Day 15 - 29/5/19 – Locarno to Zermatt
A lovely sunny day. Boarded the Centovalli(100 valleys) Express to Domodossola in Italy, with a supplementary cost of 1.50 CHF each, no customs formalities. Saw people rock climbing up cliffs at Tegna. Grape vines everywhere. Snowy mountains in view from Cavigliano. Along heavily forested mountains were a couple of old stone dwellings amongst the trees. Saw a flying fox and a cable car strung between the two sides of the gorge, really high and really steep, with a river at the bottom of the gorge - wild country. It’s crazy where some people live! Crossed the border just after Camedo. Cannot believe the engineering marvel of the Swiss train system, and where the rail lines are built. At the highest point at San Maria Maggiore we could see massive snowy mountains up in front of us. Orcesco Gagnone village looks really old. Changed trains at Domodossola, and again at Visp, to head to Zermatt. Had our picnic on the train. The train was pretty full. Great views. Passed a massive glacier. Weather forecast to be sunny for the next 4 days – yahoo! Our hotel, the Hotel Garni Testa Grigia, was just up the main road. Our room had a door opening onto a common, wraparound balcony, and had views of the Matterhorn and other mountains, even from the bed! Beautiful room, really large and spacious (as was the bathroom), coffee and tea maker, heaps of cupboard space, and all recently renovated. Though all our hotel rooms were good, this was probably the best. Went for a walk through to the end of town towards the Matterhorn. Dinner of chicken and salad from the Coop. It was cloudy over the Matterhorn. More tourists here than anywhere we’ve seen so far.
Day 16 - 30/5/19 – Zermatt to Kulmhotel Gornergrat
Woke at 5am and the Matterhorn was clear. We had an amazing view of her. We watched as the sun hit the peak and glowed a gold colour, then couldn’t sleep anymore, too excited! Took the train up to Gornergrat, really crowded with tourists. It’s the highest open-air cog railway in Europe - 50% off with our Swiss Travel Pass, cost 98 CHF for the two of us. About a 35min trip through amazing scenery, both towards the Matterhorn, and out the other side of the train as well. Certain tourists pushing to get on the train as we were trying to get off, such a shame some people can be so rude. Our room wasn’t ready, so we left our bags at reception, and looked around – people everywhere. Insane views of 29 x 4000m peaks, and heaps of glaciers. Kulmhotel Gornergrat is the highest hotel in Switzerland, and there’s a little chapel next to the hotel – the Bernhard von Aosta chapel. Walked around and played in the snow near the station, then walked up to the top viewing area behind the hotel. Had a picnic. All rooms are named after a mountain and numbered with their height. Amazing views out our window to snowy mountains and heaps of glaciers. It was much quieter in the late afternoon, and beautiful after ~7.15pm when the last train goes down. Went in for dinner, really nice meal. Went up to the top viewing area after dinner for sunset – amazing. Pretty cold now, gloves are on. With the altitude at 3100m, I was a bit breathless, and hubby felt a bit ‘fuzzy’ in the head, but we just took it slow when walking around.
Day 17 - 31/5/19 – Gornergrat to Zermatt
Got up for sunrise. Took coffee out to the terrace, then hung around at the top viewing platform. The Matterhorn peak was glowing rose gold as the sun hit it, with a background of pink sky. Another gorgeous day. On the way back to our room we saw 7 ibex on the rocks near the hotel terrace, they were licking the salt from the rocks and a piece of timber sticking out from the rocks, watched them for ages. Took the train back down to Zermatt, full of tour groups pushing to get on the train again before others getting off. Stayed at the Hotel Garni Testa Grigia again, where we’d left one bag when we went up to Gornergrat. Went for a walk up towards the Matterhorn towards Zmutt. Had a picnic on a seat on the way. Turned around and came back to Zermatt on the same trail, were gone for a few hours. Checked out the Mountaineer’s Cemetery – many different nationalities, including English, Spanish, American - have lost their lives in the surrounding mountains, not all graves were from lives lost on the Matterhorn, and all ages. Saw the graves of two young friends from Cambridge Uni, aged 19 and 22. Went to the kebab shop for dinner.
