Tag: Traditional Foods of Switzerland

Legendary Dishes | Brunsli (almond and chocolate biscuits / brownies)

SWITZERLAND

A plate of Basler brauns a little darker at the edges than they should be – the consequence of over-baking!


The original brownie, these delicious gluten-free biscuits are associated with Basel confectionary, (known as Basler Brauns) and warm festive evenings at the turn of the year.

Traditionally they were always made with almonds, then hazelnuts began to appear frequently in some recipes.

Equal quantities of almonds and hazelnuts are found in the commercial concoctions, which come in different shapes.

Some versions exclude the egg whites and some use chocolate chips.

This version is based on an early 1900s recipe, with a moderate amount of chocolate.

  • 200 g almonds, ground
  • 200 g vanilla sugar
  • 125 g chocolate (85%), broken into pieces
  • 50 g hazelnuts, ground
  • 2 egg whites
  • 30 g cocoa powder
  • 4 tsp kirsch
  • Cinnamon, large pinch
  • Cloves, ground, large pinch
  • Salt, large pinch
  • Sugar, for rolling
  • Water, boiled, for bain marie

Mix thoroughly the almonds, hazelnuts, cocoa, vanilla sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a large bowl.

Pour boiled water into a saucepan, put a large bowl on top without touching the water, place chocolate in bowl and leave to melt.

Add the almond mixture to the chocolate, stir thoroughly. When it is cold add the kirsch. Beat the egg whites and fold into the chocolate mixture.

Cover with clingfilm and leave in refrigerator for an hour.

Dust a clean surface with sugar, roll out the dough until 1 cm thick. Cut into desired shapes, place on trays lined with baking paper, and leave at room temperature overnight or for 6-8 hours during the day depending on the time of year – shorter in summer.

Pre-heat oven to 240°C, bake for no more than seven minutes. Leave to cool on paper for a few minutes, then transfer to rack.


Legendary Dishes | Nüsslisalat mit Frucht Vinaigrette (cornsalad with fruity vinegar)

FRANCE SWITZERLAND

Traditionally the European green salad was an hors d‘oeuvre, a light dish to whet the appetite.

Its association with haute cuisine damaged its reputation in the eyes of less sophisticated diners, who could not see the point of eating tasteless lettuce leaves with insipid vinegar and rancid oil.

The French, Italians and Swiss changed this attitude by developing varieties of wild green leaves specifically for the purpose of serving them in a salad dressed with impeccable oils and aromatic vinegars.

Perhaps the best example of this innovation are the leaf clusters once known in English as lamb’s lettuce and now as cornsalad. Rich in vitamins and minerals, these emerald green leaves are enigmatic because they contain omega-3.

The wild valérian variety (mâche or rampon in France, nüsslisalat or feldsalat in Switzerland, valerianella in Italy) was deliberately cultivated to produce a nutty flavour.

Grown throughout the year cornsalad is now an essential ingredient in European green salads.

  • 300 g cornsalad, washed, dried
  • 45 ml walnut oil
  • 30 ml balsamic vinegar
  • 15 ml apricot nectar / pear nectar
  • Seasonings

Combine nectar, oil and vinegar, dress cornsalad, season and serve.


Indigenous Ingredients

Apricot
Cornsalad
Pear
Walnut

Legendary Dishes | Bricelets (waffle biscuits)

SWITZERLAND

Swiss breads and pastry confections are among the most diverse in Europe, and more than equal the quality and quantity of the Turkish (and Ottoman) tradition. This expertise comes together every year with the Bénichon meal in the canton of Fribourg, where the breads and confections include beignets, cuquettes, croquets and pains d‘anis, and in the delicious crispy brown biscuits known as bricelets.

Cream plays a huge role in the bricelet so it is no surprise that country women are among the best exponents in the art of waffle making.

Denise Bongard of the Fribourg Association of Countrywomen is one of eight women on the Au Bricelet d’Or (Golden Waffle) group. ‘As we are all countrywomen, we use our own cream, which we skim and leave to rest for two or three days,’ she says.

Bongard is also a wizard with a bricelet wand, the tool that is needed to produce the distinctive hollow cigar shape. And this is the problem for anyone who wants to make these delicate delicacies. A waffle iron is required.

The modern waffel iron, in two pieces, which open like a book, appear to be an invention of the 1700s. In western Switzerland they were forged with a decoration, which imprinted a particular pattern on the biscuit.

Nowadays the bricelet iron fer à bricelets is an electronic affair.

The traditional bricelet is generally made with butter or cream, flour, salt or sugar and water. Cheese, eggs and seeds (caraway, poppy or sesame), lemon juice and wine add colour and flavour. Butter is used sparingly because it can run out of the hot irons, while thickened stale cream is preferred by bricelete artisans.

The rolled cigar shape is often found coated with chocolate or filled with thick cream.

Wafers and waffles have a long tradition, going back over a thousand years.

This is a small amount to start practising, the lemon giving these biscuits a subtle sweet hit.

  • 100 g white spelt flour / white wheat flour
  • 85 ml stale double cream
  • 65 g sugar
  • 50 ml white wine
  • 30 ml lemon juice
  • 1 lemon, zest
  • Black pepper, pinch
  • Salt, pinch

Beat the cream in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl whisk the sugar into the lemon juice and wine until the sugar dissolves, add to the first bowl.

Beat the mixture, add the flour, zest and seasonings. Whip into a paste, refrigerate overnight.

Using a dessert spoon place a large dollop on the hot iron.

Close and cook for one minute.

Leave as a wafer shape or twist around the handle of a wooden spoon to form a cigar shape.

Cool on a wire rack, keep in a sealed box, consume at your leisure.


Indigenous Ingredients

Cream
Spelt
Wheat

Breads of Europe | Baslerbröt (Basel bread)

SWITZERLAND

Basel is well known for its bakers and it is also known for a bread with a soft crumb and a floury crunchy crust that may have originated in the home not the bakery. Traditionally Basel bread is made with a levain (starter) and with ruchmeal (the half white flour characteristic of Swiss flour mixes).

Levain

  • 300 ml water
  • 150 g whole wheat flour
  • 150 g white wheat flour, t550 or higher
  • 5 g yeast

Dough

  • 600 g levain
  • 600 g white wheat flour, t550 or higher
  • 500 ml water, warmed
  • 100 g whole wheat flour
  • 40 g yeast
  • 35 g salt

Combine the ingredients for the starter, and leave to ferment at room temperature for 12 hours.

Dissolve yeast in the warm water.

Mix the flours in a large bowl, add the yeast water and the starter, work with a sturdy wooden spoon for ten minutes.

Cover and leave to rise for 50 minutes.

Using floured hands turn out out onto a floured surface, and with several folds push the air out of the dough.

Leave to rise for a further 50 minutes.

With floured hands divide the dough into four equal pieces, shape into rounds, place on a baking tray with the floured sides up and leave to rise, about an hour.

Pre-heat the oven to 300ºC.

When the dough is ready reduce the temperature to 230ºC, bake for 60 minutes.


Indigenous Ingredients

Wheat

Breads of Europe | Flûtes au Fromage (cheese bread sticks)

SWITZERLAND

The butter-milk ratio is the essential element in these cheese sticks. The cheese will bind the mixture but more butter and less milk will also toughen the dough, so for a lighter dough and ultimately a light stick use less butter and more milk. We suggest you play with the quantities of butter and milk to achieve the desired texture.

  • 250 g strong white wheat flour
  • 110 g butter, softened
  • 110 g Sbrinz cheese, fine grated
  • 100 ml milk, warmed
  • 25 g yeast
  • 15 salt
  • 15 g sugar
  • 10 g malt / molasses
  • 10 g green / white pepper

Dissolve yeast in the milk and sugar.

Fold 45 grams of flour into yeast mixture, leave to rise for 45 minutes.

Work the molasses into the flour, add the salt and pepper, followed by the cheese, butter and yeast mixture.

Knead the dough gently for five minutes, leave to rise for 75 minutes.

On a floured surface roll the dough out into 30 x 30 centimetre sheet about 5 mm thick.

Cut into long strips 2 centimetre wide, place on a buttered baking tray, leave for 30 minutes.

Bake at 220ºC for 10 minutes.



Cooked, Cured, Curdled | The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 4

Of all the indigenous produce in Europe the bolet is the most popular mushroom


The winter wonderland of the Ursern Valley became a reality for outsiders who wanted to witness Goethe’s ‘snow-capped mountainous desert’ when rail followed road. Open to easterlies and westerlies, heavy precipitation (with snow 184 days a year) and bitterly cold winds, winters in the Ursern valley are harsh and long. Summers are generally warm and wet.

The first settlers in the Ursern contributed to the monotonous landscape. They cleared forested slopes to gain new pastureland. Their animals denuded the slopes. Constantly threatened by devastating avalanches, the valley was almost bare when houses began to dot the landscape.

In 1397 a notice was issued that forbid the removal of the trees by their inhabitants and their descendants. Experience showed that a forested slope provided protection against avalanches, rockfalls and whitewater. Hardly anyone took notice and almost 500 years passed before a plan was made to erect avalanche barriers and begin reforestation.

By 1950 three new forests had been created. The forested land around Andermatt, the principle town of the valley, was doubled and forest wildernesses were created to promote biodiversity. Now there are almost 170 hectares of high forest in the Ursern Valley.

