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Seewis is in the Prättigau/Davos Region of Switzerland. The language spoken is Swiss German and it is located high up on the green pastures of the alps. Homecoming of the cows in September/ October is celebrated with great fan fair, cow bells, älpen horn, folk music and local specialties such as bundnerfleisch (air dried meat), raclette, alpen kasse, the regional cheese. It is a traditional event played out throughout Switzerland. Small family run farms blanket the alps and this festival highlights local traditions, costumes and the spirt of the alps.
I joined in the festivities and created a video I hope will give you a little bit of the atmosphere of the Vehaker, the return to the barns from the upper alps.
This year’s harvest is in full swing in the Bünder Herrschaft.
Last year I had the fortune of photographing Jürg Obrecht and his team harvest and process the grapes.
With urgency and passion, the activity was intense as the temperature in the evening was beginning to drop.
Not a minute could be wasted in getting the grapes into the crushers and vats.
The moment to harvest is decided with experience, gut and closely watching the weather.
Jürg took over his father’s winery (Weinbau & Weinhandel) in 1997. Along with his young family he built a team of talented people to develop and create innovative and traditional wines.
Added to the production of his own 17 acres of vineyards he buys the harvest from another 50 acres of vineyards in Jenins and Maienfeld.
Surrounded by spectacular views of the Alps he produces excellent and award winning red and white wines.
Jürg modernized his production with the newest techniques and equipment to generate top quality wines.
Eighty percent of the grapes he grows are Pinot Noir, the rest are mainly Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling and Sylvaner.
I thank Jürg and his team for tolerating my camera and me and for the lovely glass of wine.
It was hard to shoot and drink at the same time, but as always I found a way and completely enjoyed the experience.
For more information of the Fünf Dörfer – The 5 villages along the Wine Route of Maienfeld Switzerland
The Bernina Pass is one of Europe’s highest alpine passes at 2253-metre-high. It is located in the Canton of Graubünden and The Bernina Express runs from Chur, Davos, St Moritz through Valposchiavo to Tirano in Italy.
The stunning and rugged landscapes and pristine ice blue lakes provide magnificent views of the Alps. Alp Grüm (2,091 m) is the first station south of the Alps situated above Largo Palü. The train negotiates 55 tunnels and 196 bridges. The highest point on the RhB is 2,253 metres above sea level, where you will find the Ospizio Bernina.
The route takes you on a journey into Swiss German, Romanish and Italian villages, cultures and languages. It offers a unique experience of Alpine life in small villages as well as the glamour of St Moritz. It is considered one of the world’s most beautiful train trips.
The Radishes Bahn is one of the Largest Network of Rail systems in Switzerland except for the Swiss Federal Railway. RhB section from the Albula/Bernina area (the part from Thusis to Tirano, including St Moritz) was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2008.
Enjoy some of the landscapes along the Bernina Pass.
Information can be found on Wikipedia, Eurail.com – (http://www.eurail.com/europe-by-train/scenic-trains/bernina-express),the Rhaetian Railway at https://www.rhb.ch/en/panoramic-trains/bernina-express and My Swisshttp://www.myswitzerland.com/en-us/search/index.cfm?phrase=Bernina+Express%2FBernina+Pass
Hiking in the mountains is invigorating as we pass people parasailing, white water rafting, motorcycling, mountain biking, horse back riding, all taking advantage of the cool days in the mountains during the summer.
The sunsets paint the sky in tones of red, orange and yellow. Thunderstorms echo throughout the mountains and when they leave they seem to say “I’m sorry for making such a fuss, so I’ll leave you with a rainbow”.
The valleys spring into life as flowers turn the hills and meadows into shades of blue, yellow, red and white and their sweet aromas penetrate the air. Restaurants are crowded with guests enjoying eachothers company surrounded by flower covered houses. The Summer!
In the Autumn the trees turn yellow and orange and the cows are escorted down to the valley as the air becomes crisp and snow threatens.
