Summer in Switzerland: edible treats

With summer each year come new designs for a healthier way of living - and Tim and I have certainly been doing some cooking in this vein lately. Here some pictures to (hopefully) make your mouth water!

 BBQ: Chilli lime chicken, sweet potato and Mexican-style corn on the cob
Dinner: Feta, quinoa and pepper balls served with cucumber and pepper with lemon and dill aioli
Fruit: Homegrown strawberries (much tastier than the supermarket variety!)

Turquoise perfection: Klöntalersee

It seems there is no end in sight to Switzerland's spell of sweltering weather - and Tim and I have certainly been making the most of it. Yesterday - with reports that temperatures could reach 37 degrees Celsius in some places - we made for the coolest spot we could think of. Situated at more than 800 metres above sea level, the Klöntalersee above Glarus (Canton Glarus) is a turquoise reservoir flanked by the imposing Glärnisch massif. Our hearts sank slightly as we walked through woodland past the lake's campsite, close to which music was blaring from a ghetto blaster. Why does hot weather always bring 'them' out? We continued walking, keen to find a place away from the crowds and were rewarded when we stumbled upon a pebbly stream bed.

The sun was just creeping onto the beach and, where its rays had already kissed the water, we could see tiny fish beneath the surface. The water glowed turquoise and yet was utterly clear - it was not too sharp either. Tim and I entered with ease and then swam enjoying views of the mountains and chiffon-like waterfalls tumbling down them. We were joined for a while by two beautiful Labradors chasing a stick - there is little as cute as dogs swimming!

Drying off on the pebble beach, we were attacked by horse flies yet there was something charming about being removed from the crowds close to the campsite. It was a peaceful spot to eat lunch, with the almost-perfect mountain vista mirrored in the water. In no hurry to leave, we pushed our departure time back and back, leaving only as shade was beginning to envelope the valley. Every so often while walking back through the woodland and licking ice creams we caught tantalising glimpses of the terraced rock faces above us, rising vertically above the leafy canopy, some of them grassy, others still brushed with snow. So close to civilisation and yet so far...

Thermal waters and rare butterflies: Weekend in Scuol

After passing through the longest tunnel on Switzerland's Rhaetian Railway network - the Vereina - you enter one of the sunniest spots in Canton Graubunden: the Engadin. Here, amongst glistening peaks and quaint hamlets, lies Scuol.

A village of around 2,000 inhabitants, its old town is a maze of buildings with sgraffito-decorated facades. Tim and I arrived on Friday and were immediately charmed. On our way down from the station, we filled our water bottles with the most flavoursome mineral water either of us had ever tasted from a street fountain - Scuol built its reputation as a spa town with pristine natural waters many years ago.

We found our way past 'Pastizzeria' (bakeries) selling traditional foods from the region such as Nusstorte (a caramelised, nut-filled pastry) to our B&B. After having ummed and ahed about whether to go hut-to-hutting this weekend, we had instead opted for cheap accommodation in Scuol that would have the character of a mountain hut. We had settled for Bun di Scuol and were delighted with our choice. It is an old building tucked away in a peaceful corner of the old town. Leah, our hostess, showed us to our room while giving us helpful hints about what to do in the area. The corridors were simple but clean, and the old building was delightfully cool compared to the heat outside. Our room was pine-panelled with a little window overlooking the vegetable garden below - and, the icing on the cake, it contained a bottle of Scuol mineral water. Breakfast the following morning was more lovely still - served in a pine Stube, it featured bread from the local baker, jam made with fruit from the garden and a light, fresh apple cake.

Anyway, that's getting ahead of myself. With a few hours left of Friday afternoon, we went to buy ice cream from a shop that boasted 29 different flavours - I opted for Rhubarb Yoghurt flavour - and walked down through the old town. Each square is crowned by a mineral spring - be sure to fill up water bottles there! Peaks peer up from behind the architecture, which looks a little Italianate in swept terracotta and cream hues. There is indeed a delightful sense of worlds beyond in Scuol - across one mountain ridge is Austria, beyond another, Italy.

We found our way across a bridge over the River Inn (a river that brings back happy memories for us both) and gazed at the church perched atop a mound in the foreground and the deep green forests that swept ever higher on the valley slopes. We dined early in Pizzeria Taverna - a restaurant I can only highly recommend. It looks slightly characterless from the outside - a typical main street establishment - but its sun terrace boasts views of the valley, and its food comes highly recommended. Tim said his pizza base was the best he had ever tasted, and I really enjoyed my creamy home made potato gnocchi in vegetable sauce. Later, we found our way to the village's mineral baths, Bogn Engiadina Scuol. Its pools - which range between temperatures of 34 and 37 degrees Celsius - are filled with water from four of twenty health-giving springs discovered by Paracelsus in the area hundreds of years ago. I particularly enjoyed the salt bath and the outdoor pool where, as the light faded, the mountains looked as if etched in charcoal against the moonlit sky.

