Hiking the Swiss Alps

hiking in swiss alps 2005.jpgAfter 3 weeks of installing ourselves in France we decided we needed a vacation. We headed off to the Alps on the border between Switzerland and France in the Haute Savoie. Chatel, the village we stayed in sits in the Vallee L'Abonndance (Valley of the Abundnance) approximately 45 minutes from Geneve.Not quite prepared, but determined to hike the Swiss Alps, we donned our tennis shoes, Jean's leather sandals and hats. By now I am sure you are impressed thinking we are climbing to the top of the Alps. However, we followed the French hikers and discovered the the key is to take the Telecabine and ski lifts to the top and traverse the Alps and hike down into the valleys. A much more sensible way!!Baguette and cheese in the backpack and water in hand we take the telecabine to the top of the mountain from the valley. A descent of 300 meters. Looking down upon the valley you could see forests, open valleys, grass filled ski runs, cows grazing, trails criss-crossing across the mountain and chalets dotting the surroundings as far a you could see.We jumped off the telecabine and walked over to the nearby ski lift that would take us up to the top of the mountain, high enough to see Mont Blanc on a clear day. With map in hand we read the signposts for Ton de Don. Jean had befriended three couples who had come from Paris for a week of hiking. They plan their routes to end up at a chalet for lunch and drinks. Seeing Zoe-Pascale they smiled and pointed out the best route to hike. Within 5 minutes, Zoe-Pascale dressed to the hilt of course in a green and brown dress from the Uzes Marche and a green hat that resembled Carmen San Diego (her new hero) was first in line charging up the path of the narrow alpine trail. Our motto, was slow and easy as we climbed, descended and strolled up focusing on the grand vistas and meadows. As we hiked, we would run into grazing cows with metal bells on leather collars the size of a melon hanging from their huge necks. The sound was a cacophony of beautiful bell music echoing from the hillsides. In the summer all the cows are free to wonder the hillsides eating the green, tall grass during the day returning to the mountain farms each night. Dotting the alps are small farms, each making their own special family recipe of L'Abonndance fromage as well as opening their doors as a restaurant to weary hikers each summer.At our first sighting of the cows, Jean told the story of when he was a boy and he and his brother and sister would try to tip a cow. Yes, tip over a sleeping cow. Joking with Zoe-Pascale we moved from tipping a cow to ringing a cow's bell. Jean had to convice her that these cows were different than the bulls of the camargue and would not hurt us. Upon passing a group of cows lying on the ground near to the path, I just had to ring their bell, and so I did. Creeping up slowly, patting the cow on the forehead I rang the bell. A proud moment that echoed throughout the valley!On our first day of hiking I made sure we had plenty of food to eat for our long hike. Soon I come to find out that the hiking map clearly marks the mountain chalets that serve food and drinks. What is more enticing than to hike 2 hours and find a beer waiting for you along with a speciality of the house. On this 5 hour hike to Chalet Mouet and back down to the valley, Zoe-Pascale scrambled like a goat sang songs and talked non-stop about all the animals she wants on her game farm. They say as kids grow they go through periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium. I think now that she is approaching 6 she was in her body, her element and soaring!!! What a joy to see.At one point she started to tell us about a Scooby Doo movie and broke into giggles about a comment "Let's tell Uncle Paco" It was one of those "has to be there moments, " but it is amazing how it kept her entertained and giggling for over an hour. Whatever she saw, she would say "Let's go tell Uncle Paco" and laugh.After watching other hikers go by with walking sticks Jean found the perfect branch and created 3 walking sticks for us. We felt like true Swiss hikers. After lunch at Chalet Mouet we descended down into Chatel our village. Five hours later we arrived at our hotel, happy and tired, ready to jump into the jacuzzi and swimming pool, take a quick nap and be served a 5 course dinner.
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Suzanne Saxe-Roux