Farmers rush to sickle down grass and stack the hay in barns for the winter. Cows, sheep, goats and horses are now grazing in the valley, their last chance to roam free.
The vines are heavy with deep blue and yellow grapes ready to be harvested. The wine fests begin!
I love looking out over Serneus as I hike down from the mountain and the Summer gives way to Autumn colors. I think this might be my favorite time of the year. The Autumn!
At the first sign of snow the villagers move into action preparing for the arrival of the ski season. Anticipation builds up to the lifts opening. I’m sorry to see the Autumn come to a close, but one of my favorite seasons is around the corner.
My favorite moment is when I walk out of my bedroom in the morning and view the light snow peacefully falling over the village from my picture window. The church steeple reaches out to greet the soft flakes and the ski run begins to take shape behind it.
Klosters turns from green to white with ice clutching the edges of the mountain streams.
Thoughts of skiing alone down wide open slopes with views that carry you to the ends of the earth begins to sweep over me. The Winter!
In early Spring the snow covered peaks provide a backdrop for the green rolling hills against a deep blue shy and the contrast is amazing, yes this is my favorite season.
The blue and green colors of the lakes are translucent as the sun penetrates the water.
Mountain streams are swollen as rushing water flows from the glaciers. Deer can be spotted along the hills nibbling at the new grass after a long winter. Spring is one of my favorite seasons. The Spring!
I can’t quite make up my mind which is my favorite season.
The Limmat Quai runs through the city flowing out of the Lake of Zürich. Lined with swimming areas and restaurants it is the playground of the city where people meet in beer gardens and cafes. The city is sophisticated, elegant, spotless and yet it seems like a beachfront with people sunbathing along the river and lake. Motorboats, sail boats and steamboats move along the lake in a frenzy of activity while people dinning in the restaurants enjoy their champagne brunch. During summer, the lake promenade is a relaxing way to spend the day or evening enjoying the beautiful views and feeding the swans that gather around the shore.
This is the center of Switzerland’s famous financial services, an important international business hub. It looks more like a resort then a business center. But then you walk down the Bahnhofstrasse and you are in another world. Banks, insurance companies, trading companies stand side by side with exclusive shops.
Zürich is the largest city in Switzerland and offers the traveler more then 2,000 restaurants and some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. People stroll along the Bahnhofstrasse window-shopping at spectacular jewelry, art galleries and elegant boutiques. Smartly dressed people stop at Sprüngli’s for an espresso and decadent desserts. Sweets are not just for special occasions here, they are an important part of the lifestyle and you cannot pass by without experiencing some of the luscious chocolates beautifully displayed to excite your taste buds. My internal navigation system is permanently set to take me to the Paradeplatz; if not to indulge myself in chocolate truffles, griotte, and tarts, but to also take in the visual experience of Sprüngli’s and Teuschers’ chocolate concoctions. It is said that the average Swiss eats approximately 22 pounds of chocolate per year.
Zürich has the biggest techno parade in Europe, and has the Züri Fäscht, a fest with spectacular fireworks to music that sprawls along the entire harbor side and held every 3 years. Zürcher Theater Spetakel, an outdoor cinema and live musical programs fill the summer schedule with entertainment.
Many political refugees lived in Zürich shortly before and during the two world wars of the last century. They gathered in the Odeon Café at the Bellevue, among them Trotsky, Lenin before the Russian revolution and many artists and writers during the Nazi period, such as Berthold Brecht. Even today it is a place where intellectuals gather.
Visit the Grossmünster, a Romanesque church and the Fraumünster. The old Gothic church has windows created by Marc Chagall. Kunsthaus, one of the major Swiss art museums and many more are mostly free entry.
This civilized city somehow seems to be in slow motion and still in high gear at the same time. It is like everyone’s back yard yet there is serious business going on in the majestic buildings. The intermingling of young smartly dressed business people in suits lunching at the many ultra modern bars and the serious looking bank buildings are a stark contrast to all the activity surrounding them.
