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Will Walk for Food: Winter Wandering in Switzerland

Will Walk for Food: Winter Wandering in Switzerland

Feb 8th, 2019, 07:56 AM
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Will Walk for Food: Winter Wandering in Switzerland

Visiting Switzerland and/or Germany in winter has become a bit of a tradition for us, and 2018 was no exception. We generally go pre-ski season, base ourselves in small villages, stay in apartments and get around on foot, train and bus. We’re slow, walk/hike-centric travelers, our trips lasting three to four weeks, usually 5-7 nights in a handful of locations.

As ski season approaches and prices rise in Switzerland, we usually head to Germany to visit Christmas Markets, eat, drink and be merry, ending in our departure city of choice, Munich.

This year we decided to mix it up a bit, incorporating a few quiet weeks in Switzerland, some quality time in Austria and a few days to wind down in Munich. Thus a plan formed – fly into Zurich, depart from Munich.

We waffled endlessly about which Swiss villages to base ourselves in, wanting to maximize our chances for winter sunshine, yet also thinking with our stomachs - Capuns, Pizokels, Nusstorte! That meant only one thing – the canton of Graubünden, an area we’ve visited many times, yet can’t seem to get enough of.

But where exactly? After much faffing about we agreed on Flims (a ski region in the Surselva district, high above the Rhine gorge) and Zuoz (a small village in the Upper Engadine). We’d never stayed in either, but knew from past visits that both are well positioned for day trips and winter walking.

Austria was a wildcard - we’d seen bits of the country previously, but these glimpses were so brief and so long ago that we barely remember. It was time to give Austria a good explore; the combination of mountains, lakes, potential snow and Christmas cheer too good to pass up.

And so the itinerary

Flims - (Graubünden, Switzerland) – seven nights

Zuoz (Graubünden, Switzerland) – six nights

Seefeld in Tirol (Austria) – five nights

St Gilgen (Salzkammergut, Austria) – five nights

Munich, Germany – two nights

Trying to get there

It isn’t possible to get from Colorado to Zurich without connecting somewhere, so we booked flights with Iceland Air back in August, having flown with them in May 2017 and having had a decent enough experience.

Unfortunately, ten days after booking, they contacted us and lowered the boom; their once daily flight from DEN-KEF had been cancelled on our date of travel. We were given the option of departing Denver a day earlier, spending a night in Reykjavik and taking the onward flight to Zurich as planned (claiming our expenses after-the-fact, but not being told exactly what would be covered).

We very briefly considered this option, thinking it might be an opportunity to see the Northern Lights. Having visited Iceland previously, we knew that we’d need to arrange transport from KEF to Reykjavik (about a 45 minute drive), and then back again early the next morning; and we’d likely not be able to check into accommodation until late in the afternoon (Denver flight arrives in Iceland around 6 am).

The headaches and uncertainty involved far exceeded the tiny chance that we’d see the Northern Lights, so we declined.

After much discussion with the Iceland Air representative, we decided that moving the entire trip forward by two days was our best option.

Some two months later I received another text from Iceland Air, asking us to call. Uh-oh, this can’t be good.

It wasn’t. This time they’d cancelled the flight from KEF-Zurich. Their solution was to re-route us from KEF to Stockholm, then on to Zurich, where we’d arrive six hours later than planned. We’d then need to take two trains and a bus to Flims - our first base in Switzerland - not even sure they’d be operating so late - and then try to find our apartment in the dark, in an unfamiliar area. Hmmmm, I don’t think so.

We were also offered a flight to another airport from KEF, but the closest served by Iceland Air, Munich, would involve extensive train travel to get to Zurich, plus the same issues as the first option, not to mention the additional costs involved, which the Iceland Air representative said we could claim after-the-fact. Call me skeptical.

Asked if, given the late arrival, we could be reimbursed for a night in Zurich instead, and then move on to our first Swiss base the following day, thus losing a night of already booked accommodation, we were told an emphatic NO.

So, we opted once again to move the flight from DEN-KEF a day earlier, now necessitating three extra nights in Switzerland. Good thing we like Switzerland. And are retired.

Suffice to say, we had to wonder what else might go wrong, but Iceland Air managed to get us to Reykjavik (KEF). We both lucked into empty seats next to us, but didn’t manage any sleep as the plane was just too hot, our fellow passengers noisy and active.

Once at KEF, we had enough time to scarf down a tub of SKYR (me) and suck down a Snorri (Bill), fill our water bottles and queue at the gate for our connecting flight to Zurich (the only seating we saw was in the food purchase area).

It’s worth noting that Iceland Air only offers food for purchase in cattle class, and it’s quite limited. We’d packed nourishment for both legs of the journey (and good thing, as when it comes to Iceland Air and KEF, there’s often no time to make a purchase at the airport).

