Le Chic En Rose

Diaries of an independent traveller

I wrote this post “Easter Memories – Yorkshire Dales” earlier this year and am republishing it today in memory of my beautiful mum who sadly passed away on Wednesday evening. We are all very sad to lose her but she has had little quality of life for many years and had grown increasingly frail, so it is a relief that she is now finally at peace.

I’m soon going to be making the long journey back to the UK for her funeral and to spend some time with my family over there. Will be taking a little break from the blog until I’m back in Perth again and things are more settled. I do, however, hope to catch up on some blog reading from time to time. Thanks for your understanding.

Mum lived most of her long life in Yorkshire (except for a couple of years in the WRNS in London in the 2nd World War). She loved the dales, the moors and fell walking when she was younger. This post is dedicated to her. Rest in peace Mum xxx

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

Our wonderful train ride up the mountain on the Gornergrat Bahn, followed by a relaxing afternoon tea with the most spectacular views from the sun-drenched terrace, was memorable enough (see here and here for previous posts). However the icing on the cake was the breathtaking views that greeted us from the summit viewing platform a little further up the hill from the Kulm Hotel.

 

The signs tell you in great detail what the various landmarks are, though it was a bit difficult to work out which mountain was which – snow capped peaks in all directions, blue skies and hardly a cloud in sight. As well as the Matterhorn, you gaze out towards Italy and the Dufourspitze (the Swiss side of Monte Rosa, the 2nd highest peak in the Alps after Mont Blanc), look across to the Weisshorn that towers above Randa and see the Gorner Glacier at close quarters.

 

Gornergrat Viewing Platform

Gornergrat Viewing Platform

 

The viewing area was quite crowded when we first got up there but it gradually cleared and for a while we had the place to ourselves. The air is so crisp and pure up here – it truly was a surreal experience.

 

 

We stopped to look at the pretty little chapel on the way back down to the station – no doubt used by intrepid climbers saying a last prayer before setting out to conquer another mountain!

 

Chapel - Gornergrat

Chapel – Gornergrat

 

Another option from Zermatt is to take the series of cable cars that transport you up to the Klein Matterhorn  (at 3883 metres the highest cable car station in Europe). From here all sorts of adventurous options await – the area is dubbed the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. With Monsieur being no fan of cable cars and Mlle not feeling too well up at altitude, this wasn’t an option for us. The trip on the Gornergrat train though is highly recommended especially on a clear day!

 

Gornergrat - Summit Station

Gornergrat – Summit Station

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

I did a quick preview of our trip on the Gornergrat Bahn in last week’s post (see here). Like so many other things in Switzerland the little cogwheel railway is another masterpiece of engineering in a difficult terrain.

 

 

Obviously we were going up a mountain but in comparison with other railways we’d been on, this one was especially steep. There are several little stations en route some of which were being renovated in time for the summer season and you can always get off and hike along any of the trails if you so wish. We decided the train was the way to go!

In late spring (May) most of the snow was long gone down in the valley but as we chugged uphill, melting slush and scraggy rock gave way to a brilliant white sea of snow. By the time we reached the higher passes we were almost dazzled by the clear blue sky and sunshine reflected in the powder white of the snow.

 

IMG_4815(1)

The majestic Matterhorn

 

As we emerged from one of the tunnels, we unexpectedly encountered several marmots scampering around in the snow by the side of the train. In all our trip to the Alps, we’d never managed to see one of these little creatures in the wild so this was a real treat. However I wasn’t quick enough with the camera so you’ll have to take my word for it. If you look closely at the photo, the dark specks in the distance are actually marmots and you can see the paw trails crisscrossing the fresh snow. More information on marmots here from our trip to the Marmot Paradis at Rochers-de-Naye.

 

Gornergrat Bahn - Journey Up the Mountain

En route up to Gornergrat – marmot trails and marmots in the distance!

 

Our journey took just over half an hour and we arrived at Gornergrat Station, the highest open air railway station in Europe at 3,089 metres above sea level.

