Switzerland is the land of my heritage, the place of connection to who I am and for those of my lineage. Here I am many years later as a tourist but I was born in Pennsylvania and a citizen of the United States. With a deep and intimate connection to this lovely country, I now had the opportunity participate with the trip of a life-time courtesy of the Tourism Board of Switzerland. My great-grandfather on my maternal side, Albert Huggler, was a well-known Mountain Guide in the 1800’s in the Meringen region of Switzerland. As fate would have it, My Great-Grandfather came to American and established himself in the mountains of Pennsylvania on a farm land and fathered ten children, one being my grandmother, Rose Huggler.
Throughout my childhood and well into my teen years, I would spend every summer visiting my Grandmother and listening enjoying some of the cultural food dishes that were from her upbringing, such as the iconic Swiss potato dish of Rosti, reminiscent of hash browns, was one of our favorite breakfast dishes that was served with love at every family reunion, or a family breakfast. Our recent journey to Switzerland brought us to the mountain foothills of the Matterhorn to lovely Zermatt Switzerland and then onto Basel, the art and cultural center of Switzerland.
As we swayed up the train tracks through the stunning mountain towns on our journey to Zermatt, I noted that the rocky glacier fed streams abutted verdant meadows where sheep and cows grazed peacefully. Mountain chalets, accented with the reds and pinks of germaniums and lacy green ivy planter boxes gave way to feelings of hospitality and comfort as we speed our way to our own comfortable accommodations at the Grand Hotel Schonegg.
Each leg of the journey flooded my mind with pleasant memories of the happiest times of my youth, as we wove our way in the family station wagon up through the pine trees and the rocky hillsides to the small town of Ridgeway Pennsylvania. I now understood why my ancestors felt so at home in their obscure mountain town. This land, so many thousands of miles away was their reflection, their refuge in a country that represented a new start and a new heritage. As the days progressed on this idyllic trip, I felt even more aware andto the spirit of Switzerland and the people of my heritage.
As awoke to the balcony view of the ever famous Matterhorn, we were in awe as the luminescent colors of pink and yellow highlighted the various facets of this mountain that travelers come from all over the globe to see and conquer. After a sturdy breakfast of various cheeses, yogurt and homemade breads, accompanied by strong coffee, we donned our hiking shoes and met our guide in the lobby. Refreshed and invigorated by the lovely sights surrounding us, we met our fabulous guide and local historian Amade Perrig, for a trip up the steep mountains via a special train that could scale the steep terrain. As we ascended the many feet up ward through towering pines and glacier fields our spirit soared along with the altitude. We finally arrived at the Gornergrat.
The Gornergrat is a rocky ridge of the Pennine Alps, overlooking the Gorner Glacier south of Zermatt in Switzerland. It can be reached from Zermatt by the Gornergrat rack railway, the highest open-air railway in Europe.
We indeed concur with this summation of the practical aspects of The Gornergrat but we also had the amazing experience of the ascent to one of the most amazing tourist destinations in Switzerland. As we ascended through the forest, waterfalls cascaded down the rocky crags filling our eyes with expectancy. As we neared the top of the summit, the views were spectacular of sweeping mountain vistas that beckon fellow travelers from view of the all over the globe. As we disembarked from our train seats, we walked onto an area that gave a 360 panoramic view that one could only stand there and say out loud, “AWESOME!”
Little did we know that we would also be doing some hiking from this mountain perch to one of the hotels that seem to dot this mountainous region. To our surprise, many skiers and hikers flock to this region not only for the fabulous vistas, but for the lifestyle of skiing. Throughout this region there are various small hotels, and cabins that serve as respites for the skiing and hiking enthusiast. One can ski or hike to a hotel on the mountain to imbibe in a great Swiss beer or other refreshments and then ski on to another stop for more energy boosts throughout the day.
We loved this accommodating aspect of the Swiss culture for we experienced it several times throughout our stay. This day we enjoyed a leisurely hike, noting that the hiking trails are well established and used throughout every season. We stopped to see a herd of Zermatt Sheep that are indigenous to the region, with their bi-colored long hair. Many of the journalists could not help themselves but to interact with the sheep by getting up close and personal with cameras and video equipment. Good thing these creatures turned out only slightly annoyed by their presence, and they move on their way without any incidents. Another animal found only in this area is a large woodchuck like creature called the Marmots .
Although we did not see this critter, our guide gave us his stories of preparing the meat of the Marmot, which is rather difficult without the proper marinating time. We dare say we will probably never be cooking up a Swiss Marmot, but appreciated his insight.
We finally made way on our hike from Roter Boden to Riffelalp to a comfortable restaurant area for our hungry hiking party. We were in for a special treat with a Swiss specialty called Raclette. Amade made special preparations for our group to have this special luncheon high up on the glacier fields.
The White Swiss wine, with its lovely crisp green apple and mineral aspect, paired beautifully with this creamy decadent Swiss cheese that contained 48% fat and 23 g. of protein that was piled in mounds on our plates alongside accoutrements of pickles and boiled onions.
As we watched our host cut the large wheel of cheese with his imposing knife with much determination and flair, we marveled at his culinary skills to make this unique dish very special for all of us to enjoy. He then placed a large wedge on a rotating machine that heats the wedge ever-so perfectly and then is removed to have the very edge of the cheese scraped onto the plate of the eagerly awaiting patron. As the cheese was plated onto each of our dishes, the wine flowed and then the Yodeling began.
Amade, a Swiss native and born and raised in Zermatt, was also an expert Yodeler. We were pleasantly pleased as we gave us a short lesson on Swiss Yodeling, cajoling one of our fellow journalist to follow along with his sing song yodel calls.
Our spirits were lifted with the authentic song of the Swiss along with our bellies pleasantly satiated with robust Raclette Cheese and mellow Swiss Wine. As great day on the mountain was had by all, as we finished and made our way to the train for our way down the mountains to the lovely town of Zermatt.