Ticino - August

For the second part of our summer holiday, Jules and I headed down to Ascona in Ticino for a few days of relaxing by Lago Maggiore and the surrounding environs. We had never visited this part of Switzerland so we were looking forward to the chance to explore a new area.

View over church Santuario della Madonna del Sasso, framed by trees with the lake in the background

The holiday started well, with a good drive down to Ticino. We planned this fairly carefully, aiming to leave Zurich after rush-hour, but avoiding the weekend. This basically worked out, - we had about 20 minutes of delay going through the Gottard tunnel, but otherwise everying was very easy. We arrived in Ascona in the early afternoon, checked into Hotel Carcani. and headed out for a late lunch of pizza and pasta. With the remainder of the day still free and good weather forecast, we decided to take a bus over to Locarno and then take the funicular plus gondola up to Carbada. We had a gentle walk around the hillside, with lovely views down over Lago Maggiore. We got back to Ascona a little later than planned and had a slightly disssapointing dinner, but lovely views over the lake.

After a very good breakfast in the hotel we had a quick wander around the local tat-markt and ended up buying a couple of foot stools that caught our eye - this was a excellent plan and we ended up using them all week sitting on our balcony. The local economy prop'd up we headed over to the Isole di Brissago, which Jules declared "Ferntastic". Yours truly had a superb carbonara in the hotel restaurant for lunch, which we both finished off with a huge dessert, and spent the rest of the day chilling.

The day started well with Jules heading off to go horse riding in the morning. We then failed miserably in our attempt to get to the market at Luino (caused by us misunderstanding the ferry timetable), but compensated by an excellent tagliatelle al funghi in Cannobio, followed by a stroll along the promenade. With a bit more of the day to spare we then drove to Verbania - which wasn't quite as picturesque, but we did find a very pleasant cafe with a good tea in front of the Chiesa San Vittore, followed by a wander through the old town. In the evening we tried to go for a drink at Seven wine bar in Ascona, but service so poor left before we'd even got a drink - takes a lot for me to give immediate feedback to a waiter, but this place managed it! We ended up in the Toucan bar which was very pleasant and with actual service.

View down alpine valley Maggia, from high up the valley

We set the day aside for a walk, and the chosen destination was a route up from the waterfall at Foroglio, looping around Laghetti d'Antabia and Laghi della Cròsa. The route turned out to be very sheer in places (Jules did very well to keep going at times) and we reached the Laghetti d'Antabia about 5 hours and a vertical mile later. By that point we were somewhat physically and emotionally exhausted - the path having been quite hard going, scrambling over large boulders in places. Arriving at the lake, we discovered that there was not only an SAC hut (Rifugio Piano delle Creste), but that it served good coffee and apple tart with cream - which went a long way towards Jules recovering from the experience gettng there. Considering the onward route, we made the tactical decision to abort the planned route at that point, and instead to follow the obvious path back down to San Carlo, which was much less intimidating, but still hard work on tired legs. We arrived back at the valley floor about 8 hours 20 after we'd started, having managed 8.25 miles over the ground and nearly exactly a mile vertically. With hindsight the views were spectacular, but the exposed sections were a bit much and the very rough nature of the ground meant that we'd made much slower time than I'd originally planned. A useful lesson about not only planning realistically, but also having a thought-out plan B. The originally planned route was this one, but we actually ended up doing this. A very kind gentleman offered us a lift back down the road to the car, which saved us the last hour of the walking. Dinner was a well earned burger and a beer in the hotel.

We had a nice chilled out morning in Ascona, including a stroll along the waterfront and a coffee at the beach before heading back to Zurich. The traffic was backed up through the Gottard tunnel, so we elected to head over San Bernardino, which was probably the right call.

Cycling Lake Constance - July

For the first part of our summer holiday, Jules and I headed to Lake Constance for a week of cycling. We went for the option of having our baggage shipped by best-biketours.com, and overall were pretty pleased with the service. We cycled almost all the way around the lake - just missing the top left corner, which took us five days of actual cycling. The days were pretty easy - the longest was 67km, but that gave plenty of time for coffees and taking in the sights.

