January 10, 2015
Christmas and New Year Adventures in the Swiss Alps, on the Rhine River and In Portugal
Happy 2015 everyone! I can’t believe we are already more than a week into the New Year. Ian and I are back in London again looking forward to loads of events this month here in England.
We were fortunate to spend the Christmas – New Year break in Europe with a week in Switzerland followed by a week cruising on the Rhine River from Switzerland, then to France and Germany and lastly we headed to Portugal for the New Year. It was amazing.
We began our journey at London City Airport (where the security is extra tight!) and flew to Basel in Switzerland. After a few hours wait we boarded a train to the ski resort town of Zermatt, high in the Swiss Alps. The train was brilliant – not at all crowded, high speed and stunning views to look at along the way.
The three hour journey was over in a blink. We arrived just on dark and walked to our accommodation at the Schlosshotel. There are no cars allowed in Zermatt so instead the hotels all have these funny little oversized covered golf carts to transport guests. Usually at that time of year the town would be covered in snow but sadly the Alps had a mere sprinkling and there was no sign of snow in the village. Two of the very beautiful hotels transport their guests in horse drawn carriages.
We spent the next two days exploring the town and on the second day caught the gondola a third of the way up then the cable car to the very top of the mountain – the Kleine Matterhorn. We thought about skiing but there was such disappointing snow cover we decided not to risk Ian’s dodgy knees. I was a tad bit anxious as we headed to the top jammed in like sardines in the cable car – 100 of us and zero visiblity. There was now a 60 km/hr wind blowing and a temperature of minus 11 to greet us. It felt so alien being in ordinary shoes and not kitted out for skiing back down. The thought of going back over that sheer drop in the cablecar was messing with my head! But of course it was fine. We ate delicious potato roesti with a fried egg on top at the halfway house – it’s a Swiss delicacy.
Zermatt, despite the lack of snow is gorgeous. The people are friendly and there’s a real charm to the place. I would love to go back for a skiing only holiday at some point. Ian has skied there many times and loves the place. I can see why. We met a few Australians on holiday there too.
Our journey from Zermatt to St Moritz was on the famous Glacier Express train – the slowest express train in the world. It takes just over 8 hours to make the trip but there are two half hour stops along the way and numerous times that the train has to wait for another train to pass. It was snowing as we left Zermatt so we did see the village covered in white. During the day there was a lot of snow so it was incredibly pretty. At several stages you could see the front of the train ploughing the snow from the tracks.
We arrived in St Moritz just on dark to be greeted by two beautifully uniformed doormen from the hotel who had come to pick us up in a huge ruby coloured Rolls Royce. It was enormous inside and out! We were staying in a very famous hotel called Badrutt’s Palace which overlooks the lake. It’s a beautiful place but the atmosphere is slightly foreboding. For a number of reasons we didn’t like it or St Moritz nearly as much as Zermatt. It’s a very glamorous place and looks quite perfect but there’s a stuffiness I didn’t enjoy. We went up onto the ski fields where the snow was a bit better than Zermatt but didn’t ski. Our three nights there were an amazing experience – one ticked off the bucket list!
From St Moritz, we caught the train to Basel via Zurich which again was lovely. I adore European train travel – it’s so genteel.
In Basel we stayed a hotel on the Rhine called Los Trois Rois – absolutely stunning and with a very welcoming staff. Basel Old Town is gorgeous – although you don’t have to travel too far outside the old part of the city for it to become very industrialised. We had two nights there before boarding the SS Antoinette for our 7 night cruise down the Rhine. This was our first experience of cruising and won’t be our last. Everything about the next week was fabulous – the staff, the food, the outings (should you wish to go on them), the ship and facilities and the fellow passengers – ranging in age from 6 to about 96! We made some lovely new friends and had a ball (and were glad to get off on the 8th day or neither of us would have been able to fit into any of our clothes!).
We visited a number of cities and towns along the way (Basel, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Mainz, Rudeshiem, Koblenz and Cologne) and celebrated a traditional European Christmas onboard with the main feasting and festivities taking place on Christmas Eve including carol singing with the ship’s crew and presents from Santa for everyone.
In Cologne we farewelled our new friends from the ship and flew to Lisbon in Portugal. We spent the next 7 nights at Penha Longa Resort which is about ten minutes drive from the World Heritage town of Sintra and about 20 minutes from Caiscais on the coast. The weather was stunning with one overcast day then 6 consecutive days of endless blue skies and temperatures in the mid teens. It was perfect weather for golf.
Now although it sounds as if I was skiving out of work completely for the duration of the trip, that wasn’t the case as I had to do some serious rewriting on Clementine Rose and the Movie Magic. But there is nothing like being in a beautiful place to motivate my writing. I was able to sit in the sun and work, so it didn’t seem like work at all.
I wrote a story for the Random House book, Stories for Nine Year Olds which came out just before Christmas called Alice-Miranda and the Secrets of Sintra and was thrilled to have three books to give to two of the staff who feature in the story and to the hotel to keep for visiting children. We were both so sad that lovely Acacio, who I had written about had left the hotel last February after 20 years of service but they will get the book to him. Beautiful Izz is still there and it was lovely to see Inez again too. The golf course was in great shape – they’d done a lot of work on drainage in the past year and we had some fun playing with Rick and Jackie, an Amercican couple who are currently living near Venice for a couple of years.
We spent our last morning in Sintra exploring the incredible Quinta da Rageleira – an amazing palace and gardens. Our journey back to London was a bit painful with a baggage handers’ strike and long delays at the airport but I’m not complaining. What’s a little bit of a wait after such a wonderful trip.