This month's suggested auto tour of Switzerland's Vaud Alps offers much variety in a limited geographical area.
Whether you're looking for a day's scenic drive out of Lausanne or Montreux, a ski vacation or just a summer week or two of cool mountain air and quiet villages, the Vaud's Alpen region is just the ticket.
We find this mostly French-speaking part of Switzerland, just east of the eastern tip of Lac Léman, a serene and beautiful respite from more frenetic tourist activities. In addition to wide green valleys and rugged mountain peaks, some of its highlight attractions are:
• Villars a pretty resort with a golf course.
• The thrilling cable car ride to Les Diablerets Glacier.
• Super chic Gstaad, where even the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Julie Andrews and 007 Roger Moore, have to yield the right-of-way to the cows.
• Saanen, near Gstaad, where the language changes from French to German and where a homely little restaurant near the rail station serves some of the best comfort food we've ever tied in to.
• The village of Château d'Oex, where actor David Niven lived his last years and is buried.
• Leysin, a town which hangs on the rim of the Alps looking over the lake and the Rhône Valley.
If you choose to see this region as a daytrip from the lake, take the Red Road along the lake south toward Martigny. At Bex, take the winding White Road through the vineyards up into the mountains toward Villars, about 18 km (11 miles). Since this road is closed in winter you may have to take the Yellow Road from Ollon (north of Bex).
Villars is a cheery resort town set among the trees. With the possible exception of Gstaad (not covered in this issue; see Gemütlichkeit, August, 1990), it offers the widest choice of hotels of any town along this route. Here also is a golf course fit for a mountain goat, with some of the finest vistas from Pebble Beach to St. Andrews.
Continue on to Les Diablerets, in a lovely, open setting in the Ormonts valley. The town itself, however, is not much and we suggest continuing on to Col du Pillon where you can board the cable car for the ride to the Sex Rouge and Les Diablerets Glacier. The cost is about $35 per adult. There is also a connection to the glacier from Reusch, but you miss the steepest, most interesting, leg of the trip. Once on top, there is a restaurant and you can hire a ride around the glacier on a snow-cat. Maybe the snow-cat still stops at the Yeti Palace and its small wooden deck that hangs above a sheer drop of about 5,000 feet. Not for the acrophobic.
Many will disagree, but we rank the cable car ascent to the Sex Rouge, coupled with the snow-cat/Yeti Palace caper, as Europe's best ride-to-the-top-of-a-mountain experience including the far more expensive and famous Jungfraujoch.
A Good Meal
Back on the road, continue on through tiny Gsteig (about 7 kilometers from Col du Pillon), over which loom several major peaks, including the Spitzhorn and the Schluchhorn.
From there it's about another 10 kilometers to Gstaad. Along the way you will cross the so-called "Rösti line," where the language changes from French to German - Rösti being that wonderful fried potato dish that is most popular in German-speaking Switzerland.
Gstaad is definitely worth a stroll, but we recommend stopping for lunch or dinner about three kilometers beyond in Saanen at the Hotel Bahnhof; or, if that is closed, the Landhaus Hotel. A Gstaad tourist office employee whispered the Bahnhof secret to us some years ago and it is one of our all-time favorites for simple, country food. The Landhaus has good food, too, as well as 18 pleasant guest rooms. It is a far less expensive alternative to the hotels of Gstaad.
A few kilometers on - you are now on Red Road #11 - is Rougemont, a town of weathered wood chalets and a restored castle. You are now back in the French-speaking Vaud.
From there, it is another seven kilometers to the most appealing town of this circuit, Châteaux-d'Oex, scattered over the rolling green hills and meadows of the Sarine valley. The best hotel on this drive, Hostellerie Bon Accueil, is here as well as a museum worth a visit, the Musée du Vieux Pays d'Enhaut, where one can see, recreated, the life-style of these mountain dwellers over a 700 year period. The museum also displays the region's unique art form, impossibly intricate paper cuttings.
Each January, Châteaux-d'Oex is home to one of the world's largest hot air balloon events.
Inquire at the Château-d'Oex tourist office about visiting La Maison de L'Etivaz, a cheese-making cooperative. The cheese is made by individual farmers in the mountains in the summer, then brought to L'Etivaz to be stored and cured for up to three years. The facility is on the main road just beyond Château-d'Oex and the tour is worthwhile.
A Very Back Road
From Châteaux-d'Oex the road winds through the Pissot Gorges and on to the Vallee d'Etivaz, where the road makes a near 180-degree turn to the west and begins a steep climb.