The hunting of deer, chamois, marmots, foxes and badgers is allowed for two weeks each September. Small game hunting season runs from 15 October to 30 November. Wild berry collecting has no limit. However wild mushroom collecting has a daily limit – no more than 500 grams of morels, 2 kilos of chanterelles and 3 kilos of boletus and other mushrooms.

A rival to mushroom soup and stew containing mushrooms, among the most popular traditional dishes in Europe, sausage with mushroom sauce is prominent.

The sausage might be smoked or it might be spicy. It might be cut up and served in the sauce. Generally the sausage is left whole, grilled and served with potatoes and the sauce.

In Switzerland the large pork sausages called bratwürst are a popular snack with bread and condiments. They come alive when they are served with creamed mushroom sauce that sometimes comes with the grated potato dish called rösti.

Ever since the white mushrooms known as champignon d‘Paris became popular they have replaced the bolet mushroom in this sauce, although clever chefs add reconstituted dried porcini to give the sauce an earthy depth of flavour.

So while the champignonrahmsauce is a pragmatic accessory to the bratwürst among chefs and cooks, those with access to the mushrooms of the forest prefer to make this typically Swiss dish with fresh boletus. Then it becomes bratwürst mit steinpilzerahmsauce, a totally different reality with no equal.

The mushroom hunters who bring home freshly dug bolets and chanterelles usually have two thoughts in their mind.

Do I fry these mushrooms in a little oil and eat them with fresh bread?

Do I fry them in oil and add fresh eggs to make an omelette garnished with freshly cracked black peppercorns?

As a traditional accompaniment, creamed mushroom sauce features with slices of veal and once again the champignon d‘Paris is favoured. It also features with meatballs in a dish that is popular in Poland, where the cream is sour cream and, in typical Polish tradition, the sauce is piquant. The choice of mushrooms is more egalitarian. In Italy the sauce is made with cream, garlic and, not unsurprisingly, porcini.


Cooked, Cured, Curdled | The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 3

A slice of the apple, cheese, pear and potato pie called cholera


Restaurant Cheminots is the talk of the town. Diners leave sated, and promise to return. The menu is always a looking glass into traditional Swiss food.

When available freshwater fish from Switzerland’s numerous lakes are transformed into mouth-watering dishes. La pôchouse, the Burgundian freshwater fish stew in a white wine vegetable stock, takes on a Swiss twist.

Veal has been an alpine ingredient for centuries, largely because it has featured in sausage-making. By putting the St. Gallen olmabrätwurst on his menu owner Stefan Welchen is acknowledging the autumn farm fair in St. Gallen when half a million veal-milk sausages are consumed every year, thus paying tribute to a sausage some argue is the best in Europe.

By serving lamb’s lettuce salad with sautéed bacon, boiled egg and garlic croûtons, he is telling his guests, don’t leave the canton without trying the delicious nutty leaves that can be found grown across the slopes of the valley and sold in the market stalls every Saturday.

Always available are local wines, especially the large white wine called fendant, pressed exclusively from chasselas grapes, that goes down well with fondue and other cheese dishes.

Of his signature dishes several are typical Wallis, particularly the famous vegetable pie with apples, cheese, leeks, onions and potatoes known as cholera from the Goms valley, east of Brig.

The 1830s were difficult for the people of the hidden Swiss valleys. Cholera swept across the land, confining people to their homes, where they relied on the stable foods of the land. Out of adversity this unique traditional dish emerged and survives today.

Imagine this! Here is a truly traditional dish made from indigenous ingredients – gala apple, raclette cheese, bosc pear, local leeks and potatoes with a pastry casing made with local wheat.

Raclette cheese has a special place in the heart of the indigenous people who have inhabitated the Gommer valley since the days of foragers, horticulturalists and hunters – a way of life that has not been swept entirely into the mechanisms of utility Switzerland.

A winemaker called Leon is held responsible for its use as a melting cheese when he accidentally let a half-wheel melt by the fire. It is a good story and that is all. The origins of cheese-making in the hidden valleys of the Rhône river valley go back to before the Romans occupied the region. For centuries, cheese was used as currency among the people and with visiting traders. The people of the alpine valleys have always known what to do with their cheese. The number of recipes that have been passed down is testament to that, across the mountains from the Matterhorn to the Säntis.

So it is not a surprise that the people of the Rhône valley regard their raclette as the true melting cheese despite its wider production in other parts of Switzerland and especially on the other side of the Alps in Savoy, where their Raclette de Savoie, recognised by the European Union with a geographical indicator symbol, is made with the milk of the Abondance, Montbéliarde and Tarentaise cows.

Geographically and historically linked to the area that now defines the canton, specifically the valleys of Bagnes and Goms, Raclette du Valais is a semi-hard cheese associated with the lively Hérens cows. As much a part of Swiss alpine scenery as the chalet and cable car, these cows graze the fragrant flora of sloping meadows along with the black-dotted cows of picture postcard Switzerland.

For hoteliers like Stefan Welschen, raclette is the speciality of the canton, because of its character, variety of its flavours and debate about its quality. The herders of the Goms Valley insist their milk is superior to that of the Val de Bagnes, and vice versa. Once described as ‘delicious, fatty, sweet and soft’, the raclette wheels are consumed by the Valaisans themselves, melted, scraped and served in numerous ways or grilled until its edges are crisped.

Stefan Welchen’s delicious cholera pie is not the only reason I am here in Brig. I am here to take a journey into the past.


The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 4

Parts 3 to 7 are imminent. 
After that Cooked Cured Curdled will be an occasional series 
for a total of 120 parts.

About the Author

Robert Allen is a founder member of the Fricot Project, an editorial advisor with Editions Fricot and a baker with Fricot Experimental Kitchen and School. A journalist since the late 1970s, he has specialised in the history and reality of traditional food in Europe since 1991 as an advocate of sustaintable food security. He has been a specialist baker since the 1980s, and is co-author, with Fricot researcher Anne Addicott, of Brötchen, the hand-made breads pocket book.


Part 1 + Part 2 + Part 3 + Part 4 +

Cooked, Cured, Curdled | The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 1

 

Air-DriedBeef-Square
Air-Dried Beef from the Valais canton in Switzerland

In the Swiss Alps at Martigny Croix beyond the old railway station building, there is a gravel path that rises gently past the rocky wide Dranse, a tributary of the great Rhône river.

With a sudden ascent the path turns sharply, climbing hard towards the hamlet of Les Ecoteaux. At 905 metres Les Ecoteaux is the tapered end of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Rhône and the Bagnes.

This is not apparent deep among the stands of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The switchback climb is arduous. Experienced walkers go slow, like mountain goats finding their way cautiously over firm ground.

Gradually the path levels out onto a pleasant meadow, rising gently again towards the sprawling chalets of Chemin, a village 250 metres higher.

Here the walker faces a choice.

To descend back down, to the town of Martigny, where the L-shaped Rhône slides into Lake Geneva, or to turn towards Ven above Bagnes or to continue upwards towards the Col des Planches, at 1411 metres the first high peak along the ascending ridge.

However at the splendid Col des Planches the path gives respite to the walker, descending slightly more than 100 metres down to Le Planard, a panoramic viewpoint.

Also a crossroads. Five paths test the resolve of the walker at this junction. Three go down, two go up!

Always a good time to stop and contemplate.

And eat.

If it is too early for lunch, a snack from sun-dried raisins, dried apricot halves, slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, whole hazelnuts, some wild berries, an energy bar of honeyed seeds and grains, with apple juice or pear nectar will raise energy levels.

If it is lunch-time, chunks of semi-hard cheese, wafers of air-dried beef, torn soft flatbread, a handful of spelt berries and mineral water will sate the appetite.

A meal not too dissimilar was found to have been eaten by a walker on a different mission 5,300 years ago. Ötzi, a 45-year-old hunter frozen in the ice, had consumed berries, bread, fruit, grains, meat and seeds shortly before his absurd death.

Much has been made about his discovery, but if Ötzi’s stomach contents reveal anything, it is one amazing fact. Traditional foods have been with us for a very long time, and they haven’t changed as much as we might expect.

Although agriculture, herding and dairy farming were changing the habits of the last hunter-gatherers, carbohydrates from barley, einkorn and spelt grains, minerals and vitamins from berries, fruits, grains and seeds, and protein from various wild meat remained essential to well-being.

Ötzi would have cooked over an open fire the meat of animals recently killed. He would have baked flatbreads (more like biscuits) made from coarsely ground cultivated grains. He would have eaten dried food, such as mushrooms, carried in pouches. And he would have gathered fresh berries, roots and seeds.

Barley — a soup ingredient since the last days of the hunter-gatherers


The absence of cheese from Ötzi’s diet is not relevant to that time. Apparently he was lactose intolerant, as many people were in those days and remarkably still are. Cheese-making is a consequence of civilisation. It was the only way to store surplus milk.

Today a walker in the Alps would eat a meal similar to the last one Ötzi consumed. Air-dried meat would replace the freshly-cooked meat, yeast bread would replace the unleavened flatbread, but that is it.

Anyone walking today in the high mountains without high-energy provisions might not meet the same fate that Ötzi suffered, but they would find themselves wondering what to eat from the wild, and that would make them exactly like the ancient Iceman.

Back above the canton of the valleys in Switzerland, the most interesting path to take is the one that rises toward the ridge at Les Blisiers under the 2472 metre high peak of Pierre Avoi, towering over Verbier in the Bagnes valley and Saxon in the Rhône valley.

