Travelling

Hiking route: Valle Verzasca, Ticino, Switzerland

Autumn is the hiking period for my family and this year we did three amazing routes. The first one was the 5 Lakes Route, an alpine route on Mount Pizol in the canton of Saint Gallen, described already in a previous blogpost. The second one was the Verzasca valley route, in the canton of Ticino.

For our hiking, we chose a cute small valley in the geographical centre of Ticino, the Verzasca valley. It is a rural and largely untouched valley with steep inclines and numerous waterfalls. It is formed by the Verzasca river that flows over rock through the narrow valley and has many natural rock pools and places to bathe. The Verzasca valley extends over a length of 25 kilometers in north-south direction. The altitude of the valley floor is from 500m to 900m above sea level, so the hiking routes along the valley are not too demanding. The surrounding mountains have an average altitude of 2400m, so the routes that includes crossing over a pass are of moderate difficulty.

We decided to do the Verzasca valley route from north to south, starting at Sonogno, the northest village of the valley that is accesible by car, and finish at Lavertezzo, more than 17 km away, from where we could take the bus back to Sonogno. The duration of the route depends on the website you check and the person that wrote about it and can vary from 3 to 6 hours. In any case, we considered it a full-day activity, especially since we did it two days after the alpine hiking at Mount Pizol and we were not planning to hurry around.

We reached the Verzasca valley by car from Tenero, at Lake Maggiore. Via Valle Verzasca runs north, along the Verzasca river. At the southern outlet of the valley the river is dammed, forming the Lago di Vogorno. We stopped at the 220m high dam, which is considered to be one of the highest dams in Europe and is famous for the “GoldenEye” Bungee Jumping, the setting of the opening scene of the James Bond movie “Golden Eye”. It is absolutely scary! Then we continued further north, to Sonogno, where the street ends.

Sonogno is a cute alpine village, with traditional stone houses and narrow alleys. A bit northern of the village and only about 15 min away, there is an impressive waterfall. You can walk right next to the small pool that the waterfall creates or a bit higher on a hill that give the opportunity of beautiful pictures.

The waterfall at Sonogno

The following morning we woke up early and got ready for our excursion. It is a rather easy to moderate route, with not big ascents and desents. Nevertheless, it is advised to wear proper shoes, especially if the weather has been rainy. In addition, it is better to carry your supplies of water and snacks, as there is nowhere along the path to get supplies.

Our starting point, the village of Sonogno is at 919m above sea level and more or less the highest point of the route. The path starts at its south end past the athletic facilities, with a beautiful bridge over the amazingly coloured river.

Verzasca river from the bridge at Sonogno. The colour is amazing.

From Sonogno, the path runs along the river from the right bank, till the village of Frasco, while the street is from the left one. At Frasco, we had to cross over the impressive Vecchio Ponte stradale and head to the left bank of the river, while the street continues from the right bank. This is quite common in all of the route: the path and the street are on opposite banks.

The path continues from Frasco to Brione firstly through meadows and traditional farm houses and then approaching again the riverside. At about the middle there is Gerra, where we saw a beautiful waterfall.

At Brione we stopped to have our lunch break. There were turquoise natural pools formed by the river around here and it was the perfect place to have our own outdoor bbq swiss style, with cervelas, the most typical Swiss sausages. We collected wood from all around the river banks and while I was cooking our sausages my husband decided to go for a swim. Well, it was a bit cold the water!

After a quite long break, we continues our hike towards Lavertezzo. As it was already past midday, the route became a bit less populated and it was nicer for us to pay a bit of attention to the river, that becomes more impressive from this point further. There are bigger boulders and formations where the turquoise and emerald colour of the river is more distinct.

About six hours after our start in Sonogno, we reached Lavertezzo, which is at 545 meters above sea level. It is a typical Ticinese picturesque village, with several stone buildings. Its main attraction, though is the 17th century double-arched bridge over the Versasca river, called Ponte dei Salti and known also as the Roman Bridge.