Trying to get home

Fast forward to our return flights, leaving from Munich, connecting in Reykjavik (KEF) and onward to Denver - with a comfortable one hour and 20 minute connection.

Or so we thought. Our flight from Munich left late. We landed at KEF ten minutes before boarding for our connecting flight began.

We deplaned, raced to the loo, filled our water bottles, went through Immigration and found our Terminal (D), which was filled to capacity with a sea of confused passengers, all frantic to make their tight connections (the business model of Iceland Air). It was utter chaos.

We asked an airport employee where we were meant to queue for the Denver flight – she waved to a cluster of people. We joined, but after asking others in ‘line’ learned it was for a flight to JFK. We wandered, asking who might be waiting for the Denver flight, finally finding a group who thought they were, so we joined the queue. We waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing moved but the hands of our watches.

A look at our boarding passes revealed that Iceland Air had changed our seats - the aisle seats we had specifically booked four months in advance - putting Bill in the dreaded middle seat. Argh…

Eventually, they began to open the gates one by one for the numerous flights – all of which seemed to be leaving within 5-10 minutes of one another. Our line finally began to move, we squished on board, the flight completely full, and needless to say, rather late.

We want to like Iceland Air, we really do, but…their connections are stressful, KEF chaotic, their flying culvert single aisle 757’s difficult to maneuver in, terrifying to contemplate evacuating from. We’ll think long and hard before flying with them again.

But enough about the flights, on with the trip.

To be continued...


Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 8th, 2019, 09:08 AM
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Arrival

Upon arrival in Zurich, we purchased Half Fare Cards (120 CHF each) and tickets to Flims (train to Haupftbahnhof, IC train to Chur, then bus to Flims Dorf, 29.10 CHF each at half fare), cashed up at the ATM, picked up a few snacks and were on our way.

We’d booked an apartment through Airbnb and could not have been happier with our choice – great location, fantastic price (USD $80 per night, all in), well equipped, comfortable and warm. It’s located in a complex of six units, all empty at the time of our visit, so we had the run of the place.

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24033215?guests=1&adults=1

It’d been a long exhausting day, we were in bed an hour after we arrived at the apartment, 5:30 pm! And then predictably, up at 2 am, getting settled, sorting out the WIFI, searching online for directions in English for the elaborate espresso maker…and waiting for the Coop to open at 8 so we could buy provisions; it felt like it’d never get light.

Flims - Day 1

Our first cold, gloomy day in Flims was spent getting our bearings; walking up the steep hill from our apartment to the village Coop (which was due to move two days later to a bigger location, but still surprisingly well stocked), then back down to make breakfast, then back up to the Information Office to look into walking options, etc.

There was no snow, and as one would expect pre-ski season, more closed than open.

We’d done our due diligence, checking operating schedules and making a short list of restaurants that would be open during our stay. We certainly didn’t plan to go hungry.

We walked the entire village from end to end, detoured up side streets, walked up to the posh hotel and spa Waldhaus, workers feverishly stringing lights on trees in preparation for ski season. We were surprised to find so much development on this hill overlooking Flims – Google tells me that Waldhaus Flims is the largest ‘hotel park’ in Switzerland, with a footprint of 200,000 square meters and comprised of some 24 buildings. And almost completely deserted on this late November morning. Beauty.

Lunch found us at Haci’s Anatolia Kebab, busy with locals and construction crews (many of whom were working on the new Stenna business complex – home to the new Coop amongst other things - https://stennaflims.ch/en/.) All of Flims seemed under construction; teeming with High Vis clad workers, trucks and cranes.

We were instantly pegged as non-German, non-Romansch speaking tourists, warmly welcomed, directed to a table and asked what we’d like. We tucked into a massive kebab and lingered over beer and Prosecco long after the hurried lunch crowd had moved on, enabling us to have a nice chat with the friendly and efficient Kurdish proprietor.

We decided to walk up to the tiny village of Fidaz, situated above Flims and at the foot of the Flimserstein. The going was steep, and while Fidaz probably offers some fab views on a clear day, today was anything but clear. We were surprised, not for the first time, by the abundance of copper used on roofs and chimneys in Switzerland.

Back in Flims we popped into a bakery to pick up our first Bündner Nusstorte, and then retreated to our apartment to warm it in the oven and make hot chocolate.

