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Charmey, or My Reconciliation With Snow

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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.

Charmey Switzerland

I may not like heights but how could I not like this view?

Charmey ski resort, Switzerland

The ski hills of Charmey

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.

Carnival Day in Charmey, Switzerland

Skiers wear costumes on Carnival Day in Charmey – free ski passes for those who dared dress up!

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.

Snowshoeing in the Gruyeres region

Yours truly, an attempt at being athletic

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.

Snowshoeing in Charmey

And this may have been the moment that ultimately reconciled me to snow

Mountain slopes of Fribourg region (Charmey)

Irresistible, white, crunchy snow, alone

Snowshoe in Charmey near Gruyeres

Off I go, actually enjoying the adventure and the beauty

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:

Veal Zurichoise

Typically Swiss fare at L’Etoile in Charmey: rösti (pan roasted potatoes) and veal Zurich fashion, with mushrooms and cream – perfect for major athletic effort

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.

Thanks to La Gruyère Tourisme and to the Charmey Tourist Office for organizing this visit and hosting Women on the Road. Opinions are my own: I’m opinionated and plan to stay that way. Photos by Anne Sterck.

5 Comments

  1. Jennifer on January 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Oh my, I love villages like this! I can’t wait to get back to Switzerland in less than 2 weeks for the hot air balloon festival you recommended near Gstaad!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on January 14, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      You are going to be in for a treat – I’m hoping to get to the balloon festival too, at least for a day. I’m looking forward to hearing about your Gstaad experience!

  2. […] don’t ski (I don’t) strap on your snowshoes and escape the crowds. Head for the wild, pristine hills behind Charmey, where the silence is so intense it pierces the ears and wraps itself around you, each crunchy […]

  3. Simon on December 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm

    Ah… You know I’m partial to Switzerland, and although I’ve never been to Charmey is near where I grew up.
    Must go and have a look next time I’m back!

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on December 27, 2014 at 7:01 pm

      It’s one of the most pristine places I’ve been snowshoeing – all around, invisible and inaudible, the ski runs are full but here, quiet and peace…

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