In April 2014 some friends and I took a trip to Valais, in Switzerland, where we stayed in a Chalet which was situated on top of a mountain. Five of us went from The Netherlands to Switzerland in my car, which took us around eight hours – and a sixth friend; Olivia, flew down from Dusseldorf and met us in the nearby town of Sion – cue feverishly trying to exchange directions via WhatsApp and me driving up and down the mountain side and accidentally burning my brake pads.
On the drive down from Holland it felt like the moment we crossed the border and entered Switzerland the scenery took a dramatic twist and suddenly we were faced with some of the most extreme mountain faces I have personally ever seen. Most of the people in the car missed the majority of the journey through Switzerland due to the fact they were sleeping, which always makes me wonder; ‘why?’ – oh well, their loss. I found it rather striking that even on the most severe mountain edges there were some lush green forest areas and almost tropical looking habitats. It was hard to keep my eyes on the road and for once I was really left speechless with what I was seeing from the driver seat of my car. I have to say it was possibly one of the nicest drives I’ve ever had and I would love to do it again sometime in the future, although maybe next time it’s Austria’s turn to impress?
Valais is quite close to Montreux which is a picturesque town situated on Lake Geneva. We drove through Montreux on our way to the Chalet; but we stopped to take pictures as a conveniently located parking spot, right next to Lake Geneva itself. After our stop we piled back into the car and continued our journey for another 45 minutes before eventually reaching the small town of Sierre. With extremely high mountains either side of us we turned off the main road and began to ascend up the mountain face. The long and windy roads that lead up the side of the mountain were extremely fun to drive on and I would highly recommend it to any experienced driver out there who wants to test their limits and discover a whole different side to extreme driving.
We reached the top of the mountain and the GPS told us we were close by to our destination. As we entered a little collection of Chalet’s an elderly woman came from her home and tried speaking to us in French. Luckily for us she also spoke German and my friend Sebastian was able to communicate with her perfectly. It turned out that we were in the completely wrong area and we had to double back and go further up the mountain. I think it took us around an hour to find our Chalet once we got to the area we were supposed to be in. Unfortunately we were left very little in the way of instructions and everyone we saw either didn’t have time to stop, or just didn’t speak English at all. Our problems didn’t end there however, as when we did finally find the Chalet in which we were staying at, we couldn’t locate the keys to get in the place for well over an hour. Myself, Sebastian and Damir left Emilija and Dias to continue searching for the keys as we headed back down the mountain and towards Sion to collect Olivia from the train station. Thankfully, by the time we got back up the mountain and to the Chalet, Emilija and Dias had found the keys (in the most well concealed spot imaginable) and we were now able to relax inside the Chalet and figure out who was sleeping where. It was also a perfect opportunity to light a fire and get cozy with the breathtaking views encroaching out the window.
The next day we planned on visiting the Grand Dixeme Dam which is the tallest gravity dam in the world, but we could see from our Chalet that the road leading up to the Dam was completely off limits due to heavy snowfall. It was still the off season and some of the ice and snow at the top of the mountains was yet to thaw. Instead of tackling the recommended route, we decided to drive around the other side of our mountain and attempt to visit one of the smaller lakes situated high on the mountain top next to ours. We made it quite some way on very rough terrain and to be honest, I was rather worried my car wouldn’t make it or it would just get totally stuck. The higher we got the more snow there was around us, until eventually the snow was laid out deep in front of us, across the road itself. I drove through a couple of areas of thick snow before my car eventually started to struggle and we all decided it was not wise to continue. I’d come this far however and I didn’t want to quit, so we abandoned the car at the side of a river and proceeded to walk by foot. My wheelchair was totally useless in the snow and pretty soon I was out on my hands and knees, wading through snow drifts which were up to peoples thighs in places. Emilija, Dias and Olivia went on ahead and saw that the lake was still a good distance away and so we decided to ditch the idea and instead have a snowball fight and mess around in the ice cold river.
Later we embarked on the descent back down the mountain and headed for the town of Sion to get some traditional Swiss food supplies for that night. In pretty idyllic circumstances we sat in our Chalet looking out over the breath-taking view, 3,500 metres above sea level, with a roaring open fire, tucking into various different meats (this was before I was a vegan) and vegetables which we dipped into a fondue set provided by the host. It was one of the nicest moments of the whole trip and I couldn’t think of better people to spend it with.
On our second full day in Switzerland we headed back towards Montreux to have a good look around the city and to hopefully find the statue of Freddy Mercury; who spent the last of his years living there. The city itself is very clean and well presented, with many street performers and musicians dotted along the lakeside it’s a perfect place for an evening stroll and the mountains that hug the lakeside leave you feeling rather mesmorised and wondering if you’re in some kind of fairy tale land. .
As you may or may not be aware, Switzerland is notoriously expensive, so it’s hard to take this trip on a tight budget, although it is possible. You can try and pack as much food to take with you as possible if you’re self catering and this will dramatically reduce your overall expense as eating out soon adds up.
Whilst in Montruex, we drove around 3km to the outskirts of the town, following the lake to the Chillon Castle. We didn’t actually go inside the castle but the grounds and waterside surrounding it are just spectacular and it was well worth visiting. It’s a definite tourist attraction and it almost feels like you ought of be on the set of Game of Thrones or something similarly medieval as it feels a million miles away from the hurried pace of life on the main road just up the hillside.
After visiting Chillon Castle and having some lunch in Montreux we headed back to our Chalet for what was expected to be our final night. Once we got back and prepared dinner we made a group decision to contact the host of the Chalet and ask if we could stay for one extra night. Luckily our host was very trusting and she allowed us to leave the money in a little box in the entrance hall. This may be a theme for most holiday homes and Chalet’s, with a very relaxed atmosphere and a friendly vibe where people aren’t afraid to put trust in their guests and find ways to make their stay even more enjoyable. Hospitality in Switzerland is superb and it’s possible to find a great deal on a place to stay if you put the effort in when searching. We found a fabulous three bedroom Chalet that slept the six of us for only €80 per night. When you consider that’s between six friends, it’s peanuts and amazing value for money. We did go in the off season however, but we chose dates right where the season was changing and prices were set to double; heading to Switzerland in late April/early May meant that the weather was still really good for the most part, although as mentioned earlier, some of the routes further up the mountain were off limits due to the snow.
Our final day was very lazy and super chilled. We knew there was a long eight hour drive back to Holland the next day so it seemed silly to exert ourselves too much. Instead we watched movies, played board games and went for walks on the mountain. Everything in that part of the world was so peaceful and tranquil; a really amazing spot to visit if you ever want to fully escape from the stresses of the modern world.
On the final night Dias, Emilija and I drove down the mountain to Sierre to find a place to sit and have coffee together. It’s something we do quite regularly in both Germany and Holland and it just seemed like a fitting way to end the trip. One of the best sights of the holiday was as we went down the mountain and all the lights in the town were glowing in the distance, and also when we go to the town and looked up at the mountain, you could see pockets of bright lights where there are villages on the mountain side. From a distance it just looked like little fairy lights dazzling in the darkness.
Sitting outside a cafe on a warm evening, talking and watching the world go by was the perfect way to end our trip. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave this magical country – we will most definitely return!