High and wild in Zermatt

High above the busy streets of Zermatt lies a forgotten world of gnarled tree trunks, unusual wildflowers and magnificent flanks of moraine.
The cloud descended in the night and the landscape around me is playing hide-and-seek behind wet, silvery wisps. As my feet roll over rocks and damp roots, birds perform in the treetops overhead. Flowers in a rainbow colour chart - among them saxifrage, common lady's mantle, thorny thistle, rock jasmine, carthusian pink, rosebay willowherb and Alpine aster - tangle along the sides of the path. Deeply toned Arolla pine trees with gnarled trunks that look taken from an Arthur Rackham illustration form looming figures. Occasionally, there's a window in the cloud and I can see the stilted 'mazots' (traditional wooden huts) on the opposite flank of the valley.

Somewhere behind me is Riffelalp Resort at 2,222m altitude above Zermatt and our base for the weekend. While Tim has opted for a wet morning of traversing the Gorner Gorge, I am following the 'Weg der Stille', a panoramic woodland path to the nearby Gruensee. I'm reminded of the Japanese tradition of 'shinrin-yoku', or forest bathing, as I meander along, lost in my thoughts and the sound of stillness broken occasionally by a waterfall or a brook.

It is one of the prettiest paths I have ever walked. Later that day, I descend to Zermatt to meet Tim, following a steep and lovely forest trail, equally peppered with flowers, until I reach the valley floor, cross a bridge over the gorge and eventually reach the busy village. We munch slices of chocolate and blueberry cake at Baeckerei Fuchs, a traditionally cosy cafe and Zermatt institution for its Matterhorn-shaped chocolates. Riffelalp is a charming spot to retreat to at the end of the day. Subtle-luxe chalet in style, it sits on a sun terrace that seems in touching distance of the Matterhorn and jangles with cow bells. Nothing beats being up in the mountains as darkness folds over the day.

The following day, we follow that lovely 'Weg der Stille' again, this time continuing beyond the Gruensee - a silver mirror rimmed by vast faces of moraine topped by glacier. The wildflowers are again mesmerising. Zermatt has a dry, sunny climate coupled with sandy and chalky soils that provide ideal conditions for Alpine plants and trees, and in the 18th century, British botanists described the region as having the most interesting flora in Switzerland. We see countless types as we climb via Moosjisee to Stellisee, where cottongrass dances on boulder-strewn meadows, and then down to the hamlet of Findeln for a Gault-Millau-rated lunch at Restaurant Paradies. Its sun terrace faces the Matterhorn, but in place of the mountain is a frothy cloud that mimics its shape - equally enchanting to watch blow around as we savour cheesy ravioli (Tim) and Asian-inspired quinoa salad (me).

On our final morning, we awaken to a riot of bells and watch from our balcony as the Riffelalp cows are herded to pastures new, their heads held proud. The sun is shining on the hillsides, lending the grass a velvet sheen. Riffelalp's panoramic outdoor pool beckons, but first there's just time for another jaunt along that wild, tangled path for a last hit of forest bathing and crisp Alpine air.

Spa day at Belmond La Residencia, Deia

There are some places that just feel right. They're different for each of us - a city may speak to some, a tempestuous coastline to others, or a rural village to others still - but they have in common that they help you find yourself, fire up your imagination, make the stress of the day-to-day melt away. For me, Deia in northwest Mallorca is one such place.

One warm day in June, we returned. Travelling from the south, we left behind the towers of concrete coastal high-rises that dominate that part of the island and soon drove into the tight valleys of the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, where the road wound between steep flanks studded with olive groves before spilling out onto a panoramic shelf above the wide turquoise sea. One bend and then another, and then Deia - a tapestry of golden-toned fincas clinging to the hillside amid terraced orange and lemon groves. Glorious.

Our destination was Belmond La Residencia, a beautiful five-star resort in a discrete collection of stone buildings hugging the flank above the village, where we were booked in for a spa day. Such tranquility there: the breeze dusting the treetops, the jangle of sheep bells, the golden light. And the perfect summer temperature - cool like early in the morning, but maintained throughout the day thanks to the profusion of trees.

The spa sits amid landscaped gardens that tumble with blue-toned agapanthus and vivid bougainvillea, and swimming in its light-filled indoor pool, where shutters open onto the mountains, is a heaven-sent tonic. We actually could have spent the whole day just reclining on the sun loungers in the shade though, gazing at Deia's pretty little houses with their shutters in shades of pastel blue, forest green and iris, or in the cooling whirlpool under a canopy of trees.

An excellent platter of tapas in the resort's Cafe Miro drew us away for a while, before we were each cocooned in an exfoliating and hydrating treatment that left our skin silky smooth. Sadly the magic of the resort wasn't powerful enough to make the day last forever, though having to leave was softened by a stroll along the village's main street, which afforded excellent people watching over a freshly pressed lemon juice at a streetside cafe and the chance to enjoy observing as the local builders clocked off for Friday evening, gathering outside the grocery store in a riot of chatter, beer and pastries.

Another time I'd like to return to Cala Deia, the pretty cove separated from the village by steep terraces of citrus fruit groves. For now, La Residencia has set me up for the summer perfectly well indeed.
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