Day 18 - 1/6/19 – Zermatt
Another beautiful day. Off to Klein Matterhorn and the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the highest cable car station in Europe at 3883m. With a 50% discount with our STP, the cost was 100 CHF for both of us. It takes three cable cars to go up – we were on our own in the first one, a continuously moving one you jump in, from Zermatt to Furi, then a bigger one that runs to a timetable from Furi to Trockener Steg, then a continuously moving car again from Trockener Steg to Klein Matterhorn. Unbelievable views everywhere – down the valley to Zermatt, Tasch, and Randa, over to Gornergrat, the Theodul glacier – a big glacier next to the top cable car, and the Matterhorn. Once at the top we went to the cinema, sitting in little cushioned pods, to watch a few short movies on the mountains, wildlife etc. Took the lift up to the viewing platform, mind blowing views, mountains and snow everywhere. There was a crucifix attached to the platform with a plaque reading “Be more human” in a few different languages – pity the world isn’t sometimes these days. Then to the Glacier Cave, an area drilled under the glacier you can walk through – has some ice sculptures, an ice bar (it wasn’t operating though), and a short slide through an ice tunnel you can go on sitting on a mat – we had a go, but I didn’t slide too well, either from the weight of me, the hiking poles on my pack scraping the floor, the small gradient, or all of the above! It was freezing in the cave. Checked out the restaurant and watched some skiers for a while. On the way down we waited ‘til we got a cable car to ourselves, got off at Trockener Steg, and hung about on the viewing platform there for a while. Back down to Furi, then our own cable car again down to Zermatt. Decided to go to Sunnegga, at 2288m, for our picnic, so walked through Zermatt on the other side of the river to get the funicular, which only opened for the season two days ago - 50% discount with our STP, cost 24 CHF for the two of us. It was only a 5 minute trip, all through a tunnel. Walked down to a little hillock and had our picnic looking straight out to the Matterhorn – could also see Gornergrat and Klein Matterhorn. Sat for a while soaking in the beautiful views, then walked around the lake – the lake was a bit yukky, lots of algae on top at one end, and a bit of a breeze up so didn’t get the Matterhorn reflected. Took the little shuttle funicular back up to the main funicular station, and back down to Zermatt. Chicken and salad from the Coop again for dinner.
Day 19 - 2/6/19 – Zermatt to Montreux
Took the train to Visp. Another lovely day. Lots of waterfalls in the valley, and a milky river. Lots of irrigation of fields of wildflowers, not sure why, think they’ll put the cows in there later to graze? Passed a big glacier at Randa. Saw some donkeys and deer. Gorgeous views down the valley between the mountains. Some cowbells on the cows are massive. Wildflowers everywhere – purple, yellow, white, pink, and orange. Flowers are even growing out of rocks on the side of the train tracks. Saw quite a few guys fishing in different spots on the river, which was flowing really fast in most places. Massive rocks in and near the river, looks like they’ve fallen from the really steep, rocky walls of the valley. The river was running swiftly and pouring over the rocks. Saw some goats that were half black and half white, really shaggy, with long, thin horns. Little villages hang off the sides and tops of the valley walls. Some houses have flowerboxes actually built in all along the front of verandas and windows - gorgeous. Changed trains at Visp, then the valley opens out. Heaps of grapes were growing on the hillsides, with retaining walls made of stone, and still seeing snowy mountains. Saw lots of quarries, as there’s heaps of rock everywhere. A castle was on a hill at Sion. Great colours in the rock hills, reminds me of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado. Travelling through the Rhone valley. Saw the ruins of a castle. Heaps of agricultural areas, terraced up the hillsides. At Martigny the valley takes a 90° turn north. Saw a couple of big, solitary wind turbines, probably to pump water for irrigation of farms? The valley opens up more around Bex. On a recommendation from a myswissalps forum contributor, John Yorks, we got off the train at Aigle, and after a walk around, took the little narrow gauge train up to Leysin – the Grand Hotel is at 1451m – about a 30 minute trip through more gorgeous scenery. Wandered around ‘til the same train left ~35 minutes later. Back down to Aigle and train to Montreux, only 10 minutes further on. Lac Leman was a beautiful blue colour, with snowy mountains above. Took the lift down to the waterfront to our hotel, the Eurotel. Lots of people were walking along the lakefront, and in restaurants and bars. It was really hot, supposed to be 30°C. Our room was at the corner at the back on a high floor, with million dollar views out to the lake and snowy mountains, and over the city, with a little balcony. Went for a walk along the lakefront, and up to the next level of the street, Avenue des Alpes, and had dinner at a Chinese restaurant, Yu Xiang Yuan, very nice meals. Walked through the streets and ended up at the Miles Davis centre – the gardens near it had sculptures of musicians, Carlos Santana, BB King, Ray Charles, and others. More sculptures along the lakefront, and flowers planted all along.