The Niederdorf can’t be forgotten. This is the Old Town, and here like in many cities it coexists with jazz clubs, exotic shows, small theaters, restaurants, clubs, galleries, jewelry shops and boutiques. This is the place to go at night and during the day for a bit to eat in one of the many restaurants. Here you find people elegantly dressed on their way to the Opera or pre-opera dinning or enjoying jazz at the many clubs. This is not the typical seedy part of town, but the entertainment district for all to enjoy. It is buzzing from late afternoon into the early morning hours. Fourteenth century buildings and small cobblestone streets offer apartment living and city getaways for people living in the suburbs.
Switzerland has a fantastic transport system, not only can you tour the city by tram, but you can also take restaurant trams enjoying lunch as you go. In a very short time you can be in the Pre-alps or even in the Alps. Steamboats take you on slow lazy cruises along the villa-lined lake with the alps looming in the background, and during the Föhn (warm air coming from over the alps from the south) seem to be touchable. The contrast of the countryside is stunning as you very quickly go from this alluring city to the peaceful awesome views of the green rolling hills to the alps. Travel by train along transparent blue glass like waters of the many lakes. Buy tickets at ticket machine before boarding or from one of the kiosks. Tickets are sold for the day or multiple trips, or tickets that offer you all forms of transportation.
Zürich is as complex as the Swiss themselves – a reflexion of the Swiss personality. Complex, reserved, conservative, hesitant, precise and even reluctant and yet there is an underlying energy, bursts of excitement and curiosity. These traits create an innovative and courteous place that typifies the city and the people who live here. It is stunningly beautiful.
As I look out my window in the middle of October the view is of white snow cover mountains and the ski slopes have turned from green to glimmering white. The ski resorts are busy getting ready for their winter guests and anticipating an active winter ski season. Graubunden has numerous ski resorts and attracts winter sports enthusiasts from all over the world. The atmosphere has a buzz and energy as soon as the first snowfall blankets the area. The villages wake up and go into action. This is their time of the year!
Graubünden has its own unique character. It is the largest Canton in Switzerland with Chur as its capital. Austria and Liechtenstein are on its North and Italy to the south. Like all regions in Switzerland, the architecture, language and cuisine are influenced by the French, Italian and German cultures. Swiss German, Romanish (its roots are from Latin) and Italian are spoken and alpine life embraces a wide variety of sports.
Known as the Bündner Herrschaft, and the Five Villages (Fünf Dörfer) Zizers, Malans, Jenins, Maienfeld, and Fläsch, are located in the district of Landquart and the Chur Rhein valley in the Canton of Graubünden.
Maienfeld is dominated by the Schloss Brandis built from 1270-1275. Narrow streets curve through the small village like a ribbon wrapped around a perfect gift. The beautifully frescoed Rathaus (town hall) stands proudly in the center of the village. Scholss Brandis – now a restaurant has a small garden where you can enjoy the beauty of this village with a glass of local fresh light Pinot Blanc.
The wine route (Weinbergweg) runs from Chur to Fläsch through the five villages. The main variety of grape grown is Pinot Noir. Riesling-Sylvaner (Müller–Thurgau) and Chardonnay, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) are now also being grown. The route is best visited by walking or biking and taking in the beauty of the vineyards decorated with roses and artist ateliers scattered about the villages displaying works of art. You can catch a bus or train back to your starting point if you don’t want to walk back. Wineries are open for wine tasting and little hotels and restaurants with terraced gardens interrupt your walk as you just can’t resist going in and sitting down to a glass of wine and a Bünderteller (air dried meats and cheeses). Some of the restaurants have jazz evenings serving local specialties while people patiently wait for the vendange. The lively music seems to stimulate the sugars in the grapes. Cows graze lazily, and friends enjoy horse and carriages rides as they spend a day together laughing and waving to people as they pass-by.