 

Gornergrat Station Switzerland

Gornergrat Station Switzerland – Kulm Hotel in background

 

We couldn’t have asked for a better day – brilliant sunshine and views all round to the high mountain peaks. There are 29 peaks rising above 4000 metres in the Matterhorn region, which straddles the border between Switzerland and Italy.

Initially we stepped over to the small viewing area to take in the scenery. There is a much larger viewing area higher up – just as well as it was very crowded down by the station. The Kulm Hotel and Observatory is a little further up the mountainside and is a 5 to 10 minute walk away or a quick lift ride up from the station.

Just a note that you are over 3000 metres above sea level at this point and you do notice the thinner air (or at least we did). Nothing major but for instance I ran up and down some stairs inside the hotel and just noticed I felt slightly breathless, which I would never normally do and Mlle for some reason felt a bit off and giddy going up in the train and none too good at the summit. It’s nothing to do with age or fitness – some people get affected by altitude a bit more than others. Best advice is to take it a bit more leisurely than normal, drink plenty of water and if you do feel ill head back down the mountain on the next train.

 

 

We decided to relax a bit and enjoyed a cup of tea out on the sundeck before setting off to walk the last couple of hundred meters up to the viewing platform at the top of Gornergrat. Too many photos for this week’s post, despite heavy editing, so I will save the rest for next week!

 

Gornergrat Summit Viewing Platform

Gornergrat Summit Viewing Platform – map of the mountain range on the information sign

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

I opened up the “West Australian” newspaper yesterday morning to find an interesting article on the 125th anniversary of the Glion Rochers-de-Naye Railway, which we visited back in May (see here and here for previous posts).

Quoting from the article,

“The land painting entitled, “A Story Of The Future” by French artist Saype, depicts a girl reading a book. The artwork covers about 6000 sq metres and was produced with more than 600 litres of bio degradable paint made from natural pigments”.

The anniversary celebrations are taking place this weekend and you can read more about the artist and his unusual style of work here. With snow still covering the ground at Rochers-de-Naye summit station back in May, he must have worked quickly to get the painting completed in time!

Rochers-de-Naye

Approaching Rochers-de-Naye Station

 

Back to my intended post for the week – continuing on our journey up to see the Matterhorn. After our pleasant lunch in Zermatt (see here), we headed off back to the Bahnhofplatz in the village centre to catch the electric cogwheel train that chugs up the mountain line to Gornergrat. The mountain station is 3089 metres above sea level and it takes just over half an hour to get there.

We had pre-purchased our tickets on arrival at Zermatt – a good move as the train is popular at any time of year and if you want to be sure of a seat make sure to arrive at the platform in plenty of time.

Suffice to say the journey on the little orange train was one of the most memorable we’ve ever done. These photos are just a quick preview with more to follow!

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

We had a very brief sojourn in Zermatt (about 30 minutes to be precise) a few years ago as we waited to start our trip across to St Moritz on the Glacier Express. We’d come up from Brig down in the Rhone Valley early in the morning. There was just enough time for a quick stroll up the high street and a tantalising glimpse of the iconic Matterhorn in the distance, before we had to head back to the station.

Although we were staying up in Spiez (see here) in the Bernese Oberland, we worked out we could catch a train up to Zermatt via Visp (the connecting station down in the valley) head up to Zermatt for lunch, do the trip up to see the Matterhorn from the Gornergrat viewing platform in the afternoon and still be back in Spiez by dinner time. The joys of the ultra-efficient Swiss transport system! The weather was forecasting a clear day up in the mountains with heavy rain and fog due to set in the next day, so we decided to make the most of the opportunity.

 

Alps near Zermatt - heading up the Matter Valley

Matter Valley near Zermatt

 

A seamless ride, including changing onto the small branch line at Visp, took us up into the high Alps via the scenic Matter Valley. We passed through several pretty villages with charming names such as St Niklaus, Randa and Taesch, alpine farms and smallholdings with mountain goats and sheep happily basking in the spring sunshine.

