Winter walk: Melchsee-Frutt to Tannalp

Melchsee-Frutt, a high plateau in Central Switzerland, looks like a corner of Antarctica with its smooth frozen lakes and colours as if from an artist's palette.

The queue was like one to get into a pop concert, and I found myself wondering why we had chosen such a crowded destination for today's hike. But escaping Zurich's amnesiotic mist of misery was necessary and we had been tempted by beautiful advertising imagery of Melchsee-Frutt in the canton of Obwalden.

An hour of queuing later (thank goodness for my daily mindfulness practices to help me cope), we were on our way up to the plateau at around 2,200 metres above sea level - and it quickly became clear that, like for most of the best things in life, the wait had been worth it. Summits unfolded around us, their flanks as if dusted in icing sugar; icicles dangled from rock faces; the sun painted the low-lying thin mist golden. At the top awaited a wide white expanse suspended between the mountains of Central Switzerland - frozen lakes hidden deep under a marzipan layer; tumbling folds of snow; jagged summits poking up around the lot.

We set off along the pisted walking trail towards Tannalp, around 4km along the plateau, beyond the frozen Melchsee, twinkling as if studded with crystals. Ahead of us, the summits of Titlis and the perfectly proportioned Graustock reigned majestic. The sun flooded the scene in gold, blotting the white in a dazzled haze. Cross country skiers swooshed around us. The crowds had dispersed across the huge plateau.

Soon, Frutt chapel chimed midday - a Christmas card scene, this white stone structure set in deep pleats of snow - and we settled on a wall outside a shuttered dairy to enjoy our turkey sandwiches. After topping out at Tannalp, our path became rugged, tumbling through deep, shaggy snow as it skirted the Tannensee into a scene that looked like a corner of Antarctica. Unblemished snow beneath towers of rock in colours as if taken from an artist's palette.

As the sun began to slide behind the horizon, it cast china blue shadows across the snowy flanks, and by the time we crossed the dam at the far end of the lake to take us back to the cable car, our noses were red with the cold and our shadows, long and sinewy.

Crowds had once again formed - and I suppose little wonder given the beauty of the place and the number of hotels and facilities clustered around the lift infrastructure. We had enjoyed a tranquil walk nevertheless, but will be seeking out a queue-free destination for our next hike. We did later learn that lift passes can be purchased online in advance, thereby saving one of the long queues - and I highly recommend this for anyone planning a winter visit.


Boxing Day 2018: Winter walk at Sattel, Hochstuckli

Between the lakes of Ägeri, Zug and Lucerne lies a winter paradise with views of jagged mountains that rise above the seasonal sea of fog like sharks' fins. 

At last, 50 minutes out of Zurich, we can see the edge of the fog. It's cobweb thin and teasingly looping around magnificent mountain shapes. We have driven to Sattel in Central Switzerland, between the lakes of Ägeri, Zug and Lucerne. The scene is a winter spectacle. We take a revolving gondola - the world's first, apparently - to Mostelberg at 1,200 metres above sea level, where glistening ski pistes are hectic with activity. Our route is the 1.5-hour, 5.4-km Engelstock LOOP trail, which circuits the 1,297-metre summit in a beautiful fashion.

Shady, frozen woodland soon opens onto a pristine scene - twinkling thick white meadows tumbling towards a serrated horizon in tones of ice blue. Rising like sharks' fins are the Grosser and Kleiner Mythen - such impressive hulks of rock. In between, a sea of fog is trapped in the valley. Up here, the sun is bright and we are warmed through by the time we stop for lunch of Christmas dinner leftovers on a panoramic bench at Mostelegg. The sun dazzles; we could sit here for hours.

Continuing, we pass quaint farms that look like gingerbread houses before descending to the Raiffeisen Skywalk - a 347-metre long suspension bridge strung 58 metres above a riotous gorge. So many people are crossing the bridge, it is swaying from side to side in a manner that makes me feel seasick!

We bid goodbye to the sunshine before descending, gently rotating, to the valley floor. But the fog has thinned, and we are unexpectedly treated to views of the Mythen duo, veiled in mysticism, like an etching in fine pencil, as we drive home. 


Christmas in Zurich, with a few Yorkshire traditions

'Twas the night before Christmas...

... and Tim and I were alone in Zurich for the very first time at Christmas due to my late stage of pregnancy making me unable to fly. But we were determined to celebrate properly, and enjoy the treat of a quiet festive season. Sitting in the fridge was a free-range organic turkey and all the ingredients for a good old English Christmas dinner.

We celebrated Christmas Eve with a tradition in my Mum's family - frumity, a porridge-like dish made with bulgur wheat, syrup and lashings of nutmeg and mixed spice. For a first attempt, we were pleased, and we followed it with a cheese board and spice bread made to my Grandad Feaster's recipe. "Pup" spent the day kicking like mad, as if he knew something was afoot. 

The flat is twinkling with Christmas decorations - cascades of berries and pine cones and little lights - so although December 25 dawned in Zurich's usual grey cloak of winter misery, we felt in a festive spirit. Soon, the kitchen was oozing warm, sweet and winter-spiced fragrances - the bay-and-orange scented turkey; red cabbage, apple and onion bake; and purple roast potatoes. 

Carols on the CD player and the Christmas candle flickering on the dining table - traditionally in our family lit on Christmas Eve and left to burn out. We made merry opening our generous haul of presents over a few handmade chocolate truffles from Case Nobile in Switzerland, then concluded dinner with a wedge of panettone from Ticino in the southernmost tip of the country. A lovely Christmas in Switzerland with a few traditions from home and oodles to thank the universe for. 


A Swiss winter wonderland with Will and Sadie

Bargis, a high plateau tucked above the eastern Swiss ski resort of Flims, oozes winter wonderland beauty - think untouched marzipan layers of snow between limestone rock faces tumbling frozen waterfalls.

We've stepped into a winter's tale. Ahead of us, a deep snowy basin braided by walking trails and cross country ski loipers, and rustling with frothy deep green pines. Encircling the scene, soaring limestone faces cascading frozen waterfalls. Behind us, beyond the edge of the plateau, a sea of snowy summits glistening in cold sunlight. This is Bargis above Flims in eastern Switzerland. The plateau is located at around 1,150 metres above sea level between the limestone walls of the Flimserstein and the steep slopes of Lovadignas. And it is spectacular.

Will and Sadie are staying with us for the pre-Christmas weekend and we have driven to the mountains from Zurich to escape the persistent monotony of the grey, wet weather. We crunch through the deep snow into a biting wind that carries snowy dust. Our trail follows the icy Aua da Mulins mountain stream and winds between frosty trees. There's nobody around. The only sounds are the gush of the wind and an occasional moan of shifting snow on the sheer flanks.

After a picnic lunch, we descend through woodland, where huge globules of snow balance on bushes like caps. Gradually, the marzipan-smooth layer thins into slush and we emerge at the pretty hamlet of Fidaz - a tangle of arty chalets peering at a magnificent mountain panorama.

The winter's night is releasing its dark cloak over Flims by the time we reach the resort. Menacing cloud has gathered on the Bargis plateau now - an angry misty web pushing against the mountain flanks. For us, spiced tea and regional nut cake await in a golden-lit cafe on the main street, where Romansch-speaking locals merrily chat. What a lovely start to Christmas week 2018.

And a few snaps of Christmas at our place...

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