In the Alps

In the Alps

We land in Zurich and our SSB Mobile app tells us that our train to Davos is in the next one hour. We join the crowd at the baggage belt. One by one, the bags disappear, gliding behind their owners like little pug puppies. The belt runs empty, and our bags are nowhere in sight. “You should go to the baggage-claim counter. Your luggage has probably not arrived,” an attendant listlessly mutters.

A delay in our first flight has left our baggage behind in Istanbul, but it will reach in four hours, a young Swiss guy sporting a man bun and chewing gum informs us.

We decide to spend the afternoon in Zurich, and take a later train to Davos.
Two train stations from Flughafen (airport) and we alight at a bustling Zurich HB station. We hop onto a tram to the waterfront. The weather is sweltering hot, contrary to the picture of the freezing Alps we see in ads.

We soak in the gothic architecture, and loiter around Lake Zurich where parked boats float among ducks. We cross the Munster Brucke, a pedestrian and road bridge that runs over the Limmat river, and chance upon the Wasserkirche or Water Church. Zurich’s patron saints Felix and Regula were executed here. The church is peaceful, and the sunlight falls on the glass paintings by Swiss painter Augusto Giacometti, bringing them to life. The caretaker lets us into a basement below to view the crypt and martyr stone from the execution site. We pay our respects and leave.

The train ride to Davos is uneventful, and we reach the hotel around midnight.

Village life explored
Sun rises at 5.30 am, and the dark night opens into an interesting panorama outside my window. I wake up to the ringing of the clock tower, cradled amid green peaks.

Davos and Klosters are the two main villages in the Davos region; its population: 12,000. The five skiing peaks — Schatsculpt, Jacob’s horn, Piscahorn, Rhina horn, Parsen (famously known as Princess Diana’s favourite peak) and Madris — embrace it, spilling into side valleys.

Our day begins with a visit to Monstein Brewery, which came to life after farmers abandoned a milk production unit. A rainy day, we drive to Clavadeleralp cheese factory, situated 2,082 metres above sea level. Here, in mid-june, 60 cows have been milked for 1,000 litres of milk to make 120 kilograms of cheese per day. We dig into last year’s produce with the traditional Swiss Dried Pear Bread — Bündner Birnbrot — accompanied by hot chocolate. I also learn the difference between alp cheese and mountain cheese: when cows are milked in the mountains where the cheese is made, the cheese is certified as alp cheese. When cows are milked in the village and the milk is transported to the Alps for processing, it is mountain cheese. After cheese comes chocolate, and at the Schneider’s chocolate workshop in Davos Paltz, we take a chocolate-making class.

Our last day is a visit to Klosters, nestled in the Prattigau Valley, where we hike around the village made of log houses. We end our day with a stroll along Lake Davos, sitting on wooden planks and dipping our feet into waters, stopping to appreciate the alpine flowers, and allowing the fresh air to do its job. But the bright green memory of the visit here is lazing on the grass and rolling in the tufted carpet after a scrumptious meal of veil, cheese pie and potato salad at Davos Gold Club, a restaurant situated in the middle of a golf course.

Train ride to remember
Next day, to reach our next destination of St Moritz, we hop on to Bernina Express, which has large panoramic windows and is one of the most beautiful rail trips in the world. Near Filisur, the train crosses the 65-metre-high legendary Landwasser viaduct dating back more than 100 years. The viaduct is on the 63-km Albula stretch between Thusis and St Moritz, and the most photographed feature of the entire Rhaetian Railway.

After Morteratsc, the Bernina Express first passes the Montebello Curve. Then, on the right in the direction of travel, the Bernina massif and Morteratsch Glacier come into view.
Before reaching our stop at Alp Grüm, the train passes three small lakes ­— Lej Pitschen, Lej Nair and Lago Bianco — marking the watershed between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea.

We stop for a meal in Alp Grüm at the only restaurant along the route. The best thing about our ride is that the motorman is in no hurry. The train slows down at all the viewing points, giving us enough time to gawk as well as take pictures.

Alps at an altitude
In St Moritz, our guide Susi Wiprächtiger takes us to a viewing gallery that gives us a view of Lake St Moritzersee with the Maloja wind aiding wind and kite-surfers below. In winter, the scene would be completely different. Wiprächtiger, who is also a ski and swimming instructor, tells us. The lake is frozen and it’s incessantly snowing, paving way for polo and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Until the 1800s, St Moritz was only a summer destination. It was in September 1864 that Johannes Badrutt, owner of the Kulm hotel, asked his last British summer visitors to spend Christmas in St Moritz. He told them he would pay for their travel if they didn’t like it. They stayed on till Easter.

The sun is shining upon St Moritz now, and we walk into the city centre to Hauser, a bakery and café that serves Engadine nut cake, a buttery pastry with a caramelised walnut filling.

For the next two days, home is the 109-year-old heritage hotel Waldhaus, Sils-Maria. Next day, we set out with Susi to experience Diavolezza — a peak named after the she-devil that towers above the scenery with eight peaks ranging up to about 4,000-metre mark: a veritable feast for the eyes.

A Tibetan flag flutters in the air at the viewing gallery, and the slopes are being cleaned out for the forthcoming skiing season. Here, you come face-to-face with the mountains at eye level, and as we take the funicular ride back, we notice the intricate cracks on the lakes that are giving in to the shining sun.

Our lunch is at Romantik Hotel at another peak, Muottas Muragl, which has a stunning view of the landscape. While we order saffron rice and crustacean, and ravioli, the Swiss staple dish of rosti comes on a bed of crunch potatoes, cheese and a half-fried egg.

It is important to understand the language divide of Switzerland. The eastern part is fluent in Swiss-German; Engadin Valley is pretty much English, the west is French-speaking, and the southern part is Italian-speaking. In the southeastern Swiss canton of Grisons (Graubünden), where we are, Romanshe (similar to Latin) also finds fluency.

Back in the city, we pay obeisance to the leaning tower of St Mortiz. “Locals joke that it is the straightest man in the region,” Susi tells us. The village of St Moritz is beautiful with the traditional horse carriages and colourfully painted houses etched with graffiti – a form of decoration made by scratching through a surface to reveal a lower layer of a contrasting colour.

Summer in the Alps is colourful, amid alpine flowers and verdant hills with snow-peaked mountains peeping out from behind.

All you have to do is keep your eyes and nose awake to soak in the beauty and breathe in the freshness of the land.

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