Schwengimatt, Thal Regional Nature ParkOctober 2 in Switzerland ⋅ 🌧 11 °C
To watch the 3 minute video accompanying this post click here: https://youtu.be/YojxwhcOlb8
Martha is currently parked 1053m above sea level. There is a howling wind and we lost visibility hours ago as rain and cloud closed in. It is only our second night in Switzerland, but from what little we've seen, we like it a lot!
We began this morning at an altitude of just over 750m and crawled along a narrow, winding road, dropping 400m down to the flat valley floodplain and a good quality dual carriageway. (The forested mountain route was stunning, but buying a vignette for the motorways was definitely the right decision).
10km later we pulled into a small rest area. Here there were litter bins, a drinking water tap and public toilets that we were able to empty our chemical free cassette into. Finding van facilities such as these is always a worry when visiting a new country, so it was comfort to have been able to access them.
The next stop was in a town. Our friends Cath and Paul had helpfully provided us with some Swiss coins to get us started, but we needed an ATM to stock up on francs. The first we tried was a 'Postomat'. It didn't want to cooperate (perhaps it was only for Post Office account holders?) but another machine at a nearby bank happily provided us with notes.
Confident we could pay for goods at the town's Co-op we trawled the aisles to get a feel for the place. The populous of each country has its own predilections when it comes to food; we find this is best represented in the way supermarkets stock their shelves. Unsurprisingly sauerkraut, raclette and fondue gruyere cheese featured prominently, but there was also a big selection of different flavoured mayonnaises in squeezy tubes such as you find tomato pureé in. To our relief the cost of food wasn't as high as feared.
Another point of interest (for us at least) was that all prices were multiples of 5. It seems the Swiss don't have currency of less value than 5 subunits. The coins are called different things in each of the country's four languages, so are marked only with their worth. (Centimes in French, rappen in German, centesimo in Italian and rap in Romansh).
Listening to the cashier and other customers as we queued to pay, was our first experience of Swiss-German. Through our knowledge of German we were able to understand a little, but couldn't begin to speak it.
Our overnight parkup, on the edge of Thal Regional Nature Park required yet another slow and cautious drive up a mountain road with passing places. Maintenance work was taking place in the forest and at one point Vicky needed to hop out and clear a tree branch blocking our path. We were glad of the new tyres fitted during Martha's recent service!
Cresting a peak an amazing view and our destination was revealed. Verdent forested slopes formed a huge valley with grazing pastures and isolated hamlets providing some sense of scale. We were awestruck. As if this wasn't enough, Maps.Me revealed a myriad of trails, so after lunch we set out for a short walk. Close by was a park with stone firepit, grill and tongs, giant seesaws and swings which amused Will for more than 5 minutes (just).
Stones set into the forest floor marked the way and provided grip. Cloud enveloping the slender trunks to our right, lent a mystical feel to the air. The first viewpoint we reached had been obscured over time by growth, but the second, a bench on a small fenced platform, was magnificent. A town, patchwork fields and road network spread out on the flood plain hundreds of metres below, while hills with the occasional castle or grey stone cliff, rose up to the clouds. We were so high up it almost seemed we were looking at a miniature model world.
Soon after settling back into Martha a vicious rain began to lash the hillside, ably abetted by strong winds. The heating was working double time to keep us warm and we were shocked to see a runner, then a cyclist braving the conditions and powering up the slopes. Respect to them!
The temperature fell to under 3°C overnight, but happily the wind and rain abated. At sunrise Vicky walked to a different viewpoint. Both the steep climb and the vista took her breath away. A craggy outcrop provided the perfect natural promontory above a huge valley full of white cloud. With an amber sun just peaking through silhouetted pines to the left, it was almost 180° before you reached a nearby mountain peak to the right, the light of golden hour enhancing the warm hues of autumn leaves. Above the cloud rose the distant band of Alps and their foothills, while at its near edge, patches of pastureland and a village could be seen. Looking closely, Vicky made out a herd of cattle following the line of a fence. Through the still morning air the sound of their bells reached her, mingled with those of the village church.
After sharing this outstanding panorama with Will via video chat, she peeled herself away, only to stop soon afterwards, having spotted something large moving between the trees. It was an Alpine Ibex, just 20m away! She could hardly believe it when another appeared and they allowed her to raise her camera and film them. Although very aware of her presence, they stayed around for five minutes or more before disappearing into the shade.
Later we retraced the route together and picniced on the viewpoint bench. We felt so very fortunate to have been able to travel to this incredible place.
Rounding the day's activities off, Vicky went in hunt of a nearby Geocache, eventually finding the little box stowed away at the base of a Beech tree. Snug within the van we relished the stillness, quiet and beautiful views, which were capped off in style by a stunning cloud formation at sunset.Read more