A town like Engelberg looks like it has come from the pages of a fairytale. There’s the town square, traditional a-frame Swiss houses (complete with lowing cattle on the ground level), dainty bridges crossing crystal clear streams and fir trees lining the valley all covered in snow. You almost expect to bump into Heidi and Peter...
And yet this small village (population approximately 4000 people) offers an exciting winter programme of skiing, Nordic walking, winter walking and trips in horse-drawn carriages or sleighs. The Monastery of Engelberg is home to about 30 monks and an exhibition cheese factory that makes the most delicious bell shaped cheese. It is well worth the visit and you will spend many Euros or Swiss francs in the shop. It is also the perfect spot for a bite to eat.
The highlight of my Engelberg excursion is standing in a lane with a snow fall cascading gently onto me. If the snowfall were any heavier I would most definitely have lay down and made snow angels!
Lucerne is fabulous city to walk and of course I was there in mid-November when all the Christmas decorations adorned the shop fronts and walkways. Getting a feel for a northern hemisphere Christmas is incredible. Because living in South Africa the closest we get to a white Christmas is the diet of American yuletide sitcoms that we are peppered with at year end. It really isn’t relevant to us to go roast chestnuts on an open fire or to stockpile fire wood unless it’s for the braai.
So to experience the wondrously wintry snowy-ness of Switzerland just before Christmas was incredible.
Leaving Switzerland I made a quiet promise to myself that I would do my utmost to return, but the bright lights, glitz and glamour of Paris was calling. And who am I to ignore this siren song?
Paris, the city of lights
OMG. I’m in Paris riding down the Avenue de Champs Elysees. I’ve just passed the gorgeous Arc de Triomphe resplendent with an enormous French flag billowing between the massive columns in a truly fashionable, Parisian manner. I’m truly relieved not to have to negotiate the famed circle in front of the Arc, it is very confusing. As if only Parisians and Trafalgar bus drivers know the inside secret to navigating this piece of the road.
There are many fashionable restaurants along this legendary road, including the delightful Chez Clement, where I have dinner with my fellow travellers, courtesy of Trafalgar. This is just one of many fantastic inclusions offered by this touring company. Dinner is a sumptuous affair and I’m so in awe of that staple of French cuisine – onion soup. Served in a huge bowl this soup is truly delicious, filled with caramelised onions, bread and a very generous (and potentially cholesterol inducing) helping of melted cheese. I’m in heaven.
Day two in Paris and it’s the day I get to visit the iconic Eiffel Tower. And immediately the benefits of booking with a touring company stand out. We don’t stand in a long queue; in fact we skip straight to the front of a long line of tourists waiting their turn to go up Gustave Eiffel’s masterpiece of architectural design.
The Eiffel Tower offers unparalleled views of Paris, and on a clear day you can see up to 59 kilometres in the distance from the top of the tower. Of course you can’t get to the very top but visitors can visit levels one and two to get gorgeous photos of the Parisian vista and the River Seine.
There is a monumental amount of things to do and see in Paris. A visit to the Louvre museum is well worth the time, although if you want to do it properly (i.e. not just taking in the highlights such as the Mona Lisa) you will need about a week. A river cruise down the Seine is a must as you will take in many sites such as the Notre Dame, the Palace of Justice and more.
Night time is spent taking in a show at the famous Lido theatre where many a Parisian showgirl has become famous. The more famous Moulin Rouge is just outside the traditional city centre, on the way to Montmatre.
The Montmatre Hill is my favourite area in Paris. This hill is topped by the beautiful Sacre-Couer Basilica and gained its fame in the early 1900s with the arrival of artists and painters such as Pablo Picasso. Montmatre is bohemian and arty. And a wonderful place to enjoy a romantic dinner. Take a stroll along the cobblestoned lanes and get a local artist to paint your portrait.
Unfortunately tours like this don’t last forever but your memories, photographs and new found friends will.