It is interesting because the path runs alongside an intact Roman-built viaduct. The Roman workers would also have been familiar with a lunch made from berries, grains, roots and seeds. They might even have been fortunate enough to have had some kind of meat to savour, and perhaps a swig or two of wine from local grapes to allow to linger.

Dropping down into Saxon on the valley flour, the walker will visit a known hostelry that serves barley soup. After a hard walk in the last days of summer, this enigmatic winter soup is a reminder of how little the world has actually changed over millennia. It will also be hearty and conducive to well-being, just like the walk.

Then it is a short train ride back to Martigny, where the walker will take a postbus to Martigny Croix or stroll back thoughtfully alongside the Dranse.

The Story of Traditional Food in Europe – Part 2


About the Author

Robert Allen is a founder member of the Fricot Project, an editorial advisor with Editions Fricot and a baker with Fricot Experimental Kitchen and School. A journalist since the late 1970s, he has specialised in the history and reality of traditional food in Europe since 1991 as an advocate of sustaintable food security. He has been a specialist baker since the 1980s, and is co-author, with Fricot researcher Anne Addicott, of Brötchen, the hand-made breads pocket book.

THE FRONT PAGE

Condiments | Birnbrotgewürz (pear bread seasoning)

GERMANY SWITZERLAND

Use fresh whole spices and grind small quantities at a time. The amount is for a total of 50 grams, sufficient for a large batch of pear breads.

Version 1

  • 30 g cloves, ground
  • 10 g cinnamon, ground
  • 5 g ginger powder
  • 2 g coriander, ground
  • 2 g star anise, ground
  • 1 g cardamom, ground

Version 2

  • 25 g ginger powder
  • 5 g cinnamon, ground
  • 5 g cloves, ground
  • 3 g allspice, ground
  • 2 g coriander, ground
  • 2 g fennel, ground
  • 2 g nutmeg, ground
  • 2 g cardamom, ground
  • 2 g star anise, ground
  • 2 g white pepper, ground

Version 3

  • 25 g coriander, ground
  • 10 g cloves, ground
  • 10 g cinnamon. ground
  • 5 g star anise. ground

Breads of Europe | Birnenbrot (pear bread)

SWITZERLAND

This pear bread comes from an old, established tradition that even today is interpreted differently in each of the Swiss cantons.

One version is made with bread (yeast) dough, another with pastry (oil) dough, yet another with puff (butter) pastry – the latter being preferred by many bakeries because of its lightness.

There are three distinct shapes – thick with filling, like a boat, thin with filling like a wedge (birnenweggen) or like an oblong bread with bits of fruit and nut scattered throughout the crumb.

It has taken us many years to determine the actual difference between birnenbrot and birnenweggen, and to decide on a recipe that has a fidelity to the old tradition. In the end we decided to adapt a recipe from a 1938 cookbook. The dough is a variation on the recipe for the spiced bread rolls called gewürzzopf.

We also added a splash of fruit brandy.

Dough

  • 500 g Zopf flour (or 200 g strong white wheat flour, 200 g white spelt flour, t630, 100 g white wheat flour, t550, large pinch of barley malt flour)
  • 225 ml milk, full-fat, warmed to 38ºC
  • 60 g butter, softened
  • 45 g yoghurt
  • 30 g thick pear juice
  • 20 g yeast
  • 15 g brown sugar
  • 7 g salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, ground
  • ½ tsp cardamom, ground
  • ½ tsp cloves, ground
  • ½ tsp nutmeg, ground
  • ½ tsp turmeric

Dissolve yeast in the milk and sugar. Mix the flours, salt and spices. Pour yeast mixture into the flour, add butter, knead into a rough dough. Combine the pear juice and yoghurt, add gradually, about 10 grams at a time, working it into the dough to make it smooth. Leave to rise for an hour, degas, rise for a second hour, degas again.

Filling

  • 450 g pears, coarse-mashed (cored weight from hard and soft pears)
  • 125 g walnuts, crushed or halved
  • 125 g sultanas
  • 100 g candied lemon and orange
  • 100 g sugar
  • 50 g dried apricots reconstituted in 150 ml pear juice, , chopped into small pieces
  • 50 g dried pears reconstituted in 150 ml pear juice, , chopped into small pieces
  • 30 ml fruit brandy (optional)
  • 25 g birnbrotgewürz (pear bread seasoning)

Combine all the ingredients. If using the brandy stir into the mixture at the end and leave to permeate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 200.C.

Divide dough into four equal pieces. Divide filling into four equal amounts. Roll each piece of dough into an elongated rectangle, arrange the filling along one side of the doughs, fold over and brush with water to seal the edges. Place on greased baking trays.

Bake for about 35 minutes.


BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Alps | Birnenbrot (pear bread)

This pear bread comes from an old, established tradition that even today is interpreted differently in each of the Swiss cantons.

One version is made with bread (yeast) dough, another with pastry (oil) dough, yet another with puff (butter) pastry – the latter being preferred by many bakeries because of its lightness.

There are three distinct shapes – thick with filling, like a boat, thin with filling like a wedge (birnenweggen) or like an oblong bread with bits of fruit and nut scattered throughout the crumb.

It has taken us many years to determine the actual difference between birnenbrot and birnenweggen, and to decide on a recipe that has a fidelity to the old tradition. In the end we decided to adapt a recipe from a 1938 cookbook. The dough is a variation on the recipe for the spiced bread rolls called gewürzzopf.

We also added a splash of fruit brandy.

Dough

  • 500 g Zopf flour (or 200 g strong white wheat flour, 200 g white spelt flour, t630, 100 g white wheat flour, t550, large pinch of barley malt flour)
  • 225 ml milk, full-fat, warmed to 38ºC
  • 60 g butter, softened
  • 45 g yoghurt
  • 30 g thick pear juice
  • 20 g yeast
  • 15 g brown sugar
  • 7 g salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, ground
  • ½ tsp cardamom, ground
  • ½ tsp cloves, ground
  • ½ tsp nutmeg, ground
  • ½ tsp turmeric

Dissolve yeast in the milk and sugar. Mix the flours, salt and spices. Pour yeast mixture into the flour, add butter, knead into a rough dough. Combine the pear juice and yoghurt, add gradually, about 10 grams at a time, working it into the dough to make it smooth. Leave to rise for an hour, degas, rise for a second hour, degas again.

Filling

  • 450 g pears, coarse-mashed (cored weight from hard and soft pears)
  • 125 g walnuts, crushed or halved
  • 125 g sultanas
  • 100 g candied lemon and orange
  • 100 g sugar
  • 50 g dried apricots reconstituted in 150 ml pear juice, chopped into small pieces
  • 50 g dried pears reconstituted in 150 ml pear juice, chopped into small pieces
  • 30 ml fruit brandy (optional)
  • 25 g birnbrotgewürz (pear bread seasoning)

Combine all the ingredients. If using the brandy stir into the mixture at the end and leave to permeate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 200.C.

Divide dough into four equal pieces. Divide filling into four equal amounts. Roll each piece of dough into an elongated rectangle, arrange the filling along one side of the doughs, fold over and brush with water to seal the edges. Place on greased baking trays.

Bake for about 35 minutes.

THE GREAT EUROPEAN FOOD ADVENTURE | Fiesch | Imwinkelried Bakery and Cafe

The three wise men holding their forefingers to their lips know a secret about Appenzeller cheese. They are not the only ones in the mountains and valleys with secrets. The recipe for roggenbrot is also closely guarded.

The woman in Brig Tourism said, ‘Why don’t you ask a bakery for their recipe?’

‘We have,’ we said.

‘Yes,’ she then said knowingly. ‘My own recipe is a secret.’

She told us to go up to Eggerberg.

‘Any baker in particular?’ we said with a touch of irony. ‘It is a small place, you will find it.’

Eggerberg village occupied both sides of the road that meandered up the mountain, about 1000 metres above Visp, west of Brig. We travelled seven minutes on the Lötschberger train from Brig. Backhaus Eggerberg was sat back from the road, a few hundred metres from the railway halt. It was closed or shut, we could not be sure because there were no signs of life.

Back in Brig, Maria-Grazia, the manager at Hotel Ambassador on Saflischstrasse, directed us to Fiesch, the seventh stop along the line that carries the Glazier Express into the east of Switzerland. ‘There is a bakery on Hejistrasse. It has a cafe,’ she said. ‘Open all day.’

We surveyed a map of the town and realised we could navigate a narrow path out of the railway station down to the road that ran parallel to both the rail-line and the Rhône river.

In the shop a mature woman greeted us with a blank look when we asked whether there might be someone who could talk about roggenbrot. Crestfallen we wandered out and immediately wondered where the cafe was.

Then we saw the set of steps at the side of the shop.

A young woman appeared. We ordered coffee and cake, and asked again about roggenbrot, whether it would be possible to get the recipe.

She smiled, made the coffee and said, ‘I will ask for you, please sit.’

Minutes later a tall man appeared holding a piece of headed notepaper. Then he began to explain. Imwinkelried bakery and cafe is one of 60 establishments in the canton that makes the traditional rye bread of the region, (roggenbrot in German, pains de seigle in French). Rye bread, once a stable of the canton’s traditional food, is back in the ascendancy. Imwinkelried bake it plain, and with hazelnuts and with the fruit of the canton. They also make the local pastries made with carnival dough, known as chräpfli, of which later.

If you decide to visit this wonderful bakery to sample their traditional breads and pastries, walk back along the platform in the direction the train has come from. In front of you, past a house, a narrow path winds down onto Hejistrasse. The bakery is immediately across the road, the cafe above.