View over garden lake

Arrived late in Konstanz in the rain after a slightly damp ride out of Zurich. Thankfully the hotel Halm was very easy to find from the station, and turned out to be very pleasant, if slightly traditional. For dinner we headed out to Konzil fish restaurant for a good dinner and a glass of local red wine before taking a short promenade on the way back to the hotel.

The breakfast at Halm turned out to be the biggest selection we've ever seen, and After much deliberation and overstuffing we finally managed to get on our bike at about 11am. The weather was very pleasant for the first leg of the trip, from Konstanz round the island Richenau (which seems to be entirely devoted to the growing of vegetables), then on to pleasant lunch at Allensbach before taking a slight detour to the Wildpark where Jules decided not to join hoards of children feeding the not so wild anymore animals. For the last leg of the day we did a loop around Mellnau, then scooted round to Hemmelhofen to arrive in the Hotel Höri at about 6pm. All in all the 62km took us about 3 hours 30 pedaling gently and about 7 hours all in. A very pleasant start to the holiday, in bright sunshine, topped off by a swim in the Bodensee. Dinner in the hotel was perfectly acceptable despite the slightly disorganized, but well meaning staff.

After another good breakfast buffet, we headed off to Stein am Rhein. We stopped for coffee in Stein, then headed back around the See on the other side, passed thrught lots of very pretty villages with traditional half-wood cottages very finely decorated with flowers. We arrived back in Konstanz for lunch at the waterfront at Hafenhalle - a grilled perch salad really hit the spot. After lunch we took a trip to Meinau island, and wandered round the gardens and the butterfly house (the large blue butterflies were particularly impressive). Jules was particularly pleased to be able to go into so many greenhouses. The last leg of the day was fairly straightforward, with just a bit of a sprint for the last couple of kilometers to catch the ferry from Wallhausen to Überlingen (they're only one an hour). Yours truly managed to recover a bit with a beer on the boat. Überlingen which turned out to be a very pretty old walled town and we found the hotel Bürgerbräu with only a little bit of backwards and forwards actually to find the place. Dinner in town at the Gasthaus zur Krone in the centre.

The morning started with a bit of a rush at breakfast when the bag collection arrived half way though the muesli. Lovely rushing in the morning, but soon over the slight disruption we continued on in good weather, starting off with quick ride around Überlingen to see the town in sunshine before setting off for the day.

The cycling was very easy along the lake. We stopped to visit the reptile house at Unteruhldingen and were quite surprised that one of the small pythons was out on a branch for people to touch, but even more surprised that the door to the late pythons (one at 50kg) was left open. Clearly the owners don't like dogs or small children very much! Continued on for lunch at Meersburg - lovely location, good food, but terrible service in the Strandhotel Wilder Mann. After lunch we took a brief constitutional up the hill to see the schloss-kirche and to buy some cherries for Jules before completing the final leg into Freidrichshaven. There was some slight confusion with our bags, but they were in reception after all. In the evening we walked along the tat-markt, and even managed to buy Jues a pair of sunglasses (with a 30% dice discount).

View of church in Lindau square

After an easy start to the day, we reached Lindau a little before lunchtime (well, only 33km) and decided to press on to Bregenz, where we arrived in time for lunch. Suitably fortified and refreshed and Looking at the map, yours truly managed to persuade Jules to carry on to Rohrschach, on the promise that there wouldn't be a sprint into Rohrschach to catch the last ferry. Made it in plenty of time to have a quick swim to cool off and then catch the ferry back to Lindau with no stress. All in all 67km which took us 3 hours 35 pedalling (on the road for nearly 6 hours) with great weather all day, only started clouding over on the ferry. In the evening we had dinner in Lindau and a wander around the old town - which was very pretty. Finished off with a cocktail by the harbour and watched the rain start.

Woke up to pouring rain, late and lazy breakfast before catching the ferry back to Rorschach to continue. Yours truly had an awful coffee at the harbour side, seriously - I wouldn't recommend it to someone I hated. Arriving in Rorhschach we opted for a fast ride back to Konstanz, threatened by heavy rain clouds (but only spitting on occasion). The last leg was 36km, and took us 1hr 50 with a headwind all the way. We arrived early afternoon to finish off an excellent holiday, having cycled round basically all of Lake Constance.