As you drive through this rugged terrain, you will see huge, gray boulders beside the road. Some of them, however, are not really rocks. If you look carefully at just the right boulder or stone facing, you will see it is the camouflaged entrance to a tunnel. Inside these mountains are vast, mostly man-made, caverns which contain some of the materials and weaponry Switzerland has stored for use in case of foreign invasion. In fact, the keen observer will note many bridges on these mountain roads are constructed to be easily destroyed: the last man over sets off a small charge in just the right spot and suddenly there is no bridge and a pursuing army is confronted by a yawning chasm.
At Lecherette, an alternative route is a tiny road that heads off to the west. It runs past a large mountain lake, de l'Hongrin, and through areas that are obviously used for maneuvers by the Swiss Army. It winds its way eventually to Aigle, about 25 kilometers. A short section of it is marked on the map "difficult or dangerous." We turned down this very interesting road but were stopped after about 12 kilometers when we encountered several feet of snow. In summer, however, this is an option for the adventurous driver. Before committing to this route, inquire if the road is open to auto traffic all the way to Aigle.
Those who continue on Red Road 11 may want to detour just after La Planche, to the Yellow Road which dead ends at Leysin.
This south-slope village, known as the "Balcony of the Alps," perches on a ledge high above Lac Léman and boasts many days of sunshine. Here, at the Residence Leysin Parc, we found some extraordinarily appealing condominiums for rent.
Lunch in the revolving Restaurant Kuklos, at the top of the Berneuse, offers not only a meal but ever changing views of Lac Léman, the Rhône Valley and such peaks as Les Diablerets, Eiger, Mont-Blanc and the tip of the Matterhorn. On Friday evenings in summer, Kuklos opens for special sunset dinners.
Complete the circuit, by retracing your steps to Red Road 11, take the right turn and wind down the mountain to the wine village of Aigle.
Places to Stay
Hotel du Golf et Marie Louise
Chalet-style hotel with wonderful rustic, mountain ambiance. Lots of wood, spacious guest rooms and an easy walk to anywhere in the village. The "golf" in the name refers to "minigolf."
• Daily Rates: 130 - 285 Sfr. ($88-$194 ) half board, doubles 210 -340 Sfr. ($143-$231) half board.
Contact: Hotel du Golf et Marie Louise Villars CH-1884, tel. 024 35 24 77, fax 024 35 39 78. 70 well-appointed, mostly south-facing, rooms, many with balcony. Terrace for outdoor dining, tennis, lawn for sunbathers. Garage 10 Sfr. ($7).
Rating: Quality 16/20, Value 11/20
Hotel Panorama Villars
Centrally-located, four-star hotel with three restaurants, indoor pool, sauna and solarium.
• Daily Rates: Singles 110 - 195 Sfr. ($75-$133 ), doubles 170 - 290 Sfr. ($116-$197)
Contact: Hotel Panorama Villars Villars CH-1884, tel. 024 36 21 11, fax 024 35 32 22. 110 rooms.
Rating: Quality 14/20, Value 9/20
Hotel Pension Les Papillons
Very clean, cozy family-run pension a short walk from the center. Very good value and lots of charm.
• Daily Rates: Singles 38 - 80 Sfr. ($26-$54 ), doubles 100 - 170 Sfr. ($68-$116)
Contact: Hotel Pension Les Papillons Villars, CH-1884, tel. 024 35 34 84, 024 35 42 31, 5, 11 rooms. Some lower priced rooms without shower or toilet. Discounts for stays of three days or longer
Rating: Quality 9/20, Value 13/20
Big, overpriced, adequate. Could change when scheduled remodel takes place.
• Daily Rates: Singles $105-$127, doubles $163-$209
Contact: Hotel Ermitage, Les Diablerets, CH-1865, tel. 024 53 15 51, fax 024 53 23 91. Approx. 70 rooms.
Rating: Quality 9/20, Value 7/20
The smell of cigarettes in public rooms is almost overpowering. Need we say more? Rooms very plain, most with linoleum floors. Not up to Swiss standards and not recommended.
• Daily Rates: Singles 90 - 125 Sfr. ($61-$85), doubles 140 - 210 Sfr. ($95-$143)
Contact: Le Chamois Les Diablerets, CH-1865, tel. 024 53 26 53, fax 024 53 26 06. 63 rooms, most with balcony.
