Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Amuse-Your-Bouche | Mouthwatering Pre and Post Hike Recommendations

Many of our guests travel before and after their hiking tours and they ask us for recommendations on things to do, places to stay, and good food to eat. In response to those requests, we’re starting a new series of blog posts called “Amuse-Your-Bouche.”

Amuse-Your-Bouche is a play on the French term Amuse-Bouche that, literally translated, means to entertain, or amuse, the mouth. In the culinary world, an amuse-bouche is a sort of appetizer served at the chef’s discretion. The portions are usually small, but intensly flavored, and, in the words of celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten “they’re the best way for a great chef to express his big ideas in small bites.”

In the spirit of haute expression, our pre/post trip recommendations showcase the very best that a region, village, hotel, restaurant or wine cellar has to offer. We won’t limit our Amuse-Your-Bouche posts to food, though delicious food is an important part of virtually every pre or post trip excursion. We’ll also include day hikes, tourist attractions, festivals and more.

For our first Amuse-Your-Bouche post, the spotlight falls on the La Brasserie du Grand Chêne in Lausanne, Switzerland.

An elegant, Parisian style brasserie, the Grand Chêne celebrates the art of traditional French-inspired cookery served in a refined, yet comfortable, setting.

Walk through the wood and glass doors, or enter from the adjacent Lausanne Palace Hotel, and you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to La Belle Epoche, an era of fashionable Paris cafes at the turn of the 20th Century. Tall mirrors, and shiny brass knobs exude brilliance. The waitstaff stand up tall and straight, with crisp white shirts and black ties. The air carries an aroma of lovingly prepared stocks, aromatic sauces and seared vegetables.

The managers of La Brasserie du Grand Chêne go to great lengths to uphold the feel and tradition of the original brasseries, and they do so in a way that is decidely Swiss. The décor is fresh, the clientele young and diverse, and the food is delicious.

Have a look at the carte, and you’ll find a dish for almost every taste, from Vichyssoise and moules frites, to chicken curry and ravioli with sage butter. The fare is simple, but well prepared, and as appetizing for budget-minded locals as for the well-moneyed gourmands of the jet set crowd.

I’ve had a number of the salads, but my favorite meal is the grilled fillet of beef with peppercorn sauce and pommes frites. All the dishes are delicious. The brasserie takes particular pride in their fish, which I haven’t tried, but which friends assure me, is delectable as well.

For dessert: Try the mousse au chocolat. It’s mouthwatering.

If you’re looking for a fun, relaxed restaurant that harkens back to the glory days of joie de vivre, art, and French cuisine, then look no further than La Brasserie Du Grand Chêne in Lausanne. Just 50 minutes by train from the Geneva Airport, the brasserie makes a great stop for lunch, dinner or an apéritif. Go ahead, Amuse Your Bouche!

Price: 12-50 Euro

Friday, June 24, 2011

Three Dreamy Hikes Through the Central Swiss Alps

I love the Berner Oberland.

There. I said it.

I love the huge snow-covered peaks and glaciers. I like the tranquil valleys and bucolic farms. I adore the blackened timber chalets with their colorful kitchen gardens, sunny decks and Swiss flags flapping in the breeze. Maybe it’s my German heritage that drives me, but I find the tall glasses of Weiss beer refreshing, and I crave the flavor of rösti when a cool wind blows down from the peaks.

The Oberland is a magical place, and it offers everything a mountain lover could ask for. Not only can you hike, climb, bike, parasail and raft, but you can also bed down in a quiet chalet while the sounds of bells and bleats softly lull you to sleep. Everything is clean. Everything runs on time. Cute little trains, trams and buses whisk you away to every enchanting place you need to go. It’s a Disneyland for adults, though I’ve known a lot of kids that love it too!

Since one trip through the Berner Oberland just wouldn’t be enough, we offer three guided tours through the area this summer. And, while all three trips explore the exact same region by foot, they each offer something unique and special.

Eiger Trail: Gstaad to Grindelwald
July 13-21, 2011

By starting in Gstaad, on the western-most side of the Berner Oberland, the Eiger Trail gives meaning to the word “anticipation.” We’ll start out at a relaxing pace, hiking eastward through remote valleys and sleepy villages, crossing ever-taller passes as the week unfolds. Each night, we’ll settle into cozy chalets and rustic mountain houses, contentedly drifting off to sleep and dreaming of the moment when, on day 6, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks explode into glorious view.

We’ll spend the last 3 days hiking through, quite arguably, Switzerland’s most famous and visually satisfying region. That’s not to say that we won’t enjoy eye-popping mountain views during the entire hike. We will, but the fact is, there is something to be said for saving Switzerland's most prized and stunning mountain peaks for last.

Jungfrau Trail: Beneath the Mighty Eiger
July 25-31, 2011

This hike offers a number of special elements. First, it’s centered specifically on the Jungfrau region, the most dramatic locality within the Berner Oberland. Each day we’ll hike within full view of the sparkling Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. Second, this trail is a loop hike, meaning that we’ll enjoy unparalleled flexibility to amend the itinerary to our heart’s delight. We can eat, drink, hike and repeat in proportions that satisfy the desires of the group.