Bremgarten - June Sunlit church surrounded by old buildings

Fancying a weekend away, Jules and I headed to Bremgarten for a nice relaxing overnight stay in the hotel Sonne, and a walk around the surrounding area.

The weather forecast wasn't great for the whole weekend, but we made the most of it, and headed over for early Saturday afternoon to catch a bright spell in which to see the town. There are quite a few historic buildings in the old walled city, and suitably fortified by a very pleasant lunch in the Restaurant Bijou (overlooking the river) we headed off to see the sights. With the weather closing in a bit later we took refuge in the rather cool Cafferino Fotografie & Café, before retiring to the Stadthof for the largest bowl of strawberries that Jules had ever seen. For dinner we headed to Restaurant Luna Rossa for a rather good fish dinner before retiring to the suite at the Sonne hotel.

Waking up at a very civilised time on Sunday, and after a perfectly good breakfast, we headed off to try a variation on walk number #49 from the new favourite Rund um den Zurichsee by Rother. We didn't fancy the whole route, and we've seen Egelsee before so we cut off that section of the walk. We were attacked by mosquitoes along one section of the Reuss (we didn't hang around there), but there was relief once we started to climb up the hills. We had a coffee at Bellikon (Jules taking much interest in the roundabout - to be fair there wasn't much else to look at), and a very pleasant lunch at Wirtschaft zum Stutz in Widen before looping back to Bremgarten. Overall the 11.6 miles and 1,600 ft ascent/descent took us just shy of 4 hours of walking, on easy paths with simple navigation. The gpx plot of our route is here.

All in all, a very pleasant couple of days away, and without any traveling stress at all...

Walking Jura Hoheweg - May View over rolling green hills in the Jura range.

For a bit of a longer walk, Jules and I headed out to try two days from the Jura-Hohenweg (#5 of the long distance Swiss walking routes). The section we did was a slightly longer variant of stages 2 & 3, from Baden to Hauenstein, stopping overnight in Herzberg.

We headed out of Baden in good weather, starting with a good warmer-upperer to the castle ruins and good views overlooking the town. From there the (typically well signed) route winds through woods and countryside (musical accompaniment complements of Jule) before dropping down to Brugg. Arriving in Brugg we met up with Diana and Louis for lunch before heading on section 2 proper. The route climbs again out of Brugg before getting into the Jura range proper. The countryside is a bit different to the rest of Switzerland, the hills are quite steep and peaky, but not nearly as high as the Alps to the south. The weather was lovely all day, and we made good progress to Herzberg where we stopped for a well-earned pint of beer and some food.

After dinner we said goodbye to Diana and Louis and headed off to the Gasthaus Herzberg for a rather disappointing dinner of soup and cake before retiring with a bottle of wine.

In the morning after a fair breakfast but annoying wait to checkout (we really wouldn't recommend Gasthaus Herzberg) we continued the route on section 3 towards Hauenstein. The weather wasn't nearly so good – a bit grey and damp – but the route was very pretty and would have been stunning in good weather. We stopped for an excellent early lunch in Saalhoehe (with hindsight we would much rather have stayed there), and a cup of coffee and a soup in the small but very friendly Naturfreundehaus Schafmatt. From there we followed the route to Hauenstein where we waited for a bus in a slightly random café/bar/metalwork/antique/tat shop…

Overall the walking was very pleasant – lovely countryside and well-marked trails with only one minor navigational error in two days which was quickly spotted and corrected. The two days were 18.4 and 11.6 miles, and took us 6 hours and 4 hours 20 (plus breaks and lunch). The first day had 3,500 / 2,800 ft and the second day had 2,500 / 2,700ft VG/L, and both days were T1+. The weather was a bit mixed, but that's to be expected in mid-May.

Barcelona - May Segrada Familia from the park the to the east

For a long overdue holiday away together, Jules and I headed to Barcelona for a long weekend city break. We stayed at the K+K Picasso near the Parc de la Ciutadella, which was a good location, close to the beach & the old town but a tiny bit quieter. The hotel itself was fine - a bit pricey but it had a very good breakfast and the room (we paid for an upgrade) was perfectly pleasant.