Without meaning to, we’d logged some 7.5 miles; so much for taking it easy on our first day.
Flims

To be continued…
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 8th, 2019, 09:45 AM
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Love reading your detailed trip reports!
martharap is offline  
Feb 8th, 2019, 09:50 AM
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Thank you martharap!
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 8th, 2019, 12:41 PM
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Melnq8, Sorry about the frustrating start to your trip, but your description makes for interesting reading. Hope your trip went smoothly after you got settled in your location. Look forward to upcoming segments.
tomarkot is offline  
Feb 8th, 2019, 02:05 PM
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Good to see you here tomarkot. Fortunately, things went more smoothly once we arrived!
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 8th, 2019, 05:37 PM
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Oh the frustration with your flights....
Come holiday time, I am always so ready to relax, be fed and watered, watch movies on my pre selected seats and not rush through airports. Going long haul economy is a bit tiresome, so having your annoyances would have soured things a bit.
At least you got to Switzerland!
Don’t spare the details, please.
Adelaidean is online now  
Feb 8th, 2019, 09:15 PM
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Oooh! Yay! Love your reports, and love learning about new spots. I'm planning to be in Chur for a quick visit in Nov, so I'll likely take the bus to poke around Flims!

Thanks for writing!

s
swandav2000 is online now  
Feb 8th, 2019, 11:44 PM
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Have been waiting for your trip report ... thanks for posting! The flight adventure seems like a nightmare to me. Yuck. Looking forward to your experiences in Graubünden
Ingo is online now  
Feb 9th, 2019, 05:16 AM
  #10  
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Hi Adelaidean, Swandav and Ingo - glad to see you all here!
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2019, 05:25 AM
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Oh yeah. Like we'd miss one of your reports...!
swandav2000 is online now  
Feb 9th, 2019, 05:42 AM
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Chaotic starts to holidays sour my travel mood, almost enough some times to never again desire to travel. Almost.

Looking forward to your impressions of my adopted country!
fourfortravel is offline  
Feb 9th, 2019, 06:12 AM
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Flims - Day 2

Snow!

In keeping with our ‘will walk for food’ approach to Swiss travel, we decided to walk from Flims to the village of Trin Mulin. I knew from my research that Hotel Ustria Parlatsch was open for warm meals from 12-2. That was good enough for us.

https://www.parlatsch.ch/

We wound our way through the lower part of town following a series ‘Vias’ – Via Sule, Via Sultan, Via Punt Crap, Via Punt La Reisgo, Via Cava, etc. Many of the buildings we passed were shuttered, but we did run across a few little people making their way to school, most unable to resist stopping to play in the snow.

We eventually found the path that led through the forest to the blue-green waters of the Crestasee, dull and muted in today’s gloom.

https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-us/crestasee-lake.html

Beyond the lake stood the closed Gasthaus Crestasee, looking rather sad and forlorn. When we were here in May 2017 we’d sat on the sunny terrace overlooking that spectacular lake, gobbling ice cream and sorbet.

https://crestasee.com/en/guest-house/

We forged on, crossing a bridge and following the path through a wide meadow to Trin Mulin, where we weaved our way through the village, finding Ustria Parlatsch, open as advertised and lively with locals.

We settled in at a table, Bill choosing the Mittagsmenu; Schweinsgeschnetzeltes an Rahmsauce, Butternudeln und Gemüse (sliced ​​pork with cream sauce, buttered noodles and vegetables) served with a Knackiger Eisbergsalat, ½ liter of water and coffee (23 CHF), all, I’m told, quite tasty.

For me it was all about the Pizokels – in this case Pizzokel an feiner Rahmsauce mit Bergkäse überbacken, verfeinert mit Speckstreifen und Wirsing (Pizzokel in cream sauce with mountain cheese, bacon strips and savoy cabbage), topped with a tiny stag shaped crouton; impossible for me to pronounce, but oh-so-delicious (16.50 CHF). A glass of Sylvaner Riesling each and we were set (69 CHF total, good food, friendly service).

Content and happy, we backtracked to Flims, the snow now falling thick, heavy and wet, not another soul in sight. Knackered from our 8.6 mile trek, we retreated to the apartment to watch the white stuff accumulate.

To be continued…
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2019, 06:16 AM
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I hear ya, fourfortravel - sometimes I'm tempted to just throw in the towel.

Let's just say I envy you living in Austria - more on that later.
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2019, 01:26 PM
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Flims - Day 3

Snow and sunshine, my favorite combination!

A few years ago fellow Fodorite Ingo had suggested we visit Waltensburg; we’d yet to go, so figured now was the time.

We made the uphill climb to the Flims Dorf bus stop and took three buses (81, 411 and 424) to Waltensburg Vuorz, making changes in Laax and Ilanz, the journey taking 1:15, (13.40 CHF each return, half fare).

The 424 bus left us at the foot of the reason for our visit, the Swiss Reformed Church, home to the Waltensburg Master’s frescoes, considered among the best works of Early Gothic painting in Switzerland. We poked through the church, admired the frescoes, and wandered through the cemetery under a bright blue sky.


Swiss Reformed Church, Waltensburg

We then walked through the near-deserted village and up towards Andiast, surprised at the number of vehicles headed in the same direction; presumably for pre-season maintenance work at the Brigels-Waltensburg-Andiast ski area.



