Escaping the Zurich fog

It's been an exquisite day in the mountains, and thank goodness we escaped Zurich, as the fog that was hanging like a film of amnesia over the city this morning later greets us like a high stone dam as we drive back from the sunshine-glistening Alps. We walk from Flims in the canton of Graubuenden in eastern Switzerland down to the milky turquoise Caumasee amid copper-leaved trees, where we gazed up at the mighty Flimserstein. From there, gentle woodland trails lead us high above the spectacularly snaking Rhine Gorge and down to the Crestasee. A pool of inky green water with a tutu of dense pines backed by pointed white summits, it looks, I imagine, like a scene from Alaska. We while away time over lunch by the lake - a feast of hummus sandwiches and pork pie from the award-winning Newport Butchers in East Yorkshire - and laugh over memories of wet walks in the Lake District when I was little.

Dad has been here for the weekend, and yesterday dawned sunny - one of those crisp autumn days when everything sparkles. We walked around the Katzensee, where the golden leaves still clung to the trees, before journeying into a very Christmassy Zurich. After fresh mint tea and moist chocolate Gugelhupf at Conditorei Schober - which resembled a Christmas decorations boutique with its large-baubled trees filling every corner - we meandered among the twinkling stalls and tantalising scents of mulled wine and sugary Kaiserschmarrn at the Wiehnachtsdorf beside the lake, then enjoyed a concert at the Singing Christmas Tree. It may still be November, but anything that cheers up the long cold nights is very welcome.


Autumn in Switzerland

The trees are on the cusp of fiery autumn flame in a marked contrast to the soupy grey cloud that is tangled, matted, above the rooftops when Mum and Nigel arrive for a November visit to Zurich. We stroll around the Katzensee lake, where a flock of white gulls, migrated here for winter, is gathered on the shiny silver surface. A tree studded with red berries is as if singing with tweeting from birds camouflaged in its foliage, and a plump stork gazes proudly into the reeds.

Another day, we warm up over tea and cake at Conditorei Péclard im Schober in Zurich Old Town. It is a warren of rooms with stuccowork, murals, Alice in Wonderland-style counters of sweets and red velvet armchairs. Hoards have come in from the cold, and the ambiance is lovely as we tuck into delicious chocolate Gugelhupf and lemon tart.

At last the cloud loosens - reluctantly and ever so gradually - and we enjoy a glistening day at Basel Autumn Fair. Walking from the train station towards the St. Albans Vorstadt quarter, we pass pastel-coloured properties on serene boulevards and curtains of pale gold foliage dangling over canals in the area known as Little Venice. At St Peters Platz, the aroma of roasting chestnuts, waffles and candy floss lingers on the air - whetting our appetites nicely for lunch in Restaurant Atelier at Der Teufelhof - a hotel-cum-cultural centre within two elegant townhouses at the top of the old town. The restaurant is excellent, with jolly service and we dine on pumpkin soup, sweet potato pureed with Philadelphia cheese, veal chops and homemade vanilla ice cream with stewed plums.

Later, we ride the big wheel on Muensterplatz, gliding over the rickety rooftops and up as high as the terracotta-coloured spires of the Minster. The Rhine is sparkling in the cool autumn sun; views stretch as far as the Black Forest in Germany. The city is majestic in its seasonal golden mantle, a proud display before the matted November fog reclaims its prize. 


My favourite coastline: Flamborough to Bempton

It's just over three miles from Flamborough to Bempton on the East Yorkshire coast. The distance is covered entirely along the clifftop, starting beneath the bright white lighthouse at Flamborough Head, meandering above North Landing, with its sea-carved caves offering doorways for the choppy water, and then climbing to some of Britain's highest cliffs at Bempton.

The British coastline at its best, though something is amiss today: the air is whisper still, not a breeze to lift a blade of grass. And it's warm - we're in T-shirts although it's mid-October. We settle on a bench above Thornwick Bay to munch homemade sandwiches, and admire the weather-polished rock arch beneath what looks like a giant prehistoric mud hut. The place derives its name from Thor, the God of Thunder, because the waves that whip the rocks during North Easterly gales are so deafening. Today, the sea is almost Mediterranean - pale turquoise, clear and still.

Bempton glistens bright white in its chalky glory ahead now, and we arrive expecting to see the RSPB sanctuary's colony of gannets - the site is home to England's biggest mainland colony. But all is still: the streamlined handsome birds are far out to sea for the season, and the curtain of cliffs that normally bustles with them, eerily empty.