We started off with our old favourite - a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. The weather was forecast best on Thursday and we headed up to Montjuic to take in the lovely views across the city and a bit of a wander around the gardens to stretch our legs before continuing on. We had lunch in a little cafe near L'Illa, and a pastry in Cafe Zürich (well we had to) in Placa de Catalunya. In the afternoon we continued on the bus tour, stopping at La Sagrada Familia (spoiler - they're still building it) for the obligatory photos to compare to last time. On the way home we went past the Gothic Cathedral and got way-laid in a lovely tapas bar - La Bona Sort - the Pulpo was particularly good. It had a nice atmosphere - a modern take on a tapas bar, done well. All in all, an excellent start to a weekend in Barcelona!

On Friday the weather wasn't quite as nice. We found a lovely little spice shop right next to the hotel and got a bit over-excited with the paprika. Afterwards we headed to Barcelonetta for a wander along the beach, stopped for lunch and a beer/tea/fresh fruit rest stop right on the beach, which was lovely when the sun came out for brief periods. We finished up the day with a stroll down La Rambla and into La Boqueria for a glass of wine and a bite to eat.

On Saturday the weather was a bit rubbish - raining and not very warm and we spend the morning shopping (Jules in particular did very well). In the afternoon we found a good tapas bar in Rambla de Catalunya with lunch only moderately interrupted by a slight disaster with lost iPhone. In the evening we went out in El Born, which turned out to be quite a cool area with lots of bars and cafes. Jules had one (good) mojito and claimed she couldn't drink any more....

Skiing St. Anton - Feb View over the snow covered Alps under blue skies

For the main skiing holiday of the season, Andy and I headed to St Anton to try out the Ski Arlberg area. This turned out to be about right for a week of skiing - we made it to every resort and most of the lifts in the area.

See my notes for the ski area here

We stayed in the Hotel Basur in Flirsch. This is a fairly old fashioned, traditional Austrian hotel in the village of Flirsch, about 10 km down the road from St Anton. The pleasant surprise was the excellent breakfast (hot and cold buffet) and good dinners. All in all it's a classic 3* Austrian hotel - if you like that kind of thing you'll be happy there.

Saturday 20-Feb / St Christoph, St Anton After a slightly delayed start (owing to a lack of parking at St. Anton), we parked at Sankt Christoph and headed up the mountain. The top of the mountain was closed, mostly likely due to the wind, but that didn't really bother us as the better visibility was lower down on the slopes anyway. We had a fairly gentle day, mostly cruising around from the top of Galzig and Kappall. The best snow we found was off to the side of #5, although the ski route #3 turned out to be an icy, moguly vale of despair. I exaggerate. But we're not going back anytime soon. The area around Valfagehr lift (up from Stuben) showed some promise, but in low visibility it was just a long slog. We only just about managed to make it back to the car on the lifts - we caught the last one with 4 minutes to spare. Lunch was a pretty good salad and Roesti in St Anton, at the base of Nasserein bubble.

Sunday 21-Feb / Lech Conditions weren't great - a bit warm with sticky snow in the morning, compounded by flat light. We headed over to Warth for a big lunch (need to remember about portion sizes in Austria), then headed back over to Lech. We found fairly good snow on skitour route #65 from Rotschrofen lift, and did this a couple of times. To finish we had a crack at ski route # 1 Ostkriegerhorn off the top of Schlegelkopf - fairly good snow given the general conditions. Run of the Day: #65 (Andy) or #41 (Stuart)

Monday 22-Feb / Sonnenkopf We eventually found the main lift - after having driven through town looking for it - and headed up to the ski area. Freeze thaw conditions made for a cruisey day, with the runs a bit harder than expected. Overall our impressions were that the area would be excellent in good conditions (unfortunately they weren't), but the sun was shining and we had a good day nonetheless. Ironically the best conditions were to be found where the sun had re-melted the ice slightly, making the conditions a bit more forgiving. We found the best general conditions on the Riedkopf side, which had caught the most sun, but run #10 Klostertaler Abfahrt was also not too bad. In good snow conditions all the top of the bowl would be skiable, with only a few hazards.