We’ll also take in famous side attractions including Interlaken, bustling hub for all things Swiss and outdoorsy chic, the Schilthorn, filming location for the James Bond film On her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the Schinigge Platte railroad, one of Switzerland’s oldest and most attractively positioned railways. The Jungfrau Trail is also our shortest Berner Oberland itinerary, making it perfect for travelers that would like to hike the Swiss Alps in the shortest period of time.

Via Alpina Stage 2: The Heart of the Swiss Alps
August 3-12, 2011

At 10 days/9 nights, the Via Alpina Stage 2 is the longest of our Berner Oberland expeditions, and it’s a great way to de-stress from everyday life. If you want the grandaddy of hikes through the central Swiss Alps, then this trip is for you.

Beginning in the mysterious little village of Meiringen, the birthplace of meringue and the setting for the fictional death of Sherlock Holmes, we’ll progress through the bustling Jungfrau region before continuing westward and slowly leaving civilization behind. Put simply, it’s a magical experience to walk away from the tourists and delve into the peaceful heart of Switzerland’s alpine land. You’ll also get bragging rights. Not many people can say they’ve walked nearly the entire width of Switzerland’s most famous mountain region.

*Note: All three tours offer Ryder-Walker’s signature sampling of traditional Swiss alpine food, drink and accommodation. The Eiger Trail is almost sold out, but we still have space on the Jungfrau Trail and Via Alpina Stage 2. Please contact us if you're interested in any of these tours.

Lauterbrunnen Valley | Carol
Jungfrau Hikers (Eiger Trail and Jungfrau Trail) | Porter
Hiker's Reflection | Tom

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Early High Mountain Photography in Switzerland

We love old mountaineering photos, so we’re pretty excited about the Photographic Balancing Acts exhibit at the Swiss Alpine Museum in Bern. The exhibit runs through September 25th and features 1,200 alpine images shot at the turn of the 20th century by photographer Jules Beck.

Beck spent nearly a quarter decade lugging his heavy plate glass cameras up and down the mountainsides of the Swiss Alps. The result: he captured the very first images of Swiss mountaineering.

Just reading about some of the photos in this collection makes us drool. The exhibition would be a great pre or post hike treat.

Image: 'Unter Theodulhotel and the Breithorn' (1890), Jules Beck's last picture. Jules Beck was Switzerland's first mountain photographer. | Courtesy of the Schweizerisches Alpines Museum

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gear: Black Diamond Z Trekking Poles

How To Video: Black Diamond Z-Poles from Black Diamond Equipment on Vimeo.

It was only a matter of time before someone would look at a tent pole and say, "Hmmm, zat tent pole is very nize. We can use z same technology in our trekking polez."

Enter the Black Diamond Z, Z trekking pole that collapses like a tent pole, making it zuper compact.

Things to know about these poles:
They come in three different models:
Ultra Distance- Super lightweight carbon and winner of Backpacker Magazine's Editor's Choice Award.
Distance FL- Aluminum shafts with FlickLock adjustability.
Distance- A great pole that's easy on the wallet.

Things we like about these poles:
Kevlar inner cords for durability.
Über compact.
Crazy light.
Interchangeable rubber and carbide tips.
Signature Black Diamond quality.

Things we'd like to see from these poles:
An integrated tent/tarp system. An umbrella attachment (for the carbon model).

If you're in the market for a new set of trekking poles, or you just bought a pair of z's and you'd like to familiarize with your new sticks, then check out the vid. It's cool.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Käseschnitte: The Ultimate Grilled Cheese

From our Facebook fans: What is the name of the local lunch you recommended between Murren and Wengen; baked egg over cheese, over a slice of bread?

Great question. It’s called Käseschnitte, and it’s a popular dish of the Valais and Bernese Oberland regions of Switzerland. French speakers call it croûte au fromage.

We’ve often said that Käseschnitte is to toasted bread and cheese what filet mignon is to steak, a divine upgrade. The dish comes in many varieties, but the basic version is nothing more than toasted bread covered with locally available cheese and white wine. The whole thing is broiled and often served with a slice of ham, tomato or both beneath the cheese. The Swiss like to eat Käseschnitte with a fried egg on top, adding cholesterol insult to injury. To order a Käseschnitte straight up, without egg, ask for it “ohne ei” (oh-nah eye).

Käseschnitte is a very warming dish during the winter, and a great hiker's repast during summer. Incidentally, our secret lunch spot between Murren and Wengen serves up some of the best Käseschnitte found anywhere in the Alps.

Here’s an easy recipe to make your own Käseschnitte.

(Serves 2)


4 slices of french bread, ½ “ thick, cut from a boule or large batard.

4 Tablespoons of clarified butter.

¼ cup dry white wine (more if you’ve had a long day).

8 slices of cheese, emmentaler, raclette, or fontal for traditional flavor.

4 slices of ham. (Optional)

2 eggs. (Optional)

Paprika, pepper, or seasoning of your choice.

Optional garnish: Gherkins and pickled onions.

Directions: Put 2 tablespoons of the clarified butter in a frying pan and toast the bread on both sides. Place 2 slices of the toasted bread in a baking or casserole dish and sprinkle liberally with the white wine. Place a slice of cheese on each slice of bread, add a slice of ham, and top with the remaining cheese. Bake the whole thing in the oven until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Place a fried egg on each portion and season with a dash of paprika (for traditional flavor), pepper, or the seasoning of your choice.

Serve with a garnish of gherkins, pickled onions and a glass of white wine from Switzerland. Bon App!