I guess I was only one or two years old – a crying little toddler – when I must have first felt a yearning for Switzerland. My family was invited to Geneva for a wedding celebration, and I can’t blame my parents for not wanting to miss the opportunity to travel to what was an exotic part of the world in the late eighties. So they left me in the care of my aunt, and crossed the seas with my elder brother in tow.
As I grew up, I don’t think all those Bollywood flicks made me crave a trip to Switzerland as much as the stories my family related for several years after their return. The Swiss Alps are magical, they said. Swiss trains are the best in the world, they said. Switzerland is such an expensive country, they said.
Growing up in a middle income family in small town India in the 90s, I brushed aside my secret dream of travelling to Switzerland someday. I locked it away in my mind and forgot all about it.
The years passed. My life turned around as a travel blogger and I travelled across the Alps from Germany to Slovenia.
But it wasn’t until this winter that the dream to explore Switzerland resurfaced in me – when Swiss International Air lines (SWISS) reached out to me, asking if I would be interested in travelling on assignment to Switzerland, to try skiing for the first time in the Swiss Alps. HELL YES!
My first ski experience near Wengen
One of my goals in 2018 is to learn something new and different every month – and January became about fighting my fears to get on the ski slopes for the first time! I’ve heard about some scary first time skiing experiences, and felt my heart pounding by the time our train pulled into Kleine Scheidegg, where our ski school was located. Luckily, my instructor Isi was incredibly patient as I slowly learnt to keep my balance, control my speed and hang on to a rope to go up the slope. Once I got a hang of it, it was exhilarating to whizz down the (nursery) slope, splashing snow in the process, surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of the Swiss Alps.
I later learnt that most locals start learning to ski at the ages of two and three, and indeed saw mere toddlers ski proficiently on big, steep slopes! But hey, we can’t let our age or fear stop us.
I highly recommend the ski school at Kleine Scheidegg. A 2 hour private ski lesson for 2 costs 190 CHF (INR 13,000).
Living in a fairytale house with a Swiss family
At the end of the assignment, I decided to extend my stay and experience a bit of the Swiss countryside on my own. In my search for an authentic (yet vegan-friendly) experience, I landed up in the dreamy 80-year-old wooden home of a Swiss family, close to stunning hiking trails in the Swiss Alps yet only 1.5 hours by train from Zurich. As luck would have it, it rained and snowed with strong winds throughout my stay; I even got stuck in a snow blizzard while hiking!
But that didn’t take away from my experience… I loved watching snowflakes fly all around me from my wooden balcony, and more often, from the warmth of my cosy, traditional room. In the evenings, my host family’s toddlers would get on some makeshift boards and slide down the snow – skiiers and snowboarders in the making! And I feasted of some of the most delicious vegan food from their kitchen – including vegan rosti, carob brownies and almond cheese pizzas.
Carob (not chocolate!) brownies at my vegan Swiss B&B.
Sonnmatt Bergpension & Gesundheitszentrum is a family-run, vegan/vegetarian B&B on the Swiss countryside; rooms start at 63 CHF (INR 4,300) per night, meals are 10 CHF (INR 680) each.
Flying business class on SWISS
Even though I only spent ten days in Switzerland, I felt like my journey began even earlier than I arrived – thanks to my SWISS flight. I felt my wanderlust surge as I peeped out from my window and saw the snow-covered Swiss Alps and Caucasus Mountains below us, from the comfort of my spacious business class seat with an in-built massager… and felt the same adrenalin later on in Wengen, as we watched an Air Show with a Swiss plane fly precariously close to the Alps.
Cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet above earth, I got plenty of work done in my “up in the air” office, took a power nap on my full flat bed and resisted the temptation to indulge in Swiss chocolates and cheese – glad I had pre-ordered a vegan meal.
I was lucky enough to get the coveted single seats on business class each way. They are reserved for Senator Club members, but open up 24 hours before the flight. I also loved that on the SWISS website, I could ask to be checked in automatically when the online check-in window opened and receive my boarding pass over email – saving myself the last minute scramble.
Jungfrau region: A romantic winter dream
Thanks to nearly 80 Bollywood movies shot across Switzerland, the alpine meadows, rolling valleys and imposing mountains of the Jungfrau region are hardly unfamiliar to us in India – though from what I’ve heard, they get pretty crowded in the summer. But in winter, these mountains wear a thick coat of white. Tiny Alpine villages with wooden houses are often shrouded by the morning mist. Even in several layers of warm clothes, the wind chill often numbed our faces, so we seeked the warmth of an old cafe and following our Swiss friends, the strange combination of vodka and herbal tea! With only a handful of other tourists, I felt like these mountains were ours to brave.
One chilly evening, I remember walking amid the stone graves of the charming cemetery at Lauterbrunnen – a small valley surrounded by high mountains – thinking that death is a lot like winter; scary from a distance, but perhaps beautiful when you get closer and embrace it.
In the Jungfrau region, I most enjoyed the small village of Grindelwald, especially First, a gorgeous cliff walk. I’ve heard Murren is beautiful too, but that will have to wait till next time.
Do you dream of visiting Switzerland some day?