Back in May when we were figuring out the dates and structure of this part of our trip, I bugged my friend Carolyn for a recommendation on where to go between the Austrian Alps and southern France.
“Well,” she wrote, “obviously you guys should come visit us in Switzerland.” You may be confused – didn’t they live in Prague? It turns out that they were planning on moving to Switzerland shortly after our Prague visit, and would be spending the summer at their little cabin in the mountains. Sold. I’d heard about how beautiful the area was from her before, and now we’d get to see it!
But after our time in the Stubai Valley, would any other mountains measure up?
“Enjoy the warm up Alps.” Bold.
Our route to Carolyn’s place in Schweiben took us right along the Swiss/Liechtenstein border. And if you know us, you know that we obviously stopped in Liechtenstein for lunch and happily paid the $3 apiece from the tourist office to get our official passport stamps! The principality is almost comically small – the tourist train takes a total of 30 minutes to see all of the sites. In the whole country. We were glad we went, though – it’s a lovely spot for a stop.
The rest of our drive was beautiful twisty-mountain road stuff, with the exception of a fun engineering bit. See, the Swiss sometimes get tired of people trying to drive over mountains in the snow, so they’ve drilled huge train tunnels through the mountains. But you can still take your car with you! You just drive it onto the train, the train goes fifteen miles through the mountain, then you drive off, having saved thirty minutes and tons of stress. Neat!
Getting to the village of Schweiben is a little more complicated. See… it’s not a “village” with “stores” or a “road you can drive on.” It’s a small settlement of about six houses, only accessible via an open-air community cable car. We pulled in in the early evening, and dropped a text to Carolyn when we and all of our stuff were ready to go.
Finlay did a great job – the car arches up to over a thousand feet, and after disembarking, we immediately sat down to an open-air raclette dinner with Carolyn and Mark, who looked none the worse for wear after moving their entire family three days before. Their place is rustic and wonderful, and over our three nights there we liked it more and more.
On our first full day rain was predicted, so we took the kids down the valley and up the valley to Leukstadt village for a picnic and a walk, then to Leuksbad, a hot water bath complex that somehow was even better than the one we went to in Austria. The water was naturally heated, the waterslides were a little more fun, and here’s the kicker: in one of the pools they have recliners with water-bubble massagers, all with the mountains to gaze at in the background. We weren’t sure Julie was ever going to leave. It was an amazing day.
And then, my friends, the next day dawned. It was cool and foggy, and we took the opportunity to take a hike right from Schweiben, a leg-smashing 1500 foot ascent up to Balfrin. Our tour guide was five-year-old Iona, who patiently walked our slow butts up the mountain while Mark and Finlay finished up some work on the house.
As we got higher up, the fog lifted and the Swiss Alps finally revealed themselves. We continued up, paralleling a river, passing through a crumbling stone wall. Mark and Finlay caught up to us as we neared the top. By the time our little group got to the Balfrin Bridge, I was willing to declare these mountains the high point of our entire trip.
And then I did two things:
- Refilled my water bottle with glacial melt from the stream. I’ve now drunk glacial water three times, and every time it blows my mind. Water doesn’t get any better than this. It’s delicious beyond delicious.
- Turned around and saw the mountains across the valley in the sunshine. There’s really nothing to say.
We made our way down slowly – Iona and Finlay could run it, but our old knees and careful little one made us pick our way, and I’m not ashamed to admit my quads were quivering when we were done. I was immensely proud of Fiona; it’s not often you break your vertical hiking record by 50% only a week after you set it!
Our post-hike barbecue that night was great. The setting and company made it phenomenal.
We were so fortunate to be able to spend time in Schweiben – we had good timing, and great friends to help pull that timing off. We are so grateful to Carolyn for inviting us, and to Mark for being our tour guide, lunch maker, meal planner, and scheduler. Schweiben is an extraordinarily special place.