You went to Davos and didn’t ski?

I have often joked that Switzerland may be the only place on earth where gyms are completely deserted during the month of January. I remember going for the ubiquitous January 2nd workout last year, anticipating the typical hordes of resolution bandwagoners, but I ended up having the place all to myself.  The reason for this phenomenon of course, is that everyone is skiing!  Why would anyone workout during winter holidays when the Alps are right there?

Skiing is as Swiss as cheese and chocolate, and the Swiss people take all such enjoyable things very seriously. I should note here that the idea of health and wellness in Switzerland is much more geared toward just that, health and wellness. It is quite a different mentality from the North American obsession with fat burning and muscle pumping.  Many Swiss believe that if fitness can be found within some of the most beautiful outdoor settings in the world, then the Elliptical machine can take a hike.  In searching for outdoor activity, there is no better place to find heart-healthy fresh air and challenging winter adventures than in Europe’s highest city, Davos.

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I Go a’Wandering

When imagining Switzerland, most people might picture snow-covered mountains, rolling green pastures, cows, cheese, dairy-maids, and ginger-bread looking houses.  Now while many may assume that these are just stereotypes, I can assure you they are not.  Of course, the country has far more to offer with large modern, international cities, including Zurich, Genève, and Bern: some of the top-rated for quality of life, in the world. However, the Swiss people also pride themselves in keeping their majestic landscape and cute culture just as it has been for hundreds of years.  And one of the very best ways to experience the stunning surroundings is with your own two feet. Venture atop stony cliffs or along the blue water’s edge; romp around in a soft sheep pasture or amongst row upon row of grape vines.  Switzerland’s numerous and well-marked hiking paths, or Wanderwegs, extend to every nook of the country and assure you safe, challenging, and of course incredibly beautiful experiences.

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Cow Parade

I’m on a bit of a tourist kick at the moment. For my last post, I wrote about where to take visitors in Swabia. This week’s topic: the cow parade. I had never heard of this tradition until last year, when colleagues of mine included it in their hiking weekend. I immediately thought “hey, I bet my boys would love that!” and my husband disagreed, saying they were too little and would be scared. Of cows? Please. Although, the bells are indeed very loud, and cows are kind of big. So we waited another year and just last weekend, I experienced the Viehscheid in the Allgäu (which follows the the Almabtrieb in Germany and Austria, known in Switzerland as the Alpabzug) This refers to the process of bringing the cows down from the alpine meadows, and returning them to their owners to spend the winter in barns. It involves a parade of cows decked out with flowers and wreaths, oom-pah-pah bands, traditional celebration food, beer, and cow bells. Lots of cow bells.

My first encounter with cow bells was while hiking in the Alps. The Alps are glorious for hiking, and on a leisurely stroll above the clouds one day, I found myself transported to a magical place. Continue reading

Out and About in the Schwäbische Alb

(This post is totally focused on the SW of Germany… apologies to readers in other regions!)

Have guests coming? There is no reason to trek all the way to Neuschwanstein to see a castle; there is plenty to be seen within a two-hour drive of Stuttgart. Having spent a weekend enjoying some of the sights near my adopted hometown, I thought I’d share a few ideas for where to take your parents when they finally come for a visit. My apologies to readers not living in the lovely southwestern corner of this country, but perhaps this short list will serve as impetus to make a trip to Schwabenland? I have focused here on the region of the Swabian Alps, an ancient range locally known as the Schwäbische Alb (not, in German, to be confused with the alps, die Alpen, as they are two very different regions)

Burg Hohenzollern is a lovely castle perched on the top of a symmetric hill. The view of the castle while approaching already makes you excited to see the inside. Continue reading

When the Swiss Invite You to a “Panorama”

Having grown up on the flat Canadian prairies, not a clear and sunny day goes by that I don’t step out onto my balcony here in Switzerland, look over the bright blue Zurich Sea, toward the glowing green foothills of the Alps, and say out loud, “Wow!” Brandon, my fiance, often asks, “Will it ever get old?” My answer is always the same: “Not even close”. So when some new Swiss friends asked if they could take us up those hills for lunch at a traditional Swiss panorama restaurant, of course I was very excited.

It was an unseasonably hot Sunday in March. It was so warm I decided to wear my new sleeveless dress and some sparkly ballet flats. Brandon put on his Sunday best, a short sleeve collared shirt and dress shoes. We were picked up at 12:30 and as we departed, one friend, Sara, pointed to a lone tree atop a huge foothill and in her best English effort said, “You see this tree? This is where we are going.” I was bursting! After spending so much time staring up at those hills in awe, wondering what the world would look like from up there, I was finally going to find out. Her boyfriend Patrick, in a less successful attempt at English, mentioned that he had made the reservation for 2 pm. Hmmm, that’s strange, I thought, the drive couldn’t possibly take an hour and a half. Perhaps he just has the English numbers mixed up. We drove for a half hour, up through the forested winding roads, getting higher and higher. We stopped and parked at a restaurant. It was 1 pm, and I didn’t see the tree. We were told we would have to walk a little to get there. Continue reading