Snow has never been my friend. I freeze – literally – when it falls on the road, not knowing how to keep the car from sliding sideways. The cold outside makes me rush indoors. I consider skiing a spectator sport, best enjoyed from the warmth of a fireplace with a cup of hot chocolate.
So when I was invited to visit the Swiss ski resort of Charmey one morning, I was (gently) reluctant to slip on some snowshoes, hoping instead for an early lunch.
Charmey turned out to be… what can I say, charming.
It isn’t a major resort, nor is it a destination for high fliers. Instead, picture a cozy little town frequented by locals for the day. But there’s nothing understated about the view.
It took ten minutes to drive around the mountain from the touristy-but-has-kept-its-personality village of Gruyères (as in the cheese). Starting in the morning shadows we veered straight into the sunrise, the brightness exploding unexpectedly and bouncing off every crisp flake of snow as we pulled into Charmey.
On the hills and throughout the village it was Carnival so the traditionally reserved Swiss let themselves go, at least sartorially.
Back down the cable car, the snowshoe experience loomed. We headed out of town, into one of the many open valleys that embrace the village. A few minutes out and the air grows silent. The cars thin and soon the occasional animal track is all that breaks the white smoothness on either side of the road.
The peace is heavy. I’m almost hypnotized by the lack of noise and the snow is beginning to look… welcoming.
I manage to get my snowshoes on and start crunching around.
I testily put one foot in front of the other, knowing a fall will mean horrible cold and wet. I propel myself forward with ski poles, left leg, right, left, right. I look back and notice my tracks, not without a bit of pride. I haven’t fallen down yet.
Slowly my stride becomes more regular, my breathing evens out. It’s freezing cold but I’m melting inside my overstuffed parka and three layers of underclothes.
I stop and listen, and hear nothing other than my breath. A dog yelps in the distance, then the silence rolls back in. I see white, nothing but white, trees, snow.
Over the hill, a tiny church appears.
If I were designing a postcard, I could do no better.
I’m padding around happily, forgetting I hate the snow, and the cold, and the wet, and any sports that actually require me to move. The adrenaline does its job, and the calories burn.
Afterwards, I think I deserved every last bite of this:
Charmey reconciled me with snow. The quiet beauty of its silent valleys spoke to me. It was a gentle cold, and the snow – when I did eventually find myself sitting in it – was soft and powdery. I can still smell it because yes, I smelled the snow before I actually felt the cold.
Things every Woman on the Road should know
- Getting to Charmey is easiest by car and it’s a perfect detour from Gruyères, if you’re visiting there for a few days (which, by the way, you should). From Bern or Lausanne it’s about a 45-minute drive.
- If you’re not a snow bunny and not willing to become one try the Charmey baths – they have a spa, with sauna, hammam, beauty treatments and plenty of ways to keep warm and toasty in winter.
- I ate at L’Etoile, right on Charmey’s main street. It is also a hotel, and close to the baths. It has two restaurants, a more international dining room upstairs and downstairs, a convivial bistrot with Swiss cheese dishes like fondue.
- Cheese, by the way, has been made around here since… always, and no one really remembers when it all started. The Romans were seen in the environs and they loved cheese. Legend has it one Roman emperor died of indigestion right here because he over-indulged.