This is the Imwinkelried bakery version.

roggenbrotmixing-lowres

Roggenbrot / Pains de Seigle (sourdough rye bread)

The recommended sourdough for roggenbrot is made with one part rye flour to two parts water and fresh yeast between 1% and 1.5% of the amount of water. Some bakers use 10%. A 1:1 rye-water ratio is also used, without the addition of yeast. Some bakers add 10% from an existing sourdough as a starter. These are the secrets of the rye bread maker. Whatever the choice the new sourdough is left to ferment for at least 12 hours at room temperature and 10 hours in the refrigerator.

  • 1.35 kg rye flour
  • 1 litre water
  • 100 g rye sourdough
  • 50 g yeast
  • 35 g rock salt

Dissolve yeast in 100 ml water, add to the rye flour with remaining water, salt and sourdough. Mix for five minutes, knead for ten minutes. Desired dough temperature is 25°C. Leave to ferment for an hour, degas, leave for a further hour and longer if the dough has not risen sufficiently. Preheat oven to 230°C. Divide into four 600 g pieces and shape into rounds. Place on greaseproof paper on a baking tray, flatten each one slightly, dust with rye flour and leave to rise for 30 minutes. The surface of the dough should be cracked slightly. Spray oven with water. Bake for an hour, until the surface is cracked and crispy.

THE GREAT EUROPEAN FOOD ADVENTURE | Lausanne | Café Romand and the Farm Shop of Vaud

Cafe Romand

We have crossed the lake from Evian Les Bains to Ouchy and now we are on the metro railway up to Flon in hilly Lausanne. Our destination is Café Romand on Place Saint-François. Tucked in beside the church, this august establishment made its reputation under the auspices of Madame Christiane Péclat and chef cuisinier Thierry Lagegre.

It is rustic charm and if you are lucky you’ll get a two-person table by the wide window looking out at those looking in, wondering what you are going to eat. For us today it will be rösti, pan-fried potatoes, one of Madame Péclat’s signature dishes. Lagegre made his rösti with parboiled waxy potatoes, in the fashion of the Bernese. That story is for later in the adventure.

We have a dilemma. To explain we must tell you a story about a brotherhood, a competition and a baker-butcher tradition first established in the 1950s. In 2009 the Confrérie de la Charcuterie Artisanale (a brotherhood of over 100 artisanal butchers inaugurated a year earlier) announced their intention to organise a festival to promote their products, and one in particular, the pie known as pâté Vaudois.

For decades a collaboration between the baker who would supply the dough and the butcher who would supply the meat filling had flourished in the villages of the region. The jambon croissant, the pâté and the vol-au-vent became the standard snacks across the region. Gradually the demand increased and production intensified.

Philippe Stuby, a Vevey butcher and artisanal specialist, saw trouble ahead. The city of Lausanne agreed and organised a Pâté D’or for the following year. A competition was arranged. A baker, a butcher and a farmer sampled pies from the region, from artisanal producers and from the supermarkets Aperto, Coop, Manor and Migros.

The judges were disappointed with the quality of the pies and pulled no punches. It was a blind-tasting. Points were awarded for the quality of the crust, the meat and the jelly. Sisters Brigitte Grossenbacher and Maggy Berti of Le Petit Encas in Etagnières won with a jelly and meat filling that blew the judges away. Everyone was delighted, especially butcher Stuby. The industrial pies were seen for what they were, and the artisanal pies were revealed as products of the terrain.

The flour for the pie dough came from Echallens mills, a mixture of three wheat flours, a rye four and an oatmeal flour. Daniel Grossenbacher, Brigitte’s husband, produced the meat. ‘There is premier pork, cheek and rind. It is cooked at a low temperature, 18 hours at 72°C. The small bones and the cartilages are removed, and then chopped and kneaded and the spices incorporated. A little dough is added for homogeneity.’ After a 60-minute bake at 185ºC, then cooled, the jelly is poured through the funnel of each pie for a daily total of 1500 pâté Vaudois. Brigitte Grossenbacher is adamant. ‘We like what we do, we do simple things with top quality products, there are things to respect such as cooking times, jelly, the preparation of the meat …’

And now we want to taste these wonderful pies and see whether we can get the recipe for the jelly. We find that a trip to Etagnières will take 20 minutes on the regional train to Echallens, the site of the floor mill, and we wonder whether we can combine a visit to both. After an exchange we decide it is not practical. ‘Where can we get your pies?’ we ask in hope and explain that we are in Flon.

‘You are in luck, go to the Vaud Farm Shop on Place de la Palud.’

Just around the corner.

Farm Shop of Vaud

We are in the heart of Lausanne old town, and there it is, a few steps back from the cobblestone street under an archway guarded by a large inanimate cow. La Ferme Vaudoise.

Produits de Terroir – indigenous food produce and artisanal food products of the canton. These include numerous flours, bread sticks, white cabbage sausage, dried meat and those pies.

They sit serene under the glass counter.


CHEESES OF EUROPE | Appenzeller

SWITZERLAND

On a clear sky blue day the panoramic view from the top of Säntis is breath-taking – the Spülgenpass and Italy to the south, Lucern and the Swiss Alpine range to the south-west, Vaduz and Austria to the east, the Bodensee and Germany to the north.

The northwards view sweeps across the cantons of Saint Gallen, Thurgau and Appenzell – rolling mountains and herbal meadows dotted in summer with grazing cattle.

This is Appenzellerland: vom Bodensee bis zum Säntis, where the secrets of tending cattle and cheese-making are shrouded in family history.

The cattle farmers of these cantons bring raw milk to the 58 dairies who make wheels of spicy Appenzeller cheese, remaining faithful to old artisan recipes. Appenzeller has an unique flavour that is attributed to the kräutersulz used to bathe the wheels, that forms a natural preserving rind.

Don’t bother asking for the herbal brine recipes. For 700 years they have
remained closely guarded secrets, passed from generation to generation.

Just like the view from Säntis. To know exactly where to look you must
know the sweep of the landscape, and that will always be bred in the bone.

APPENZELLER CLASSIC 3-4 months old, mild-spicy, soft, (silver label), sold Switzerland and Europe.
APPENZELLER BIO 3-4 months, mild-spicy, soft, (green-red), sold Switzerland.
APPENZELLER EXTRA 6 months, extra-spicy, soft, (black-gold), sold Switzerland, France and Germany.
APPENZELLER SURCHOIX 4-6 months, strong spicy, soft, (gold), sold Switzerland, Austria, France and Germany.
APPENZELLER 1/4-FAT MATURE 6-8 months, low-fat, herbal- spicy, semi-hard (brown silver), sold Switzerland, Austria
and Germany.
ALPENZELLER 10 weeks-8 months, mild-spicy, semi-hard, (green-silver), sold locally.

Other Cheeses in Series

Bryndza Podhalańska
AUSTRIATIROLER BERGKÄSE Hard, raw cows milk, strong.
BELGIUMBOULETTE DE ROMEDENNE Soft, fresh, raw and skimmed cows milk, creamy.
BELGIUMFROMAGE DE HERVE Soft, cellar-ripened, washed-rind, cows milk, unctuous.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINATRAVNICKI Soft, white brine, ewes milk.
BULGARIASIRENE Medium-hard brined buffalo, cows, goats or sheeps milk, white, salty.
CROATIAPAŠKI SIR Hard, sheeps milk, sharp and sweet, aromatic.
CZECHIAOLOMOUCKÉ TVARUZKY Semi-soft, skimmed sour curd, piquant.
DENMARKHAVARTI ARTISAN Semi-hard, ripened curd, herbal, tangy.
FRANCEABONDANCE FERMIER Soft, whole raw cow's milk, pressed, semi-cooked paste, fruity.
FRANCEBEAUFORT Semi-hard, cellar-ripened, whole raw cow's milk, pressed, aromatic.
FRANCEBROCCIU CORSE Hard / Soft, fresh whey and whole raw ewes, goats milk, pressed, fresh / ripened, unique.
FRANCEREBLOCHON DE SAVOIE Semi-soft, washed-rind, whole raw cows milk, salty.
GERMANYHOLSTEINER TILSITER Semi-hard, cellar-ripened, cows milk, mild-spicy.
GREECEKEFALOTIRI Semi-hard, ewes, goats milk, salty.
GREECELADOTYRI MYTILINIS Hard, sheeps, goats milk, salty, spicy.
IRELANDCARLOW Semi-hard, raw cows milk / raw ewes milk.
IRELANDCORLEGGY Hard, raw goats milk, pungent.
ITALYCACIOCAVALLO SILANO Semi-hard, cows milk, sweet, spicy.
ITALYMALGA STRAVECCHIO Hard, mature cows milk, spun paste, fruity.
ITALYOSSOLANO Semi-hard, cows milk, aromatic.
LITHUANIALILIPUTAS Semi-hard, cellar-ripened, cows milk, fresh milky.
MONTENEGROPLJEVALJSKI Semi-soft, full-fat, pressed, cask-ripened, cows milk, salty.
NETHERLANDSBOEREN-LEIDSE MET SLEUTELS Semi-hard, cumin curd, strong.
POLANDBRYNDZA / BRYNDZA PODHALAŃSKA Soft, cows, ewes and sheeps milk, mild and strong, spicy, salty.
POLANDOSCYPEK Semi-hard, cold-smoked, sour-sweet curd, cows, ewes milk, salty.
PORTUGAL QUEIJO DE AZEITÃO Semi-hard, raw ewes milk, sweet.
ROMANIA — TELEMEA Semi-hard, cows milk.
SERBIAKRIVOVIR Semi-soft, cows, ewes and goats milk, nutty.
SLOVAKIAZÁZRIVSKÉ VOJKY Smoked, unsmoked, cow‘s milk string, savoury.
SLOVENIAMOHANT Soft, cask-ripened, cows milk, piquant.
SPAINRONCAL Hard, ewes milk, sweet.
SWEDENHUSHÅLLS Semi-hard, full-fat, cows milk, piquant.
SWITZERLANDAPPENZELLER Semi-hard, seasoned rind, herbal-spicy, raw cows milk.
SWITZERLANDSPRINZ Hard, raw cows milk, salty, tangy, sweet.
TURKEYKARS GRAVYERI Semi-hard, mature cows milk, tangy.