On the return leg, we buy a tea-to-go and descend to the beach at Flamborough North Landing. Now in shade, the horseshoe-shaped cove is bedding down for the night, though still peppered with families building sandcastles and dogwalkers throwing toys. A couple balances on a shelf of cliff, trying to encourage their pooch to take a dip; another four-legged friend rushes up and down the shoreline, confused, when its toy disappears beneath the wash.

It's always lovely to be back in Yorkshire, and this time has been no different: as well as beachside frolics, we have caught up with fantastic friends over supper in Warrington and dined with family on pork pies from award-winning Newport Butchers and delicious Italian-inspired cuisine at The Millhouse in Skidby. A rather lovely weekend for our UK swansong as a DINK couple.


Hiking and hearty food: A perfect weekend in Switzerland

Autumn days, when loose cloud tangles in a cool blue sky and the trees look like crackling fires, are made for hiking in Switzerland. A lovely option is the route from Kronberg to Weissbad in Appenzellerland. 

Säntis rises magnificent, its silvery flanks of ridged rock blotted against a huge cool autumn sky. At 2,502m, the highest mountain in Switzerland's Alpstein region is a sudden jolt in the landscape that stretches from the vast sweep of Lake Constance in the north to the jaunty Alpine foothills south of St.Gallen. It's also the wettest point in the country, and even today, with orange sunshine intertwining the cloud, looks moody and menacing.

Our three-hour walk follows the grassy spine from Kronberg to Weissbad at the heart of Appenzellerland, where grasshopper-green meadows that look moulded from Plasticine are speckled with juicy pines, shingle-clad farmhouses typical to the region and cattle grazing. After taking the cable car up from Jakobsbad, we are greeted with a panorama of Säntis, the mountain remaining always on our right as we walk along the gentle ridge towards Weissbad.

A gravelly descent brings us to the chapel at St.Jakob, then a broad grassy path undulating up and down like a sleeping dragon's spine guides us in and out of sun-dappled woodland. We stop for lunch in the shade of pines, mighty Säntis behind us, Lake Constance obscured in haze on the northern horizon, then continue into a scene that quickly becomes bucolic. Farmhouses and cheese huts are strewn across the grassy flanks and the meadows are raucous with cowbells.

The going is easy, and the sun becoming warmer and warmer. The trees mesmerise, their leaves tinged in gold, as if at any moment about to burst into flames, and on the woodland bed, red-and-white mushrooms tantalise. Our descent to Weissbad is unceasingly steep, but lovely in this scene. On the short train journey back to Jakobsbad, we tuck into brownies and watch as the ridge we navigated charges past the windows in a blur of green and gold. Our sights are now set on Urnäscher Käse, a dairy in the shadow of Säntis that stocks cheese from the area.

With my Aunt and Uncle Isobel and Dave here to visit, we're enjoying some of the loveliest sights close to Zurich. One excursion was a tranquil afternoon at Bad Zurzach, an excellent thermal baths on the German border, with water that emerges from source at 39.9 degrees Celsius and is reported to help treat rheumatism and digestive complaints. Two hours of being pummelled by jets in outdoor pools, dashing around rapids and floating in the salt cavern left us sleepy and relaxed. 

The weekend is nicely rounded off with a day on the Bürgenstock that soars to an altitude of around 1,500 metres out of turquoise Lake Lucerne. With haze wisping over the water, trees riotously golden and blotted layers of bluey summits like a watercolour painting, the scene is enchanting. From the Bürgenstock Resort - a dazzling spectacle of Belle Epoque grandeur and modern structural splendour that was once home to Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren - we follow the Felsenweg cliff path to the Hammetschwand, Europe's highest outdoor elevator. Here, we shoot up 150 metres in a glass-fronted box like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, giddily suspended above the woodland that crowds the lake shores, to a viewpoint that overlooks grassy meadows and the Stanserhorn mountain.

After whizzing back down to the Felsenweg, our walk continues along the cliff edge, where the view looks like one from a Norwegian fjord, then through caves and woodland - illuminated by the sun like stained glass windows in a church - before easing onto a grassy meadow above another finger of Lake Lucerne. Lunch is at Taverne 1879, a traditional Swiss restaurant at Bürgenstock Resort. All wood cladding and giant decorative cowbells, it sits beside the chapel where Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer in 1954 and gazes upon meadows and mountains. We dine on cordon bleu (Tim and Dave), creamy Älplermakronen (Isobel) and salty potato Rösti with seasonal mushrooms and crispy veggies (me) followed by artistic Swiss meringues with double cream and berries. 

Hearty fodder to end a hearty autumn weekend - perfect.

And below, beautiful photos of the weekend taken by my Aunt, Isobel Robinson...

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