One of the perks of living in Switzerland, a small country with such contrasting landscapes, is that within a few hours drive, you can enter what feels like another universe.
Over the long Easter weekend, we drove along the Gold Coast of Lake Geneva, around Montreux, the Swiss Riviera, through the Glion Tunnel into the Rhone Valley and onto the famous wine region of Leytron. Half way up the Alps, we reached our destination, Ovronnaz, an alpine village in the Valais region, perched on a plateau at 1350 meters, known for its thermal spa and ski ranges at 2500 meters. Ovronnaz’s proximity to the plains makes it easily accessible for short getaway trips from Geneva.
Our hotel, located just outside of the village in the Muverans mountain range, offers stunning views of the valley of the Rhone on a clear day, but from our balcony we could barely distinguish the mountains in the mist.
The all-purpose Nordic center offers a winter wonderland of cross-country, snowshoe, downhill and telemark skiing trails. Summer activities are equally enticing for outdoor adventurers and include 90 miles worth of trails for hiking, via ferrata, paragliding, skydiving and mountain biking. We were caught between seasons; no snow remained in the village for cross-country skiing and the downhill ski trails were closing.
To understand why the Valaisan are such hardy folks one must explore the area on foot; it is impossible to walk anywhere without going up. The treacherously steep trails are imposing to a flatlander with bad knees. Invariably, ze Frenchman would bound off ahead on a trail that he was sure looped back down to the village, but at every turn in the trail led upward. Whining about my aching knees, I begged him to turn back. Though the trails are marked, so many overlap, it was easy to get lost.
Yet by venturing off on the beaten path we saw wildlife. We marveled at the mama deer and her doe bounding through the pines. Under a gentle snowfall, we hiked on trails of soft pine needle and through occasional patches of snow. Birds chirped, wild flowers peeked out and trees budded gave hints of the glorious spring soon to arrive.
After a long hike, nothing is more revitalizing than a long soak in the mineral rich baths in one of the three pools with water at various temperature levels. Naturally, I like it hot, so I spent my time in the outdoor pool at 85°. While snowflakes tickled my cheeks, the steaming waters soothed my aching joints. The contrast between the hot water and cold air was invigorating as we floated in a mini paradise surrounded by snow clad mountain peeks.
Forty-eight hours later, we threw open our shutters of our balcony for one last look at the Valais at it’s best. A ray of sunshine illuminates the valley and brings the jagged edges of the surrounding mountains into focus. We wind back down the mountainside toward Lausanne. “Et hop” its back to work in the lowlands.