 

 

Zermatt is car-free apart from the few electric golf  buggy style vehicles that ferry goods and baggage to the shops and hotels. Cars have to be parked at Taesch (see here for details) and the journey continued by shuttle train or taxi.  Hence it is an easy and relaxing place to wander round.

 

Arriving at Zermatt - Matterhorn in background

Outside Zermatt Station – Matterhorn in background

 

It is, not surprisingly, a tourist paradise with its outstanding location and association with the Matterhorn. In the winter months it is an uber-chic ski destination for the rich and famous and in the summer months hiking opportunities abound. We were glad to be visiting in the comparatively quieter “shoulder” season in May.

 

 

Having pre-purchased our tickets for the Gornergrat Bahn, we had an hour or so to find lunch. Wandering a little way up the street we came across the Hotel Pollux and were drawn to the pretty little terrace. For some reason, despite the pleasantly mild weather, most other patrons were eating indoors so we had plenty of room to spread out and people watch!  When up in the mountains eat as the locals do. We ordered Roesti – the delicious Swiss recipe of finely diced potato pan fried with cheese topping and for good measure eggs on top, all washed down with some local white wine.

 

 

We could have lazily whiled away the afternoon enjoying drinks on the the sun dappled terrace but the trip up the Gornergrat Bahn beckoned. More to follow!

 

Hotel Pollux Terrace Zermatt

Hotel Pollux Terrace Zermatt

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

The Thunersee  (Lake Thun) area is simply stunning and has drawn us back on more than one occasion. I blogged about a previous visit there a few years ago (here). Set amongst the snow capped peaks of the Bernese Alps, it has a timeless appeal and an ethereal beauty.

 

Having settled into our holiday apartment by the marina in Spiez (see last week’s post here), we decided a late afternoon cruise on the lake was in order.  Our Swiss Passes covered the cost of the journey. Having done a fair bit of research into this, I’d definitely recommend this option rather than paying as you go for each individual journey in Switzerland, as it will save quite a bit of money.

We headed off on the historical steamer, Bluemlisalp, towards the city of Thun that lends its name to the lake. The lovely old steamer, from the Belle Epoque era, has been beautifully restored preserving the ambience of the old with the modern comforts we expect today. She sails only during the summer season, which luckily for us included May!

 

We sailed around the lake for about 45 minutes admiring the breathtaking scenery and enjoying the crisp mountain air before turning to go up the channel towards Thun.

 

We were enchanted with Thun from the first time we visited there a few years ago. With its historic Altstadt, wooden timbered buildings and the River Aare gushing quickly under the old bridges, it is reminiscent of the better known Lucerne. However it’s not on the tourist trail in the same way. The large tourist groups “do” Lucerne and Interlaken and whilst you’ll see plenty of backpackers round Thun station, the vibe is that of a bustling Swiss town mainly full of locals going about their business.

 

 

 

We stocked up with provisions at the small Co-op supermarket near the ferry quay and then headed down the pathway by the side of the river towards the main square. The little bar, which we had visited on a previous trip, was still there and we settled down for an early evening drink watching the world go by. Since time was drawing on, we headed back to the ferry quay in time, we hoped, to catch the last ferry back to Spiez. The best laid plans though… the next one wasn’t due to depart till the following morning. This being Switzerland, the problem was quickly resolved. We just crossed the road to the main station and caught the train back down to Spiez – a 10 minute ride away.

 

 

I’ll be writing more about Thun in future posts but next week we’ll head off on a day trip up to Zermatt and Gornergrat!

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

Our home from home for a few days was the pretty little town of Spiez, Switzerland. Set on a little inlet leading off Lake Thun, with an impressive castle perched on the hill and boats bobbing around on the marina waters, we couldn’t have asked for a better setting for our first foray into the world of Airbnb.

 

Our little chalet was part of an apartment block adjacent to the boardwalk that skirts round the marina. With the start of the summer season just getting underway (we were there in May), it was still a quiet and sleepy place – the perfect spot for a relaxing getaway. Compact and cosy, our apartment hosts (we communicated by email) had done everything possible to create a welcoming homely space.  Our daughter, Mlle, who loves cooking, prepared some delicious meals for us. The little balcony off the living room was the ideal place to admire the stunning scenery and watch the world go by.

