There’s a quote from Annie Dillard that I love – “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Having spent about a quarter of my days over the past 2 decades in the Alps, and thinking, talking and writing about them the rest of the year, they have become, of course, a very big part of my life. You can do and see a lot with long summers here every year, but somehow still there’s always something new. And the list of things I wanted to get to this summer, but didn’t, is pretty long. I didn’t see the new cable car to Mont Blanc in Courmayeur, or visit the nearby spa in Pre St Didier (an oversight for sure). I didn’t hike in Gran Paradiso National Park, or the Vanoise, check out the Chocolate Train, or visit the castle and otherworldly Giger Bar in Gruyères. I didn’t check in with our hotels in Griesalp, Kandersteg or Gasterntal (among other places), and skipped basically the entire second half of the Alta Via 1 in the Dolomites. But I’m pretty happy with what I’ve been able to do in the 5 short weeks that I’ve just wrapped up this summer.
Over the past few days…
It’s been awhile since I’ve been treated as dismissively as we were at the Hotel Rosenlaui a couple days ago. This is an historic Victorian-era hotel that is on our Bernese Oberland route, that I’ve never stayed at or even looked at, but have always been intrigued by. They never used to take one night stays, but now they do (according to their website), so my friend Marc and I had popped over for lunch and to take a look. She tells me, “We worked with an American company once, I don’t know if it was you, and there was a problem with the payment.” Well it wasn’t me, we typically pay our hotels, and can we see a room? “No, we’re fully booked.” It was a rainy Thursday morning in the middle of September, all the keys were hanging behind her on their hooks. There were crickets… nobody there at all. “Besides”, she continued, “we don’t have private bathrooms. There may be people in the hallway in their underwear.” Then she handed me a book with pictures of the rooms.
People in their underwear! By all means… I get the point. We’re not going to be working together. I understand that not all hotels want an influx of one-night stays (which is all I have to offer here), but there are probably more straightforward ways of making your point. Oh well. This is why we look at the hotels and meet the owners, so we have a better sense of who’s going to treat our clients well and who’s going to, let’s just say, be less reliable. Besides, in this case, we have an inn just up the road that I’ve used since 1999 and am very happy with. Marc and I left Rosenlaui and went up there for lunch. Johann and Melanie have run Schwarzwaldalp since 2010 and have always been always been exceptionally friendly and attentive. They have great food, and although they run just a modest little inn, a little care and friendliness goes a long way. They have a toddler son, so they took turns watching him and visiting with us, told us how nice our clients have been, asked how the summer went, helped brainstorm a minor luggage issue we’ve been having. It was great. These relationships matter. I’m always reminded of that.
The next day I was off to Champéry, in the southwest corner of Switzerland near the border of France. I had never even heard of Champéry until I met Doug Mayer, our partner with Run the Alps, whose family has owned a chalet nearby for decades. He loves it, raves about the peaceful atmosphere, the variety of trails, and about his friends Phillip and Sophie, who run the Beau Sejour hotel, which was named the “friendliest hotel in Switzerland” by Swiss tourism in 2013. That sounds like my kind of place! So I met Doug there, and stayed at the Beau Sejour, and you know what… they are very friendly, the town is very cute, and the valley feels like a place I would like to explore for 4 or 5 days sometime. I’m not hiking or running right now, having aggravated a nagging injury while in the Dolomites, but I know a place that I like when I see it. I’ll put it on the list for next year.
On the way back to Mürren, I decided to stop by Lausanne for half a day. We don’t offer tours to Lausanne – it’s just never quite made in on my Best Places in Switzerland list, and the times I’ve been there before haven’t made an impact (I prefer the sights around Montreux instead). But we do book people in Lausanne from time to time on request, and I was interested in visiting the Olympic museum there, having heard from Margherita on my Dolomites trip that it’s really quite fun, so I made the detour. And I agree, it is fun and very interesting. There are 120 years of modern Olympic history, with stories from each and every one of them. Lots of interactive exhibits, everything is available in English, and plenty of interesting videos of iconic performances, new events and traditions, replicas of all the torches and medals, history of the Pan-Hellenic games over 2000 years ago, political side-plots, and on and on. I was kind of blowing through the museum, but spent an hour and a half there almost by accident, and could easily have stayed longer if I were in a more leisurely mood.
But now that’s it. Another summer in the Alps (my 18th) in the books, and it’s time to go home. I love the Alps, and love the way my life is here, which is very different than at home in ways big and small. It’s a different world, a different life. I’m out meeting people from all over the world and exploring places daily, I live in a car-free village that you get to by cable car, and take public transportation everywhere. I haven’t even thought of turning on a TV in my time here, and am viscerally opposed to listening to devices when I run or hike, which just doesn’t seem right in such a place. I have a ham sandwich for breakfast virtually every morning (somehow it makes sense), and I think nothing of stepping out the door in my trail runners and heading out for 5, 6, 8 hrs or more… all day. Of course, this year my kids and family are at home, so I have even more space to explore and reflect, but they’ve spent many, many summers here with me as well, and the lifestyle changes are much the same.
But I wouldn’t want to stay in Switzerland all the time. Home is home. 5 weeks is enough. As much as I love the Alps, I love stepping off the airplane and back into that other world, where my kids jump on me every morning (always before I’m quite ready to get up), and work and errands fill the day until there’s barely any time to think at all. It’s good. I like being in the same time zone, or close to it, as friends and family, I like going from exorbitant Swiss prices to the nearly-free US ones, I like pancakes and unlimited coffee, and being back to all that is familiar and comforting. So as I leave this summer in Switzerland behind, I really don’t mind. It will all be here when I return, afterall. David Lebovitz, an engaging Paris-based food writer, says (writing about Switzerland, no less) “I’ve learned from traveling that you don’t have to take everything home – sometimes you just need to go back.” I like this. I’m excited to get home, and will look forward to spending many more days in the Alps next year!