We backtracked to Ilanz and changed to bus 411, this time via Sagogn. The drive alone was worth the trip; our driver expertly navigating the freakishly narrow streets, the bus seeming to almost touch the surrounding buildings; tight hairpin turns forcing oncoming traffic to back up and pull to the side of the road (public transport has the right of way in Switzerland). It was entertaining as all get out.



We got off the bus at Flims-Waldhaus and walked to Hotel Adula, knowing it was open for lunch, but not making it there before the Swiss witching hour – 2pm. We were invited to sit in their lobby lounge and await their cake buffet instead, normally served between 3-4:30 pm, but made available within minutes of our arrival. We shared a huge slice of apricot torte, filling, but not wonderful. Nice place to cool ones heels though (18 CHF with beer and coffee).

https://adula.ch/en/

We then walked back to Flims Dorf, detouring to St Martinschurch, enjoying the last slivers of sunshine and stumbling upon a milk dispenser – 1.40 CHF for two liters of fresh milk. Now I know where to go when the Coop is closed.

It’d been a beautiful day for exploring.

That evening we made the trek back up the hill and down the road to Hotel Vorab for a nice meal at Pizzeria Veneziana (shared Caprese salad, shared pizza, shared 5 dl of Jeninser Pinot Noir – 60 CHF).

https://www.hotelvorab.ch/de/pizzeria-veneziana/

To be continued…
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2019, 10:24 PM
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Flims looks like a nice summer destination, too.
.... Yikes, already adding too much to my bucket list

Adelaidean is online now  
Feb 10th, 2019, 12:27 AM
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Sounds like a lovely day. Glad you made it to the church ;-)

How disappointing that the Adula (a four star plus hotel!) shut down the kitchen after 2 pm.
Ingo is online now  
Feb 10th, 2019, 05:11 AM
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Adelaidean - it is indeed - lots of walking tracks, many of which are only accessible in summer.

Ingo - shutting the kitchen at 2 is something we run into it all the time in Switzerland.

Perhaps it's just a small village off season thing, but it happens to us so often that we think of it as a Swiss thing. We try to plan accordingly, but it's not always possible when we're out walking.

We carry snacks in our backpacks in case we get caught out (as we often do), but somehow it's not the same as a steaming plate of Pizokels or Capuns
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2019, 11:03 AM
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Flims - Day 4

Back in ‘walk for food mode’, our goal today was to walk from Laax to Ladir, arriving at Ustria Casa Crusch in time for lunch (12-2).

We’d visited Ladir (population 113) last Christmas Day, after Bill had become intrigued with the two churches we could see high up on the mountainside across from Ilanz, but all we knew about the restaurant was that it was supposed to be open and that we’d no doubt be hungry when we arrived.

We caught the 8:12 shuttle from Flims Dorf to Laax Bergbahnen (free with guest card) and after some floundering, located the trail to Falera, which led us up through slush, snow and ice. Fearing breakage, I donned my Yak Trax for the first time since we’d arrived.



Once in Falera, we walked through the pretty little village, quickly reminded that getting to trails from villages often involves a climb. The views were tremendous, the peace wonderful, we saw not another soul.



Some four hours and 8.5 miles later we arrived in Ladir. We consulted our directions to Ustria Casa Crusch, which, as luck would have it, was at the base of a brutally steep hill. My knees wept.

We approached the deserted-looking restaurant with trepidation, followed by sighs of relief when we found the menu board outside, the door unlocked. We were warmly welcomed, the proprietor surprised to hear that we’d walked all the way from Laax, quickly offering us water and a table overlooking the beautiful Surselva countryside. It was just the two of us at first, later joined by three other guests.

We settled in and pulled out the Ibuprofen. Sitting down never felt so good.

Bill ordered the Capuns mit speck, me the Quark Pizokels mit Gemuse. Both were absolutely divine; worth every single mile, and as it happens, one of our favorite meals of the trip (88 CHF with wine).



Note: I’m sad to report that per Ustria Casa Crusch’s website, they’ve since closed and are looking for new owners.

https://casacrusch.ch/

Afterwards, we hauled ourselves to our feet and trudged up that freakishly steep hill to catch the 2 pm bus to Flims Dorf via Ilanz (6 CHF each, half fare). Instead of changing directly to the connecting bus, we spent an hour wandering through Ilanz, shared a disappointing slice of Nusstorte at a bakery, and poked through the huge Migros shopping center that was still under construction during last year’s visit.

We then dragged our beaten and bruised selves back to Flims, Bill availing himself of the apartment’s tub for a long hot soak - something he rarely does (which spoke volumes).

To be continued…
Melnq8 is offline  
Feb 10th, 2019, 12:17 PM
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Oh, it is so sad that this fabulous restaurant closed for good Happens around here also way too often ...

Remember to have Nusstorte in the Engadine only ;-)
Ingo is online now  

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