The impressive Ponte dei Salti

At exactly this point, the rock formations are enormous. Even if you don’t want to do the whole of the hike, it is worthy even just to drive up to this point and stop at the parking that is available exactly before the bridge. The river is much deeper here and it is a common place for bathing, although it is considered dangerous due to the currents.

Travelling

Excursion to Ticino, Switzerland

In September there were a few nice days and my husband and I grabbed the opportunity to enjoy the autumn nature. We went for a small excursion to Ticino, Ticino is special for two reasons: it is the only italian-speaking area of Switzerland and it is in and south of the Alps. Thanks to the latter, this area is a bit warmer than the rest of Switzerland and as a result a common destination of holidays inside the country. They advertise themselves as the most Mediterrenean of Switzerland!

Driving up the San Bernandino Pass. We didn’t go through the tunnel.

There are two ways to reach Ticino from the north: you have either to cross either the San Bernandino Pass from the east or the Gotthard Pass from the west. In both cases there are tunnels that can save the time to drive up the pass. But if you have a bit of time and the weather is nice, it is an always nice drive up the Passes. For our excursion we drove to Ticino from the San Bernadino Pass and we didn’t use the tunnel and on the way back we took the tunnel at the Gotthard Pass.

A nice bridge on our way from the San Bernandino Pass to Bellinzona.

My husband spent several of his childhood holidays in Ticino. So we drove a bit around the nice mountainous but sunny even in the end of September area. We drove through Bellinzona, the capital of the canton, and Locarno, which located at the northern shore of Lake Maggiore.

We then continued up to the picturesque village of Arcegno (387m above sea level), one of places my husband has been spending summers and walked around the small streets that are surrounded by stone houses.

And then we headed again down towards Lago Maggiore. The view of the lake from the village of Ronco is amazing!

Lago Maggiore. Switzerland on the left and Italy on the right edges.

We continued our descent towards the lake shores and the touristic town of Ascona (196 m above sea level). There we had a walk along the paved promenade and enjoyed the sun and a swiss-italian icecream!

The paved promenade at Ascona. It was a bit windy, but sunny and warm

After Ascona we decided to start heading towards the Verzasca Valley, which was our main destination in Ticino. We wanted to hike this beautiful and narrow valley, but the description of the hike will follow in another blog post.

Travelling

Alpine hiking route: 5 Seen Wanderung, Pizol, Switzerland

Hiking is considered to be the national sport of Switzerland. The hiking season starts around May and finishes around November, depending of course on the weather. This year, my husband and I did a bit of hiking and I am starting to enjoy it more and more. One of the most amazing hikes we did this year was the alpine route of the Five Lakes at the Pizol mountain, a peak in the canton of Saint Gallen.

The Saint Gallen Rhine valley with Lake Constance (Bodensee) in the back and Lichtenstein on the right.

The Five Lakes route, or Funf Seen Wanderung as it is called in German, is a mountain route that takes its name from the five alpine lakes that can be reached along the route. Besides the beautiful hidden lakes, it offers magnificent views of the mountain ranges around including the Churfisten and Alps of Graubünde and the Saint Gallen Rhine valley across to Lake Constance and Lichtenstein.

The Alps in the background

The total distance of the route is about 11 km and its estimated duration 4 to 4.5 hours. The easiest approach of it is to start from the Pizolhütte at 2227m and finish at Gaffia Station at 1861m. In total, it involves ascenting of 600 m and decenting of 1000 m. and is of moderate difficulty. The opposite direction is obviously a bit more demanding.

We reached Pizolhütte, the starting point of our hike, from the town Wangs, located at 509m above sea level, on the south of the canton of Saint Gallen, through a combination of gondola and chair lifts. The hut is located close to Wangersee, the first lake of the route. From there the path started climbing up and it offered broad view over the East Swiss and Austrian Alps. After about an hour of climbing, we reached Wildsee, the second lake at altitude 2493m above sea level. It really appeared as a surprise around a turn and it was breathtaking with its turquoise colour. From this point, we even got a glimpse of the Pizol summit (2844m).

