Featuring many of the country’s highest peaks, including the Matterhorn, and stretching from the headwaters of the Rhone to Lake Geneva, Stirling ventures into one of Switzerland’s largest cantons…
I strain my eyes looking towards a building, it is tiny in the distance, sitting atop the mountain. It’s impossible to judge scale from here and in turn identify what it is. The evening sun starts to highlight it against a crisp, clean alpine sky. A hunting lodge? A traditional Swiss chalet? Something from the pages of a Fleming novel where international women and men of mystery plan mischief and drink Scotch while adored in their finery? I turn away and head into the hotel, thoughts of adventure, romance and snow tumble together. But let us start at the beginning.
The journey around Lake Geneva by train should be on any travellers list. We were heading to Valais Wallace, so the journey didn’t take long, but long enough for us to admire the grandeur of the Alps, the gravitas of the lake and the endless vineyards adorning the lower slopes of the mountains. There is a weight to Lake Geneva. It holds a brooding power that speaks to the ages the mountains and history of an enticing country. It’s hypnotic. The train would occasionally stop to collect locals and explorers alike, offering the chance to gaze across the moody water reflecting those majestic peaks and wonder about the grapes on those vines. Swiss wine, who knew?
Swiss wine was quite a revelation. Until now I don’t think I’d had the pleasure. Swiss wine is good – and this accounts for my lack of interaction with it. The Swiss keep the majority of it for themselves, and rightly so. Who would want to share such delicious vino when you can keep it all at home, that said you can find it abroad if you look hard. Or use Google.
From train to coach, and a winding journey through the foothills of Valias Wallace, slowly climbing towards the beautiful snow filled valleys and traditional wooden houses of St-Luc. We go higher as the sun sets, our arrival timed perfectly to see golden fire dip below the mountains and then bow out gracefully. The warm glow and welcome of Hotel Bella Tolla awaits and we hustle inside and out of the chill that is growing now the sun has set.
Hotel Bella Tola is more than simply an historic hotel and luxury spa, it is a heartwarming family home Anne-Françoise and Claude Buchs, proprietors extraordinaire, await us inside. They have the air of a favourite aunt and uncle as they greet you. Hot pine tea and that disarming manner of someone you’ve know for years takes away any strain from the journey. Wood fires burn, a hint of smoke adds to the atmosphere, the hotel cat languishes in the glow. It is warming literally and metaphorically.
The rooms capture traditional design with many high end, traditional finishes. A highly appointed bathroom complete with roll-top bath, large comfy beds, a bottle of that delicious Swiss wine winking at you from the table. Thank you very much indeed.
We took dinner in the hotel restaurant. It reflects the character and design of the rest of the hotel with its rustic style, log fire and the eternally permeating culture of the warm embrace. Pumpkin soup, a dish served throughout our stay was warm, hearty and tasty. There are dried meats from the Valais, cheese fondue, croûte au fromages, roestis – and most importantly – raclette from the Anniviers region. Add in a dash of wine and you are quite literally done.
It is a very fine first day. We are fed, rested and embraced in delicious Swiss hospitality. A good job too, tomorrow we don snowshoes and take to the slopes on a cross-country adventure. Someone hints we’re heading for the building I spied on arrival, “We’re walking up there? That’s bloody miles up and away,” I hear someone cry. Was it my wife? Stiff upper lip and all that, my dear, what’s the worst that can happen?
Stirling’s Swiss escapade continues in the New Year…
Photos by the author.