By Nancy Truman
Last week, I was unexpectedly reminded why I do what I do. I’d barely got my freelance career in gear when COVID-19 grounded us and it has been looking kind of grim. Still, I still wasn’t ready to give up on my dream, which is why I found myself on a webinar hosted by the North American office of Switzerland Tourism listening to Jeff Wilson, the host of PBS’s Real Rail Adventures, talk about his amazing journey through Switzerland with Swiss Railways from the Glacier Express to the Chocolate train and many places in between. Wilson’s words that followed helped me rekindle my dream.
He reminded all of us what it means to be a travel journalist, whatever the media. Even during a time of crisis in the world, let alone in the travel industry, he reminded us of our ability to give enjoyment, inspiration and information to those who tune into or read about our journeys. With everyone confined to their homes there’s definitely a need for all those things. And Wilson notes, many people who pick up a travel magazine or watch shows like his are “armchair travellers”, but there are always some who are inspired to make their dreams a reality. So maybe we can dream together and plan for the day it’s again safe to explore the beautiful world we live in and connect with the people who live in it.
In keeping with the webinar, I sifted through photos and notes from a trip I took to Switzerland in Fall 2018, a country I longed to visit not least for its renowned chocolate and cheese.
I got everywhere by train — yes, the rail system does run like clockwork — and by ferry, and at every turn I was inspired by the landscapes stunningly beauty from the alps to lakeside towns and wine trails. I was also blown away by Switzerland’s “best kept secret” that it makes some of the best wines in the world, and the cuisine from innovative Michelin chefs to traditional fare. What impressed me the most, though, was the way the Swiss are able to slow down, breathe in the fresh air and recharge by heading into the alps to hike, have a picnic or sit by a beautiful lake.
Read my articles here: Lake Geneva in my Pure Swiss Bliss piece and of my travels in Graubunden in Switzerland’s Old World Charm Can Make You Feel Like Royalty.
As always, there were special places I visited, stayed at or ate at that didn’t make it into print but are worth sharing here:
Country guesthouse La Musardière, a charming guesthouse in Essertines-sur-Rolle, a small town in the foothills of the Jura mountains above Lake Geneva, isn’t accessible by train. If you’re travelling by car, though, the spacious farm property is only 25 minutes from Lausanne or Geneva, the you’ll find beautifully appointed rooms, stunning views and all the tranquility and peace you could want. The hosts serve a hearty continental breakfast, but not lunch or dinner.
Seasonal fare German born chef Thomas Neeser at Les Saisons in Grand Hôtel du Lac was awarded a Michelin star for his four season menus featuring exceptional produce sourced locally and from around the world. Nesser runs a spotless restaurant and is passionate about showcasing Swiss cuisine. This was my first taste of venison. The prime medallion cut was cooked to perfection and served with a juniper sauce, chestnut puree, red cabbage, spätzle and a poached botzi pear, a tiny alpine variety that grows in clusters. The restaurant also prides itself on a wine cellar that contains some of the best wines Switzerland has to offer, including those from nearby Lavaux. The Grand Hotel du Lac sits just back from the boardwalk along Lake Geneva.
Le ContreTemps in Montreux also features seasonal menus. I was served a lot of pumpkin soup but the one here topped with pumpkin foam and bacon bits was definitely the most memorable. A steak with potatoes gratins and seasonal vegetables was followed by a light but delicious dessert of wine poached pear with almond shortbread. But best of all was the view of Lake Geneva from the terrace.
The Swiss claim their wine is the world’s best kept secret. That’s because most of the limited production is quickly scooped up by local restaurants and hotels, with only a trickle if any making its way to North America. I can’t argue with their claim. Every glass of wine I had was really good but my favourites were the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from the vineyards in the canton of Graübunden.
Of the wineries I visited, the most intimate experience I had was at the behest of Hans Hürlimann, my guide through the Oldtown of Chur, the capital of Graübunden. After the tour, Hürlimann suggested I join him to meet up with his wife at Davaz Winery, where they help with the grape harvest every year. It was the last day of picking and the winery was hosting a lunch to thank its volunteers, so after a tour of the facility I was invited to join in raising a glass to a job well done. You can read about my other winery tours in the links provided.
If you visit during harvest, don’t expect tasting rooms to be open to receive you, especially at the small, family-run wineries that make up the UNESCO World Heritage wine region of Lavaux. If you are hoping to purchase a few bottles of Chasselas, the grape varietal indigenous to this area, a good place to start is at Obrist Artisans du Vin (www.obrist.ch) in Vevey. Obrist has been bottling and selling the wines of this region since 1854, and the shop offers a wide selection for tasting and purchase, including superb rare, aged wines.
If you’re looking to pick up the makings of a cheese and charcuterie board and a bottle of local wine to enjoy at one of the picnic spots overlooking Lake Geneva, head to the tiny town of Epesses hidden among the terraces of Lavaux. At Les 11 Terres Wine a co-operative (www.11terres.ch) owned by 11 vintners you can choose from a wide array of wines for tasting and purchase.
If Swiss wines are one of the country’s best kept secrets, Jérôme Aké Béda is Lavaux’s secret. Since 2006, Aké Béda has been the Maître d’Hôtel and sommelier at Auberge de L’onde in St-Saphorin, a picturesque village hidden among the vineyards. Born and raised in Côte d’Ivoire, Aké Béda surprised everyone by winning the title of Sommelier of the Year 2015 from the Gault & Millau in Switzerland. Working as a head waiter in some of the world’s top hotels and restaurants, Aké Béda is a self-taught sommelier. He claims that the secret is in paying attention to the structure of the sauce. From Aké Béda I got the best description of Chasselas, which he calls “the sister of Pinot Noir,” noting that it’s crisp flavour and minerality comes from being aged in oak that has been used at least three or four times.