The amazingly turquoise Wildsee (2493m above sea level)

From Wildsee, the path descented briefly, so as to reach Schottensee, the third lake of the route and a turquoise one as well. From the banks of Schottensee (2340m), the ascent began again, so as to reach the highest point of the route at 2500 m above sea level. From here we had an absolutely amazing view of the Churfirsten, the mountain range dominating over Walenstadt, my husband’s hometown.

The smaller but cute Schottensee (2340m above sea level) and in the back the Churfirsten mountain range

From 2500m, the path descended to the Schwarzsee at 2368m. As its name implies, this is a dark-coloured lake and it makes quite some contrast to the previous two lakes. It was about 5.5km to this point, so it was about the middle of the 5 Lakes route. As a result, we decided to have our short lunch break at this point and we were not the only ones!

The dark Schwarzsee (2368m above sea level)

After a half-hour break, we start the second part of our hike. 2.5 km or about an hour away from Schwarzsee, we reached the fifth and last lake, the green Baschalvasee (2174m).

The small green Baschalvasee (2174 m above sea level)

From this point starts the big and final descent of the route to the Station of Gaffia. It was quite some relief to reach it 4.5 hours (including the break) after we started!

From Gaffia we took the lift down to Wangs, enjoying the last views of the Saint Gallen Rhine valley with the Bodensee (or Lake Constance in English) in the back.

I am absolutely happy to have done this magnificent hike and, although as tiring as a 4-hour alpine hike with ascents and descents can be, it is so rewarding to have seen so beautiful views of alpine lakes and impressive mountain ranges! I do recommend it to anyone interested to see a beautiful area and experience Switzerland and the Alps!

Diverse DIY

A craft using something from a refreshment or its packaging

I mentioned already last week that I am participitating in a Crafts Marathon that In my closet, a greek friend of mine is organising. She is sending us a task every Friday and we have a week from Monday to complete it and post a photo of it. The third week just finished last night and its task was to create something using a refreshment (either the liquid itself or something from its packaging). The idea of the task came from Alleycraft, another interesting blogger.

I was brainstorming about what to create. My mind was stuck at the craft of the second week, where I created sunglasses for our mascot Lukas, using the brown bottle of a common Swiss refreshment. Last week was quite warm in central Europe and I spent quite some time on our roof terrace, enjoying the sun and drinking a lot of water. Until one afternoon I was sitting with my husband, consuming a local refreshment, called Flauder, and we noticed the beautiful label on the bottle!

Flauder is a swiss sparkling water flavoured with elderberry flowers and lemon balm, produced in East Switzerland, in the canton of Appenzell Innerhoden. Its name comes from the local word for butterfly and the special about its label is that it has a nice picture inside, as the sparkling water itself is slightly yellow to transparent. Probably no surprise that I like this sparkling water, as you may have noticed that I like elderberry flowers.

So I decided to cut the cute picture from the label and make it into a postcard, typical of Appenzell!

In the process of creating it

I had a couple of white cartons cut already for postcards and after sticking the part of the label, I thought that it doesn’t look so interesting with the white background. So I complemented the background, trying to follow loosely the label’s scene. I used coloured pencils and sketched a few small details to make it more interesting. I have to admit I am not so good in drawing, but I think the result doesn’t look that bad. It is definitely something new for me, as I avoid drawing.

The finished card

Thank you Alleycraft for the motivation to overcome some personal barriers!

Cooking

Rhubarb Strawberry Jam

It is this period of the year again! I love rhubarb, so it was time to make my annual rhubarb jams.

Last year I combined banana and rhubarb and it was liked a lot, so I decided to make it again. This recipe you can find here.

But I wanted to experiment a bit too. Thanks to a dessert recipe that I found in a local magazine, I tried the combination of strawberry with rhubarb, so why not use it for a jam too!

Rhubarb, