make great photo ops – pick from Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, BB King. Graham Greene and Stravinsky lived in the 1906-built Monteux Palace hotel, whose Baroque-style ballrooms are still gorgeous. Down at the market square near the Lake, the covered market forms a backdrop to a statue of aapro dikro Freddie Mercury who died of AIDS in 1991 in the city. A series of play areas to keep kids entertained are also part of the buzz at the waterfront. Take the train from Lausanne Gare to Montreux station (19 minutes)
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WAYS TO DO LAUSANNE Budget
Hostel-like Lausanne Guesthouse scores for its location near the station and clean facilities (00-41-21-6018000; lausanne-guesthouse.ch; Chemin des Epinettes, 1007 Lausanne; Rs 4,500 onwards for a private room).
Sited on the waterfront, Hôtel du Port is a charming haven (00-41-21-612-0444; hotel-du-port.ch; Place du Port 5, 1006 Lausanne; Rs 8,000 onwards, including breakfast).
Drop in at any of the tea rooms at the city centre; we like the boulangerie and tea room Polli; it does 32 sandwiches (enough for five people) for Rs 1,400 (00-41-21-312-5294; boulangeries-polli.ch; Rue Centrale 5, 1003 Lausanne).
The Olympic Museum Restaurant has mains Rs 1,000 onwards; kids’ medal meals from Rs 500 (00-41-21621-6511; Olympic.org; Quai d’Ouchy 1, 1001 Lausanne). In the buzzy Le Flon area, Le Nomade offers creative cuisine (00-41-21-3201313; restaurant nomade.ch; Place de l’Europe 9, 1003 Lausanne; mains Rs 1,250 onwards).
Luxury The very grand Beau-Rivage Palace (left) offers beautiful views of Lake Geneva and Evian. The directrice Madame Muller will delight you with her Hindi (00-41-21-613-3333; brp. ch; Place du Port 17-19, 1006 Lausanne, Rs 20,000 onwards, including breakfast). With beautiful views down to Lake Geneva, Café Beau Rivage at the Beau-Rivage Palace (see above) has exquisite food (below) and a menu for vegetarians (starters Rs 750 onwards; mains Rs 1,500 onwards).
Fancy a curry?
Good to know
Laxmi (00-41-21-323-0313; laxmi.ch; Escaliers du Marché 5, 1003 Lausanne; mains Rs 700 onwards) offers buffets and takeaways to sate your longings for desi khana.
Olympic Museum: 00-41-21-6216511; olympic.org; Quai d’Ouchy 1, 1001 Lausanne; 9am-6pm; adult Rs 620; child six to 16 Rs 415; family Rs 1,500, maximum three kids Lausanne Cathedral: Metro station Bessieres; Place de la Cathédrale, Lausanne; 7am-7pm Mon-Fri, 8am-7pm Sat-Sun; entry free Chocolaterie Blondel: 00-41-21323-4474; chocolatsblondel.ch; Rue du Bourg 5, Lausanne Lausanne town centre: Metro station Lausanne-Flon Farmers’ markets: Metro station Lausanne-Flon; Place de la Palud, Lausanne Wed, Saturday; till 11am
• The ’Familles Bienvenues’ sign denotes a familyfriendly establishment. • From the end of May to September – summer in Switzerland – kids will enjoy paddling off the beaches of Lake Geneva (also called Lac Leman locally). • The Peace of Lausanne treaty between the Turks and the Allies was brokered in 1912 in one of the Beau-Rivage Palace ballrooms. • Lausanne is thought of as the place where hospitality
Veg out Though not shudh shakhahari, Café de l’Hôtel de Ville is known for its veg options and organic salads (00-41-21312-1012; Place de la Palud 10, 1003 Lausanne; mains Rs 625 onwards).
began with the Lausanne Hotel School. • If you are staying in Lausanne, your hotel will give you a Lausanne Transport Card that allows you free use of the city’s bus, train and metro services. • You can ride on Lake Lausanne on the luxurious CGN boats (Rs 660 return Lausanne to Evian), the solar-powered Aquarel boats or even pedalos.
Left to right: the snow at Stepping onto h; joc au Jungfr performers at The Swiss family rant Spycher tau res re the folklo in Interlaken l aa rst at Casino Ku to get around Below: It’s easy Switzerland with children in
INTERLAKEN AND JUNGFRAUJOCH: UP, UP AND AWAY It helps not to be too obviously Indian in Interlaken. Locals, international travellers and travel-savvy fellow desis have been scarred for life at the sight of sari-clad aunties lying full-length on the snow on Jungfraujoch, unfettered toes dangerously close to frostbite in Bata chappals. That impression is not enhanced by reports among hospitality providers down in Interlaken – the jump-off point to explore the Top of Europe attraction, that Indians also leave hotel rooms scarred beyond repeat use. But if you can keep your kids well behaved, and dress for the snow rather than with some misguided sense of national pride, the Swiss Alps lay themselves open to you. Interlaken, stretched for all practical purposes between the Interlaken West and Interlaken Ost rail stations, is a one-horse carriage ride town. Everything of any consequence can be seen on a carriage ride by evening. Once we can convince the kids to climb into the carriage rather than stand gawping at the baskets slung from the horses’ hindquarters to collect the dung, we clip-clop past churches, and learn that Interlaken has no cemetery because the water table is quite high. The Old Town has buildings dating back from the 16th and 17th centuries, we buzz through the Unterseen area and soon we’re back on Interlaken’s main street, where Buddy’s Pub was once called the Churchill Arms (Winston inaugurated it in 1947) and Hooters has waitresses who serve you in red hot pants in any weather. The cultural show at the folklore restaurant Spycher at Casino Kurstaal is more appropriate for the kids’ eyes. The original Swiss family takes over: dad playing the alp horn, mom on the organ and cowbells; daughters yodelling and singing. Called to strut his stuff, our man shows once again he is handy with a washboard in the impromptu kitchen band. The children are embarrassed and find the fondue more interesting. It helps also that kids aren’t bound by the usual penalty for losing your bread in the fondue – buy everyone at the table a drink. We’d be very broke if they were. Going from savoury to sweet is easy in Interlaken.
Little eyes watch entranced while the chef shoves molten chocolate into Swiss cow moulds at the chocolateria at the Grand Restaurant Schuh on the main street; our chocolate show includes free tastings. The chef, I have to point out, is rather yummy himself. The icing on the Interlaken cake is of course, Jungfraujoch. In high season, 5,000 to 7,000 people make the journey on the almost-a-century-old Jungfrau Railway daily. Outside the panoramic windows of the three trains it takes to reach the mountain top, the neat chalets are distinctive in their fretwork and windows, and children in bright ski suits wave as we chug along. The Koreans in the carriage in front wave to us too. There is this exhilarating feeling of being world travellers on an epic journey together. We all clamber out companionably to cluster around the viewing platforms at the two halts on the last train journey – this is more to help in gradual acclimatisation to the increasing altitude than to actually view the mountains you will see in all their glory from the Top of Europe. A cup of hot chocolate hits the spot when we make top station, then we mince our way through the slippery passages of the Ice Palace, marvelling at the penguin ice sculptures and Euromouse blocks before clambering gingerly onto the snow on the plateau. This is where our fellow Indians do the snow giant impressions, so we resolutely stay on our feet, and marvel at the peaks around us, the Aletsch glacier that some more snow-steady people are trekking and skiing across. That sense of déjà vu? Oh, it’s because Darr and Yes Boss have had their Jungfraujoch moments. And this is truly Yash Raj country, seen better from the Sphinx Observation Terrace. On the way down from Jungfraujoch, almost nonchalant to the blinding beauty, but certainly not tired of it, we feel as if we have conquered Mt Everest. There are other children on the train, rosy-cheeked from the cold, clutching their skis. Sam, Katie and Olivia Bohill from Newcastle, England, are skiing their way through their Easter hols with their friend Lana Muers and their families. They pronounce the skiing here “amazing”. We’re beginning to wonder if we did our children a disservice in not strapping on the skis when they began to toddle...
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WAYS TO DO INTERLAKEN & JUNGFRAUJOCH Budget
The Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof has free breakfast, w-lan, free use of local buses and free entry to local pools (00-41-33- 826-7171; villa.ch/ en-index.html; Alpenstrasse 16, Interlaken; special offer Rs 25,000 for a family room for 5 nights).
Close to Interlaken West station, Chalet Oberland is a favourite with Indian travellers, especially since the Spice India restaurant is nearby (00-41-33-827-8787; city-oberland.ch/en/; Postgasse 1, Interlaken; Rs 6,200 onwards).
Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa is the ultimate luxury accommodation in Interlaken (00-41-33-828-2828; victoria-jungfrau.ch; Hoheweg 41, Interlaken; Rs 35,000 onwards).
Pick up sandwiches and rolls from Migros (near Interlaken West station; Rs 400 onwards) and salad and sandwich combos at around Rs 450 at the Coop store (opposite Interlaken Ost station).
Combine lunch at the restaurant at Harder Kulm (1,323m high) with a funicular ride (Rs 1,250, Rs 1,000 with the Swiss Pass; daily till Oct 2010). You get superb views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau as you eat.
Des Alpes is the place to eat swiss fondue (00-41-33-822-2323; desalpes-interlaken.ch; Höheweg 115. Interlaken; fondue Rs 2,000 onwards for two people, raclette Rs 1,750 per person).
The cafeteria at the Jungfraujoch rail station has hot chocolate and rolls starting at Rs 200.
Bollywood at Jungfraujoch has desi khana (set meal for Rs 900).
Fancy a curry?
Good to know
Spice India (00-41-33821-0091; spice-india. net; vaneesh@ spice-india.net; Postgasse 6, Interlaken), is known for Moghlai and
• Interlaken Tourism celebrates its centenary in 2010. Check Interlaken.ch for special offers. • No, your geography teacher was not wrong: ’Top of Europe’ refers to the highest railway station at 11,333 feet; Mont Blanc at 15,781 feet is the
Although there are no real vegetarian restaurants in Interlaken, most restaurants have fondues and salads.
Grand Restaurant Schuh: 00-41-33-888-8050; schuhinterlaken.ch; Höheweg 56, Interlaken; chocolate show Wed-Sun, 5pm-6pm; Rs 610 with a chocolate voucher Folklore Restaurant Spycher: 00-41-33-8276100; Strandbadstrasse
The Crystal restaurant at Jungfraujoch offers Swiss specials (mains Rs 1,200 onwards).
highest mountain in Europe. • Thermal wear is a must for Top of Europe; dress in layers that you can take off easily. • There are no loos on the last train from Klein Schneidegg to Jungfraujoch. • Wear grooved shoes (not
sneakers) for better grip on the snow. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must. • In summer, you can take in Interlaken, Matten and Unterseen on a ‘family train’ ride (Rs 370 adult, Rs 160 child four to 12 years, Rs 825 family).
44, Interlaken; fondue Rs 1,200. Interlaken carriage ride: Rs 350 for half hour in a shared carriage; Rs 5,000 for a carriage for four; start by Interlaken West station Jungfraujoch: jungfrau.ch/ en/; three train changes —
Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen, Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg, Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch. A trip to Jungfraujoch costs Rs 7,800, 25 per cent off with Swiss Pass; kids under 16 free when accompanied by a parent
tered ‘The Swiss have mas their the art of living with roud of heritage. They are p castles... their churches, their part of but these are also a ey hold their everyday life; th erts in jazz events and conc them...’ them; picnic around ld crucifixation 1. The 500-year-o h Santa urc Ch e th scene at in Lugano li gio An gli Maria de Vinci da a by was painted contemporary ’s magnificent 2. Castelgrande stand in fortications still na zo llin Be ows are 3. Beautiful wind Lugano in ce pla on comm amatic interiors 4. The starkly dr tta-designed of the Mario Bo e Tamaro nt church on Mo ino: the locals 5. Merlot del Tic themselves drink most of it
CANTON TICINO: A PLACE IN THE SUN Canton Ticino, locals are proud to tell you, has some of the sunniest places in Switzerland. We get unseasonably snowed on one day, and rained on another. Our new friends’ faces remain radiant as they apologise volubly for the weather. We are now amid Italian warmth; the sun, we realise, is unnecessary. Lugano, settled around Lake Lugano, is a culture show in progress. On the lakeside promenade, shaded by the dramatic umbrella linden trees planted in 1918, humans and canines wander past esoteric sculptures and installations, and a bust of Giorgio (the same, the same) Washington in a mini Pentagon gazebo. We pass the Hotel Splendid Royale, a fave with royalty since 1800, from which former US President Bush Sr eluded his bodyguards to go jogging. Then on to Church Santa Maria degli Angioli, built in 1499, at the beginning of Via Nassa. Pride of place goes to the biggest Renaissance fresco painting in Switzerland, the 500-year-old crucifi xation scene, while the fresco of Jerusalem in the arch is more than 400 years old. The elegant Lombardy-style buildings on Via Nassa (nassa = fish basket) outside are quietly elegant with the hottest Italian brands from Milan. There’s nothing fishy about this former fishing alley any more; Lugano, a former fishing village, is now the third most important place in Switzerland for finance; it has 77 banks from around the world. On Via Pessina (pessina = fish breeding), the Ristorante Grand Café Al Porto (then the Ristorante Bianci) is where German and
Allied officials had a secret dinner in March 1945 to discuss how to end World War II. The original fi replace and beautiful paintings of birds in arbour stand silent testament to that historic meeting, and celebrated guests have included Sophia Loren, the Aga Khan and Clark Gable. Downstairs today, is a happening café and confectionery. All roads in Lugano finally lead to the Piazza Riforma, where the family homes now house banks and you can wander into and admire the art works in the Town Hall. We buy cheese and sausages from the Tuesday farmers’ market in the square, where an international jazz festival is held annually in early July and a blues and pop festival in August, then step out onto Piazza Manzoni, near the waterfront, where a Disney roundabout is alive with the squeals of happy children, ours included. The big fountain is where everyone, but everyone meets in Lugano. Urged to follow the sun, we take two funiculars, the second a century old, from Cassarate in Lugano to Monte Bre, which gets more than 2,300 hours of sunshine a year (and that is important to the Swiss). The children thrill to the steepness of the ride as we climb rapidly to 933m. From a table at the handsome Signore Salvatore’s L’Osteria Funicolare Bre, the hot chocolate (and the wine, if you like) goes well with the view of Monte Rosa and the Bernese and Vallese Alps. From the viewing terrace, Monte San Giorgio, with its dinosaur fossils, beckons. As we shade our eyes, Lugano closer below us is in shadow, but Monte Bre’s reputation as Switzerland’s sunniest mountain is safe. We walk down innumerable steps to the charming village of Bre (population 210), where only the cats break the silence and every fifth wall is a canvas for an art work or installation. Bre has been an artists’ haven over two generations, and this refined art trail includes frescos by Birò and Luigi Taddei, the Pasquale Gilardi sculptures and the Wilhelm Schmid Museum. We marvel at the individualistic tributes in the village cemetery (7am-7pm), including Wilhelm Schmid’s amusing version of The Last Supper that he created to be placed on his tomb, and the more elevating La Dea Della Pace (1916), the goddess of peace carved out of Carrara marble by Gilardi. Wandering through the village, following our brochures and the red-white-red bands that indicate we are going the right way (like an Enid Blyton story, the kids tell us excitedly), we marvel at a sculpture here; a junk art installation there... Another day, more Blytonesque castle capers. Except that in Bellinzona, the cantonal capital, the three castles, far from being ruins, dominate the town, and are now UNESCO World Heritage sites. People lived in Bellinzona 5,000 years 5 ago, and the Swiss have mastered the art of living almost nonchalantly in harmony with their heritage. They are proud of their churches, their castles, their historical sites, but these are also a part of their everyday life; they hold concerts in them; make jazz venues of them; picnic around them, plant vineyards in them. From the top courtyard of Castelgrande – the oldest and most accessible of the three castles – we peer down from the top fortifications at the vineyards inside the castle walls that produce the remarkable Merlot del
Ticino (the Swiss like their own wine so much that little filters out to the rest of the world). There is a mini Great-Wall-of-China path that you can still use to go across town; much in the same way as when it was used as a safe passage in the times of old, when travellers facing human threat and the enveloping bog outside paid a toll to use the straight and narrow way. We choose to take the gently-winding Salita San Michele path down to the Piazza Collegiate, where, in a sunlit-square, we raise our eyes to Palazzo Chicchiero where busts of philosophers and scientists like Dante, Galileo and Petrarch keep each other company. All around are Liberty-style patrician buildings with enchanting wrought-iron balconies. Built in 1517, the Church of Saints Peter and Steven has beautiful paintings and stucco works; the font is a thousand years old and there are fi ne examples of the scagliola style of chalk painting, a Canton Ticino specialty, dating back to 1750. The historic town hall on the Piazza Nosetto (nosetto = walnut tree; a symbol of Bellinzona), cocoons a 2,000-year-old fountain, stained-glass works on the fi rst floor, graffiti works of daily life in Bellinzona created in 1886, and a 200-year-old cannon. The locals flock here on Saturday mornings to shop at an age-old farmers’ market, and visitors will fi nd the tourism office here. A few steps away, the Teatro Sociale is built on the line of La Scala in Milan, and we reach the town meeting place, the seal fountain. We wander beneath a terracotta Juliet-style balcony on our way back to the station. About 200 years old, anyone who tried to stand on it would have made a Humpty Dumpty tale rather than anything Shakespearean. Incongruously, under it is a two-franc shop, a great place to pick up little gifts. The snow comes down – an unexpected treat – as we soar in the cable car gondola to Monte Tamaro. We hurry through the falling fluff at 1,530m into the glorious church of Santa Maria degli Angeli built by the inimitable Mario Botta, on the precipice of the mountain. Here, the usual church tower is a horizontal pathway through which we approach a thoroughly modern place of worship – no less awe-inspiring or prayer-inducing for its stark minimalism. On sunny days, Monte Tamaro is where families come to picnic, to zoom down on the coaster bob, to fly through the air on the Tirolese. From within the warm Ristorante Alpe Foppa, the kids cast wistful glances at the snowcovered facilities. Last year, 1,10,000 people had better luck than them. We have a day left, and Switzerland (doing quite well on the what-can-it-offer-the-kids score, by the way) works on a précis presentation to end our holiday. Spread over 14,000sqkm in Melide, a short boat ride from Lugano, Swiss Miniatur is the country in a nutshell – towns, villages, monuments, and more fascinating, moving railways, cable cars and funiculars, boats buzzing about on lakes, roads with moving cars on them. The Swiss Miniatur Express carries both adults and children, and many of the 120-plus installations has little people models, with children models… Switzerland wins the family card, I concede. At least, not rolling down hills will save us some grass stains. LP
thedral is the 1. The Milan Ca installation ss wi n-S only no tur nia Mi at Swiss id’s tongue2. Wilhelm Schm st Supper in-cheek The La grave in Bre mosaic over his y ter me ce nlit (and 3 A quiet, but su to the nt rta po im is this llinzona Be in t ee str Swiss) Monte to lar icu 4. The fun old Bre is a century
WAYS TO DO CANTON TICINO
PHOTOGRAPHS: LONELY PLANET IMAGES, ALAMY
Hotel Federale is a great budget option with friendly staff (00-41-91-910-0808; hotelfederale.ch; Via Paolo Regazzoni 8, Lugano; Rs 10,000 onwards with breakfast).
Charming and warm, Hotel De La Paix makes a great base from which to explore Ticino (00-41-91-9606060; delapaix.ch; Via Cattori 18, Lugano; Rs 13,500 onwards with breakfast).
From its superior location on the shores of Lake Lugano, Grand Eden Hotel offers the most fantastic views of Monti Bre and San Salvatore (00-41-91-985-9200; edenlugano.ch; Riva Paradiso 1, Lugano; Rs 20,700 onwards).
The paintings on the walls of the Grotto Morchino café add to the charming atmosphere. The daily menu costs Rs 800; the main dish Rs 600 (00-41-91-994-6044; morchino.ch; Via Carona 1, Lugano-Pazzallo).
The Ristorante Pizzeria Soave 10 offers a daily menu at Rs 1,000 and mains at Rs 800 (00-41-91-922-0170; soave10.ch; Via Soave 10, Lugano).
The Antica Osteria del Porto is a hidden gem at which all the locals eat. The service is excellent and friendly (00-41-91971-4200; osteriadelporto.ch; Via Force 9, Lugano; mains Rs 1,200 onwards).
Fancy a curry?
Good to know
Ristorante King Coconut is known to be able to handle a craving for Indian food (00-41-91970-2526; adhikara.com/ king-coconut/index; Via Merlina 3.a, Viganello Lugano, Rs 825 for the dish of the day and drinks and coffee).
• Get off at the Bre Paese station on the funicular up to Monte Bre if you have young children with you. The long but flat paved road is easier on the arms and shoulders than climbing down innumerable steps from the Monte Bre observatory. • Pick up the Monte Bre brochure before you hit the village. No one there seems concerned that they are part of art heritage; it is very much a normal, living village in that sense. • There is a lift, hewn unobtrusively out of the rock, to whisk you up to the main area of Castelgrande. • The Red Arrow hop-on, hop-off tourist ‘train’ travels by road to show you Lugano in 40 minutes (from Piazza Manzoni; Rs 370 adult, Rs 200 child till 11 years).
Monte Bre: bus no 1 from Lugano downtown to TPL Cassarate/ Monte Brè stop; montebre.ch; funicular return fare Rs 850; Rs 425 with Swiss Pass; see website for timings L’Osteria Funicolare Bre: outside the funicular station at Mount Bre; 00-41-91-971-3633; drinks Rs 185 onwards, mains Rs 750 onwards Bre village: Can be reached by taking the Monte Bre funicular and walking down Castelgrande: Take the train to Bellinzona and walk to your right to the castle; entry free Monte Tamaro: Take the train to Rivera, then walk to Cable-car Monte Tamaro (00-41-91-946-2303; 6802 Rivera; Rs 900 return); coaster bob: Rs 200 one run, Rs 900
Veg out Ristorante Radicchio offers vegetarian lunch options (00-41-91-9211148; Corso Elvezia 22, Lugano).
five runs, Rs 1,650 10 runs; min age 8 years; Tirolese (flying fox): Rs 400 one course, Rs 1,200 three courses; min age 9 years; max weight 110 kg. Ristorante Alpe Foppa: 00-41-91-946-2251; Monte Tamaro; salad buffet Rs 125 for 100g; children’s meals Rs 450; Swiss Miniatur: Take the boat to Melide from Lugano opposite Via Manzoni with Swiss Pass; 00-41-91-6401069; swissminiatur.ch; Via Cantonale, Melide; 9pm-6pm, till 10.30pm Wed and Fri till Sept; Rs 700 adult, Rs 500 child. Pick up a leaflet to help you identify models. The restaurant has an Indian menu. Try to meet Indophile Dominique Vuigner, the director; he is a delight to talk to.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE…
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MAKE IT HAPPEN
SWITZERLAND ESSENTIALS Getting there Swiss flies direct to Zurich from Mumbai and Delhi. Return economy fares start at Rs 31,700. Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Air India, Austrian Airlines, Emirates Airlines, British Airways, Jet Airways, Air France, KLM and Brussels Airlines fly to Zurich with stopovers. Return economy fares start at Rs 35,939.
In Switzerland, you get three countries for the price of one. The Lake Geneva district is imbued with the spirit of France; the middle of Switzerland is Germaninfluenced, and Canton Ticino, for its proximity to Italy, is so gloriously Italian.
There’s something for every age in Switzerland
Visa A Schengen visa issued by the Swiss Consulate in Mumbai takes at least five working days and costs Rs 3,800. Getting around A Swiss Pass (swisstravelsystem. ch/en), allows you to travel on trains, buses and trams within Switzerland (sample price: Rs 9,896 for four days). It also entitles you to 50 per cent discounts on most mountain-top trains and cable cars, and free entry to about 400 museums. The Swiss Travel System Family Card allows children under 16 to travel free with at least one parent (with a Swiss Pass). Further reading Lonely Planet’s Switzerland, or buy pick-and-mix chapters from lonelyplanet.com Climate (Zurich) 40
GOOD TO KNOW: WHETHER YOU HAVE KIDS OR NOT
w Stock up on supplies at Coop and Migros stores. The Migros stores with 3 Ms also have clothes. w All the chocolate in Switzerland is divine, but some is gourmet and some supermarket. Chocolateries like Blondel and Schuh (in this feature) offer handmade creations, whereas the famous Lindt (and Lindor) and Frey are found in Coop and Migros supermarkets.
MAP: RADHA RAMACHANDRAN
-10 J F M A M J J A S O N D 0 Temp max/min Rainfall
Climates vary widely across different regions in Switzerland.
THE FINAL WORD “I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland to see what the army does with those wee red knives.”
w Swiss trains are easy to travel in. There is space for luggage near the carriage door, and announcements are made in at least three languages, including English. Some carriages are designated quiet zones; these are no-children compartments. There are also loos in most trains, although kids may need help in figuring out the flush and water facilities and soap
Billy Connolly, comedian
FOR MORE THINGS SWISS, CHECK OUT RÖSTI (WORLD ON YOUR PLATE) AND OUR ZURICH MINI GUIDE
dispensers. The restaurant cars are a little pricey, but most are also serviced by a mobile food cart. w Try the Merlot del Ticino (Rs 500 to Rs 600 a bottle), very nice on the taste buds. Or sip Rivella (Rs 50 at Coop and Migros supermarkets) Made from milk – though you wouldn’t know it – it comes
in red (regular); blue (light, sugar-free); green (green tea flavoured) and yellow (soya milk) variants. Kids may also enjoy Ovaltine. w The Swiss-Italians are the most friendly; the Swiss French are a little reserved, and the Swiss German the most seemingly indifferent; put this down to some trepidation about Indian tourists, and more, reticence.
THE WINTER LIST DESTINATION
Looking for a winter holiday destination? Head to the Swiss Alps! You might not feel your fingers or your nose after a while, but there are walks in a quaint village, snowshoeing, and unreasonable amounts of fondue to be had as compensation WORDS SONIA NAZARETH
THE WINTER LIST AROUND GSTAAD
WITZERLAND, as a winter holiday destination? Add a dozen exclamation marks and you’ll see how people reacted when I told them I was visiting at this blustery time of year. But I’ve come to believe that if you travel the earth only in pursuit of the warmth and sunshine, you’ll miss much of the nuances offered by our bipolar world. Gstaad – alpine village, ski resort and base camp for the glitterati at 1,050m above sea level, with 220km of ski slopes, the only glacier ski area in the Bernese Oberland and the Holy Grail for cross-country skiers in the Alps – is a laugh in the face of nostalgic summer sentiment. I’d heard the rumours, of course. Despite the Swiss love for the great outdoors, in Gstaad, I’m told, the primary competitive sport is seeing and being seen. Here’s where, or so the rumours go, the international jet-set – all fur-coated and feisty – congregates to balance heady bouts of designer shopping with intervals of skiing as visibly as possible.
I walk five minutes (everything is a five-minute walk in Gstaad) from my hotel to the main promenade, studded with designer boutiques, to see if the jet-set rumours are true. And there I see her – Angelina Jolie, coming towards me. Of course it’s her, swishing past Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Hermès, with characteristic lips swollen into doing her bidding, combed poodle in hand, with what looks like a pair of testicles swaying tantalisingly from über-fashionable booties. I turn around, on the verge of confirming this fact in my little notebook, but here’s another woman who looks exactly like the first Angelina, entering with her Pekingese. Despite the fact that Gstaad is the congregating-point for Jolie look-alikes, it’s also all very down-to-earth and unpretentious, and no one appears to notice the Angelinas. Or even if they do, it’s all very discreet. Which is why, perhaps, the Brads and Angelinas of the world re-visit. Truth be told, the further down this promenade I walk and the more I hobnob with the locals, the more convinced I am that while Paris Hilton, Madonna and Kareena Kapoor might have – on their fashionable chalet-hopping sojourns here – given the glamorous little alpine village a reputation of catering to the Bohemian-with-the-platinum card, that’s not the only reality. Still deeply driven by an agricultural economy, Gstaad – with close to 200 thriving agricultural businesses and 7,000 cows, can truly speak of an
THE WINTER LIST DESTINATION
PHOTOGRAPHS: CORBIS (PREVIOUS PAGES), SONIA NAZARETH (PHOTO NO 2), GETTY IMAGES, © INGOLF POMPE 19, IAN DAGNALL / ALAMY
organically alpine lifestyle. Ski instructors in winter not infrequently turn farmers in summer. The ones I meet appear (in the same pragmatic manner with which they approach their dual occupations) committed to providing a host of winter sports and accommodation options to suit a range of budgets and lifestyles. If you want to come to Gstaad and do nothing but lie around in spas – on massage tables or in scented pools, with shopping as the most strenuous exercise, then you can do just that. And if you want to arrive and rush on to the three-hour winter-walking or snowshoeing trails – which for the 60-year-old Swiss person amount to little more than a stroll – then there’s this option, too. Map-making here, like in the rest of Switzerland, seems like a national sport – outlining in different colours the varying difficulty levels of each slope, the areas best for each ski-tryst. With characteristic attention to detail, the winter-walking trails and slopes in Gstaad, as in the neighbouring villages of Saanenmöser, Schonried, Saanen, Feutersoey, Gsteig, Turbach, Lauenen and Ablandschen, are precisely marked. MAKE IT HAPPEN The Gstaad tourist office is a worthy starting point to pick up maps and information to begin any journey (00-41-33-748-8181; gstaad.ch, email@example.com; Haus des Gastes, Promenade 41). TIP: Guided hike prices vary by trail; check the best one for you at the Gstaad tourist office.
1. Stuff your face with a sinful rösti (below) at the Mountain Restaurant Eggli, and lounge on its terrace later 2. Little girls sample the free hot chocolate (brimming over with a frothy squirt of cream) at the annual Promenade Party Facing page: The Gstaad Palace hotel looms like a watchful sentinel above the main promenade Previous pages: Quintessential alpine architecture sits contently in the snow
‘GSTAAD FEELS FAMILIAR, LIKE STEPPING INTO A WELL-LOVED CLICHÉ’ The village Three minutes of walking around the village of Gstaad and it feels familiar, like stepping into a well-loved cliché: perfectly proportioned, a mix of restaurants, shops and bars, infinitely neat, put here to delight film-makers and artists. And even if you’ve only been to Switzerland by armchair, you’ve seen this traffic-free promenade in the movies, with its beauty – both man-made and natural, a shuffled mix of wood and stone alpine lodges that date back from as early as 1658, cradled in the lap of the Alps. Stone sculptures and schoolchildren from the elite Le Rosey pepper the promenade liberally. Their parents and friends follow in droves, staying in luxury hotels with one eye on their wards and the other on the shops. Name-dropping here is the rule, not the exception, only in these parts it’s not really name-dropping, just matter-of-fact information. For instance, someone will throw into the conversation, as easily as Toyota keys, that the life-size calf in bronze that you’re standing in front of was created by Liza Todd Burton, the sculptress daughter of Elizabeth Taylor, who went to school here. In a place like Switzerland, so entirely driven by the clock, it feels rather pleasing to be in a town where a leisurely pace is prized. We walk the length of the village, which can be done in an hour or a couple of hours, depending on how you take it. And even though it’s the Serengeti of high-design shops, everyone is a player, because boutiques
THE WINTER LIST AROUND GSTAAD
have gigantic sales and if you’re lucky, goods can end up being quite affordable. When you have money, the rules of the outside world appear to be suspended, and I see dogs dragging their owners after them into stores like Cartier and Rolex.
Acclimatising and hiking on Mount Eggli As a Swiss Alp-hiking virgin, I find myself asking the group gathered beneath the mountain, waiting to take the cable car up to Mount Eggli, all manner of girl-guide questions. Have I worn enough layers? Should I be carrying water? The answers are all in the affirmative. Talk optimistic and dress pessimistic – that’s a good motto to live by in these parts. Or at least carry an extra layer in your backpack. The thing about this place is that while you can get accommodation and services to suit your pocket, you’d better have your own winter gear – coats, hats, grippy walking shoes and dark glasses – because these are essential, can be expensive and can’t be hired. That the sun is out and it is a crisp, clear day by the time we get to the top of Mount Eggli after cable-car rides, with stunning views of the imposing Grummfluh and Rubli, takes away much of my neurosis. That it’s Switzerland and the trails are perfectly demarcated adds padding to this comfortable beginning. Pink poles mark out a beginner’s skiing trail that commences on the south side of the mountain, and we stroll (and slide) comfortably in the snow along a marked 3.2km-long winter hiking trail.
1. Even if you’re visiting Switzerland for the first time, this promenade will look familiar – you’ve surely seen it in the movies 2. The more fashionable the local, the tinier the dog 3. A Swiss alpine doll – one of the many oddities you’ll find in the markets here 4. People of all ages hit the slopes 5. The Promenade Party promises much celebration and street performances by artistes like these alphorn players 6. You can say goodbye to that slim waistline once you’ve sampled – and gotten addicted to – Swiss fondue
On an overcrowded planet, being set free in a vast expanse of white is particular bliss. The only traffic you have to watch for is a skier on the wrong slope, who might get carried away in the heat of the moment and forget to read the signs. Watching little children learning to ski in the distance is like watching live TV – and with as much melodrama. Like a drug that’s worked its way into our system, everyone appears to be lost in the need to take enough photographs to garland several Swiss cows, as a little pocket of memory into which to reach when stuck in a traffic-jam back in the city, and recover hope – even bliss. Berghaus Eggli, or Mountain Restaurant Eggli, with its large wooden deck that protrudes invitingly out towards the mountains, looks out on alpine vistas, is cosy and wooden inside. Speckled with happy hikers, snowshoers and skiiers, it’s a good example of the restaurants in these parts. The food is quintessential Swiss. The loneliest meal in the world, I imagine, would be having fondue alone – for fondue is one of those foods designed for sharing. “If you lose your bread in the fondue, you’ll have to buy us a round of wine,” I’m playfully warned. But the only thing I appear to be in danger of losing is my waist, as I tuck into the fondue (` 1,500), shaved cheese from mountain farms and air-dried meat (` 1,500), rösti gratinated with truffle and herbs (` 1,500), and meringues with double cream (` 700). MAKE IT HAPPEN For information on walking, sledding, skiing, tobogganing and dining on Eggli, check the official website (00-41-33-748-8212; gstaad.ch; Talstation Eggli; Egglistrasse, 43; till 6pm; mountain rides + Alpes Vaudoise four-day winter super pass: ` 17,000 adult, ` 15,500 child, valid until the mountain lifts stop operating for the day as specified in the 2013/14 winter brochure. During official winter operating times, it’s valid at all times on the train from St Stephan to Rossinière in the secondclass carriages and n the PostBus from Saanenmöser to Col du Pillon, Lauenen and Turbach, cable cars of the Gstaad Mountain Rides as well as Glacier 3000; for walks: all trails well marked on the map, toboganning free, equipment hire from Vertex [see next page]). Berghaus Eggli or Mountain Restaurant Eggli: 00-41-33-7489 -612; gstaad.ch, firstname.lastname@example.org; Tschaanereweg 8; 9am – 4.30pm winter, closed in summer; mains from ` 1,500, mountain lunch: ` 2,500
PHOTOGRAPHS: SONIA NAZARETH (PHOTO NOS 2, 3, 4 & 5), © IAN DAGNALL/ ALAMY, CORBIS
THE WINTER LIST DESTINATION
‘THE LONELIEST MEAL IN THE WORLD WOULD BE HAVING FONDUE ALONE – FOR FONDUE IS ONE OF THOSE FOODS DESIGNED FOR SHARING’
THE WINTER LIST AROUND GSTAAD THE WINTER LIST DESTINATION
Snowshoeing: frosty relations begin to thaw At Vertex Sports, which rents out snowshoe equipment and skis, we’re released from the dilemma of style and taste. One size fits all here, but the gender divide about what we put on our feet stays intact. Snowshoe trails demarcated on the map can be followed on one’s own with rented equipment, but it’s best to hire a guide who knows both the terrain and understands avalanche conditions. We drive to the nearby village of Saanenmöser and snowshoe the easy path across a golf course. Snowshoeing is like walking, only with badminton rackets under your feet. A lady who’s over 60 years old does the trek with us, and, after an initial flounder or two, gets easily into the groove. The hills grow taller and our feet heavier, but we’re happy to keep trudging in the great white, past old trees that connect us to something more archetypal. Children between three and five years are learning to ski on the easy slopes. Some pirouette rather effortlessly, heightening my desire to sign up for a beginner’s class. “Life begins outside your comfort zone,” says Artur, my new Polish friend, keen that I join him on a bit of cross-country skiing, which, I’m told, is like running in skis and doesn’t require too much effort. We could be whizzing down these slopes on skis, but snowshoeing – slower and more intensive – lets us drink it all in, as we push ourselves further to new vistas, new dawns. Lunch at the restaurant in Chalet Hotel Hornberg completes this affair.
1. Style – from a different era – in very traditional Maienfeld 2. The Bad Ragaz area is known for its boutique wines 3. Craftsmanship is taken seriously here: every detail is delightful 4 & 5. There are Alps 10. The village of Bad Ragaz is charming, with bridges flung across the Tamina River
MAKE IT HAPPEN Alpinzentrum Gstaad Ski-und Snowboardschule is a reliable company for snowshoeing, snowboarding, skiing and other snow-related activities (00-41-337-441-044; alpinzentrum. ch; Hornbergstrasse; snowshoe-hikes from ` 7,000). Vertex Sports rents out snowshoes and ski equipment (00-41-33-744-1547; Viktoriastrasse 2, Gstaad; 8.30am – 12pm and 2pm – 6.30pm Mon – Fri, 8.30am – 12pm & 2pm – 5pm Sat; snowshoes: ` 1,000/ day). Chalet Hotel Hornberg: 00-41-33-7486-688; hotel-hornberg.ch; 12am – 2pm, 6.30pm – 9pm; mains from ` 1,500
A horse-carriage ride out of a fairytale
1. The mean-looking snowbus that takes you to Refuge L’Espace 2. The horse-carriage rides may look cheesy, but hey, don’t knock ‘em till you try ‘em Facing page: Strap on a pair of snowshoes – learn a new sport and stomp through the snow with relative ease
PHOTOGRAPHS: SONIA NAZARETH (PHOTO NOS 1& 2) GETTY IMAGES
It sounds a bit exotic and I almost scratch it off my list, but I’ve learned since not to knock what I haven’t yet tried. In a world of few absolutes, a horse carriage ride from Gstaad to the nature reserve of Lauener Rohr for a Swiss dinner of fondue and meringues at the homely Restaurant Mattesubli is undoubtedly an absolute. We all have a personal template for nature’s wonder, something against which to measure the rest of our experiences – and this is mine.
DON’T MISS Glacier 3000
On our way up to Glacier 3000 by cable-car, I peer alternately at the magnificent views of the ringed circle of peaks, and my instruction sheet to photograph these 24 summits over 4,000 metres in altitude – from Mont Blanc to Matterhorn to the Bernese Alps from the top. But then the weather changes and that’s part of Switzerland’s characteristic moody charm. For those in search of authentic experiences, this high-altitude cabin in the snow is hard to beat. There’s an outdoor deck for better days, with lovely views of the highest alpine peaks from the southern edge of the Glacier de Tsanfleuron between Gstaad, Les Diablerets and the Valais. On good days,
you might be lucky enough to spot a pair of bearded vultures circling this panoramic viewpoint. But on whatever day you choose to visit, you’re bound to find succour in the hot tomme cheese of Rougemont with truffle oil and roasted potato (` 2,000), the beef sausage of Gstaad (` 1,500), and the traditional chipped cheese of Saanenland (` 1,000) at Refuge L’Espace. If you end this with a plate of melt-in-the-mouth meringues with double cream (` 500), you’re assured a sampling of heaven. MAKE IT HAPPEN 00-41-244-923-377; glacier3000.ch; info@glacier 3000.ch; entry: ` 5,500 adult, ` 3,000 child; transfer from Gstaad to Col de Pillon (located along the Alpine pass route between Gstaad and Les Diablerets) by minibus; take the cable car to Glacier 3000 (return fare ` 4,000 adult, ` 2,000 child), then take
It probably sounds like Mills & Boon writing, but there it was – rushing streams, glittering lakes, alpine forest, a night sky studded with twinkling diamonds, a black horse pulling a cart and wandering through it all. And four people under blankets being ferried along in the carriage, in the cold, snuggling together for warmth, all from different countries, so dissimilar and yet so united by the shared experience of nature’s bounty. I think at first that the intense completion I feel is borne of the swig of vodka I’ve just had from the trusted flask the driver hands out. But I have only to look at the faces of the others to know that this is what magic feels like. MAKE IT HAPPEN Book a horse-carriage ride with the Kutscherei Reichenbach (00-41-337-653-034; kutschereireichenbach.ch; tours from ` 1,500/ person). Restaurant Mattesubli: reservations: 00-41-774-073-982; Lake of Lauenen; fondue from ` 1,500
the snow bus (15 minutes; ` 1,000/ person) to Refuge L’Espace (00-41-797-448-800; refugelespace.ch; mains from ` 1,500).
The Promenade Party
All roads lead to the promenade in Gstaad Village – the centre of things whether you’ve returned from snowshoeing or paragliding, trekking or skiing. In its second year, you can see well-travelled dogs paraded by proud owners, choral singing at street corners, a parade of bell-ringing alphorn players and the beautiful, starched, rustic pride of local produce on display. We vote for a local cheese here and sample hot chocolate brimming over with a dollop of cream there. On this day, in this town, the best things in life are certainly free (gstaadpromenadeparty.com; check website for 2014 dates; free).
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Gstaad ESSENTIALS BEST TIME TO VISIT Winter (December to March) is best for skiing, sledging, winter hiking and snowshoeing, while summer (May to September) is good for biking, hiking and nature walks. GETTING THERE Swissair and Air India fly direct non-stop from Mumbai and New Delhi to Zürich Airport (return flights from ` 55,000). Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Jet Airways, Emirates and Lufthansa fly to Zürich with stopovers (return flights from ` 38,500). Gstaad is just over a three-hour train journey from the airport (sbb.ch/en; single fares from ` 3,000). Alternatively, it's a three-hour drive from Zürich to Gstaad.
VISA Apply for a short stay (C) Schengen visa to Switzerland at VFS. The processing time is at least five working days (vfs-ch-in.com; ` 5,100 + ` 672 service charge). EMBASSY ALERT Embassy of India, Bern: indianembassybern.ch CURRENCY 1 Swiss Franc (CHF) = ` 71 FURTHER READING Lonely Planet’s Switzerland guide has a chapter on the Bernese Oberland and Gstaad. The official website has all the information you need on activities, timings and festival (gstaad.ch/en). Other useful sources of information as well as ideas on what to do in Switzerland and information on the people, culture and economy can be found at myswitzerland.com and swissworld.org. If you’re looking for a satirical take on a place that doesn’t take itself too seriously, despite the jet-set and celebrity visitors, Fondue and Furs by Oliver Preston is a good bet.
A stone’s throw away from the main promenade, Gstaaderhof makes for a comfy, quiet and economical stay. It has an especially good set of old-world and atmospheric restaurants with fondue and raclette specialties (00-41-33-748-6363; gstaaderhof.ch, email@example.com; Lauenenstrasse 19; from ` 14,000 with breakfast. Check website for packages: three-night package from ` 21,000 with breakfast and dinner, children up to the age of nine can stay free of charge in their parent’s rooms). Looming over the promenade, the fairytale castle of Gstaad Palace has been the Mecca of most every visiting celebrity. The rooms offer remarkable views over the Alps and the village, and are spacious and tasteful. A spa and a bar and the five attached restaurants complete this package (00-41-33-7485-000; palace. ch, firstname.lastname@example.org; Palacestrasse 28; from ` 51,500 with breakfast and dinner).
If you want fine-dining on the promenade, where you can linger over courses, the Rialto, with its sparkling Murano chandeliers and charming service, hits the spot. The pasta is fresh, the menu varied – think beef carpaccio and sea bass (00-41-33-744-3474; rialto-gstaad.ch; Promenade; 12am – 2.30pm, 6.30pm – 10pm; mains from ` 2,000). More than an excuse to visit the neighbouring village of Saanen, Hotel Landhaus does good alpine tapas. Think alpine sausages, Gruyère salami, gsteiger rolls stuffed with bacon and pears, shrienz cheese, homemade pickled vegetables and smoked trout tartar. Follow this with a cheese fondue. And if you want to go all the way on the fondue trail, follow the meal up with fruit on sticks dipped a Toblerone chocolate fondue (00-41-33-748-4040; landhaus-saanen.ch; Dorfstrasse 74; 11.30am – 2pm, 6pm – 10pm; tapas and mains from ` 1,300).
VEG OUT / FANCY A CURRY?
Dairy products made from Alpine milk abound at Molkerei. And you can’t leave without sampling the assorted rough, ready and very organic cheese (00-41-33-744-1115; molkerei-gstaad.ch; Gsteigstrasse; 6.30am – 12.15pm, 2pm – 6.30pm Mon – Sat, 4pm – 6pm Sun; from ` 160/ 100g). For fine regional food like meringues and cheese, Pernet Gastro-Service is your one-stop shop (00-41-33-7487-066; pernet.com; Pernet Comestibles, Promenade 75; 8.30am – 6.30pm Mon – Fri; 8am – 6pm Sat –Sun; a bag of six meringues from ` 1,000). Locals swear by Early Beck, a bakery and sweet shop that creates fine confectionery and chocolates from the fruit of the forest, fields and meadows – alpine flowers, fruits and nuts are used in the rabbit-shaped pastries, sweets and chocolates pies (00-41-33-7487048; earlybeck.ch; Boulanger Confiseur, Promenade 70, 6.30am – 6.30pm; pastries from ` 550).
Your eyes have reached the edge of their stalks and your jaw has dropped just as far as it will go, and it’s not just because the signature cocktails at the Lobby Bar at the Gstaad Palace – Penthouse, a blend of rhum noir, kalhua, crème de cacao brun and crème fraiche (` 1,500) or the scherz cocktail constructed from a blend of gin, martini dry and martini rosso (` 1,500) are so delectable, but also because Gstaad Palace affords you stunning views over the Bernese Oberland (see Sleep; 10am – 2.30am).
The only thing that comes close to curry in Gstaad is Blun Chi, which does ChineseAsian food when alpine food begins to pall. As part of its repertoire, the restaurant also does a vegan-centric menu from ` 900 (00-41-33-7488-844; Hotel Bernhof, Promenade; 11am – 11pm Thur – Mon; mains from ` 2,500). Fondue, raclette and rösti are great Swiss veg options at any restaurant offering traditional local food and you’ll always find at least one veg pasta at any Italian restaurant. Always specify what you mean by ’vegetarian’ – no eggs for instance, if that happens to be the case.
WORDS: SONIA NAZARETH, WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM ALISHA WADIA PHOTOGRAPH: GETTY IMAGES MAP ILLUSTRATION: NEHA V MADAN
GETTING AROUND The village of Gstaad is best explored on foot, especially since the main promenade is a traffic-free zone, while the mountains surrounding Gstaad are easily accessed by mountain rides or gondolas (see main story). Ski tickets include rides on the public transportation system. To find out about different offers for a range of winter activities, visit gstaad.ch.
ON THE ROAD
The 900-yearold Hallwyl Castle 1. Lucerne’s Heidegg Castle is steeped in history 2. Hotel Seerose has a menu of local specialties
Storming the castles The Seetal near Lucerne is a feast of lakes and culture
Teatime, which changes colour, and, most important for people who care about these things, the very delicate La France, the first ‘modern’ rose dating back to 1867. Across the six storeys of the mediaeval fortress are the apartments of the Pfyffers, the last private owners of the estate. Don’t miss the family photograph taken in 1901 – a display card next to it identifies every member of the posed group, including the dog! Climb – minding your head – to the massive Attic Dream Castle set under the 17th-century roof, which invites children – and childlike adults – to move marbles along a labyrinth to set bells ringing. The canton of Lucerne has had ownership of the whole complex
since 1950 and it is the setting for public cultural events – and private celebrations; the beautiful woodenfloored castle rooms are a favoured venue for marriages. Next on the castle run should be the 900-year-old mediaeval Hallwyl Castle in Seengen. When it was built in the 13th century, it was a single 15m-high tower protected by a dry moat, which was flooded in the 14th century. A second moat was added, making it one of Switzerland’s most beautiful ‘water castles’, in which people lived up until 150 years ago. Long the home of the Lords of Hallwyl, it became the property of the Canton of Aargau in 1994. Worth peering at in its permanent exhibition are
objects from the 13th and 14th century that were recovered from the moat, the original painted walls, and the dungeon in the corner tower (in impoverished times, the prisoner’s family had to come feed him every day!). There’s even a set of rooms that cocoon the talents of Burkhard III of the Hallwyl family, an herbalist decades ahead of his time in wisdom – he used to allow the poor to come to the castle to bathe. And then, we hit the water at Lake Hallwyl. Okay, so we picked a pedalo for four, and got on first – that way, we didn’t need to pedal. We dodged the traffic on the lake – other pedalos, kayaks, steamers and swimmers – and then retired to the lakeside Hotel Seerose and treated ourselves to a fondue, a fitting reward for hard labour in Switzerland. Castle Heidegg: heidegg.ch Castle Hallwyl: schlosshallwyl.ch Lake Hallwyl: pedalo hire: from ` 1,065 for a half-hour Hotel Seerose: seerose.ch LPMI’s Managing Editor Primrose MonteiroD’Souza was in Switzerland for an international media conference.
PHOTOGRAPHS: JYOTHY KARAT
half-hour from Lucerne in Switzerland is a local secret – the Seetal. Unravelled, it offers two lovely lakes – the Baldegg and the Hallwyl – and easy-on-theeye landscapes, hills and castles. The story goes that in the 19th century, Caroline Slidell, an American visiting Lucerne, met a young man from the Pfyffer von Heidegg family and they fell in love. They settled into an 800-year-old fortress overlooking Lake Baldegg and made it a place to which guests came from all over the world to enjoy fine wine and drink in beautiful views of the lake, forest and the Central Swiss Alps. To visit Heidegg Castle is to walk through many layers of history. The chapel has a stained glass window that depicts the handing over of the castle to the town of Lucerne in the 17th century. The famous rose garden was planted more recently when German Chancellor Dr Konrad Adenauer, visiting in 1951, remarked that the whole jewel was just missing roses. Today, there are roses in different colours ranging from white to almost black. There’s the Lady Di, the
ON THE ROAD
Armand Dussex, Director of the Musée des Bisses
‘Big’ trouble Comedian and journalist Dom Joly went looking for mysterious beasts and returned with a unique keepsake
Walking the way of the water The irrigation canals of the Valais are a flowing history of the region
OOKING at the green of the Valais, it’s hard to imagine the need to bring water to the region. Yet, this is an area of low rainfall, and the Valaisan farmers have long needed to irrigate their fields, vineyards and gardens. Their forefathers built irrigation channels – bisses in French – that brought water to the valleys from glacial streams, sometimes 10km away, constructing these conduits across gorges, cliffs and fields at great risk to life and limb. Some of these date back to the Middle Ages, and some are still maintained and used today, forming a network of channels for which locals are seeking UNESCO cultural heritage status. The first bisses ranged from simple channels dug out of the ground, fortified with stone, or built elaborately with wood or iron. There is not a lot of information
about bisses in the 17th to 19th centuries, but many were restored in the second half of the 19th century, even as they became less crucial when modern forms of agriculture and irrigation took hold. In the first half of the 20th century, the government started subsidising agriculture, providing facilities like water tanks and sprinklers, but also modernising the bisses with iron and cement. In the 1980s, the bisses became a tourist attraction. You can follow the Bisse d’Ayent on a one-hour tramp that allows you to walk beside the stream as it flows through wooden and iron troughs and hunch your way through a mountain tunnel on the way. Much of the history of the bisses can be found at the irrigation museum – Musée des Bisses – in Botyre, housed in two restored early 17th-century houses, where
FOR MORE ON THE VALAIS REGION, TURN TO OUR FEATURES SECTION
the bisses expert Armand Dussex promised English translations would soon be available. Caution: While the walk along the Bisse d’Ayent is quite enjoyable, the museum visit is only for those really interested in this sort of thing. * Bisse d’Ayent: Take a bus to Horaire and walk down a signposted path to reach the fast-moving water. * Musee de Bisses: suonen museum.ch (in German); Maison Peinte, Botyre Ayent, Case Postale 34, 1966 Ayent; take a train to Sion, then a bus in the direction of Anzere or Crans LPMI’s Managing Editor Primrose MonteiroD’Souza travelled through Switzerland’s Valais region.
For his new book, Scary Monsters and Super Creeps: In Search of the World’s Most Hideous Beasts, Dom Joly travelled from Loch Ness to the Congo.
PHOTOGRAPHS: JYOTHY KARAT, DAVID LEVENSON/ GETTY IMAGES ILLUSTRATION: LOUISE MORGAN
was trying to think of a reason to go to various places for a travel book, so I thought I’d go looking for monsters. When I started out, I thought that Bigfoot was one of the least-likely monsters to exist. How could anything live in America and get away with not being discovered? But, actually, when you go to Humboldt County in California, it’s so remote, there could be something living out there. Unfortunately, this being America, if Bigfoot were found, it would be shot immediately. I got the best monster souvenir from a guy who found Bigfoot prints in 1952 and made plaster casts of them. He was very loath to part with this thing, so I had to pay him quite a lot of money. It might be complete bollocks, but I still love it. I would say that it’s a size 18 and it’s got five toes, so it looks just like a giant human foot. I had to explain what it was when I brought it through customs. They asked me where it had come from and I said Humboldt County – which, it turns out, is well known in America for the growing of marijuana. They clearly thought I was some really stupid drugs smuggler, so they X-rayed it about nine times. They asked me what I was doing there and I said, “Monster hunting.” They must have thought to themselves, “We’ve got one here.”
Geneva has culture, science and fantastic architecture, proving it is much more than just a pretty Swiss city WHY GO? There’s more to Geneva than watches, chocolates and banks. As the European home of the UN and the headquarters of the Red Cross, it’s one of Europe’s most international cities, with Lake Geneva and the Alps beyond making for an impressive backdrop.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO?
MINI GUIDE February 2013
Bring out your inner Sheldon Cooper (of The Big Bang Theory fame) and make a scientific stop at CERN, the world’s largest particle physics lab. When you’ve learnt all you can about particle collision, get a taste of history at the Palais des Nations, the complex built to house the League of Nations. Take in the vistas from the tower of Cathédrale Saint-Pierre before making a trip to the Jet d’Eau, where you can cool off with a spray of water. Round it all off with a large dose of some rich Swiss chocolate. Left: The Jet d’Eau Right: Geneva is rightly famous for its chocolate
See & do
BEST FOR FOUNTAINS The Jet d’Eau is one of the city’s famous landmarks – a 140m-high tower of water shooting up over the lake. At any one time, 7,000 litres of water are in the air – a change of wind direction can get you drenched (Quai du GénéralGuisan; free).
Tear out page here then fold along the dotted lines
BEST FOR PHYSICS 2 CERN is the world’s biggest particle physics lab – home of the Large Hadron Collider, where particles are smashed together at crazy speeds. There are two permanent exhibitions here. Book guided tours in advance (00-4122-767-6111; outreach.cern.ch; tours: 8am – 5.45pm Mon – Fri, 8.30am – 5.15pm Sat; free). BEST FOR VIEWS 3 The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre is where theologian John Calvin preached in the 16th century. Climb to the top of the northern tower for amazing views of the mountains and the Jet d’Eau (00-41-22-319-7190; saintpierregeneve.ch; Place du Bourg-deFour 24; tower entry from: ` 300).
The pretty castle in Yvoire on the banks of Lake Geneva
BEST FOR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS 4 A complex of buildings overlooking Lake Geneva, the Palais des Nations was built in the 1930s to house the League of Nations. Tours explore its grand monuments (00-41-22-917-4896; unog.ch; Ave de la Paix 14; tours from: ` 730 adult, ` 430 child). BEST FOR EXCURSIONS 5 The French lakeside village of Yvoire is a popular weekend escape. A castle and cobbled streets add to its charm. CGN boats run to Yvoire from Geneva in 1 hour, 45 mins (cgn.ch; return fares from ` 2,900).
Hôtel St Gervais 6 offers small, simply-decorated rooms at reasonable rates, within walking distance of the old town (00-4122-732-4572; stgervais-geneva. ch; 20, Rue des Corps-Saints; from ` 7,800 with breakfast). Formerly a women’s hostel, Hôtel Bel’Esperance 7 is a good-value hotel managed by the Salvation Army, set on the fringes of Geneva’s old town. Rooms are sparsely decorated but comfortable (00-41-22-8183737; hotel-bel-esperance.ch; 1, Rue de la Vallée; from ` 9,600 with breakfast and a public transport ticket). Edelweiss 8 is a Heidi-style alpine hideout in the middle of Geneva, with cosy timbered rooms featuring wildflowerpainted pine bedheads. Its restaurant serves fondues and even hosts yodelling performances (00-41-22-5445151; manotel.com, edelweiss@ manotel.com; 2, Place de la Navigation; from ` 18,300 with breakfast).
A bedroom at the stylishly quirky boutique Hotel Kipling
What the Bombay-born author has to do with Geneva is unclear, but Hôtel Kipling 9 is nonetheless a great hotel in the city centre, with Oriental objects about the place (00-4122-544-4040; manotel.com; 27, Rue de la Navigation; from ` 18,900 with breakfast). Hidden behind a 19th-century façade, Hôtel La Cour des Augustins 10 in the city’s Latin Quarter styles itself as a ‘boutique-gallery-design-hotel’ (00-41-22-322-2100; lacourdes augustins.com; 15, Rue JeanViolette; from ` 25,900).
TURN OVER FOR MAP AND NUMBER LOCATIONS
MINI GUIDE Geneva, Switzerland
Eat & drink
Essentials GETTING THERE Swiss, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Jet Airways, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, British Airways and Air India fly to Geneva from all major Indian cities. From Geneva Airport, take a train to Gare de Cornavin (sbb.ch; returns: ` 300).
THE COST LOW
DIFFICULTY OF TRAVEL 8
Eat & drink
Fancy a curry?
With a bright pink façade, Gilles Desplanches 11 is a place for serious Swiss chocolate connoisseurs – exquisitely crafted cakes and chocolates star alongside imaginative salads and savoury tarts. It can get very busy at lunchtime (00-41-22-8103028; gillesdesplanches.com; 2, Chemin Louis-Hubert, 1213, PetitLancy; hot chocolate from: ` 360). Buvette des Bains 12 is a vibrant canteen on a pier jutting out onto Lake Geneva. Breakfast is muesli and fresh fruit juice, while dinner is the time for fondue au Crémant de Dardagny, made with sparkling wine. Go alfresco in summer (00-41-22738-1616; buvettedesbains.ch; 30, Quai du Mont-Blanc; 8am – 9.30pm; plat du jour from: ` 850). ‘On y mange du poulet’ (‘We eat chicken’) is the mantra at Chez Ma Cousine 13 , serving up generous portions of chicken, potatoes and salad in a lively green and yellow dining room (00-41-22-310-9696; chezma cousine.ch; 6, Place du Bourgde-Four; 11am – 11.30pm; mains from ` 900).
Little India has all the trappings of a typical Indian restaurant. Colourful decor and authentic food will have you licking your lips (and fingers) in true Indian style (00-41-22-732-7181; littleindia.ch; 29, Rue de Lausanne; butter chicken from: ` 1,600). Gilles Desplanches is perfect for lunch and a chocolate treat
A restaurant, boutique and gallery in one, L’Adresse 14 is one of the trendiest places for a bite in Geneva, occupying a loft that was once an artist’s workshop. The kitchen has Mediterranean and Asian dishes (00-41-22-736-3232; ladress.ch; 32, Rue du 31 Décembre; plat du jour from: ` 1,200). An impressive dining experience since 1930, the elegant Café de Paris 15 sees all diners plump for steak with its legendary herb and butter sauce (00-41-22-732-8450; cafe-deparis.ch; 26, Rue du Mont-Blanc; steak and chips from: ` 2,500).
