I never wanted, nor had the desire, to ever go there. As an American, our go-to, romanticized, bucket-list places to travel to have always been France, Italy, England maybe, but not Switzerland. What do you even do there? What language do they speak? Do all of their cheeses have holes? These were the questions I had, but never really cared to find out the answers to. That is, until my wife told me it was her number one place in the world she wanted to travel to. Of everywhere, Switzerland was number one!? So, being as good of a husband as I could be, a trip was planned and tickets were booked to find out what this mystery country was all about.
We began in France. I had lived there for five years and wanted to show my wife the sites, and to show her what my life was like during my time in Paris - drinking wine, relaxing, eating cheese and charcuterie - not all too different from my life in New York, actually. She enjoyed it. At least I think she enjoyed it, but I could always tell that in her mind that she was saying, “I can’t wait to leave and head to Switzerland.” A few days later she got her wish, as we first took a train to Annecy, a picturesque little village on a lake right at the Swiss border. After a short stay there, we hopped a bus to Geneva, and then several trains to Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland.
Breathtaking, no words to describe this pure, unadulterated, gorgeous village set in the valley of the mountains. Bob Ross in a million years could never paint this beauty. No Holiday Inn, no McDonald’s, nothing of the outside world had been allowed to come in. Only local hotels, each with a tiny restaurant on the bottom floor, lined the main street of the town. Outside of the village center, a few cottages, some grazing cows wearing clanging bells, and a whole lot of nature surrounded us.
It turned out that Lauterbrunnen was known for hiking and paragliding, so shortly after checking into our quaint, budget-friendly hostel, we set out down the trail, heading several miles outside of the town on an indescribably beautiful stroll. I’ll do my best, however.
Lush grass lined the sides of the path leading up to jagged, rocky cliffs. Cut into the cliffs were several waterfalls, misting water down their faces that caught the sunlight and sparkled like silver glitter being tossed from on high. As we peered up we spotted paragliders whipping through the sky, spinning, flipping, then gracefully landing onto the soft grass nearby. Off into the distance, snow-capped mountains lined the horizon that climbed thousands up feet up where they met a clear, azure sky. It was too much to handle, and we prayed our cameras could catch what our eyes were having trouble grasping. But all this hiking, all this beauty, works up an appetite, and nothing satiates this more, nor is more appropriate in Switzerland, than fondue.
We had a reservation later that night at one of the local restaurants and sat outside in the cool air, awaiting our pot of hot, melted goodness. It was a meal I’ll never forget - bubbling, oozing cheese set romantically in between my wife and me - us taking turns dipping, twirling, and devouring this crock of cheese - chasing bites with crisp, cool, vibrant Swiss wine until it was no more.
If you’ve read any of these blogs, you will know how much I love to recreate these meals, these memories, these experiences, to bring me back to that moment, if only in my mind. Time to make some fondue, and relive this unforgettable meal.
First off, good fondue needs good cheese, good bread and accompaniments, and good wine.
Often stale bread is used, but I decided to bake my own, cube, and toast it. Other accompaniments included diced apples, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, and pickles, to cut the fat with their acidity, but whatever else you feel like dunking into molten cheese could be added. Set with ingredients, it was time to choose the wine.
A Swiss meal requires a Swiss wine, and with this blog in mind, I brought in one of the finest I could find to the wine shop. Located in the Valais, the largest wine growing area in Switzerland, Marie-Thérèse Chappaz is creating some of the most expressive and most elegant wines in all of Switzerland and beyond. In the vineyard, steep, sloping, terraced, difficult to cultivate vines are farmed following biodynamic principles, fermentation is carried out by native yeast, and little is done to alter the wine in any way, keeping the integrity of each cépage. But this biodynamic powerhouse winemaker never intended on making wine at all.
Initially, Marie-Thérèse had the desire to travel the world as a midwife until her father offered her a plot of land of the family estate when she was only 17. She was conflicted, but eventually decided to take on the challenge. Her one and only condition was that she would have complete control over all aspects of the winemaking. Her father conceded, and her journey in winemaking began. After obtaining a degree in Viticulture and Oenology, she worked for six years at the Changins winery while still tending to her own vines. In 1987 she fully took over her family’s vineyard, a small one and a half hectares. Over time she was able to reunite vineyards previously owned by her great-uncle to the estate, and now the vineyard comprises ten hectares of both red and white varietals: Chasselas, Petite Arvine, Ermitage (Marsanne), Gamay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and others are cultivated.
The 2017 Marie-Thérèse Chappaz Grain Arvine de Fully Petite Arvine gives off fresh citrus, white flowers, and golden apple aromas, and most strikingly, the palate is oily, viscous, lush, and full-bodied. Beeswax, spice, and roasted nuts, backed up by balanced acidity, linger on the palate. Paired with homemade Swiss fondue, you can almost hear the clanging bells of the roaming cows off in the distance - a superb, delicious, and sumptuous meal for the colder months to come.
Now, I’m a complete convert. The beauty of Switzerland has won me over. The textured wines, rich comfort foods, and quaint mountain villages in postcard settings are truly what dreams are made of - my dreams at least. A plan to return is already in the works as soon as travel opens up and things return to somewhat “normal.” Fingers crossed that this time is near and soon I’ll be strolling through the valley of Lauterbrunnen, peering up into the mountains, sipping Swiss wine, and digging into hot, bubbling fondue.
The hike in Lauterbrunnen
Fondue in Lauterbrunnen
The valley of Lauterbrunnen