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SWITZERLAND Spring 2000 (4)

CHATEAU D'OEX

THUN and ZÜRICH

Off we went to Chateau-d'Oex (pronounced day) via Bern, Spiez and Zweisimmen; the train ride between the latter two is breathtakingly beautiful. This village is situated in the open valley of the Pays-d'Enhaut at an altitude of 1,000 meters. This area is a mecca for outdoor activities in all seasons with skiing and hot air ballooning the most popular. The exceptional microclimate creates such ideal conditions people flock there from all over the world. Every January there is an international event with more than 80 balloons participating. Since we weren't there in ski season and balloons weren't flying, we were content to roam around town enjoying the sun and the fresh mountain air while admiring the splendid ski chalets.

If you like cheese, 70 families in 140 mountain chalets in the region produce the famous traditional Etivaz cheese. It is prepared daily over wood fires and then taken down to mature in the cooperative cellars in the village of L'Etivaz.

We stayed at the Hotel Ermitage, which is poorly located on a traffic roundabout at the edge of town. It's a basic 3-star with an owner and staff that are nearly invisible. They are reputed to have an excellent kitchen and indeed they do. With a choice of dining bistro style or formal, we opted for the former. The green salads were exceptional in their variety and freshness and the light French dressing was just perfect. Linda was in the mood for basic comfort food and chose the tagliatelle Bolognese from the bistro menu. The large portion looked intimidating but it was so delicious she finished every drop. I was feeling a bit more adventurous and selected rabbit stuffed with lobster from the dining room menu. What a marvelous creation! Chunks of tender rabbit were stuffed with pieces of lobster and stewed together with artichoke, zucchini, sliced potato, carrot, onion, black olives and pine nuts. The restaurant is worth a detour.

One of our favorite Swiss towns is Thun, located at the western corner of Lake Thun. The Aare River flows from the lake in two paths creating a three-part city, the two outer banks and an island in the middle all of which are connected by cute bridges. The island is a pedestrian mall with one street down the middle and all the shops, restaurants and cafes backing up to the two branches of the rushing river on either side. On the northern bank the castle sits high on a hill over the town. It was a ten-minute walk from the train station over two bridges and along another lovely shopping street, Obere Hauptgasse, to the Rathaus Platz and Hotel Krone. We welcomed the warm greeting of the smiling receptionist, having missed that at the Ermitage.

The exterior of the Hotel Krone is pure old Swiss design and stands prominently in the large main square sharing the space with other attractive old buildings. The interior has been renovated and our accommodations were superb. A nice size sitting and bedroom area was beautifully furnished and the twin beds with fluffy down comforters and pillows were very inviting. The generous size bathroom really made it perfect. But then discovering that there was a river view from our windows sent it over the top. The buffet breakfast offered a large variety of quality foods. The hotel has a well-known Chinese restaurant, which we tried for lunch. Thumbs down on this one.

We spent the rest of the bright, sunny afternoon wandering around enjoying the sights and sounds - the hustle and bustle of eager shoppers, having a coffee on a terrace over the river - just being gawking tourists, I guess.

We returned to a previous favorite for dinner, Zu Metzgern, which is located in the Rathaus Platz diagonally across from the Hotel Krone. The family P. Lombardo-Hirchi has been there for many years and loyal patrons fill the place regularly. It's not a fancy place, the inside like being in a large kitchen and outside a comfortable patio. It was asparagus season and the soup was very good. Linda's tagliatelli with artichoke and cream sauce was disappointing in that it had been baked in a pan (lasagna-style) and was drier than she would have preferred. My filet mignon, outstanding in quality and flavor, was grilled to perfect medium rare and served with spaetzle and a mountain of freshly cooked vegetables. go to top of page

We made a quick stop in Zürich before catching our flight to Amsterdam and another to Toronto. Not too quick though to miss out on two special treats. At the corner of Bellevue Platz and the tiny Freieckgasse is the Vorderer Sternen sausage place where people line-up all day to buy these grilled beauties. We got in line and when our turn came we were drooling in anticipation. We were handed our bratwurst in paper, a small container of hot mustard and helped ourselves to a typical Swiss roll with a thick crust. There are tables for eating standing or sitting and you take any available place for the event. Dip your wurst into the mustard and savor the moment of your first bite. The crunchy outside, the moist inside, the incomparable flavor combine to transport you to heaven. Follow each bite with a chunk of bread from your roll to clear your palate before repeating the nirvana-like experience that must be a part of every visit to this city, no matter how brief.

Last time we were in Zürich with Cornelia and Fabio, they had suggested a place for coffee and pastry but unfortunately it was closed that day. We know their recommendations are golden, so we were off to Napf Str. and Cafe Schober. As we passed through the front patio into the cafe, we were awed by the most creatively designed presentation of goodies we had ever seen. We would have liked to have a bite of each gorgeous pastry, while nibbling on the candies and tasting every flavor of ice cream but settled for sharing a piece of fabulous fresh cherry strudel with chocolate ice cream and whipped cream along with our coffees. We sat on the patio enjoying the moment and quietly thanked our friends. What's next guys? Ready when you are!

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