“Städtlifest” celebrates the harvest and is held on the last weekend of September or the first in October. This year it will be in Maienfeld from Friday, October 2 until Sunday, October 5. The quite villages and typical Bündner chalets are decorated with huge sunflowers covering the doorways and fountains filled with roses and fall flowers. Locals, dressed in traditional costumes are entertained by small musical groups and Alpenhorn billowing music over the vineyards. A typical Swiss fest full of tradition and color has people waiting in line to get a portion of Racelette in huge wheels melting and scraped onto hot boiled potatoes. Grills are placed throughout the village with huge wood skewers of goat (zigerspitz) grilled in flashes of fire as seasoned oil is scooped over them in what looks like a flamethrower performing amazing tricks. We watch munching on our zigerspitz; the bratwurst grilling, wine being poured into cups while people and children scurry around visiting friends and making this one of the most colorful local fests in the region. This is Switzerland at its best.
As early as 1291 according to documents from monasteries, Wilhelm Tell called the cheese “Bratchäs” and Raclette cheese was born. Raclette is a Swiss cheese specialty that is made by melting Raclette cheese. It is believed that it originated in the Valais Canton of Switzerland.
Old tradition has it that farmers took the cheese up into the mountains when they tended to their herds. They placed the cheese over heated stones, the cheese melted and was scraped onto cooked potatoes. Of course as legend goes, it is also believed that they put the cheese too close to a fire and it melted. Whatever the story, it is one of the most popular Swiss dishes.
Raclette is a pungent mountain cheese that is creamy, powerful, full-fat, semi-hard cheese made from whole milk. The maturity period is about 4 – 5 months. It can be bought in a wheel or a square. The original cheese is made in Switzerland but you also get cheeses from Italy and France. The Italians also use Fontina.
The key is to get the cheese when it is perfect and this is the challenge. If it is too young, it is to mild and doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Too mature and it tends to be oily and very strong and the rind is sticky. Still I lean towards the more mature. The cheese should have a dark beige rind with no cracks or reddening. The texture should be creamy and it should have a pungent aroma. Raclette stores very well in the refrigerator. Cut it when it is cold and bring it to room temperature before serving.
Today most Swiss prepare Raclette with electric machines. They can be bought from 1 to 8 servings and come with wooden scrapers and small non-stick palettes. The cheese is cut into squares the size of the palette and placed in the Racelette oven. The cheese melts and is scraped off onto a waiting hot plate. The biggest advantage to this method is that everyone can eat at his or her own pace and no one is slave to the preparation. A metal grill or granite piece covers the grill and keeps the plates warm. If the machine has a grill, meats or vegetables can be grilled at the same time. However, traditionally this was not part of the original dish.
Another version of the machine holds a half wheel of Raclette cheese. The cheese is secured onto a holding tray. The heating element is placed over the cheese and when the cheese melts it is scraped off with a knife onto a hot plate.
We have both machines and I prefer the half wheel machine, as the cheese tends to get slightly crispy on top giving it a smoky flavor. The disadvantage is that this machine is not inexpensive and is hard to find. The person preparing the cheese has to be dedicated to the preparation eliminating him/her from joining in the party. This type of machine is used in the mountains for large groups and during festivals and adds a lot of atmosphere to a party.
Boiled potatoes (Charlotte) and cornichons (French pickles) always accompany the cheese. A twist of a pepper mill is ground over the top. Small pickled onions and small pepperoncini peppers can also be served. I love the pepperoncini, which adds a little Italian twist to the dish. Covered cloth bags or baskets are specially made for holding and keep the potatoes warm. Dry white Swiss wines such as a Fendant or Lavaux (Epesses, St. Saphorin) is an excellent compliment to the cheese.
Most people tend to have this dish in the winter. It is perfect for an après ski dinner and we have had many evenings sitting around the table with a fire blazing after a day of skiing enjoying a Racelette dinner. But we have found it is a wonderful summer meal as well sitting out on the balcony enjoying the view of the mountains.
I always look forward to enjoying a dinner of Raclette. But be prepared to air out the room. When you’re enjoying this meal and savoring a glass of wine and good conversation, you don’t notice the aroma. Once the meal is over the smell of the cheese is overwhelming. Never-the- less, there is a block of Raclette in my refrigerator at all times during the winter.