Rating: Quality 6/20, Value 5/20
Hostellerie Les Sources
Nicely situated in the trees near a river, but we can't get excited about this hotel.
• Daily Rates: Singles 88 - 120 Sfr. ($60-$82), doubles 136 - 180 Sfr. ($93-$122)
Contact: Hostellerie Les Sources Les Diablerets, CH-1865, tel. 024 53 21 26, fax 024 53 23 35. 49 double rooms.
Rating: Quality 7/20, Value 8/20
Caters to kids groups and families and bears the scars to prove it. There are two to four beds in each room and none has private toilet facilities. Inexpensive but rough.
• Daily Rates: Singles 38 - 62 Sfr. ($26-$42), doubles 58 - 112 Sfr. ($39-$76)
Contact: Les Diablotins, Les Diablerets, CH-1865, tel. 024 53 16 33, fax 024 53 23 55. 62 rooms.
Rating: Quality 5/20, Value 10/20
In the center of Saanen. Friendly management, comfortable guest rooms, good moderately-priced restaurant. Willing to bargain on room price if not fully booked.
• Daily Rates: Singles 95 - 125 Sfr. ($65-$85 ), doubles 150 -210 Sfr. ($102-$143)
Contact: Hotel Landhaus Saanen, CH-3792, tel. 033 744 58 58, fax 033 744 89 40. 18 rooms.
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 11/20
Hostellerie Bon Accueil
Outstanding 18th century country chalet, full of antiques, fine rugs and cozy rooms. Rustic elegance. Dramatic views across the valley from a prime hillside site. Tremendous charm. Best hotel in the region (excluding Gstaad).
• Daily Rates: Singles 90 - 130 Sfr. ($61-$88 ), doubles 140- 200 Sfr. ($95-$136)
Contact: Hostellerie Bon Accueil Château-d'Oex, CH-1837, tel. 026 924 63 20, fax 026 924 51 26. 21 rooms, some designated nonsmoking.
Rating: Quality 17/20, Value 17/20
This hotel has been spiffed up since our last stay here in 1988. Cozy public rooms, guest rooms on the small side. Management seems to care. Good, moderately-priced restaurant.
• Daily Rates: Singles 80 - 100 Sfr. ($54-$68 ), doubles 130 - 160 Sfr. ($88-$109 )
Contact: Hotel Ermitage, Château-d'Oex, CH-1837, tel. 026 4 60 30, fax 026 5 50 76. 21 rooms
Rating: Quality 12/20, Value 14/20
Has the feel of a private home. Much charm and a very good value.
• Daily Rates: Singles 48 - 60 Sfr. ($33-$41 ), doubles 90 - 116 Sfr. ($61-$79 )
Contact: Hotel Florissant, Château-d'Oex, CH-1837, tel. 026 4 60 60. 10 rooms, most with balcony. Lovely garden.
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 14/20
The emphasis at this family hotel is on heath and fitness. There are nonsmoking rooms and various "cure" programs and health facilities are available. Probably not for the casual one or two night stay.
• Daily Rates: Singles 75 - 120 Sfr. ($51-$82 ), doubles 110 - 180 Sfr. ($75-$122)
Contact: La Soldanelle, Château-d'Oex, CH-1837, tel. 026 4 45 45, fax 026 4 45 46. 48 rooms, some nonsmoking.
Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 10/20
Residence Leysin Parc
Perhaps the finest vacation rental units we have seen. Top quality construction with lots of wood. Spacious rooms. Great views. Outstanding. Remember, you are only 25 minutes from Montreux here.
Weekly Rates: Studios from about 600 to 1500 Sfr. ($408-$1020). Two room apartments from about 900 to 2000 Sfr. ($612-$1361). Three room apartments from about 1100 to 2300 Sfr. ($748-$1565)
• Contact: Residence Leysin Parc Leysin, CH-1854, tel. 024 494 26 22.
Rating: Quality 18/20, Value 15/20
Le Grand Chalet
Above average Swiss hotel in a very quiet location with splendid views. Pleasant management. Restaurant serves good meals for less than 20 Sfr. ($14).
• Daily Rates: Singles 72 - 107 ($49-$73), doubles 124 - 200 ($84-$136 )
Contact: Le Grand Chalet Leysin, CH-1854, tel. 024 34 11 36, 024 34 16 14. 30 rooms, most with balcony.
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 11/20
Turn of the century building with high ceilings and large rooms. Good value. Very warm welcome.