Legendary Dishes | Kartoffel Speck Omeletten (potato bacon omelette)

AUSTRIA GERMANY SWITZERLAND

The Swiss cook their omelette with bacon and potato like a thin rösti cake, the Germans also treat it like a cake and bake it in the oven for a dish called pillekuchen while the Austrians add cheese to their version, and serve bacon on the side with steamed mushrooms. This is the Swiss version.

  • 400 g new potatoes, boiled in skins, peeled, grated
  • 6 small eggs / 5 large eggs for approximately 300 grams
  • 200 g speck with fat, cubed small
  • 90 g cream
  • 15 g butter
  • 1 tbsp tarragon, chopped + 1 tbsp tarragon, for garnish
  • 1 garlic clove, halved along length
  • 5 g black pepper
  • 5 g salt

Place the fatty cubes of bacon into a small frying pan. Over a gentle heat release the fat. When the cubes turn brown, remove. Increase heat a little, add the pieces of garlic. When it turns brown remove with a slotted spoon. Pour the garlic fat into a small bowl.

Fry remaining cubes of bacon over a gentle heat until they take on some colour, leave to cool.

Whisk the eggs into the cream, season, add the grated potatoes and choice of herb.

Add a quarter of the garlic fat and a knob of butter to a small frying pan over a medium-low heat. Pour a quarter of the egg-cream-potato mixture to the pan, dot with a quarter of the bacon cubes. Fry for seven minutes, flip and fry the other side, just long enough for the omelette to come away from the side of the pan.

Repeat with remaining ingredients.


The Austrian and German versions will follow …

Breads of Europe | Laugengebäck / Laugenbrötchen {Nieules / Brezels / Pretzels} (lye breads)

GERMANY SWITZERLAND

The pretzel has come a long way from its origins in medieval France, somehow managing to retain its shape and, remarkably, the method of baking.

Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, in her History of Food, believes its origin was a delicacy called nieules or nioles sold at French fairs.

‘They were twisted ribbons of hard, unleavened dough, cooked in boiling water with the ashes of vine shoots, which contain natural potash. They gave the dough a dark colour, whence their French name and their savoury, smoky flavour.’

The nieules were drained, dried and baked in the oven.

How they came to have a peculiar shape is told in The Great European Food Adventure.

In the 1680s the Huguenot bakers of these delicate biscuit-breads migrated to the southern German states and the northern Swiss cantons.

The nieule became the bretzeln, and over time became to be known as brezel, then laugenbrezel and laugengebäck in Baden, Bavaria and Swabia, laugenbrötli in Basel, Berne, Lucerne and Zurich.

The method of using potassium hydroxide from vine ash was replaced with sodium hydroxide or lye (lauge in German), and eventually with baking soda.

Laugengebäck (lye pastry), laugenbrezel (lye pretzel) and laugenbröd (lye bread) are interchangeable these days, but the method has not changed.
The shaped dough is boiled briefly in soda water (commercial makers use a salt bath) before baking.

In Switzerland a starch glaze made from a cornflour solution gives the pretzel its distinctive colour.

Pretzels are rarely made bald in Germany and Switzerland, and are never ordinary, coming in various shapes (buns, loaves, rolls, sticks and twists), not least the famous knotted-handles.

They are coated with coarse salt, seeds or with a topping of cheese and, depending on the region you are in, are available with an assortment of savoury or sweet fillings.

Dough

  • 500 g white wheat flour, t550
  • 245 ml water
  • 40 g butter
  • 25 g yeast
  • 15 g malt extract
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar

Lye / Soda Solution

  • 2 litres water
  • 50 g baking soda

Sieve the flour into a large bowl, crumble yeast into the flour followed by the sugar and half of the water, stir with a wooden spoon into a loose dough, cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes.

Desired dough temperature is 23°C.

Add remaining water, butter, malt and salt. Work into a soft smooth dough, knead for ten minutes. Leave to rise for an hour.

On a floured surface cut the dough into 16 pieces (roughly 50g each), shape into rounds or oblongs. Place on heavily greased baking trays.
With a sharp knife cut a cross in the rounds or several slashes in the oblongs. Leave to rise covered for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 220°C.

Bring the soda solution to a rolling boil, drop the dough into the water four at a time for no longer than 60 seconds.

Place on greased baking trays and bake for 25 minutes until golden brown.

Top 5 Legendary Dishes on Fricot

ONE

Judd mat Gaardebounen

smoked pork collar with broad bean sauce




TWO

Bratwürst mit Zwiebelsauce und Rösti

sausages with onion sauce and grated potatoes




THREE

Risotto al Tastasal / Risotto alla Veronese

vialone nano rice with seasoned ground pork, parmigiano, rosemary, cinnamon in beef broth and white wine




FOUR

Farçon

puréed potatoes with fruit, eggs, herbs and spices




FIVE

the hairdresser =
French fries, shoarma / shawarma meat,
cheese, salad and sauce


Legendary Dishes | Birnenweggen (pear wedges)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is birnenweggen-pear-breads-lowres.jpg
SWITZERLAND

These pears wedges are one of the great culinary secrets of the Swiss Alps.

Traditionally birnenweggen was an elaborate affair full of fruits and nuts, pears – dried and fresh – prominent, naturally given its name. Dried fruit – figs, raisins and sultanas – gave it a depth of flavour, candied peel and aromatic spices added to the flavour but it was the addition of the red cherry liquor known as kirschwasser that elevated that flavour to the culinary heavens.

This recipe is based on the versions from the early part of the 20th century, when figs and plums or prunes were also essential ingredients in the filling and the spices included cinnamom, cloves and nutmeg.

The idea is to produce a sweet, aromatic confection with a depth of flavour that is divine.

Any pastry will work, the lighter the better.

Dough

  • 250 g white wheat baking flour
  • 150 ml water
  • 125 g butter, softened
  • 125 g lard / margarine, softened
  • 10 g salt

Filling

  • 300 g soft pears, cored, chopped
  • 200 g hard pears, cored, cubed
  • 150 g sweet apples, peeled, cored, cubed
  • 150 g dried pears, chopped
  • 100 ml kirschwasser / fruit brandy
  • 100 ml lemon juice / apple juice
  • 100 ml mineral water
  • 100 g walnuts, crushed small
  • 50 g almonds / hazelnuts, ground
  • 50 g dried figs, chopped
  • 50 g raisins / sultanas
  • 45 g brown sugar
  • 25 g candied peel
  • 5 g cinnamon
  • 3 g cloves
  • Nutmeg, very large pinch

Finish

  • 60 g egg yolks, beaten

Soak dried pears, figs, peel and raisins or sultanas in kirschwasser, and choice of juice overnight or at least 12 hours. Boil hard and soft pears, and sweet apples in mineral water. Add sugar when all the liquid has evaporated, cook for a further 10 minutes, leave to cool. Add almonds and walnuts to the apple-pear mixture, then fold in the soaked fruit mixture and spices.

Combine flour, salt and water into a loose dough, leave for 30 minutes, then roll out into a 25 cm square. Incorporate lard into the butter, place in the centre of the dough. Bring the edges of the dough together over the butter-lard, refrigerate for 10 minutes. Flour the work surface, roll dough into a large rectangle, roughly 60 cm by 20 cm. Fold into three, turn and roll out again into large rectangle. Fold into three, refrigerate for 15 minutes. Repeat this turn-roll-fold- refrigerate procedure four or five times until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. Refrigerate until needed.

Divide the dough into 220 g pieces, roll into into 40 cm x 20 cm rectangles no more than 5 mm thick. Place filling toward the edge of the long side, fold over and seal, using milk to moisten the edges. Preheat oven to 200°C. Pierce surface with a fork, smear with egg yolk. Bake at 180°C for 60 minutes. Leave to cool. Cut each wedge into two or three pieces, wrap in cling-film.

BLUE WINDOW | A Walk in the Woods

From the attic window in the alpine chalet, a fine mist can be seen hovering over the valley in the pubescent dawn, the sun still to rise over the mountain peaks. Gradually, as the morning lengthens its shadows, the mist will dissipate, the valley light will shimmer in the promise of a clear day and the high mountains will be framed by a blue window. 

This momentary vista is a mere glimpse of the absolute magic of the Rhône Valley, in high summer a sumptuous land full of growth, at summer’s end a mystical land like this morning. All the way from the expanse of the lake known as Léman where cormorants gaze into the water from the rocks at Château de Chillon to the magnificence of the Aletsch Glacier where chamois look askance at solitary hikers high above the longitudinal plain of the Rhône, Ursern and Upper Rhine, this Swiss valley canton offers something unique in the world.

It is the first week of October. The grapes have been harvested, the chestnuts have been collected and apples, apricots and pears have been dried and pulped and fermented and left whole for those who like their fruit fresh. Tweaks have been made to apple pie recipes. New wines have been selected. Rounds of mountain cheese have been declared ready. Legs of beef, cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics and delicately sliced, are also ready. Batches of rye bread have been baked. Finally the apples pies have been prepared … and baked. Everyone is ready!

The legs of local cattle breeds are cured with salt and spices, steamed and dried for up to six weeks in airy attics – curing and drying techniques first recorded in the 14th century in the Valley.

Hand-picking sweet chestnuts from the woods alongside the Rhône under the high peaks is an old tradition of the people. Traditionally the chestnuts were roasted over an open fire, taken inside and served with chunks of mature mountain cheese accompanied by fresh grapes, pieces of apple and pear, grape (must) juice or young wine to wash everything down. Nothing unusual there, just the typical country fare of the canton.

Except this is brisolée, the autumn harvest plate of the people who tend the land where the Rhône is joined by the Dranse at the acute turn eastwards into the valley below the Bernese Alps at Martigny. Here chestnuts abound between the river, the town of Martigny and the adjacent village of Fully, where the annual chestnut fair is more than a celebration, it is an event characterised by the traditional produce and artisanal products of the valley.

Three elements of the autumnal brisolée © ST/swiss-image.ch

To fully appreciate this tradition the stranger must go native and go up.

There are several walks out of Martigny, all signposted in the familiar yellow well known to all hikers in Switzerland. We are starting at Martigny Croix where the railway line winds around the mountain into the adjacent Barnes valley. Beyond the old railway station building, there is a gravel path that rises gently past the rocky wide Dranse. With a sudden ascent the path turns sharply, climbing hard towards the hamlet of Les Ecoteaux. 

At 905 metres Les Ecoteaux is the tapered end of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Rhône and the Bagnes. This is not apparent deep among the stands of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The switchback climb is arduous. Experienced walkers go slow, like mountain goats finding their way cautiously over firm ground. Gradually the path levels out onto a pleasant meadow, rising gently again towards the sprawling hamlet of Chemin, a settlement 250 metres higher. Here we consult the map, because we are facing a set of choices. To descend back down, to the town of Martigny, where the L-shaped Rhône slides into Lake Geneva, or continue upwards towards the Col des Planches, at 1411 metres the first high peak along the ascending ridge. 

At the splendid Col des Planches the path offers some respite, descending slightly more than 100 metres down to Le Placard, a panoramic viewpoint. Also a crossroads. Five paths test our resolve. Three go down, two go up! Always a good time to stop and contemplate. Eat. And make the correct choice. It is too far early for lunch, so we snack on sun-dried raisins, dried apricot halves, slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, whole hazelnuts, some wild berries, an energy bar of honeyed seeds and grains, apple juice and pear nectar. This raises our energy levels. Lunch is chunks of semi-hard cheese, wafers of air-dried beef, torn soft flatbread, a handful of spelt flakes and mineral water. That can wait. Although we are still hungry we need to continue – up or down that is the question? 

A meal not too dissimilar was found to have been eaten by a hunter on a different mission 5,300 years ago. Ötzi, a 45-year old, was found mummified by the ice in the borderland alps of Austria and Italy. His survival has become a revelation, because it has taught us that we face the same issues he did and we are not that much different, despite the generational gap. 

Anyone walking today in the high mountains without high-energy provisions might not meet the same fate that Ötzi suffered, but they would find themselves wondering why they did not respect the wild, and that would make them exactly like the ancient iceman. 

The most interesting path for us to take is the one that rises toward the ridge at Les Blisiers under the 2472 metre high peak of Pierre Avoi, towering over Verbier in the Bagnes valley and Saxon in the Rhône valley. It is interesting because the path runs alongside an intact Roman built viaduct. The Roman workers would also have been familiar  with a lunch made from berries, grains, roots and seeds. They might even have been fortunate enough to have had some kind of dried meat to savour, and perhaps a swig or two of wine from local grapes to allow it to linger. This makes us wonder how they got back down. We look at the map again. And there it is, a steep path that drops down into Saxon on the valley  flour. Anyway, before the descent, that lunch! 

Terra firma.

We are tired and decide to visit a hostelry that serves barley soup. After a hard walk, this enigmatic winter soup is a reminder of how little the world has actually changed over millennia – air-dried meat, barley, flatbread, nuts, seeds. It is hearty and conducive to well-being, just what we need. 

That hike was hard.

BLUE WINDOW | Food Travels in the Swiss Alps

TrientValley-Lowres

The Vallorcine train waits, like a bridesmaid without a bride. Fresh snow clings to the lower slopes of the forested mountains. Ice rivers flow from crystal peaks. The air is cold. The train is warm. We are waiting for the driver. Suddenly there is movement. Into the white. Past the river. Along the valley. Rising, slowly. The glint of a glacier in the distance. Townlands appear out of nowhere. Wooden chalets. A village on the hill. Above, the peaks are sharp against the sky. Ski resorts. Viaducts. Twisting roads. Fallen trees. Boulders. These are exciting moments. This is the start of a long journey through the expanse of the Alps on short trains built for their endurance and strength. Into lands where the dialects change with the landscape and the cultures and traditions are etched into daily rites of passage.

On the faces of the people, with their colourful clothes, their irresistible homes and solid buildings, with cuisine that is as diverse as the products of the landscape, listening to those rustic dialects, warming to their genuine hospitality, people who know mountain and valley life. This is the way into the winter wonderland that is alpine Europe. Only the mountain goats know where the ancient paths go. Here there is beauty and diversity, nature unfolding through large windows in full colour. And it is never still. You can never describe these high mountain peaks, divided valleys and sloping meadows because nothing remains the same. This is what makes this journey a fabulous adventure. A slight change of perspective, a different view and the experience itself changes.

Blue-Window-Train-Logo

We are in the Trient Valley, crossing from France into Switzerland by the backdoor. Travelling through alpine Switzerland is nothing less than a remarkable journey that pays homage to past and present engineering feats, celebrates the dilemma of a modern utilitarian country and reveals beautiful ways of escape. So we are going to get out at Salvan, have some lunch and then make our way down to Martigny by foot. So, a reminder of the fondue they make in Haute Savoy, if only to acknowledge that this very Swiss dish comes from across the border, in Alpine France.

Travelling in the Alps by rail and road, on mountain and valley trains and buses, is an educational experience. The culture is rooted to the landscape. There is a strong feeling for place and a sense of belonging. The routes are ancient. When the railways arrived, new routes were carved out of the rock, tunnels were bored and platforms were raised to shorten the distance between alpine villages. When skiing became a leisure (and sporting) activity, the carriers offered their services. Buses and trains were adapted to carry ski equipment, and so it has continued into the 21st century. After a while, the frequent alpine traveller notices that the names of the most famous towns and villages are synonymous with skiing, particularly alpine world cup events organised by the international skiing federation.

MontBlancEx-Lowres

Skiing is a tough sport, so it is no great surprise that the Alpine countries win more races than anyone else. Virtually every village on the upper slopes has a ski resort. Children learn early and are quick learners. By the time they reach their mid-20s they are ready to win races. Traditional culture in the Alps is centred on food but it is also concerned with well-being, and skiing down steep slopes is more than just a sport, it is a way of life, etched into the faces of the people. When you are young you ski, when you are old you hike.

Welcome to Europe’s pleasure dome.

High above Martigny where the Rhône valley turns eastwards, the picturesque town of Salvan is an alpine vision of perfection. Here the restaurants serve a special fondue made from mountain pasture cheese, in the tradition of their forebearers. The Savoy Alps and the Jura range are believed to be the birthplace of this comforting winter dish and there is ample evidence to suggest that fondue is a product of the dairy farmers who have tended cattle for centuries in these mountains.

Emmental, gruyère and vacherin, cheeses that form the basis for fondue, only tell part of the story. The vacherin cheese of Fribourg is preferred by fondue aficionados because it adds full flavour to the mildness of the emmental and the piquancy of the gruyère – the combination for the classic neuchâteloise. Neuchâteloise, moitié moitié (half gruyère, half vacherin) and the fondue served in Salvan restaurants and along the valley canton are among the most popular with Swiss people. But if you want to know which cheeses go into which fondues served in the Alps you will have to ask. It is in these mountains that fondue makes its reputation, as chefs compete with each other to produce the ’perfect’ fondue. And they are not going to give away their trade secrets. Of course the popularity of this amazing cheese dish may also have something to do with the tradition that demands punishment when a diner loses their bread in the fondue pot. A man must buy a bottle of wine or a round of drinks. A woman must kiss all the men in the company. commune.

Fondue-FE

There are several walks out of Salvan, all signposted in the familiar yellow well known to all hikers in Switzerland. The easiest path follows the river Trient down to Vernayaz on the Rhône valley floor. We are taking the challenging path up past the hamlet of Gueurox to the edge of the Mont d’Ottan ridge, overlooking the scary expanse of the flood plain, where the river Dranse flows into the mighty Rhône amidst the cultivated fruit trees and chestnut groves. Here at the ridge, no matter the season, the wind is lethal. Caution is obligatory. Then it is a gradual climb toward the peak of Roc Blanc at 1704 metres. We skirt this majestic mountain, and descend quickly, across the steep road that goesthat goes to Le Châtelard-Frontière and the alpine border with France. Dropping down, several paths cross the rows of vines above Martigny Croix.

At Martigny Croix beyond the old railway station building, there is a gravel path that rises gently past the rocky wide Dranse. With a sudden ascent the path turns sharply, climbing hard towards the hamlet of Les Ecoteaux. At 905 metres Les Ecoteaux is the tapered end of a ridge that separates the valleys of the Rhône and the Bagnes. This is not apparent deep among the stands of mixed conifer and deciduous trees. The switchback climb is arduous. Experienced walkers go slow, like mountain goats finding their way cautiously over firm ground. Gradually the path levels out onto a pleasant meadow, rising gently again towards the sprawling chalet of Chemin, a settlement 250 metres higher.


Here we consult the map, because we are facing a set of choices. To descend back down, to the town of Martigny, where the L-shaped Rhône slides into Lake Geneva, or continue upwards towards the Col des Planches, at 1411 metres the first high peak along the ascending ridge. At the splendid Col des Planches the path offers some respite, descending slightly more than 100 metres down to Le Planard, a panoramic viewpoint. Also a crossroads. Five paths test our resolve. Three go down, two go up! Always a good time to stop and contemplate. Eat. And make the correct choice. It is too far early for lunch, so we snack on sun-dried raisins, dried apricot halves, slivered almonds, crushed walnuts, whole hazelnuts, some wild berries, an energy bar of honeyed seeds and grains, apple juice and pear nectar. This raises our energy levels. Lunch is chunks of semi-hard cheese, wafers of air-dried beef, torn soft flatbread, a handful of spelt flakes and mineral water. That can wait. Although we are still hungry we need to continue – up or down?

SBBclock-lowres

The most interesting path for us to take is the one that rises toward the ridge at Les Blisiers under the 2472 metre high peak of Pierre Avoi, towering over Verbier in the Bagnes valley and Saxon in the Rhône valley. It is interesting because the path runs alongside an intact Roman built viaduct. The Roman workers would also have been familiar with a lunch made from berries, grains, roots and seeds. They might even have been fortunate enough to have had some kind of meat to savour, and perhaps a swig or two of wine from local grapes to allow to linger. This makes us wonder how they got back down. We look at the map again. And there it is, a steep path that drops down into Saxon on the valley flour. Anyway, before the descent, that lunch! Terra firma. We are tired and decide to visit a hostelry that serves barley soup. After a hard walk, this enigmatic winter soup is a reminder of how little the world has actually changed over millennia. It is hearty and conducive to well-being, just what we need. That hike was hard.

Before we continue, we must have a little discussion about Switzerland’s modern travel system, particularly its integrated timetables and elaborate pricing. On December 6, 1987 the Swiss voted and approved the multi-billion franc Bahn 2000, a strategy to overhaul their train network and travel system. New tracks, with new trains – including double-deckers and fast tilting trains – would reduce travel times, all travel connections would be within minutes of each other, and an upgraded infrastructure would facilitate an integrated timetable. Fast forward to 2017 and this is exactly what travellers can expect when they board their regular mode of transport. Rarely in the history of travel has a system been clock-worked to perfection. But the downside, partly caused by the devaluation of the Swiss franc, has been felt by tourists and travellers in the country. Yes, you can set your watch by the time of the black and red clock on the station platform and the times of the trains, but you can also pay the price if you don’t know how to get lower fares. The Swiss system includes hundreds of travel elements – boat, bus and rail – and serves two million, largely indigenous, people who hold passes, but it seems that the Swiss want tourists and travellers to pay the price for this wonderful achievement! On the positive side, travel arrivals and departures remain constant throughout the year, and are rarely tweaked. We feature them in this book as a guide, check the timetable.

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Martigy

On August 7, 1953 apricot growers and their supporters besieged the small town of Saxon in the Swiss Valais canton to protest about the huge amount of Italian imports they claimed inhibited the sale of their produce. Freight trains carrying the Italian imports were looted and burned. The railway line and main road through the Rhône valley were blocked for several days. Consequently an agreement was made to restrict the foreign imports to aid the sale of the domestic produce. Eight years later the growers faced another challenge when hazardous emissions from a factory in Martigny began to damage their crops. An eighteen year campaign finally brought sanctions against the factory owners and in 1982 the Swiss Federal Court issued an order for compensation to be paid to the growers. Of the 176 apricot growers in the Valais today most develop the luizet variety, supplying two-thirds of the one million kilos needed to make approximately 120,000 bottles of 70 cl abricotine at the distillery in Martigny. Two hundreds years after they were first cultivated in the Rhône valley, apricots (and apricot brandy) are now established in the food culture of the region, the warm, dry Valais climate perfect for the sensitive luizet. Planted on the south-facing embankments of the valley, apricot trees thrive in the alluvial soil.

A winemaker called Leon is held responsible for the invention of the melting cheese, now known as raclette, when he accidentally let a half-wheel melt by the fire. It is a good story but the origins of cheese-making in the hidden valleys of the Rhône river valley go back thousands of years before the Romans occupied the region. For centuries cheese was used as currency among the people and with visiting traders. Geographically and historically linked to the area that now defines the canton, specifically the valleys of Bagnes and Goms, raclette du Valais is a semi-hard cheese associated with the lively hérens cows. As much a part of Swiss alpine scenery as the chalet and cable car, these cows graze the fragrant flora of sloping meadows along with the black-dotted cows of picture postcard Switzerland. The people of the Rhône valley regard their raclette as the true melting cheese despite its wider production in other parts of Switzerland and especially on the other side of the Alps in Savoy.


Martin, an elderly chef who works in a family restaurant in Naters, across the bridge from Brig, insists that the unique sense of place Swiss people share with their mountains and valleys is dying out, destroyed by modernity and technology. However another Martin, one of the young project managers who worked at the construction of the 34.6 kilometre railway tunnel through the base of the Alps between Raron in the Rhône valley and Frutigen in the Kander valley, takes a sense of pride in the creation of this human-built artefact.

Functionality is a byword of modern Switzerland. It defines the daily activity of a country that runs to precise timetables and delivers its workers and visitors to their destinations on time, whether by bus, train, funicular, cable car, boat or airplane. The workers then deliver a commerce that the people expect, in their offices, schools, factories, farms, shops, restaurants and construction sites.

’Switzerland,’ says Benedikt Loderer, ’is fully utilised.’ The relationship between the human built world and natural world is the theme of Switzerland: an Overview by Emil Zopfi, et al, a collection of five essays, which look at these two Switzerlands – Beautiful Switzerland and Utility Switzerland. What makes the book breathtaking along with its literary scope are the majestic aerial photographs, which accompany the essays, placing them in a context that cannot refute the perspectives of the essayists. Loderer is the most persuasive with his argument that Switzerland no longer exists.

’The beautiful Switzerland you see is the pre-industrial one,’ he says. ’Within two generations we have consumed too much of Switzerland. [It] is fully utilised. We know precisely what every bit of it can be used for, whether it’s a lake, a glacier, a cliff, arable or maintained land. This also means that it’s already been decided what the land may not be used for. The main difference is that of construction zones and non-construction zones.’

L-Tunnel

The Valais / Wallis canton is precisely that. The human-built construction zone at the Raron end of the Lötschberg base tunnel contrasts starkly with the natural mountain peaks above, and the creation of an artificial mound containing the tunnel deposits at the southern edge of the Rhone valley flood plain. The relocation – on the orders of the federal government, who commissioned the tunnel – of wildlife disturbed by the construction reveals the sensitive nature of ’nachhaltig’ (sustainable development) in Switzerland. This is also Loderer’s argument.

’Beauty Switzerland is a recompense for Utility Switzerland,’ he says. ’There are two conditions left in the country; the city and the mountains. We’ve become tourists in our own country. We commute from Utility to Beauty Switzerland in order to consolidate our identity there. Being convinced of the beauty of the country in our innermost being, we must get out of the agglomeration from time to time and refresh ourselves with a landscape and a picturesque settlement. There are two directions: into the old inner cities or into the mountains. It depends on the type of nourishment we lack. In the old inner city there is more cultural enjoyment; in the mountains, it’s more the enjoyment of Nature. And there is a sufficient number of rewarding destinations for both directions. This book proves it.

Loderer apologises for his cynicism. And he must. This book is an honest appraisal of modern Switzerland and the pictures do prove that Switzerland is still beautiful and rewarding, one of the most attractive countries in Europe. The Switzerland of pristine alpine and lakeside resorts, modern funparks and elaborate transport systems offers as much to the visitor as the Switzerland of precipitous mountain paths, old restaurants and traditional festivals. The photographs – from the ’photoswissair’ collection of the Luftbild Schweiz Foundation, started by Walter Mittelholzer, the Swiss pioneer aviator and photographer who began taking aerial pictures in 1918 – show both Switzerlands. They reveal, in glimpses, the Switzerland of the pre-industrial era and the modern Switzerland that contradicts its romantic caricature.

Unlike Italy, which is suffocating under the weight of expectation, Switzerland has been allowed to reinvent itself, for good or bad. More than Frenchman Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s stunning aerial pictures of human settlements in every region of the Earth, the Luftbild Schweiz photographs reveal an intimacy that only those who live in Switzerland and know every centimetre will fully appreciate. As an overview of a country this book is a perfect portal. From the pictures of the Matterhorn, as if civilisation never existed, to the pictures of the Rhône glacier, where civilisation in the form of a switchback road and a hotel creeps up to the edge of the ice, Switzerland is at once untamed and tamed.