 

 

We were so close to the boardwalk it felt as if we could almost reach out and touch the boats. The near perfect pyramid shape of the Mt Niesen peak (part of the Bernese Alps) dominated the skyline above Spiez (you can take a funicular from Muelenen up to the viewing platform).  The light over the Alps, especially as the sun was starting to set, was amazing. If you were a painter you would have a field day here with soft purple, lilac, and gold hues forming as the sun set over the mountains . Not surprisingly the area has indeed attracted many artists including the Swiss born artist Paul Klee, who did a number of paintings of the landscape including Mt Niesen.

 

 

There are a few cafes and restaurants around the boardwalk area but we preferred to eat out during the day and self cater at night. The shops, including a Migros supermarket, are up in the main town about a 10 to 15 minute walk away (and close to the station). There was also a fine looking vineyard just up the road – we didn’t actually go round but still managed to sample plenty of the delicious local wines!

The boat quay was a couple of minutes walk away – from here regular ferries take you down to Interlaken in one direction and up to the city of Thun in the other. We could easily have spent all day lounging on the balcony, reading and just enjoying the tranquility, but we managed to get out and about and do some fabulous day trips. More to follow!

 

Bluemlisalp - Restored Paddlewheel Steamship Lake Thun

Bluemlisalp – Restored Paddlewheel Steamship Lake Thun

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

After a few days enjoying the Montreux area it was time to move on to our next destination, the little town of Spiez on Lake Thun. Being Switzerland, the journey is often as enjoyable as the destination. The Golden Pass line connects Montreux with Lucerne in the heartland of Switzerland. It’s actually a 3 stage rail journey via Zweisimmen and Interlaken but the connections are, as you would expect, seamless.

Montreux Station

Platform Montreux Station

 

It’s a little difficult to take photos from a moving train and the sun glare was quite strong too, but here is a pictorial account of our trip (we went as far as Spiez about 20 minutes west of Interlaken).  The railway line rises steeply up from Montreux, skirting round the other side of the mountain that leads over to Rochers de Naye (see here and here). We came to the pretty little station of Les Avants.

 

Leaving Les Avants, the rolling meadows of the pre-alps led up towards the mountains and valleys of the Bernese Oberland. The scenery was quintessentially Swiss – pretty wooden chalets, spring flowers and dairy cows happily grazing in the lush pastures.

 

The train began to climb again up to the higher pastures and the famous Swiss skiing town of Gstaad. It was out of season for the jet set skiers and a little early for the summer hiking season, so the town appeared very quiet, but basking in the glorious spring sunshine. By now, we’d crossed the Roestigraben (Roesti Ditch), the colloquial term for the division between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland. Gstaad is part of the Canton of Bern – we had said goodbye to the French speaking Vaud.

 

A quick and efficient change onto our new train at Zweisimmen took us the last 40 minutes or so to the pretty lakeside town of Spiez – our home from home for the next few days.

If you are very lucky, you can ride on one of the Belle Epoque Pullman coaches that run on the Montreux / Zweisimmen leg (check the Golden Pass timetable for running times here). With their beautiful plush seats and polished wood ceilings, they transport you back to a bygone era. Unfortunately we didn’t get to ride on them on our recent trip, but by complete chance managed to do so on a previous trip back in 2011. Photos from the vaults here!

 

We have done the Golden Pass journey all the way once before, as well as several rides on part of the line and it’s probably one of our favourite Swiss train rides – all scheduled services, no need to book in advance!

We arrived early afternoon in Spiez. The station is at the top of the hill and our apartment was down by the lake. Not wanting to incur the expense of a taxi, we hauled our luggage partly by bus and partly by foot down the hill – suffice to say, the slight inconvenience was well worth it when we arrived at our little apartment. Our view for the next few days was priceless to say the least!

Spiez on Lake Thun Switzerland

View of the little harbour at Spiez

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

We had thoroughly enjoyed our ride on the little mountain railway up to Rochers de Naye (see here). The information sign at the platform helpfully directed us to the various mountain top activities.

