From Italy we were on our way back to England, with mixed feelings, it was definitely starting to feel like the end of the trip. But we had another big adventure first. We were on our way to a mountain hut in Switzerland. We would be staying with Sabrina, she had been our au pair the year before and lived with us for 5 months in New Zealand. She was living with us when we planned our trip, sold our house (and her bed) and spent our last few nights in a hotel. Then she went on her own trip in New Zealand before heading home. Since we’d last seen her the kids had grown in many ways. They were looking forward to seeing someone familiar and seeing the mountains.
We had 3 nights with Sabrina and she had planned the time for us, a real treat after months of travel planning. We were going to stay in her family’s hut in the mountains. Nothing could prepare us for how special these few days would be. Sabrina’s family were warm and welcoming. They live in a beautiful area, the village of Faulensee not far from Interlaken, so it is also a tourist area. The first afternoon we headed for a swim in the lake. It was cold! Despite the warm summer air temperatures the lake water stays cool and fresh. It was just what we needed after a very long drive from Italy, full of detours and road closures.
A Stay in a Traditional Mountain Hut in Switzerland
After packing their four wheel drive with supplies for the night we set off for the drive to their summer mountain home or alpine hut. It is only accessible by road during the summer, in the winter you would need to ski there! Even in summer the road is one way, to go up you must leave in a certain time slot and the same with coming down to be sure you don’t collide with another vehicle.
Sabrina’s father bought the alpine hut many years ago, they have many happy memories of summer holidays spent there. L & S were in heaven. We entered through the back, which is the barn part of the building. This is where the animals would traditionally be kept inside. Through a door into the kitchen, a dining room and a large bedroom at the back with mattresses for all. The house has no running hot water or electricity. We cooked and ate by candlelight, lanterns and torches, and boiled a large cauldron of water on the open fire for washing. There was a spring outside with delicious fresh water.
L helped Sabrina cook dinner over the fire and we sat outside watching a thunderstorm come across the mountains.
Later we played cards and tucked in for an early night.
The next morning we awoke to the sound of cow bells and a scream. S had gone downstairs into the shed where the camping toilet was kept and come face to face with a friendly dairy cow!
Cheese Making in a Swiss Mountain Hut
After hot chocolates, coffee and delicious fresh bread with jam we packed up. The night before, Sabrina’s cousin had come over with an invitation. The dairy farm above us would be making cheese in the morning, would we like to come and watch? Yes!! This was the last thing on my Europe bucket list. After eating so much local cheese in many different styles from all over Europe, I wanted to see cheese making in action. We had visited the Parmesan cheese factory in Italy but this was on a much smaller scale and we would see the processes from start to finish.
Alpine Transhumance – Seasonal Droving of Livestock, Switzerland
The neighbouring family move into their mountain hut for the summer to make cheese. The extended family were there with lots of little ones running around. In Switzerland the cows are brought down the mountain to the valley for the winter, and in summer they make an annual pilgrimage up the mountain to graze on the fresh meadow grass. It is this grass that gives the alpine cheese its distinctive aromatic flavour. During the walk to the mountain traditional costume is worn and the cows wear their bells. Some of the bells are huge!
Each mountain house comes with the grazing rights for a number of cows. People like Sabrina’s father lease their allocation to others when they don’t want to keep their own cows.
S made friends with a young calf. She kept disappearing to the barn to sit and cuddle her. They joked with us that she was for sale, we could buy her as a pet? She was very expensive, $3,500NZD, but her Mum is an excellent milker!
We visited the cheese cellar where the rounds are aged for 18 months to 3 years+ and we tasted delicious cheeses at different stages of maturity. We also tasted the milk and cheese at different stages of production.
After a couple of hours it was time to say goodbye and see what else Sabrina had planned for us. On the drive back down the mountain we stopped for a quick picture of this waterfall.
Worldschool in Switzerland
It is fair to say that I am the member of the family with the most interest in cheese making, but this morning in Switzerland was worldschool in action. Everything from agriculture to Swiss culture. With incredible hospitality from a warm and welcoming family, who were not at all perturbed by a family from New Zealand arriving in their home for the morning. While I kept dragging the kids back to study the cheese making they just wanted to stand outside and look at the mountains and then visit the cows, again. Here they are with our friendly host and cheese maker.
Now that we are home, if you ask the kids what their favourite parts of the trip were, they will tell you: Borneo, and the night we slept in a mountain hut in Switzerland. We were incredibly lucky to have an experience of Swiss culture, alpine huts, cheese making and mountain living. We had 2 more days with Sabrina her family, more on that in the next post…