Relaxing in thermal water was a fitting way to prepare our muscles for our hike the following day. Waking again to sunshine, we were raring to go on Saturday. We took a bus via S-Charl to Val Mingèr and the heart of the Swiss National Park. As we wound through woodland up to a col, we discovered plants such as the bright orange pinnate-leaved ragwort, common mezereon and rock jasmine, as well as clusters of butterflies that flew around us in their droves like a scene from a fairy tale. Some of them were a rare species in delicate pale blue (Schillerne Gaukler).

Above us were jagged summits and, as we climbed higher, views beyond to other valleys in Graubunden. When we reached the col at Sur il Foss, we were rewarded with some of the most spectacular views: below, a broad meadow filled with a cacaphony of cow bells. Tumbling down to there were steel grey scree slops, topped by stunning summits such as the Piz Plavna Dadaint. Benches were few and far between, so we shared our lunch stop with a lady from Lausanne. She told us how coming to different parts of Switzerland was just like being in a different country for her.

There were no huts on route apart from a cheese hut, and this was lovely, as it really meant there were hardly any people around. Our descent into the Val Plavna was pretty and took us down to what looked like a dried-up river bed and rather resembled a scene from a Canadian landscape. Eventually, the view opened up beyond the pine trees to the Engiadina Bassa. Proudly dominating the view was Tarasp Castle.

Shortly beyond, our walk finished at Tarasp Fontana, a pretty hamlet with a scattering of farm houses. "Can we move here?" was Tim's first comment. With the sun shining and the mountains gleaming golden, I did share his point of view. As always, we were sad to leave the mountains at the end of the day. But our train journey was livened up by a storm that was passing through the valley and, with a clear night's sky to welcome us in Zurich, we realised things could be much worse!


Walk with a view: Der Freiberg Chaerpf ...

While on the train to Canton Glarus at the weekend, I looked out of the window and rather foolishly announced to Tim that I was tiring of Alpine scenery. Beautiful it is, yes, but how the snow-capped mountains and green meadows look the same after a while. I was more enraptured with the expansive seascapes I had recently seen in Northumberland. However, as soon as we set off on our four-hour hike, I realised how ridiculous and unfounded my comments were; how foolish to try to draw comparisons.

After a bus ride from Schwanden to Chis that rattled my nerves (think road as wide as bus with trees tumbling down a sheer cliff to your side), we took a cable car up to Mettmen-Alp. There is a reservoir here (Stausee Garichti), where on Sunday the mountains were reflected perfectly. Sweeping from the shore of the reservoir was a meadow dotted with grazing cattle; the jingling of their bells echoed magically in the natural amphitheatre.

Our path laced along the valley side, gently winding ever higher. We passed a cave gurgling with ice-cold water, where we splashed our hands and then spread out on the grass to nibble dried mango before climbing higher. After a good two hours' gentle climb we reached a plateau - the Freiberg Chaerpf, the oldest wildlife protection area in Europe (it dates from 1548). Its history is honoured along the hike with sculptures by local artist Tina Hauser. Dotted with tarns and strewn with forgotten boulders, the plateau more resembled Scottish than Swiss scenery (especially as there was no hut to be seen) - until you cast your gaze higher to the vista of skyscraper Tschingerlhoerner mountains beyond (if you look closely you can see the Martinsloch - a 22x19m hole in the cliff). Streams met and parted like ribbons across this plateau, thirst-hungry silverweed and snowbells gripping to their banks.

We picknicked up here, at a place known rather humorously as 'Wildmad', before beginning our steep descent down the Chueebodenalp. There were caramel coloured cattle in the meadows here, and I was amazed at the steep path they must have climbed to reach their summer grazing ground. I was rather pestered on the way down by beetles that kept flying into my hair and gripping on - the hazards of summer. The sun beat down on us all day, leaving us with a mountain glow. Our route ended with a cable car trip from Aempaechli to Elm, where we enjoyed an ice cream before allowing our eye lids to droop on the journey home. I certainly now appreciate how all Alpine scenery is unique; how lucky I am to be able to escape on hikes such as these at the weekend.

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