Tuesday 23-Feb / St Christoph, St Anton. A slow start to the day in poor conditions - thaw/freeze ice patches and crusty lumps combined with busy pistes and rain at the bottom of the resort meant we stopped for an early lunch with only a 50:50 chance of carrying on in the afternoon. Deciding to try one more run we headed out (in the rain) for one last blast, only to find fairly good conditions at the top of run #35, the rain having fallen as enough snow to cover the worst of the horrors of the morning. We did that same run about 5 times, with the conditions improving each time, and even good visibility on occasions. Overall the afternoon more than made up for the morning, and we were quite grateful that we hadn't binned the day. We even finished with some (quite wet) off-piste heading back down to the car park in Sankt Christoph.

Wednesday 24-Feb / Lech. Awesome day with bright blue skies for almost all the day and lots of fresh powder. Started with a few runs under Steinmaehder chair to make the most of the new snow. Did a few runs down the skitour / off piste sections until they became tracked out. Then headed over to the Hasensprung chair and did a load of good runs in fresh powder off to the left of the lift - didn't seem to be many people using that area which was great. After a good lunch in place with the good pictures we headed back up to the peak and did a few runs off the right hand side of Steinmaehder which had the best snow of the day. We topped it all off with a couple of runs down skitour route #65, off and a few cruisey runs around. All in all an awesome day - definitely in my top five days skiing ever. Finished exhausted but happy.

Ski tracks through fresh powder

Thursday 25-Feb Rest Day

Friday 26-Feb / Zurs Another awesome day skiing fresh powder under blue skies. We started the day by heading up to Madloch and doing the runs under this lift a number of times. There's a bit of a walk in the middle section of the run, which probably explains why it wasn't well used, but we were happy - the snow wasn't tracked out before we'd had enough of the run. We then headed down to Zug and up into Lech for lunch, stopping for a very pleasant rest and meal at the restaurant at the top of Zugerberg chair. After lunch we dropped off the back of the mountain - down some great snow (and quite a steep run #44) before looping off piste round the back of Rotschrofen - the snow there was very good, and it wasn't too tracked out. The only trick was to keep right, to be able to make Weibermand From there we dropped down to Lech and up Ruefikopf and did a couple of gentle runs in powder beside Schuettboden before heading over to do some cruisey reds underneath Hexenboden All in all an excellent day - good powder, good cruising and a full day - a beer well earned!

Saturday 27-Feb / St Christoph, St Anton. Cruisey day, under bright blue skies, and with snow conditions a bit tracked out. We started from Sankt Christoph, and headed over to the Stuben side, doing a couple of runs under Arienmaehder and Valfagehr chairs. Ski route #18 started out lovely (piste bashed corduroy), but soon turned into a icy, lumpy world of misery and pain. I exaggerate. But we didn't go back to do it a second time. After a recuperatory cappuccino in Ulmer Hutte we decided to head over to the Riffelscharte side of St. Anton for a blast around Rendl. The area looks like it has plenty of good off-piste, but tracked out probably owing to how accessible it is. We had a good lunch in the Rendl Restaurant before heading up to the very top of Riffel II for a blast down the skitour route R14 (the snow was better than most of the pisted runs) and then back to St Anton in one long vertical mile drop blast (about 12 minutes by my watch). We finished off the day with a cappuccino in Kappall - a good spot on a bright, warm day - before heading up Schindler Spitze and blasting back down to St. Christoph. Just goes to show how far we can ski on a day with good visibility and decent snow.

Sunday 28-Feb / Zurs Started with a loop round the back of Hasenfluh, route #10 on freshly groomed pistes. Then did a run down under Madloch before heading off on the White Ring Loop (Zurs - Zug - Lech - Ruefikopf - Zurs). Arrived in the restaurant at the top of Zugerberg in time for an early lunch before doing one run down each chair in Oberlech. Looped back through Lech and up Ruefikopf. We did a couple of runs under Hexenboden, then a long run down into Zurs. To finish off we did a couple of runs down the front face of Zurs - in surprisingly good snow - before one last loop around the back of Hasenfluh to finish at the Zurs car-park. All in all a very good holiday.