I thought the mountains would be cold. That even in summer, the sun would shine across the snow drifts, and the people would be wearing puffy jackets and long trousers throughout the season. I was right – sort of. Yes, the actual tops of the mountains are a bit chill. But in the valleys the sun shines at full strength and outdoor activities are de rigeur.
Palm trees line a turquoise lake, the sun shines over the mountains and there’s the gentle lilt of Italian in the air. Welcome to Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian canton.
Yesterday was a holiday. There were so many things we could do. We thought about going to Paris for the day, or maybe somewhere in Germany. Maybe stay closer to home and visit Schaffhausen, with its pretty old town and iconic Rhine Falls…
What we actually did, was go and watch a bunch of grown men hold onto one another’s shorts and try to flip each other like tortoises. Welcome to Schwingen, a national sport of Switzerland. I’m a bit unclear on the rules, but the idea seems to be to get your opponent on their back, with both shoulders on the floor, by twisting, pushing, wrestling, hugging or sitting on them. Each competitor wears a pair of breeches with a belt to help the other grip onto them and they employ all sorts of flips and trips to try to win.
Appenzell is picture postcard Switzerland. Rolling green hills dotted with cows are juxtaposed against rugged grey cliffs reaching up to a blue Spring sky. It’s enough to distract you from the fact you’re hiking up a million steps. Almost. The walk from Wasserauen to Berggasthaus Meglisalp is about 2.5 hours up and 1.5 down (if, like me, you strategically pretend to take pictures when you’re tired), but it is striking. And there’s lunch at the top.
This winter, I learned to ski. Well, I learned to slide from side to side down a slope on skis and stop at the end. Just about.
Learning anything new as an adult is hard. But add in lack of control and a healthy dose of terror and it seems near-impossible. Day one seemed to go well. We started on a basically flat section. I could stop! I could turn! Yippee. We then went onto a slight slope. Turned out I could fall as well…
It’s Bärlauch, or wild garlic, season and I am beyond excited. You can pick it up in the supermarkets, but it’s much more fun to don the wellies and head out into the woods to pick your own. Much like in the UK, the season runs from March to May, with the middle period yielding the best leaves.
You have to be careful that it’s wild garlic you are picking and not the poisonous and similar-looking Lily of the Valley, but if you can identify it, you can have a foragers field day. It grows everywhere here. We drove five minutes from Basel and were greeted by green carpets of the stuff. Restaurants pretty much serve nothing else at the moment, and everyone has a recipe or two they can recommend. It doesn’t keep that long, so follow the foragers rule of only taking what you need, give it a good wash and whip it up into a quick pesto (with parsley and parmesan), or fry it and serve it with olive oil over pasta.
1. PETERSHAM NURSERIES
This little oasis away from the city is the perfect day trip for anyone who wants to escape for a local lunch. Petersham Nurseries is a veritable treasure trove of plants, flowers and garden supplies, but for me, the real reason to take the tube or boat out to Richmond is The Café. New Head Chef Damian Clisby, previously head chef at HIX Soho and Cotswold House, works alongside Culinary Director Lucy Boyd to create seasonal menus of fresh, local produce, beautifully presented and impeccably cooked. The setting is in one of the greenhouses, populated with mismatched wooden tables and chairs and surrounded by greenery.
Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond
Tube stop: Richmond Station / Thames River Boat from Westminster Pier
Or the lack of them.
I genuinely like vegetables. And here you can get some lovely vegetables. Humorously shaped squash that would never make it onto the shelves in the UK. Beautiful tomatoes, fresh lettuce, juicy fruits, all proudly grown here and labelled Swiss. Just don’t try to eat them with your meal.
The side salad is officially NFI in Switzerland. Order a salad and it comes first. Order it at the same time as your meal and people look at you as if you asked to wear it as a hat. I ordered a salad alongside a pizza. The pizza arrived. I could see the salad. Sitting there. Waiting. And everyone ignored it.
I spent two years at school not learning German. I had two lessons a week in which I expressly tried my hardest not to remember a single word.
I didn’t like it (or I didn’t like the teacher); I preferred the romance and gallic sentimentality of French, where you could simply shrug a bit and put on an accent. German was all hard letters and aggressive punctuation. Who needs that anyway?
Me, it turns out. I’m pretty good at nodding and smiling – even laughing – at the right moments. But then the inevitable happens. Someone addresses something to you. It is immediately apparent that you have just been pretending for the last fifteen minutes. It’s awkward.
If you had told me five years ago that I would own hiking boots before I owned a house I would have laughed you out of the room. I did the Duke of Edinburgh award, an overnight orienteering challenge, and I hated it. The idea of me doing adventure sports or serious outdoor activities has people in hysterics (it’s kind of offensive. But true). I love to walk. I love certain sports. I love being outside. But I like pretty things. I like meandering, I like riding a horse gently through a forest, or playing in the park, or walking by the river. I don’t like walking uphill for a 500 metre elevation.
That’s why it took several trips to several shops to find the right boots. That matched the jacket. That matched the wind shell jacket. But now I have them. And more to the point, I have used them.