Iso Camartin agrees. ’It is not even the boldness with which human beings have made changes in the landscape, opposing the natural growth and nature-given beauty with another one: that of beautiful design and daring construction.’ Martin, when he was in his tunnel, would agree that daring construction now defines Switzerland. Martin, in his kitchen, would not. For him Switzerland is and always will be the mountains. Camartin, however, knows the real truth. ’What are we complaining about?’ he says. ’It’s great to live here.’


Winter has fallen on Brig. The smell of roasted chestnuts wafts up from the railway station, where heavily clothed snow revellers carrying skis and snowboards pour onto the cold dry streets. This Swiss-German-speaking town sits under the high Alps at the south-east end of the canton astride the Rhône River. On the southern side of the mountains lies lake Maggiore, the sweep of the Po Valley and the Italian cities of Turin, Milan and Genoa. To get there travellers go over the Simplon Pass by road or take the train through the 100-year-old Simplon railway tunnel. It is the way it has always been. Brig is a crossroads.

At the Hotel Ambassador, Zürich-born Stefan Welschen is content. He has a regular clientele who eat regularly in his Cheminots restaurant, and many of those who arrive at the stone steps of number three Saflischstrasse to stay are familiar with the hotel. ’Don’t be slow coming back,’ he says. ’I will always be here.’ So has Brig. The town’s name comes from the Latin Briva for bridge. ’Brig is an historic town,’ he says in an accent that has lost some of its Zürich roots. ’Since the Romans came, they stay in Brig because they can cross the mountains in one day. They rested here. Napoleon was here with his troops. Five battalions stayed here first, then crossed the Simplon Pass.’

Swiss Cities - Brig
Stockalper Palace

Today it is possible to trace the footsteps of the Roman and Napoleonic soldiers. There is a hiking trail that follows an old path used for centuries by merchants and their mules. The trail begins in Brig at the 17th century Stockalper Palace. It was Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper, a Brig merchant, who developed the trail. Once, the merchants would have halted in an inn at the Simplon Pass. These days, the curious can learn the history of the trail by stopping at the old inn, now a museum. For most though it is the railway and the road that brings them to Brig. ’When the Simplon tunnel was built,’ says Stefan, ’the train system started getting faster, but people still stayed here overnight because when they came from England to Naples they needed a break here. ‘When cars started, even then they stopped here, to cool down the cars because they could not get all the way from Germany to Italy.’

Brig is a crossroads.

We are taking the slow stopping train from the plaza in front of Brig main station. This is the hourly train to Fiesch, the seventh stop along the line that carries the Glazier Express into the east of Switzerland. We have been told there is a bakery on Hejistrasse, the road that parallels the river at the western side of the town. Imwinkelried bakery (and cafe) is one of 60 establishments in the Valais / Wallis that makes the traditional rye bread of the region, (roggenbrot in German, pains de seigle in French). And we are excited. Rye bread, once a stable of the canton’s traditional food, is back in the ascendancy. Imwinkelried bake it plain, and with hazelnuts and with the fruit of the canton. They also make the local pastries made with carnival dough, known as chräpfli. If you decide to visit this wonderful bakery to sample their traditional breads and pastries, walk back along the platform in the direction the train has come from. In front of you, past a house, a narrow path winds down onto Hejistrasse. The bakery is immediately across the road, the cafe above.

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Imwinkelried Bakery and Cafe

Our next train, the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn (the one you see at the top of the page and again below), is also a slow, stopping train. We are going all the way from Fiesch to the terminus at Göschenen, a journey of ascents and descents in just over 100 minutes. If you are alert, when the train leaves Andermatt – the penultimate stop 14 minutes from Göschenen – you will see the sign of the devil on the wall of the rock face above the ravine below.

We are walking up from Göschenen back to Andermatt. It is a very tough walk, as anyone who has done it will tell you, hard on the calf muscles, so we are taking it very slow. Our penultimate stop before Andermatt is the high ravine where the river Reuss has been forded for millennia. Our attention is the location of an old bridge, now gone, known as teufelsbrücke (devil’s bridge). It is celebrated for many reasons, not least an event recorded by Tadhg Ó Cianáin, who kept a diary of the journey undertaken by Irish Earls and their followers through Europe 400 years ago.

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’The country of the Swiss is well fortified, uneven, mountainous, extensive, having bad roads, and no supremacy, rule or claim to submission by any king or prince in the world over the inhabitants. In themselves they form a strange, remarkable, peculiar state. It is said of the people of this country that they are the most just, honest, and untreacherous in the world, and the most faithful to their promises. They allow no robbery or murder to be done in their country without punishing it at once. Because of their perfect honour they alone are guards to the kings and princes of Christendom.’

When they reached the devil’s bridge, tired and weary from the hard walk from Göschenen in the valley below, calamity struck. The story is told from the perspective of the man who was blamed.

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Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn at Andermatt

Beyond Andermatt on the ancient trail is a little stone chapel. Blessed by Archbishop Galdinus of Milan in the 12th century it is a timeless artefact. Finding faith in the heavenly heights of the mountains kept walkers going, especially when there was a place nearby to rest the head and ease weary limbs. It is also a reminder that for tens of thousands of years the only way to travel was by foot. We would take you there, even take you south, following Irish ghosts wondering about lost gold, but we need to go east and we are going to rest our weary limbs in the comfort of the Glacier Express.

For us the Glacier Express will always be a train for winter and since the Furka Tunnel opened in 1982 it has run from Zermatt to St Moritz unimpeded, revealing the enchanting white wonderland of the Swiss Alps. The story of this train is not revealed in the impressive tourist figures (’oh you must do the Glacier Express’). It is something much deeper, and alluded to by Iso Camartin in the wonderful 2005 large format production (with fantastic photos by Robert Bösch), The World of the Glacier Express, published by AS Verlag of Zürich.

RHAETISCHE BAHN: Glacier Express - Landwasserviadukt

’To this day, the technical structures designed for this line by the early pioneers of railway engineering still amaze admirers from near and far,’ writes Camartin, a native of canton Grabünden. ’The Glacier Express connects three Swiss cantons, different linguistic and cultural landscapes, each with their own building styles and forms of habitation. ‘The journey provides views spectacular as well as unpretentious, wild and dangerous as well as idyllic. Throughout the year, the Glacier Express offers new glimpses of the daring solutions devised by the engineers and constructors to overcome the hindrances and secure the connections between landscapes and people.’

This is the true story behind this train, the cultural connections that link the people and places of the Valais with their counterparts in Uri and Grabünden. From the Matterhorn, above the ski resort of Zermatt, to the Galenstock, above the Furka Pass, and Piz Bernina and Piz Palü at the border with Italy, the people live with these imposing peaks, forever in their debt. Camartin, a Rhateo-Romansh scholar, knew the implicit reasoning behind these cultural connections, but it was German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who understood what it meant. ’This is a metaphysical landscape,’ he said, a place that is never the same.

The railway presented challenges to the people of the Alps, and now that several generations only know the railway age it is important that tourists and travellers experience that culture, especially their food culture (the whole purpose of this little tome). Those who want the full Glacier Express experience should devote two or three weeks to the trip, and get off at each stop where accommodation is offered, and walk alongside the lakes and rivers. We recommend Brig, Fiesch, Oberwald or Realp, Andermatt, Disentis / Mustér, Thusis, Filisur, Bergün / Bravuogn and Samedan.

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Going into the Furka Tunnel

It is all very well to travel on this train but it is still a very good idea to get off, find a suitable vantage point and marvel at the exquisite bridges, spiral tunnels and towering viaducts on the route. You are spoilt for choice. The train crosses 291 bridges and viaducts, and enters 91 tunnels. And of course the train also gives majestic views of the landscape that cannot be seen from footpaths. To appreciate them you need to be in the panoramic carriage. The GEX leaves Zermatt at 8:52 in winter, and at 7:52, 8:52 and 9:52 in summer. It can be met at Visp, Brig, Andermatt (as we have done on this journey – coming up from Göschenen), at Chur and Filisur (with a change for Davos). We are getting off at Thusis.

The Schöllenen is one of the four ancient trade routes through the Swiss Alps. The others are the Saint Bernard, the Simplon and the Splügen! If the Schöllenen has the abysmal path, the Splügen has the bad path – viamala in Graubünden Romansh, the Roman dialect that continues to thrive in this scenic region of Switzerland, sharing an expansive culture with the Swiss-German speaking and Italic peoples at both ends of the Splügen Pass.

This ancient route, a mule trial for countless centuries, links Thusis with Chiavenna in Italy. Legend dictates that the viamalaschlucht was worse than the schöllenenschlucht, so we are going to find out for ourselves. It is a testament to the Swiss sense of place that the path in this steep-sided rocky gorge has remained accessible, but there is one major reason for that. The viamala is a magnet. It attracts hikers because it is challenging. It attracts tourists because it is dramatic, one of the great scenic trials in Europe. We are following the sight and sound of the hinterrhein (the upper Rhine) as far as Andeer – a four hour walk at a leisurely pace. As the sun is shining we are stopping for a picnic – alpkäse with weggli (cheese and bread) chocolate, with apple juice and pear nectar. The viamalaschlucht, like all gorges, comes alive when the melt water crashes down from the heights, the light dancing like fairies on cool, clear crystal waters.

Another panoramic train ride, on this occasion through the heart of the Alps on Rhaetian Railways’ Bernina Express and down into the plain of the Po Valley. One word. Spectacular!

Swiss Travel System: Bernina Express

To Italy!