Vaud Almighty | 

Switzerland’s western region offers great wine, delicious food and spectacular vistas

We were travelling across central Switzerland in an ultra-modern GoldenPass panoramic train, which has a partially glassed roof and massive windows to give 180 degree visibility.

Jim admiring the Swiss scenery

Chocolatier Nicolas Noz

Cheesemaker Bruno

The panoramic train

A L’Etivaz cheese cellar

The beautiful vineyards of Domaine Croix Duplex

Jim GallagherSunday World

It used to be said that every boy dreams of being a train driver. Well, here I was in the front seat of a modern express train, right above the tracks, with a giant window framing the magnificent alpine scenery in front of me.

I might not have actually been in control of this high-tech engine — the driver was behind me in a control booth — but it certainly felt as if I was.

We were travelling across central Switzerland in an ultra-modern GoldenPass panoramic train, which has a partially glassed roof and massive windows to give 180 degree visibility.

Sitting in the very front row just behind the window wipers, we glided through the spectacular landscape while fighting the temptation to lean to the right or left as we approached a bend, as if on a rollercoaster.

The panoramic train

Thankfully, the wipers were not needed as it was a gloriously sunny day with temperatures in the high 20s. Back in Ireland this would have meant a very uncomfortable hot, sweaty journey. But this was Switzerland where the trains not only run on time but have first-rate air conditioning.

We had only been in the country a few hours, so this seemed like the dream start to our late summer break.

After flying with Swiss International Air Lines from Dublin to Zurich, we jumped on a regular double-decker train from the airport’s train station before changing at Spiez for our panoramic ride.

We were to catch the train again a couple of days later, and it was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of our visit.

But for now, we disembarked at the pretty alpine village of Chateau d’Oex in the Pays-d’Enhaut, which was to be our base for the first couple of days.

Sitting at 1,000m, the town is surrounded by rolling green hills and mountains and is, in fact, the world alpine capital of hot air ballooning, due to its favourable micro-climate.

But our interests were much more down to earth — we were on a tour checking out the gastronomy of the canton of Vaud, one of 26 regions that make up Switzerland.

Cheesemaker Bruno

This was why we found ourselves on the second day at a cheesemaking demonstration at Le Chalet restaurant in Chateau d’Oex, just a short walk from our Roc et Neige hotel.

As we entered, the first scene to greet us was cheesemaker Bruno stirring a vast 200-litre copper pot of cultured milk and rennet over an open fire, before taking out the resulting curd to start the cheesemaking process.

We then sampled some of the finished product in a lovely lunch with hot cheese in a pastry, over a green salad.

That afternoon found us in another cheesemaker’s, the cellars of L’Etivaz in the village of the same name.

Their hard cheese is known throughout Switzerland and 40pc is exported to France, Germany and Belgium along with the UK, the USA and Canada.

When it was launched in the 1930s there were 20 producers supplying the milk, now there are 70 and the name L’Etivaz is brand protected.

The cheese is only made between May and October when the cows feed on the rich grasses of the high alpine pastures, giving its distinctive flavour. In winter, deep snow keeps the animals indoors.

The wheels of cheese, weighing 18 to 35kg, are kept in the cellars for at least a year and sell for about €400. There are 20,000 stored at any one time.

A L’Etivaz cheese cellar

Of course, Switzerland is not only known for its cheese but also for its wine and chocolate.

Our group fell in love with the fruity white wines on offer at every restaurant and regretted that few of them were available in Ireland or even the rest of Europe.

The reason is that the Swiss — lucky things — drink nearly all of it themselves.

Maude Vogel, who runs a beautiful vineyard in the village of Grandvaux on the Lavaux hillside above Lake Geneva, told us it was simply not practical to export large quantities.

With a high cost of living in Switzerland, winemakers couldn’t compete with countries like Spain or Chile. Once international taxes and Vat were added the cost would be prohibitive for customers, she said.

We spent a wonderful afternoon sampling some of the 26 wines she and her brother Simon produce from 14 different grapes at their Domaine Croix Duplex vineyard, including the Chasselas and their Fleurettes 4 Plants.

Their engineer grandfather Samuel Vogel opened the business in 1929, after falling in love with the stunning location high above the lake. He passed it on to his children, and now it is being run by the third generation of the family.

We sat on a sun-dappled terrace gazing down on vineyards as far as the eye could see on a perfect afternoon.

The beautiful vineyards of Domaine Croix Duplex

It’s just a seven-minute journey to Grandvaux on a local train from Lausanne where we were booked into the lovely Best Western Plus Hotel Mirabeau for our last night.

There is much to see and do in Lausanne, famous as the home of the International Olympic Committee, the Olympic Museum and the lakeshore Olympic Park, all very accessible on the city’s great Metro system.

There are gorgeous walks along the banks of Lake Geneva, while the hilly old city has medieval quarters including a 12th-century gothic cathedral and a thriving cafe/bar scene.

We had a great night in Le Vestibule pub just opposite the cathedral, where the toilets and a speakeasy bar are all hidden behind bookcases.

Over our few days, we sampled some excellent meals in prestigious restaurants including the chic Le Café du Valrose in Rougemont, close to Chateau d’Oex, and the lively Le Roc in Hotel de Rougemont.

In Lausanne, we lunched in the new Jacques restaurant and had dinner on the terrace of the trendy Sardine in the old section of the city.

Not to be missed was a visit to the famed chocolate workshop, Noz, to sample some of their gorgeous goodies. Founder and chocolatier Nicolas Noz even taught us how to bake carac, a regional speciality, while demonstrating his intricate cake decorating skills.

We flew out of Geneva hours later, still dreaming of the dark stuff.


SWITZERLAND See ■ Swiss has direct flights from Dublin to Zurich and Geneva. See ■ The Swiss Travel Pass allows free travel on trains, buses and boats in over 90 cities (and entry to 500 museums) from €239 for 3 days to €370 for 6 days. See ■ See Hotel Roc et Neige and Hotel Mirabeau Lausanne

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