Switzerland in miniature: Ballenberg


Delve into bygone rural Switzerland in the authentic farmhouses, dwellings and Alpine huts at Ballenberg, the national open-air museum in the canton of Bern. The honeycomb of paths make for lovely Sunday strolls.

We reach the sunbaked valleys of Ticino after a short stroll through woodland dappled golden. Here, on a bench beside a bulging vegetable patch, we picnic in the heat of the Swiss mediterranean. Mountains face us, tempered by a misty veil.

It's taken all of an hour to walk from western Switzerland, where we parked the car. We've passed giant industrial villas in private grounds, ramshackle wooden storehouses on stone stilts, and gingerbread-house-style dwellings with timber frames and glorious gardens.

This is Switzerland in miniature - Ballenberg, the national open-air museum in the canton of Bern. Arranged according to canton in pastures above poetic Lake Brienz are more than 100 houses and farm buildings, as well as 250 animals, representing rural culture in historical Switzerland.

In one parlour, it's as if we've stepped in while the inhabitants have popped out: a pair of shoes is warming under the oven, and a loaf of bread is set ready on the table. Upstairs, there's a small rocking horse and sweet gingham linen on twin beds.

There's a hat shop - and today, a milliner at work in the studio; and a saddlery, where leatherwork shines. Low-ceilinged huts, with living space attached to stables, are dark but welcoming, reeking woodsmoke. In a townhouse with pale blue trims, we learn how dyes used in the silk industry led to the creation of Basel's pharmaceutical empire. In every nook, the past comes to life in household items, clothing, photographs and books. The vegetable patches are enough to make the mouth water, and the freshly pressed apple juice being sold beside one quenches our thirst nicely.

Now, we're halfway through our tour of the country - and we can't resist spending a while longer on this sun-baked bench on the southern flank of Switzerland of old.










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The sound of silence: Tschiertschen, Switzerland



The sound of silence bellows in Tschiertschen, a village hidden high above Chur in the Swiss canton of Grisons. Meadows teeming with butterflies tangle among mighty conifers, and wild summits orbit into the furthest distance.

The village is charmingly, quintessentially - and I mean, really - Swiss. Shuttered wooden chalets with colourful window boxes are scattered like Duplo bricks across the steep left flank of the Schanfigg valley. The scene is wreathed in woodland and wildflower meadows, which fall away before a halo of bulky mountains with profiles like sleeping dinosaurs. Tschiertschen is actually not far off a fairytale. The hotel we are staying in - the 1894-built The Alpine - shimmers like a palace atop the village rooftops. Cloud further up the valley casts a Wild Witch darkness,

We arrived earlier in the afternoon and my shoulders already feel lower. We're just 90 minutes drive from Zurich, and 20 minutes up from Chur, Switzerland's oldest city, but all that can be seen of the urban sprawl is a glow rising from the valley bottom at night. Strolling the village later, we admire tangled country gardens and nosily peer into low-ceilinged living rooms with Alpine charm in spades. There's an organic farm kiosk selling beef from local farmers and traditionally produced cheese - all much cheaper than the supermarkets in Zurich.

On the three-hour Butterfly Trail the next day we ascend wizened woodland and cross panoramic pastures - not spotting a single butterfly, until we emerge onto a sun-dappled wildflower meadow and are encircled by fluttering chessboard butterflies, pale blue counterparts, blowsy bumblebees and buzzing cicadas.

The Nostalgia bus, a circa 1950s sunshine yellow Postbus model, wakes us to the present as it noisily chugs round the corner by the church and splutters away, impossibly, between the tightly packed houses. It's touristy, but somehow at home in this time-forgotten place, which recedes like a hermit into the mountainside, blooming only to those who come and really listen.

















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Slow travel from Switzerland to Scotland


Slow was the only way to go on our first summer holiday with Baby Albie. And travelling by car and ferry from Switzerland to Yorkshire and Scotland not only saved us another unnecessary flight, but opened our eyes to a world of new wonders. 

Beyond our ferry cabin window, the grey-green waves bulge and swell before cascading into white horses. The sun polishes everything in its path, making nearby container ships gleam like golden palaces. Albie gazes out in wonder. Mummy and Daddy exhale and relax: our summer holiday is off to a soul-soothing start.

We took two days to drive from Zurich to Zeebrugge, making our way slowly through Alsace, with its sun-scorched sloping vineyards and hilltop fortresses, and into Luxembourg then Belgium, with long breaks at roadside "aires" to allow Albie to lie down and kick. If we had flown, I never would have known what beautiful countryside there is here - miles and miles of unspoilt rolling hills and dense woodland, speckled with golden stone-cottaged villages like North Yorkshire, and, further north, East Yorkshire-like flat landscapes studded with poplars carpeting the way to the sea.

On a three-day stopover at my childhood home in East Yorkshire, we do little more than stroll beside canals, savour fruit loaf and pork pies from the nearby butcher-baker, and spend long afternoons introducing Albie to family. Then it's northward to Scotland, on a day of driving that we break with a lazy lunch and detours off the motorway into sleepy villages with meandering rivers and unkempt hedgerows.






















