Travel

The Exceptional Traveler: Saanenland — Idyllic Pleasures in the Swiss Alps

   Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.— Miriam Beard

How To Do Exceptional Things Inexpensively

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View from our chalet

My sister Kim telephoned out of the blue to say she wouldn’t be using the chalet apartment she’d rented in the Swiss Alps the first two weeks of March. Not one to pass up a travel opportunity, I started scrolling Orbitz as my sister gave me details. The two-bedroom apartment was located in Saanen and the balcony overlooked a rushing river. By the time we got off the phone, I knew that Geneva was the nearest airport and a connecting train left from within the terminal. I’d spend a week on my own, then my partner Tony (though he didn’t yet know it) would join me.

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Saanen

I had never heard of Saanen, but would come to discover there isn’t a more perfect base for exploring the strikingly beautiful area called Saanenland in the southwestern corner of Switzerland that includes Rougemont, Schönried, Saaenmöser, Château-d’oex, Lauenen, Turbach, and jetsetty Gstaad among others. All structures in this part of the Alps are traditional wooden Bernese farmhouses or chalets, with carved gables and overhanging roofs; in spring every balcony is adorned with flowerpots. The first morning in Saanen I awoke to a snowstorm, and as I made my way to the Early Beck patisserie through snow up to my knees (I have my priorities), I fell in love. And it wasn’t only because of the firm Nusstorte (nut cake) dense with caramelized walnuts that I’d tucked deep into the pocket of my ski jacket.

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The interior of the town church was covered with frescoes from the second half of the 15th century. The cozy burger restaurant JAM with roaring fireplace gave each diner a long list of condiments and side dishes written in German, French and English and you simply checked off what you wanted. The train station that took us everywhere we wanted to go was a short walk from our chalet. I bought an unlimited pass for half-price tickets and had everything scoped out by the time Tony arrived.

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Walking to Gstaad

Small postal buses connect the many car-free villages in the Alps, but we could walk to Gstaad in 25 minutes following the river that drifted through back country past a small farm with plump cows wearing huge vintage metal bells. Our route brought us out on main street a block from Pernet Comestibles World of Fine Food (an 80-year-old institution) and the Coop supermarket where we did our shopping. The majestic Palace Hotel (another institution) looms over the town from every angle; champagne truffle fondue at the Palace is a “must” splurge. It’s almost impossible to read about Gstaad without encountering adjectives like snobby and elitist. We didn’t find it so for a second.

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Palace Hotel

One of the most memorable things to do in Saanenland is to have lunch at one of the mountaintop restaurants that can be reached only by chairlift….

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