Day 20 - 3/6/19 – Montreux
One of the best breakfasts so far – a huge selection, and a beautiful lake view from the restaurant. Walked along the waterfront to the Freddie Mercury statue, and then to the Queen Museum in the casino (free). On 4/12/71 the casino burnt down - the fire was started by a fan with a flare gun at a Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention concert. Deep Purple wrote and recorded Smoke on the Water in Montreux because of this. Five years later a new casino opened with Mountain Studios within, where Queen, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Bowie, Led Zeppelin, Brian Ferry, Yes, Iggy Pop, among others recorded here. Queen owned the studio between 1979 and 1993, recording seven albums here, including their last, Made in Heaven. Only a small exhibition area, had some of Freddie’s outfits, some original handwritten lyrics, and the original control room. There was a plaque on the floor to mark the spot where Freddie stood to record his last vocals. We then took the boat to Chillon Castle, spent over two hours there, free with the STP – really interesting, and lovely inside. It dates from the 12th century, and there are indications that the site had been occupied since the Bronze Age. Caught the bus back to town. Rained and stormed in the afternoon. Went for a walk later along the waterfront, and up to Angel’s Bar, across from the station, for dinner and shared a very nice pizza. Decided to jump a bus to Villeneuve, on the lake past Chillon Castle. Lovely little old town, and the sunset was amazing from there as it was near the east end of the lake, so we could see the sun setting right in front of us. Had a bit of a wander, and took the bus back to Montreux.
Day 21 - 4/6/19 – Montreux
Looked like the weather was going to be good today. Took the boat to Vevey, and had a bit of a walk along the waterfront and up into town, then took a bus back to Montreux. Decided to take the train to Gruyeres. Just outside of Montreux a field up in the hills looked like it had a fine dusting of snow on it, but then I realised it was covered in white flowers. Really steep above Montreux, so the train snakes backwards and forwards up from the lake. Could see a big triangular knob of rock, looks like a volcanic plug? Changed trains at Montbovon, where the train goes through the middle of the road in the village. There was still some snow on the mountains. The colours are beautiful – lush green fields, white, purple, and yellow wildflowers, soaring pine trees (beautiful – dark green foliage with lime green tips) and other types of trees, and smoky brown rock faces. Travelled on the MOB (Montreux Oberland Bernois) Golden Pass panoramic train, with large panoramic windows, and windows in the roof as well. We changed carriages – cooler, better table, heaps more leg room, not as many people in it, aisle armrests fold up - it’s worth checking out different carriages as they can be different, even on the same train. Arrived in Gruyeres and got on the waiting bus which took us up to the old medieval village and castle. Had a wander around the village walls, and went into the Tibet Museum – both the museum and castle were free with the STP. The museum was amazing – buddha statues, tangkas, parchments, and other items dating from the 7th century from Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, India, and China – all pieces really intricate. It was strange to see a museum like this in a place like this. It was set up by a man called Alain Bordier, who had decided to exhibit his collection and heard that a house in the medieval town at Gruyeres was for sale, so he set it up there. Most of his collection came from buying from other art collectors, not from Tibet and the Himalaya regions, as he believes that the art work should stay where it originated. The second room was amazing, it was a renovated chapel, complete with stained glass windows, and a beautiful curved glass staircase to a mezzanine floor. The lady at the entrance gave me a torch, and a book cataloguing all the pieces as a guide when walking through. Then up to the castle, built in the 13th century, used mainly as the home of one of the leading noble families during the Middle Ages, and much more of a ‘homey’ appearance than Chillon Castle in Montreux. Spent a while wandering through the castle – loved the stone window seats in many rooms, worn smooth over the centuries. Had our picnic sitting outside under a tree looking out over the surrounding countryside, mainly agricultural land, and Lake Gruyeres. Walked back down to the station by a little path near the entrance to the medieval town, listening to cowbells tinkling. Visited the cheese factory next to the station, free with the STP. We were too late to see the day’s production, but they have a self-guide system where we were given a headset with commentary by a cow called Cherry (!), corresponding to numbered exhibits and videos throughout the factory, very interesting. We were also given free samples of cheese – a packet containing three pieces, one ripened for 6 months, one for 8 months, and one for 10 – all really nice. The cows eat 100kg of grass per day, drink 85 litres of water, and produce 25 litres of milk. It takes 400 litres of milk to produce one 35kg wheel of cheese. The wheels are matured for up to one year. Saw the cellar with all the cheese wheels stacked on shelving. Took the train back to Montreux, changing again at Montbovon. Went back to the Yu Xiang Yuan Chinese restaurant again for dinner.
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