Grenoble: like a foretaste of Provence in the Alps

Geography lesson: the café at Grenoble's art museum
Geography lesson: the café at Grenoble’s art museum

All that’s left for breakfast is French toast and muffins. I look at the waiter, then at the muffins, and at the waiter again. We’re not especially late but the café, just off the main drag in Grenoble, has run out of croissants and fresh bread. It looks a friendly place, with a nice terrace getting the morning sunshine, and it would be a shame to leave. I turn inquisitively to godfather P and Dr K who appear just as disappointed. Before we have to make up our mind whether to settle for what’s on offer, the waiter volunteers to pop over to the baker’s around the corner. A few minutes later we’re sitting down with freshly squeezed orange juice, a large cup of coffee, and half a fresh baguette each with butter and jam. It’s an auspicious start for our two-day stay, the first stopover on our way to Haute Provence, near Apt.

Continue reading “Grenoble: like a foretaste of Provence in the Alps”

Le Monal: winter wonderland, for real

Le Monal in winter: wonder and peace

Le Monal: winter wonderland, for real
Le Monal: winter wonderland, for real

“Do you mind if we move our tour to Le Monal to Thursday?” the guide asks.

It’s a sunny enough day but apparently there is too much wind on the other side of the mountain, whereas the forecast for Thursday is sunny all day and no wind, which would be ideal. We could still do it today, but really Thursday would be better.

I got up at 6.45 and drove half an hour to get to Sainte Foy, the starting point for the trip; so I do mind a little. The only possible answer, though, is: “Of course, that’s no problem”.

But having come all this way and being so close to Le Monal, a place I have been meaning to see in the winter for so long, I’m not going to give up just like that – I am going to walk there instead.

Continue reading “Le Monal in winter: wonder and peace”

Bonneval-les-Bains: tales of a failed spa project

Bonneval-les-bains: the pool with no swimmers
Bonneval-les-bains: the pool with no swimmers

The road that winds up the vallée des chapieux from Bourg Saint Maurice has been cleared as far as Bonneval-les-Bains. This is where we’re heading with former instructor M, who has suggested we go snowshoeing away from the Val d’Isère crowds and explore the lesser-known parts of the Tarentaise.

She tells me about Bonneval, a small settlement of scattered houses on the way to the Cormet de Roselend, a popular destination in the summer. Now, in mid-February, this is where the road stops. There is nobody else around apart from a couple of cars parked on the roadside opposite the ruins of a hotel that was never completed and a derelict open-air swimming pool.

Continue reading “Bonneval-les-Bains: tales of a failed spa project”

Salzburg: Hitting the apricot

High and mighty: St Rupert's facade
High and mighty: St Rupert’s facade

“I give you a bit more”, says our monosyllabic Goth waiter as he brings our second round of marillen liqueurs. It’s getting late and we’re hitting the apricot stuff hard. It helps us forget a staggeringly disappointing dinner in Mozart’s hometown.

Our packed morning in Innsbruck means we’re late on the road – again, it’s becoming a habit. A few days ago, we even had to forgo Vaduz altogether after exploring Feldkirch in greater detail than planned.

But we arrive in Salzburg in warm sunshine. It’s quite hot, in fact, and much more summery than the past few days. Our hotel is on the north side of town on the Linzer Gasse. I don’t know if it’s the hotelier’s Mediterranean accent, the cafe terraces lining the streets, or the general layout of the town, but it feels very southern. Nice.

Continue reading “Salzburg: Hitting the apricot”

Innsbruck: Marie-Antoinette’s mother meets Zaha Hadid

Innsbruck: Zaha Hadid's curvaceous funicular stations
Innsbruck: Zaha Hadid’s curvaceous funicular stations

“I’m not visiting another imperial palace or baroque church until we’ve seen the Zaha Hadid funicular,” I say.

Dr K looks at me with a face betraying absolute incomprehension, obviously concerned that I may have passed the point of no return on the road to cultural redemption.

We’re just coming out of the Hofburg, in central Innsbruck, the palace from which Marie Antoinette’s mother, Empress Maria Theresa, ruled Austria for 40 years.

Now Dr K is casually suggesting that we go on to Schloss Ambras, on the other side of town, when all we really want is a nice mélange and a slice of chocolate torte.

Continue reading “Innsbruck: Marie-Antoinette’s mother meets Zaha Hadid”

Feldkirch: Ghosts from the past

Feldkirch: the picturesque market square
Feldkirch: the picturesque market square

“Would you like to try and find the house?”, I ask Godfather P. “No, these are ghosts from the past,” he replies, looking around to gauge the extent to which the place has changed since his last visit here in 1958.

Feldkirch, an old Vorarlberg market town just over the border from Lichtenstein, is our first Austrian stopover on the way to Vienna, and one that we – P in particular – have been anticipating with heightened curiosity.

Continue reading “Feldkirch: Ghosts from the past”

Lucerne: unfinished business

Lucerne: walk on the lakeside
Lucerne: walk on the lakeside

Having soaked in an extended culture bath in Bern for most of the morning we finally set off just before lunchtime in bright sunshine.

The clouds have lifted and you can actually see the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau very clearly in the distance.

Our destination for today is Feldkirch, our first Austrian stopover, just on the other side of the border from Liechtenstein. It’s only 270km away but we want to stop in Lucerne, which Dr K says has “some good art collections”.   Continue reading “Lucerne: unfinished business”

Bern: going green

Green card: passport to brilliant Swiss painting exhibition at Bern's beaux arts museum
Green card: passport to brilliant Swiss painting exhibition at Bern’s beaux arts museum


Dr K can be utterly shameless. And Godfather P is no better. No sooner have I bought our tickets for the permanent collection at Bern’s national museum that they’re off. Off to the special exhibition, that is, which is not covered by said tickets and which requires a green badge rather than the blue badges we were given.
Continue reading “Bern: going green”

Fribourg: it’s oh so quiet, but quite charming

Fribourg: stunning view from the cliff top
Fribourg: all quiet on Monday, but charming too

Nothing can be quieter than a Sunday in Lausanne, we thought. Except a Monday, which in most parts of Western Europe can be just as quiet. Office workers and local authority staff are back at their desks but most shops are shut. And so it was in Fribourg, where we made a brief pit-stop to look at a few “good buildings”, to use Dr K’s parlance and have a bit of lunch on our way to Bern.

Continue reading “Fribourg: it’s oh so quiet, but quite charming”

Lausanne: no cheese for dinner

Grinning gargoyle on Lausanne townhall
Grinning gargoyle on Lausanne town hall

We have just finished our main course at Lausanne’s railway station restaurant and are pondering whether to have cheese or go straight to pudding. These are important questions for carefree travellers. I ask our sprightly waitress if we can see the dessert menu, or perhaps have some cheese first. “We don’t have cheese at the end of a meal in Switzerland, but I can arrange for a selection of cheeses for you if you would like,” she replies. Behind her polite smile I reckon she secretly wants us to be sent straight to a Swiss rehab dairy and be reformed in the proper cheese ways. For a split second we feel culturally inadequate but we get over it soon enough thanks to a crème brûlée.

Continue reading “Lausanne: no cheese for dinner”