When I have travelled, over the years, one of the things that I have appreciated the most about staying with hosts and friends is the hospitality. It doesn’t matter where I have been in the world, it seems that people love to open their arms to me and introduce me to all manner of awesomeness.
My first piece of sightseeing in Switzerland was a road trip was to Monstein. This also began the introduction of the autobahn; where fast is fashionable, not furious. The car snaked around the base of a massif with verdant pastures and ligneous homes dotted in small clusters, like mushrooms in a field after an autumnal shower. Through tunnels we curved into sharp bends. Large amounts of cyclists whirred along tracks; in groups, in pairs, on their own. A man roller-bladed down a path, pushing a pram. I could’ve easily had gotten fit, just by watching the activity pass by.
My host was a veritable cornucopia of knowledge, explaining everything as we drove.
“That’s Heidiland… up there.”
“Gruezi means hello.”
“What are those things, way up there?” I asked, pointing to dark posts and lines randomly sticking horizontally out of a mountainside.
“Those are avalanche fences, to stop the snow from falling down.”
“That in there was a famous TB healing clinic… they were popular many years ago… people would come from overseas to go and stay…”
“That hotel is known as The Golden Egg.”
“This is Davos, where they host the world economic forum.”
In the summer light, Davos looked understated but was apparently quite touristy and also a major ski town hotspot.
Down through a crotch of mountains and after a turn off, we wound up this increasingly skinny road. I sucked in my stomach and held my breath, hoping it would help our vehicle’s cause if we did happen upon oncoming traffic. The cosy wee settlement of Monstein was on a plateau that had interrupted the hillock’s slide. It felt as though it had been lifted right out of a fairy tale story book; cottage gardens affront the classic Walser village homes, several restaurants with cross-legged patrons, a school, ten water pumps, and two churches – the newest one being a century old. The local brewery was preparing for its annual beer festival by having a tractor zip cartons of ales from storage to trestle tables outstretched.
My host family had lived there for a few years. I wondered how hard it was to move from such a unique and humble setting; a homely place, with the crisp air dancing amid the cadence of each inhaled breath. I imagined visiting a grandmother, in her stoic timber house; chimney puffing through the thick white snow as she handed over a mug of hot cocoa, whilst stirring the chunky soup on the stove top. Bliss.
I was taken for a walk ‘up the hill’. We followed the gravel track over some farmland and stopped at a rush of cool water that belted from an imaginary tap, out of the slope. An empty bottle was unscrewed and thrust underneath, catching the liquid gold.
“Monstein has the best water in Switzerland”, I was told.
The Swiss water, I would have to agree, is the best I have ever tasted. So natural and refreshing, it is the Dom Perignon of H2O hydration treats.
We walked up, along, around, and up. A cyclist was climbing steadily and I marvelled at his determination and strength. As he overtook us, there was the faint buzz of an electric engine, helping to keep the pedals ticking over. What a cheat…
Another bit of flatness in the terrain warranted a couple of houses to signify another ‘village’. A lone farmer, with an over-sized scythe, slayed the steep hillside grass leaving piles of destruction. He was the Grim Reaper of pasture and much more impressive than motorised cycling guy.
At the top of the world we continued, to meet the last settlement, directly below the rocky peaks. A cabin had long sleeved shirts hanging from the cross-hatch in the logs. A wooden cow shed lined with old-fashioned cream cans reeked of bovine and hay. The water pump doubled as a collection point for the milk urns. It was a far cry from the dairy farm empires, back home.
Out in the open, the fresh air soothed my nostrils and cooled my lungs. It felt as though I was inhaling air in its most heavenly, natural state. The greens of the countryside were a tapestry of vibrancy, comfort, and new beginnings. I pictured a retreat plonked on the hillside; the surroundings a muse for great literary and artistic feats.
The round trip back through the pines reminded me of traipsing through my old family farm. It was a weird feeling to be halfway across the world, but still have an essence of home. There were wild blueberries to sample, tree roots to trip over, and my chuckle to carry through the branches and leaves. Luckily I wasn’t there during winter time, causing avalanches from the eruption of laughter.
That evening I came home and hoed into some sweet treats. In between hiking, I was eating chocolate; which is probably a good thing that Switzerland does both so well.
There are so many more Swiss adventures to come; like seeing four countries from the Pizol peak, discovering that Swiss cows actually wear bells around their necks, and not biting off all of my fingernails after taking a ski lift down a steep drop. Until then X