• Daily Rates: Singles 54 - 95 Sfr. ($37-$65 ), doubles 108 - 190 Sfr. ($73-$129)
Contact: Les Orchidees, Leysin, CH-1854, tel. 024 34 14 21, 024 34 18 10. Rooms are equipped with telephone and radio.
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 15/20
Places to Eat
In the center of town. O.k. for a snack. Good mountain views. Some outdoor tables.
L'Ormonan Les Diablerets CH-1865, tel. 024/53 18 38. Inexpensive
Rustic, country atmosphere. Linen tablecloths and napkins. Pleasant service. Above average food.
Les Lilas Les Diablerets CH-1865, tel. 024/492 3134. Moderate.
The view is the thing here. This revolving restaurant is at the top of the Berneuse and makes one revolution about every hour and a quarter. Accessible only via cable car from Leysin. The food is typical Swiss country fare.
La Berneuse Kuklos Leysin CH-1854, tel. 024/494 3141, fax 024/494 3140. Expensive.
No view, no style, but country food as good as we've ever had. You'll get second servings of main dishes and, if you want, extra salad and Rösti (fried potatoes). A favorite of locals. Very friendly.
Entering the village from Gstaad, turn left on the main street and look for the sign to the Bahnhof Hotel. Turn right at the parking lot of the railway station. The hotel is on Marktgässli.
• Hotel Bahnhof, Gstaad-Saanen, CH-3792, tel. 033/744 1422. Moderate.
In the very center of town. Pleasant dining room with polished wood and heavy beams. The typical Swiss country cuisine is better than average. Friendly management.
• Hotel Landhaus Saanen CH-3792, tel. 033/744 5858, fax 033/7448940. Moderate.
More Info on the Vaud Alps
* CH-1837 Châteaux-d'Oex
* Tel: 029/924 77 88, fax: 029/924 59 58
* CH-1865 Les Diablerets
* Tel: 024/492 33 58/Fax: 024/492 23 48
* CH-1854 Leysin
* Tel: 024/494 22 44, fax: 024/494 16 16
* CH-1884 Villars-sur-Ollon
* Tel: 024/495 32 32, fax: 024/495 27 94
The tourist office offers seven-day and two-day packages that include welcome drink, half board, child-care, membership in the New Sporting Club with free access to swimming pool, ice rink, Turkish bath and other activities. Seven-day packages include dinner at a local restaurant of your choice.
Per person high season prices for the two-night packages range from 125 to 235 Sfr. ($86-$162). Low season two-night packages are 109 to 209 Sfr. ($75-$144). High season seven-night packages go from 429 to 817 Sfr. ($296-$563). Seven-night arrangements in low season are from 379 to 735 Sfr. ($261-$507).
Prices are dependent upon the category of hotel chosen. For a three-star hotel the two-night per person rate is from 175 to 190 Sfr. ($121-$131) and the seven-night packages range from 615 to 695 Sfr. ($424-4$79).
The 1997 high season is 7/19/97 to 8/23/97
Leysin's New Sporting Club offers six-day memberships for 35 Sfr. ($24) per person. Facilities include swimming pool with Turkish bath, ice rink, tennis courts, squash courts, weight room, wall climbing, aerobic room, soccer field and curling. Except for the ice rink and pool, there are additional charges for use of the facilities.
Golf in Villars
Golf Club Villars CP 152, CH-1884 Villars
Green fees on this 18-hole course are about $35 on week days and $40 on weekends. Golf packages that include seven nights double room, half board and five days of golf range from about $375 to about $1250 per person, depending on the season and hotel chosen.
Cable Car to the Glacier
Adult roundtrip prices from both Col du Pillon and Reusch are approximately $35. Cars run from roughly 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The three-stage trip takes about 30 minutes each way.
Châteaux-d'Oex Balloon Rides
These peaceful, 60 to 90-minute flights can be booked year round for approximately $225 per adult and $115 for kids 8-12 years old. Especially recommended are the summer evening flights. Contact the Châteaux-d'Oex tourist office.
Fromagerie - Le Chalet - Châteaux-d'Oex
See cheese made daily, except Monday, at 1:30 p.m. Model railroad. Restaurant. Admission about $2.
Stay overnight at a local farm and help with cheese-making. The per person price is about $30 and includes all meals. However, the accommodations are very rustic and there are no private bathroom facilities. Contact the Châteaux-d'Oex tourist office.
Pays-d'Enhaut Museum - Châteaux-d'Oex
Local history and handcrafts. Worthwhile, especially the unique paper cuttings. Admission about $2.50.