Veg out The Village Indian Restaurant offers a wide range of culinary dishes from North India, and specialises in Punjabi food. It is conveniently located near the Lyon tram stop in the centre of Geneva (00-41-22-7330022; village-indien.ch; 16, Rue de la Servette; dal makhani from: ` 800). EMBASSY ALERT Embassy of India, Bern 28, Kirchenfeldstrasse, Bern Tel: 00-41-31-350-1130 indembassybern.ch email@example.com 9am – 5.30pm Mon – Fri
WHEN TO GO Visit Geneva year-round – you can swim in parts of Lake Geneva in the summer, while ski resorts are nearby for winter months. The two-week-long Fêtes de Genève, in July or August, sees fireworks and open-air concerts take place along the city’s waterfront (fetesdegeneve.ch).
The butter chicken at Little India will wash away any homesickness
FIND OUT MORE For more, see Lonely Planet’s Switzerland or Central Europe guidebooks, or download the Geneva chapter from lonelyplanet.com. The Swiss and Genevan tourist boards are other good sources (myswitzerland.com, geneve-tourisme.ch). Read Geneva-born author Rousseau‘s Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Penguin Classics). For more details, log on to lonelyplanet.com
COMPILED BY OLIVER SMITH, WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM NICOLA WILLIAMS PHOTOGRAPHS: SHUTTERSTOCK, AWL IMAGES, MARCIN ÅUKASZEWICZ/ 123RF EXCHANGE RATE AT TIME OF GOING TO PRESS: 1 CHF = ` 59
Don’t let the sheer prettiness of Zürich overwhelm you — this city has a lot of hidden corners waiting to be explored WHY GO? With its river, lakeside location and Alpine views, Zürich is a pretty city – much of the old centre including its winding lanes and church steeples remains intact while urban regeneration has transformed the industrial district into the epicentre of the city’s nightlife.
WHAT IS THERE TO DO?
MINI GUIDE June 2010
Zürich is great to explore on foot, and a walk through the narrow lanes of the old town will take you back to another time. If you’re not a fan of walking, use the extensive tram and bus systems; pick up a Zürich Card from one of the many tourist information centres and find the Zürich you like best! Left:The Fraumünster at dusk Right: Café Sprüngli chocolates
Tear out page here then fold along the dotted lines
BEST FOR CHURCHES 1 The blue-spired 13th-century Fraumünster is renowned for its distinctive stained-glass windows, designed by the Russian-Jewish master Marc Chagall. The multicoloured windows are around 10 metres high (00-4144-221-2063; fraumuenster.ch; 10am-5pm daily). BEST FOR ART 2 Kunsthaus, an art museum, celebrates its 100th birthday this year. Its permanent collection includes Alberto Giacometti stickfigure sculptures and Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler (00-41-44-2538484; kunsthaus.ch; Heimplatz 1; 10am-6pm Sat, Sun, Tues, 10am8pm Wed-Fri; Rs 740). BEST FOR THEATRE 3 Turned from a factory into a huge theatre with three stages, the Schiffbau retains its industrial feel with tall windows and exposed brickwork. Check out Moods, the on-site jazz den and one of the city’s top music spots (00-41-44-258-7070; schauspielhaus.ch; prices vary).
Take a daytrip into the beautiful alpine countryside at Uetliberg
BEST FOR WALKS 4 To visit the Alpine countryside for panoramic views of the city, lake and the Alps, try the two-hour walk from Uetliberg to Felsenegg, known as Planetenweg. Trains to Uetliberg take 20 minutes on line S10. The cable-car stops at Adliswill from where there are regular trains back to Zürich (day pass Rs 645). BEST FOR SHOPPING 5 Niederdorf lies in the Old Town, where alleys burst with boutiques, bookshops and street performers. Bars and nightclubs abound here too, making it a favourite spot for night-owls (Niederdorfstrasse).
The Hotel Alexander 6 is in the centre of the Old Town. Rooms are pretty nondescript although the bathrooms have huge showers (00-41-44-2518203; Niederdorfstrasse 40; guesthouse/hotel from Rs 7,100/ Rs 8,470). Rattan furniture and vintage tourist posters give Hotel Seegarten 7 a rustic Mediterranean atmosphere that’s helped by its proximity to the lake and the on-site Restaurant Latino. Rooms are fairly plain but cosy, and some have balconies. Breakfast is not included (00-4144-388-3737; hotel-seegarten.ch; Seegartenstrasse 14; Rs 11,880). Hotel Plattenhof 8 is in a quiet, residential area and has low, Japanese-style beds, Molteni furniture and walk-in showers. The Sento bar offers snacks and coffee during the day and cocktails in the evenings (0041-44-251-1910; plattenhof.ch; Plattenstrasse 26; Rs 12,840). Located on the promenade overlooking Lake Zürich, the
Sento restaurant at the Hotel Plattenhof offers top Italian dishes
Steigenberger Bellerive au Lac 9 has a floor-to-ceiling marble lobby and a woodpanelled piano bar. The rooms have huge beds and you can unwind in the sauna and solarium. Book a top-floor room for excellent lake views (00-800784-68357; steigenberger.com; Utoquai 47; Rs 13,725). The Romantik Hotel Florhof 10 , on a cobbled lane, has a flower-filled garden and a baroque fountain in the courtyard. The best rooms are the two suites tucked beneath the eaves (00-41-44-250-2626; florhof. ch; Florhofgasse; Rs 15,020).
TURN OVER FOR MAP AND NUMBER LOCATIONS
MINI GUIDE Zürich, Switzerland
Eat & drink
14 11 3 15
Essentials GETTING THERE Emirates flies to Zürich from all major metros, and Lufthansa flies from Mumbai, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata. British Airways flies from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. Return economy ticket fares start at about Rs 33,500. THE COST
DIFFICULTY OF TRAVEL 12
WHEN TO GO June to September offers the most pleasant climate for walking and outdoor pursuits, but spring, while having lower temperatures, is a cheaper and less busy time to go – March is Zürich’s driest month.
9 4 7
Fancy a curry?
Eat & drink
A restaurant offering fine Indian cuisine, Taj Palace will offer you a home away from home. Competitive prices make this a must-eat-at if you’re after a curry. (00-41-01-271-6720; indianrestaurants.ch; Honggerstrasse 25, 8037).
Veg out Les Halles is a joyous scrum of timber tables and vintage posters
several chirpy bar-restaurants in formerly derelict factory buildings (00-41-44-273-1125; les-halles.ch; Pfingstweidstrasse 6; lunch and dinner, closed Sun; Rs 1,025 on). As you sit in the one-time corner bistro Sankt Meinrad 15 , you can watch the action in the partly open kitchen run by Tobias Meinrad Buholzer. Dishes include Swiss fillet steak in cocoa-bean sauce with carrots and parsley dumplings (00-4144-534-8277; sanktmeinrad.ch; Stauffacherstrasse 163; lunch and dinner Tue-Fri, dinner Sat, closed Sun; from Rs 1,160).
Founded in 1898, the Hiltl vegetarian restaurant is wellknown as Europe’s first exclusively vegetarian eatery. The century’s worth of refined recipies speak for themselves. (00-41-44-227-7000; hiltl.ch; Sihlstrasse 28, 8001; from Rs 1,200). EMBASSY ALERT Embassy of India, Bern Kirchenfeldstrasse 28, CH-3005 Berne Switzerland Tel: 00-31-350-1130 Fax: 00-31-351-1557 indembassybern.ch
FIND OUT MORE The Lonely Planet Switzerland guide has a chapter on Zürich, which you can also download from lonelyplanet.com. You can also visit zuerich.com. The annual Street Parade brings in the throngs every August (streetparade.ch; August 14 2010). Learn to tango beside Lake Zürich during Tango Week , from July 24 to 1 August 2010 (tangowoche.ch). For more details, log on to lonelyplanet.com
FOR MORE ON ZURICH, READ OUR FEATURE ON SWITZERLAND
PHOTOGRAPHS: PHOTOLIBRARY, ALAMY, EXCHANGE RATE AT THE TIME OF GOING TO PRESS: CHF 1 = RS 41
Sphères 11 is an intimate barcum-bookshop. In the mornings, tuck into croissants, or enjoy little plates of tapas in the evenings (00-41-44-440-6622; spheres.cc; Hardturmstrasse 66; breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; from Rs 680). Sit down for cakes, chocolate and coffee at Café Sprüngli 12 , in business since 1836. Don’t fail to check out its chocolate shop around the corner on Paradeplatz where you must try some Luxemburgerli - like small French macarons (00-41-44-224-4711; spruengli.ch; Bahnhofstrasse 21; breakfast, lunch and dinner daily; from Rs 240 for cake). Café Zähringer 13 serves mostly organic food with plenty of veggie options. Dishes include pumpkin ravioli with sage butter and wild boar with spätzli dumplings and red cabbage (00-41-44-252-0500; cafezaehringer.ch; Zähringerplatz 11; dinner Mon; breakfast, lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; from Rs 750). Les Halles 14 is the best place in town to eat moules mit frites (mussels and fries). It’s one of