Our next base: Carry Farm,  Tighnabruaich, Cowal Peninsula

Such a rare treasure of a find in these days of human encroachment on the countryside, the setting is virtually untouched. Vivid yellow flag irises dance among reeds that swish and sway beside a rocky beach and the silver Kyles of Bute that separate the peninsula from the Isle of Bute. Oystercatchers protecting nests patrol and swoop, crying at us as we wander along the shore. 

Our lodge at Carry Farm, a small collection of lodges and caravans at the end of a narrow country lane near Kames on Argyll's Secret Coast, is a lesson in meditation. I feel a desire for nothing but gazing at the scenery - these layers of acid, lime and olive green beneath a sullen steely sky. We spend our time walking along the shore, spotting reed buntings and Hebridean sheep, and making friends with farm donkeys Barney and Louis. My ears listen but can hear nothing. The silence is perfect - until Albie makes himself known, of course! 

One day we walk to Kilbride (Ostel) Bay, where a horseshoe of white sand lifts and dances among machair grass, and a translucent water shimmers more beautifully than the most expensive diamonds. Another day, we take the ferry to Bute. It's a journey of no more than six kilometres as the crow flies, but the setting is so removed that our drive takes about an hour along bumpy, rhododendron-lined roads. 

We visit Mount Stuart, home to the Stuarts of Bute, an exquisite vision of Victorian Gothic architecture in red sandstone, elaborate arches and sharp turrets. Inside, astronomy-inspired stained glass windows, a dazzling white marble chapel and ornate pillars delight the eye. There are interesting details - squirrels munching acorns carved into the trim around the dining room, and a casket used to transport the 3rd Marquess's heart to the Holy Lands (the keys to the casket were returned to his wife so she would have "the keys to his heart"). It was the first house in Scotland to have electric lights, an indoor swimming pool and a telephone, while the 300 acres of grounds are a luscious landscaping of unusual trees and plants from across the world. 

Perhaps my favourite walk is in Glenan Woods close to Portavadie. In these ancient oak woods, twisty Atlantic woodland houses numerous moss species. On the shore, jellyfish slumber, translucent, awaiting high tide to carry them away. Thrift and sea pink flutter in the breeze and wild mustard glows in the sunshine. Our lunch at nearby Botanica at The Barn is just as colourful: my open sandwich with edible flowers and cream cheese on homemade sourdough is absolutely delicious. 

The following day, we gaze at Glenan Woods from our ferry heading for the lively fishing village of Tarbert on Kintyre for our onward journey to the Isle of Arran. The trees seem to be whispering stories of centuries gone to a sea that sparkles unceasingly.


























Onward to the Isle of Arran

Albie lies on our picnic blanket, kicking and gurgling in delight, his eyes wide and smiling. Tufty grass billows around us, before the ground tumbles away into a whisky-coloured burn. In folds like green velvet, the flanks of Glen Easen sweep up to meet a sullen silver sky. 

We didn't know what to expect on our first caravanning holiday with Albie to Arran - the "Scotland in miniature" island that we know so well. Would there be enough suitable walks? Would staying in a caravan prove too space-restrictive? But from the start, we know we have come to the right place. 

On our walk up Glen Easen above Lochranza, the undulating boggy ground slows our pace, and allows us to spot a leaping frog, a slithering adder and a lonely orchid. Albie peers out from his sling in wonder as we pass deep pools fringed by rowan trees and tumbling waterfalls. It is here that the local distillery sources water for its whisky, and we later call at the distillery cafe for a slice of homemade Arran Gold cake. Albie loves playing with the farm animal jigsaw on our table.

Another nice walk leads along the sandy beach at Sannox, where the sea shimmers silver between island and mainland, and into woodland of oak and sycamore. We gaze at waves lapping onto the sand and hissing as they fold back on themselves, and Albie smiles as he watches. There's also the five-kilometre Fairy Dell circuit from Newton Shore in Lochranza, with the loveliest views of the Kilbrannan Sound and Kintyre. 

But a favourite activity is swimming at Auchrannie Resort in Brodick, which has a family-friendly pool with family changing rooms and swim nappies for sale. Albie splashes and kicks in delight, and is so worn out afterwards that he sleeps for most of the afternoon. Mummy and Daddy prefer to recoup with millionaire's shortbread from Brodick bakery Wooleys!

Before leaving, there's time to visit Brodick Castle, a former seat of the Dukes of Hamilton. A baronial tangle of centuries old stonework and 19th-century turrets, it is filled with dark wood, stags heads and sporting trophies, and sits in gorgeously landscaped grounds overlooking Brodick Bay. Albie's a bit too young yet, but we can't wait to take him back to play games in the Victorian Arcade and in the extensive woodland adventure playground. 

As we sail away from Arran the next day, Goat Fell is bleached by the sun and the turquoise sea twinkles. Brodick Castle glows bronze in the woodland above the shore; beside the water's edge, the pencil-thin road winds its way around the island's contour towards Lochranza in the northwest and the whispering wilds of Glen Easen. For us, a slow drive to Yorkshire awaits, followed by a night on the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge and a leisurely two-day travel back to Zurich. We have holidayed as we mean to journey: slowly.






























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