In Switzerland, they greet each other with three kisses, but the allure is in its natural beauty…
“Gravitation is not responsible for people falling in love”, remarked Swiss resident, Albert Einstein. Nor is creamy chocolate, savoury cheese, melting Raclette over a fire or sharing fondue by candlelight overlooking the majestic Swiss Alps, but it certainly helps set the mood. When Byron and the Shelleys sought poetic inspiration, they retreated to the pristine glacial waters, crisp mountain air and serenity that is Switzerland. Modern images convey impeccable watches, pocket army knives, efficient trains, a skiing paradise and clean, livable cities, but my alpine journey begins on a horse-drawn carriage through the woods of Engadin.
Vibrant green. A lush mountain path unfurls as horses jingle and clop toward the Lej da Staz Hotel Restaurant. The sun is setting, and I’m greeted with an effervescent glass of Swiss Fendant from the Valais region. Tender veal ragout served in a glass jar with mountain cheese polenta is paired with a rustic but soft-on-the-palate Carina Kunz pinot noir. When ice cream is offered, I ask for only one spoonful, but easily succumb to five luxuriously creamy scoops of vanilla, chocolate, coffee, caramel and elderflower. Why is this so wonderful? It all starts with healthy cows that, high in the Alps during summer, drink pure glacial water, graze on fresh grass from healthy soil and breath clean air.
St. Moritz is known for its “champagne” climate: sparkling and invigorating. This is the birthplace of alpine winter tourism, but there are also 580 km of hiking paths and 400 km of bike trails. As I set out for a brisk morning ride on my electric bicycle, I can feel myself shaking off the doldrums with each pedal and restorative breath. Breakfast of housemade muesli, yoghurt, carrot juice, nutritional breads, cheeses and smoked trout is fresh, organic and reinforces the natural high of this lofty sojourn.
Schwing! While colourful kite-surfers propel across Lake Silvaplana, I wash down a meaty bratwurst with a quenching mug of beer and watch Swiss wrestlers throw each other to the ground in competition for this year’s Schwingfest. An afternoon sail across St. Moritz Lake is a thrilling rush. Hiking-out, valley winds inch our heeling Laser 16 ever so close to capsizing.
A steep funicular ascends the mountainside up to the Romantik Hotel Muottas Muragl. On top of the world, this picture-postcard chalet of Swiss pine, walnut wood and stone serves indigenous mountain recipes and unparalleled skyline views. Local charcuterie and sweet birnenbrot—dense gingerbread made with dried pear, fig, raisin, pine kernels and nuts—is a tantalizing match; while traditional capuns, spätzle dough and dried veal wrapped in chard leaves and bacon sauce, is like mountain soul food.
Villages across Switzerland boast their own regional recipes, cheeses and wines. What they have in common is that there are no GMOs anywhere in the country—they’re illegal. And, what is grown is organic. Ricola herbal farms dot the countryside, and the higher the altitude, the more potent the herb.
At the Schütz family’s Ricola farm nestled in the Emmental Valley, I look out over rolling fields of lemon balm and peppermint that perfume the breeze, and snack on a picnic of local Emmental, Gruyere, shredded Hobelchas cheese, sausages, warm buns and winter fresh mint water.
No visit to Switzerland is complete without sampling Swiss chocolate. Artisanal chocolate boutiques can be found across the country. The Swiss invented conching, tempering and milk chocolate. Rudolf Laederach invented the truffle shell method and the Laederach couvertures of fresh cream truffles and chocolate bark are the dreamiest indulgences.
The shape of the Toblerone was not inspired by the Matterhorn as many believe, but by Theodor Tobler’s visits to Paris, where he became enchanted with exotic dancers at the Folies Bergères. According to his sons, the triangles actually represent the show finale, where the dancers formed an eye-pleasing pyramid.
Swimming along the current of the River Aare as it rolls into the picturesque city of Berne evokes my inner reckless spirit, while at the Bellevue Palace a warm breeze envelops the riverside terrace where I dine on a roasted fillet of local sturgeon and crunchy potato rösti with papaya relish and Swiss Highland single malt whiskey. In the kitchen, I ask Chef Gregor Zimmermann if there is any Swiss dish without butter, cream, cheese or frying. “Of course,” he laughs, and offers me a pot of water. Swiss cuisine is made for warmth, sustenance and romance.