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The best yellow things in Switzerland

Guest blogger Paul Bloomfield learns to love signs (and cheese) in Switzerland:

Self-guided walking holidays in SwitzerlandI knew exactly what to expect on my first visit to the Bernese Oberland. I’d read the most accurate, exhaustive and in-depth text on the country – the definitive source material. I refer, of course, to Asterix in Switzerland.

The Swiss like cheese and they like banks – so Goscinny and Uderzo told me. The cheese is bountiful and melted; the banks impenetrable and anonymous. That pretty much covers all you need to know. I can’t really comment on the banks (the two ATMs I used didn’t ask any personal questions but otherwise didn’t seem especially anonymous, or at least no more than the ones we have in Britain).

The cheese, though, was indeed plentiful and notable – each breakfast and dinner I had to be forcibly restrained from surrendering to ruinous gluttony at the free-for-all cheeseboards in our hotels. Familiar names like Gruyère, Raclette and Vacherin were augmented by an array of novel delicacies – firm or runny, stinky or smooth, blue-veined or orange of rind.

Self-guided walking holidays in SwitzerlandDeserving of special mention was a particularly memorable Bergkäse (mountain cheese) that we picked up at a farmhouse just outside Lauterbrunnen, where we followed a hand-written sign from the footpath to a fridge sat beside the back door, topped with an honesty box. Out came the two-year-matured cheese; in went a neatly folded 10-franc note. Not only did that fine vintage power my girlfriend and me over several mountain passes during the following week, but it tasted all the finer washed down with the righteous contentment of having supported a cottage (or should that be chalet?) industry.

But the thing about Switzerland that I hadn’t quite anticipated was the signs. They’re everywhere. You can’t walk five paces without being confronted by a dizzying array of walking options, neatly and precisely identified on perky yellow arrows: 'Kandersteg 6 Stunden (hours); Gemmipass 2 Std; Melcherboden 1 Std 10 Min'.

At first, I had to fight a tinge of irritation. What price spontaneity? The opportunity to test mapreading skills? Where’s the fun in hiking when there’s simply no chance of getting lost? I couldn’t have been more misguided about being guided. These signs are a gift to spontaneity. They simply beg you to try to get lost.

Self-guided walking holidays in SwitzerlandOn a grey, mist-moist day, we arrived at Lauterbrunnen on the lunchtime train from Interlaken. We could proceed straight to Wengen, and rest up in the hotel (the charmingly timeless Alpenrose, since you ask). Or… a glance at the map was enough to see us scaling the steep valley side to Grütschalp and chugging along on the Lilliputian railway to Mürren. Where next? Gimmelwald’s a mere hour and ten minutes downhill – so says the sign; let’s see how that tickles us. Stechelberg only another hour? Well, where’s the harm in exploring? The signs will always be with us, and with our Inntravel notes, there’s no danger of missing our connection to Wengen. And a choice of routes back to Lauterbrunnen? Veer off from the road along the edge of the valley, close to the parade of cascades tumbling to our left.

And so (mea culpa, Inntravel) we diverged from our designated itinerary. The signs made us do it. But without our confidence in the signs, we wouldn’t have stumbled on the little village shop in Gimmelwald. We wouldn’t have emerged at the very top of the Lauterbrunnen Valley to be surrounded by slow-mo, shimmering waterfalls at just the moment that the cloud lifted. And we wouldn’t have passed that fateful farmhouse with its fridge full of spectacular Bergkáse.

Here’s to the signs. After cheese, they’re the second-best yellow things in Switzerland.

Self-guided walking holidays in Switzerland

Posted: 21/06/2013 08:32:37 by Paul Bloomfield | with 0 comments
Filed under: gastronomy, nature, Switzerland, walking

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