Sunday, 5 January 2014

White Christmas in France and Switzerland

This Trip: FROM 2013.12.21 TO 2014.01.01

I mistakenly believed that I should avoid traveling in winter when days were shortest and weather was coldest, until I started to realize how wonderful it could be to have a white Christmas, not to mention my current location’s proximity to all those all-white ski resorts in the beautiful Switzerland, one of my favorite countries. We journeyed from Geneva, where we picked up the car, to Megève and Chamonix in France, and then to Crans-Montana, Leukerbad, Saas Fee, and Zermatt in Switzerland where lots of pretty Swiss chalets stood on complete snow white amid magnificent mountains, and finally back to Geneva via Montreux along Lake Geneva. We also made a detour to visit the French medieval village called Yvoire, because we had some free time before catching the flight back home from Geneva International Airport.


Megève was not that white when we were there on 22 and 23 December. Apart from sledging and snowshoeing, we spent a full day simply hiking under the clear blue sky and of course there was enough snow only on summits. The village itself was an attraction, especially when Christmas trees and Christmas lights were all there shining. There were cozy restaurants and bars all around the town square. Most importantly, we did not forget to grab some patisserie as we were still in France. Opera cake, for example, may be easily accessible for most, but we had a hard time to find one in London. 

Chamonix Mont Blanc

This was a 1-day stop on the way to Switzerland. Weather was so nice, but unfortunately cable cars to Aiguille du Midi were closed due to wind condition. We took the cable car up to Le Brévent instead. That was awesome! Even though we missed Aiguille du Midi, the panorama up there of layers of mountains from afar together with Mont Blanc on a sunny day was still my most favorite of this trip. There were lots of shops and restaurants in the village but most were closed on the Christmas Eve, and it was not at all as pretty as the one in Megève. Here it was our very last chance to grab some tasty Christmas-styled patisserie again before leaving France.


We intentionally spent three full days in Crans-Montana just to maximize the chance of doing hot air ballooning, an activity highly dependent on very nice weather condition. The person in charge of probably the only one hot air ballooning operator in the entire region of Valais claimed that the weather was unfavorable throughout our stay and also the coming days and so the pilot had cancelled all flights ahead. However, the weather on 27 Dec was perfect and without wind. If that kind of weather is unfavorable for hot air ballooning, then I am sure her hot air balloon can never fly. Obviously she lied to us, not to mention she rudely ignored all my English inquiries until my husband wrote to her in French. Not only did she discriminate against non-French speaking tourists, she never replied promptly and have us tried so hard to contact her over and over again. Regardless of disappointment, we did spend lots of nice times in Crans-Montana. As it snowed the first night, there were deep snow everywhere and trees were all white! Town centers were definitely not any attractions. In fact it was quite “dead”.


We planned to visit both Albinen and Leukerbad, but then we realized there was not really any Albinen town center for tourists to hang around. Albinen seemed purely residential. The view at twilight from afar of densely populated chalets surrounded by white mountains was stunning though. We did spend a night there for a good sleep after a long day in Crans-Montana, before heading to the neighboring Leukerbad the next day for a relaxing bath in one of the most beautiful thermal baths in Switzerland - Walliser Alpentherme & Spa Leukerbad. The bath was awesome! The village itself was a nice one too. 28 Dec was not a public holiday. With the Swiss people’s relatively relaxing lifestyle, however, most shops and restaurants were closed. We had a hard time searching for our dinner. 

Saas Fee and Saas Grund

We experienced a dramatic drop of temperature. Saas Fee was the coldest destination of this trip. It was between -10C in the village and -20C on summits. We wrapped ourselves so well before enjoying the activity of the day - snowshoeing on deep snow. Pine trees, mountains, Swiss chalets in snow white under a clear blue sky… what a wonderful day! The next day we stayed right where our hotel was. We were so lucky to have perfect weather again and had lots of fun simply hiking in this place called Saas Grund where tracks for skiing, walking, and sledging were very well-made. That impressive sledging track went from the summit and then all the way down to the village. 


If you do not read German, you will probably get fooled here driving directly into Zermatt where you will be told you need to drive all the way back to the neighboring Täsch as cars are not allowed in Zermatt. Most people enter Zermatt by train while some arrange shuttle service themselves. We took the tram all the way up to the summit. After some sightseeing we had some fun on a relatively short sledging track that ran from Rotenboden to the next train station. We then walked around the pretty snowy village before departing for Montreux, a small stop on the way back to Geneva for car return and international departure on 1st of January.

Montreux and Yvoire

We do not usually go for fancy hotels, but this Best Western Eurotel Riviera in Montreux was quite a nice one for a peaceful and romantic New Year Eve. Our hotel room overlooked east end of Lake Geneva. We could have enjoyed our dinner out on the balcony but it did not seem a good idea when it was 3 degree outside. On the 1st we revisited Château de Chillon and then continued our journey back to Geneva along the Lake. It was still early when we arrived in Geneva, and so we decided to make a detour to Yvoire, a French medieval village. Of course almost everything was closed, but this popular destination was not at all short of tourists.

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