Hi from Rick: A Heavenly Niche in Switzerland
This week I'm in the tiny Swiss village of Gimmelwald. For 25 years, this has been the literal high point of our "Best of Europe" tours.
My friend Olli, who teaches in the village's one-room schoolhouse, is taking his students on a field trip tomorrow.to the French Riviera. He's excited, because for many of the kids it will be their first peek at the sea. But today Olli's out hiking with me, and our seas are seas of glaciers, as waves of alpine flowers blow in the wind under staggering peaks. Far above the highest huts, we come upon what Olli calls "marmot paradise." Eager to spot a few of these 20-pound mountain squirrels, he explains, "they don't see you if you don't move." Wildlife thrives right under the gondola lift routes, because over time the critters have learned that hunting is not allowed there. Olli points out several species. And I thought a chamois was a rag you washed the car with!
After an hour's descent, passing fragrant piles of fresh cut hay, we reenter Gimmelwald. The first chalet is Hotel Mittaghorn where Walter, who's been running my favorite hotel here since I brought my first groups back in the 1970s, has two new hips and just got a new knee. He's found his niche in life — cooking for hungry hikers — and I'm sure he'll do that for the rest of his days. I love connecting with Europeans like Walter, and introducing these friends to our groups.
Except for his new body parts, Walter's place just doesn't change. But some things do. The farmer next door now zips around the valley in his "Milch Express" — a tiny electric scooter in which he delivers fresh milk and eggs. His wife, Esther, stacks homemade sausage on their 500 year old front porch — for sale on the honor system. And the village accordionist, Christian von Allmen, has trimmed his bushy beard, revealing a "Shilthornbahn" necktie. Today he runs the gondola lift that glides hikers and locals alike up to the next village.
Until now, only those who had 3 weeks of vacation for a Best of Europe tour could experience this alpine wonderland with our guides. But for 2005, we'll open up this chance to many more — because our nifty new "Best of Europe in 14 Days" tour will include two alp-happy nights in Gimmelwald. It's one of many vacation-friendly tweaks we're making to our tour program for the coming year.
We'll celebrate the "grand opening" of our 2005 tours by announcing dates on our website July 24th. In the meantime, you can get a sneak peek at our plans right now in our July Tour News. For a taste of marmot paradise and much more, we'd love to send you a free copy of our 45-minute Rick Steves Tour Experience DVD, filmed on location throughout Europe.
We also have lots of timely tips for independent travelers in our July Travel News - packing light, sleeping cheap, avoiding scams, and more.
Joining Olli on his balcony, we get out the telescope and he shows me herds of ibex, chamois.and tiny avalanches on the distant face of the Jungfrau. The pole under the neighbor's eve is empty — all the bells are with the cows up in the high meadows. Olli's wife pulls out her grandfather's wood plane and — just the way he taught her — she slices me a delightful little pile of extremely tasty alp cheese.just curling with flavor. At this moment my favorite travel tip is: slow down, connect with people, and savor the fine art of good living in Europe .through the back door.