Europe, Part II: Switzerland

After our stay in Paris we made our way via train to Geneve in the south west corner of Switzerland, which was quite the scenic rail trip through the French countryside.

Not too far out of Paris we passed through lush farmlands and charming old villages. Often the villages were no more than a dozen buildings huddled together, and with their stone work structures were easily over a century old. Each town we passed, even the smallest ones, had churches of their own. They were easily visible as the largest structure in each each village, and the most ornate too.

After the pleasant train ride we were then warmly greeted in Geneve by Ivy's family who we'd be staying with for the next few days.

The Villages

As if not to be shown up by their French cousins, Swiss villages were equally (if not more) scenic, and came equipped with many a picturesque church too.

During our stay in Switzerland we were generously taken on a bunch of day tours across the country. We visited the ancient island castle of Chateau Chillon nestled on the shores of Lake Geneve, which is over a millenia old. We explored the Cailler chocolate factory, which has been crafting chocolate since 1898 and still proudly uses the milk of cows raised locally in the surrounding countryside. And we visited many a beautiful Swiss village too.

Near the chocolate factory was the picture-perfect medieval town of Gruyere. Founded on a hill overlooking the surrounding farmland, the town has retained its historic charm and inspired the medieval town in Disney's The Beauty And The Beast. I was glad to see that the village had embraced it's past, with the imperfect architecture and uneven cobbled streets all adding to its charm.

On our way to a weekend away in the Swiss Alps we paid a visit to Bern, the lesser known capital of Switzerland. The main street is lined with centuries old apartments, now home to both artisan shops as well as high end fashion stores. But for me the highlight was the view from the river Aare. Overlooking the old part of town on the river bank, the medieval style village has been retained in the heart of the nation's capital. 

After Bern we continued our drive through the Swiss countryside (bursting with golden canola flowers this time of year), slowly rising in elevation before reaching Interlaken at the base of the mountains.


A short drive up the valley took us to Lauterbrunnen. Surrounded by shear peaks capped in snow, the town has all the aspects of the classic Swiss village, complete with rolling green fields, iconic timber houses, mountain views and a church or two for good measure.

From Lauterbrunnen we caught the gondola and train up the mountain side to the village of Mürren (inaccessible by car). Although still covered in a blanket of snow, the fresh Spring sun on the morning we arrived was slowly but surely melting away the snow, thawing out the town in time for spring. A popular location for avid skiers, we were more than content strolling through the streets and soaking up the views and the charm of the village.

The Mountains

Hailing from Australia, one thing my beautiful homeland is lacking are mountains. And one thing Switzerland seemed to have in plenty (as well as its rolling green pastures) are its mountains.

While technically not in Switzerland, our first day trip took us back across the border and into France.

Only an hour from Geneve, we drove to the French town of Chamonix, situated at the base of Mont-Blanc. From there we jumped aboard the funicular railway up the mountain side to Montenvers which offers a scenic view of the surrounding mountains (that is, when they're not shrouded in cloud).

Nonetheless we then caught the cable car down to the base of the glacier. A small hike to reach it, the walk down is getting longer with each passing year. The monumentous chunk of ice and rock is slowly but surely retreating, and on the walk down there are markers indicating the level of the glacier every couple of years. Having a visual record like that is a strikingly good way to highlight just how fast (and regular) the level of the glacier is dropping.

Literally meaning "sea of ice", the Mer de Glace is France's largest glacier. Impressive from above, the glacier from inside is something else. Being able to walk through the glacier was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before.

Our weekend away in the foothills of the Swiss Alps was a completely new experience for me also. I'd seen mountains and I'd seen snow but I'd never been surrounded by it and stayed in an alpine village.

We drove up through the base of the valley and everywhere you turned were shear mountain cliffs covered by snow, even in mid-spring. Although with the changing of the seasons the winter snow was slowly melting, feeding dozens of small waterfalls along the valley, and one large one in the heart of Lauterbrunnen.

And while impressive from the valley floor, the mountains are best viewed from above. The town of Mürren is situated almost 2000m above sea level and although not extremely high by any measure, it provided uninterrupted scenic vistas of the surrounding snow covered peaks. We saw eagles soaring the skies above as well as their human counterparts gliding down through the alpine scenery. 

A new landscape for me to photograph, I had a blast capturing the white and grey peaks against the rich blue sky. I'd love to return again soon, and shoot the mountains during first and last light, as the sun's rays illuminate just the very peaks in the soft pink light known as alpenglow.

We had a great time in the country and truly appreciated Ivy's family's hospitality as it allowed us to rest and recharge our batteries after nearly 2 months on the road.