I tucked into lamb cooked to perfection, vegetables plucked from the garden, and sampled a glass from the Prince of Lichtenstein’s own cellars
Vicky Pester hits the open road in search of cheese, chocolate and mouthwatering Swiss wine
What better way to prove to the world that you are an independent, gutsy, feisty woman than taking the bull by its horns, or at least handle bars in this case, and learning to ride a motorbike? Much against my mother’s wishes, as well as anyone else that likes my limbs and skin intact, it was my turn to stick the middle finger up at the norm, and to get my motorbike licence.
Little did I know that just a year later I would embark on my own mini adventure. Over the next eight days, I would ride 1,600 kilometres through five Alpine passes, past 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and along 22 lakes… I would traverse the land of chocolate, cheese and watches; spectacular Switzerland.
As I drifted off to sleep on my SWISS flight from Singapore, I could almost hear the distant sounds of the cattle bells ringing across the endless stretch of snow-capped mountains, smell the bouquet of the wines I was yet to drink, and feel the vibrations of the Harley-Davidson Street beneath me… While the wine turned out to be the air hostess and the drinks trolley, and the vibrations of the Harley, the massage setting on my flatbed, but still, I was eager to meet my new travel companion for the next eight days.
As most great love stories begin, it was love at first sight when I was given the keys to my Harley. Her seductive curves, her fierce attitude… I knew immediately, she was the one for me. We’d have our ups and downs, even a couple of tantrums along the way (all mine), but unlike most love stories, this one didn’t end in tragedy, thank goodness.
A tour of Switzerland is like a mini-tour of Europe. Transitioning between different languages, cultures and cuisines is as easy as working your way through one of their mouthwatering boxes of chocolates.
The first part of my Grand Tour of Switzerland, would see me ride towards the capital of Lichtenstein, Vaduz, via the raging Rhine Falls, and the dazzling shores of Lake Constance. I set off with the sounds of the lake lapping against the shore and a cool breeze in my face. I was definitely in my happy place. If there was heaven on Earth, this could be it.
As I arrived at the Park Hotel Sonnenhof in Vaduz after a seven-hour ride, I watched the sun set behind the ancient Vaduz Castle. As I took a seat for my Michelin-starred dinner on the terrace, I couldn’t help feel smug as I tucked into lamb that was cooked to perfection, seasonal vegetables plucked fresh from the garden, and sampled a smooth glass of Pinot Noir from the Prince of Lichtenstein’s own wine cellars. As the wine warmed my body, the exhaustion from the long ride started to take affect and I retired to my beautifully designed suite where a very deep sleep was waiting for me…as was a delicious Swiss chocolate on my pillow.
I rose early, ready for a day hiking through the Graubünden Alps, which is home to the upscale ski resort of St Moritz as well as herds of mountain cows. The oversized bells around their necks provided the perfect soundtrack to my walk. My intended ramble turned into a full blown five-hour trek to a summit of 2,376km, but boy were the 360 degree panoramic views worth it. Rewarded with blue skies, vistas as far as the eye could see and an ice cold beer on the way down, I was refreshed and ready to get back on the bike the following day for a ride that would take me through the mountains to the charming Alpine resort of Arosa.
The ride up to the Arosa Kulm Hotel & Alpin Spa was breathtaking. As the Street effortlessly meandered the winding, steep roads, I was able to take a moment to breathe in the forest aroma and generous views, and fill my lungs with some of the freshest air I had ever had the privilege of breathing. The view continued all the way up to my hotel suite, with my balcony providing me with the ultimate front row seat for the show at sunset.
One drawback to a gourmet road trip is having to turn down the champagne at breakfast. However, while extremely tempting, I had a long day of riding ahead, which included the Splugen Pass, the highest mountain pass in the Alps.
Now it must be noted that this was not originally on my list. I initially intended to head for the more tranquil sight of Lake Lugano, but clearly my sense of direction had other ideas and I found tackling a series of hairpin turns to Italy. It wasn’t until I was asked to pay for my lunch in Euros that I realised I had effortlessly crossed the border. But as mistakes go it didn’t give me the need to complain, even when I was racing against the sun to reach my next hillside destination of Villa Principe Leopoldo that overlooks Lake Lugano.
I felt as if I’d been transported to the Mediterranean coast when I arrived in Ticino. Blessed with a balmy climate and striking scenery, it could easily challenge its Italian neighbour, Lake Como, with or without its most famous resident George Clooney.
However, this Mediterranean-style break was well timed as my next port of call was the notorious Furka Pass, which was immortalised in the car chase in James Bond’s Goldfinger. At 2,431 metres above sea level, with numerous hairpin bends, it’s one of the world’s most exhilarating roads. However, the road was made even more exhilarating for me as I was treated to thick cloud, biting wind, icy rain and zero visibility. For a fleeting second, I was rewarded with a vista of the hairpins I had been tackling in the fog. I couldn’t help but feel the adrenaline from the adventure. It’s always an adventure when you come out of it alive.
It was much to my relief that my next place to rest my weary head was Hôtel Victoria, located on the banks of Lake Geneva. The owner Toni Mittermair says that “guests don’t come to the hotel, they come to our home”. And home was exactly what I needed along with a wholesome home cooked meal and a few glasses of local wine. I had arrived at Montreux, home to the world renowned jazz festival as well as some of the best wines I had the pleasure of tasting during my trip.
For any wine lover, it is such a joy to cross the terraces of the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, which are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But be warned, as a wise person once said, “the first glass of wine is all about the food, the second glass is about love and the third glass is about mayhem”. I should probably ask what happens after a bottle, but I’m not sure I’d remember.
With a tight schedule, I had to leave the shores of Lake Geneva behind, but that blow was softened by the fact I was heading to Neuchâtel, the source of Swiss watch-maker knowhow. There would be no fear of me being late after this as it’s at the Beau-Rivage Hotel that you are given the chance to join the master horologists and create your own timepiece.
I finished my trip with by taking a lush picturesque drive through farm land to the elegant Park Weggis, a small paradise on the banks of Lake Lucerne. It was here that I had the most memorable moments on the trip thanks to Swiss Tavolata. The scheme gives you the chance to have a bite to eat with a farmer and discover more about the Swiss way of life. As I enjoyed a plate of cold cuts and mouthfuls of homemade goats’ cheese, I listened intently to stories of what life was like in the country that always comes out top in the charts as the best places to live.
Later that day, as I laid down on my sun lounger with the sun warming my face, I looked out at the magnificent Alps across the sparkling lake and started to reflect on my trip and all the people I had met along the way. The Swiss have an unfortunate reputation for being dull. Immaculate, clean and straight… However, it didn’t take me long to realise this was far from the reality and that Switzerland is vibrant, diverse and bursting with character and life, a fitting persona for such a contrasting and varying landscape. In just a short week, I had soon fallen in love with this beautiful country, but mainly its people, its food and, of course, its superb wine.
As I sipped on my expertly poured Scotch in the new whisky bar at the SWISS lounge in Zurich, I felt sad to be leaving behind the fresh air, sensational food and the roars of the Harley Street, but I promised myself I would be back. Although with a bigger bag to take all the wine and cheese home with me next time!
With special thanks to SWISS for sponsoring flights, Harley-Davidson for entrusting me with their Street 750 and Relais et Chateaux for the opportunity to stay in some of the most unique and beautiful properties in Switzerland.