Every tree branch and blade of grass was encrusted in ice. Pam LeBlanc photo
With this week’s cheese, butter and chocolate consumption off the charts, I needed to hike.
Fortunately, that’s easy to do in Switzerland, where you can explore the countryside via a network of well-marked gravel pathways.
Ice crystals formed on every surface. Pam LeBlanc photo
I squeezed in two hikes my last full day in Gstaad, starting with a chilly walk along a twisting river in Lauenen, where cows outnumber humans and an overnight storm had put a delicate crust of diamonds on every twig and blade of grass. When the sun broke over the mountains, the entire forest shimmered.
I passed frozen stacks of hay, shaped just like the ones Van Gogh famously painted, and crossed a narrow wooden bridge over a half-frozen stream. My walk felt like a tour inside a glass-blowers factory.
The Swiss make the best hot chocolate! Pam LeBlanc photo
After an hour, my fingers turned to popsicles, so I stopped in the coffeeshop at the Hotel Alpenland, where I ordered hot chocolate. You can get two kinds here – the classic type, made with dark chocolate, or a maltier version called Ovomaltine. I opted for the darker stuff, which came in a ceramic mug with a small cinnamon cookie and a sifting of grated chocolate.
In the afternoon, after the other journalists in my group had departed, I hitched a ride to Schonried, a 20-minute drive from Gstaad. From there, I followed the “wanderweg” signs (I love the Swiss term for hiking). Even though it had snowed a day earlier, the trails had been cleared, another indication of that perpetual Swiss tidiness.
I struck out for Gstaad.
I soaked up this view while hiking around Gstaad. Pam LeBlanc photo
My route began with a dip alongside a ski lift that was busily whisking skiers up a nearby slope. I shivered a little, as snowflakes stacked up on my knit cap. I stopped to snap pictures, then followed the gravel path as it swung around a corner and headed into the farmland. I clomped past farmhouses and the occasional bed and breakfast, inspected some pumpkin-sized cowbells hanging from a barn, admired fields frosted in white, and followed the trail as it led me across a ridge with views of old chalets and hillside villages.
At one spot, I discovered a wooden cabinet holding an array of milk and cheeses for sale. What a concept – just pop your money in the cash box, using the honor system instead of a credit card, and help yourself to a snack.
Many farmers sell cheese from self-service boxes in the countryside. Pam LeBlanc photo
At one point, the trail forked, with signs pointing in opposite directions, both labeled Gstaad. I stood perplexed for a few minutes, until a farmer pushing a cart magically appeared and asked if I needed help. (The people here seem to pop up just when you need them, eager to offer assistance.) I told him I didn’t know which trail to take, and he directed me toward a snow-covered route marked by poles. That, he pronounced, would take me to Gstaad Palace, where stars including Richard Burton, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor have all stayed.
Perfect. I stuck my tongue out to catch a few snowflakes, descended into the village, passing the palace’s striking turrets, and found my way back to Park Gstaad, my temporary home away from home, in an hour and a half.