It would be fair to say, though, it wasn’t the best day for sightseeing at the summit or for too many outdoor activities – gloomy skies and a rather chill wind greeted us and we thought the best place to admire the scenery was from the comfort of the “Restaurant Panoramique”. Here we tucked in to hearty Swiss style mountain fayre and enjoyed a half bottle of the local Oeil-de-Perdrix, a delicious rose wine made from the Pinot Noir grapes that grow in abundance in the Vaud canton.

Intrigued by the information sign promising a “Marmottes Paradis”, we headed off to investigate the museum. Ever since we went to the Alpenzoo in Innsbruck a few years back, I have wanted to see one of these cute little creatures in the wild. Unfortunately they were still hibernating that day at Innsbruck Zoo. Here they appeared to be stuffed! Please excuse the quality of photos in the museum – lighting was tricky.

We did, however, learn a lot of new information about their life cycle, mating season and even grooming habits. We also found out that the marmot is known as a groundhog in America (for some reason I’d never twigged they were one and the same). Fortunately later on in our holiday we were finally able to see some marmots in their native habitat – scampering about in the snow near the summit of the Gornergrat Bahn high up in the mountains near Zermatt.

Braving the chill wind outdoors we considered heading up to the flag pole that marks the Rochers de Naye summit a few hundred or so metres above us. Having seen a few walkers slithering around on the snowy, icy path we thought better of it and went to look at the collection of yurts instead.

The “Yurt Experience” is one of the attractions on offer at Rochers de Naye – an opportunity to spend a night in an authentic Mongolian style tent. It sounds a good idea in principle, billed as a romantic getaway or family bonding experience with heating and cosy decor. Just one note though, the amenities (including the toilets and dining room) are in the main building. Something to bear in mind especially in mid winter! In that case you might want to consider staying in the hotel instead. Either way you do get to stay up the mountain after all the day trippers have left and the sunsets and sunrises must be amazing.

Despite the grey day, the views were still spectacular in all directions. It was too early in the season for the Jardin Alpin to be open but in the warmer months there are many opportunities for hiking and walking. A warming cup of tea and a lengthy browse round the well-stocked gift shop later, we caught the train back down the mountain.  More stunning views and displays of spring flowers on the descent – Rochers de Naye is definitely a place we’d love to come back to!

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

We’ve always loved train travel and one of the attractions of travelling in Switzerland is the opportunity to ride on a myriad of trains of all descriptions. From fast inter-city ones down to the quaint little mountain railways that seem to defy gravity as they trundle up and down the mountains, you are spoilt for choice. Plus, like most things in Switzerland, everything runs like clockwork!

We had noticed the little blue and cream train sitting on a side platform in Montreux station and found out that it went up the mountain above the town to the summit at Rochers de Naye.  Although we could get a discount with our Swiss Passes, we did have to pay a proportion of the ticket price. It would, however, have been well worth it for the journey alone.

 

 

Run all year round by the Montreux Oberland Bernois Railway (MOB for short), the journey transports you on the cogwheel train via Glion (known for its hospitality school) and Caux, wending its way via a series of tunnels and switchbacks to the top. It probably wasn’t the best day weather-wise but we still had stunning views back down to Lake Geneva.

 

The lakeside settlements gradually got smaller and smaller until they looked like toy towns. Every time we thought we had seen our last glimpse of the lake we went through another tunnel or round a corner to find that it had magically appeared again on the other side of the train.

 

 

Being late spring the meadows still had some of the narcissi in bloom – apparently the spring floral displays are famous here. We started to see snow appearing too – even at this time of year there was still plenty on the upper slopes (albeit a little grey and sludgy). There were even a few intrepid skiers still around.

 

 

After a journey of around 55 minutes we arrived at the little summit station. Rochers de Naye sits at an altitude of 2042 metres above sea level and in the course of our train ride we’d climbed around 1600 metres. The air at the top was lovely, crisp and fresh and we set off to explore more!

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved

 

 

 

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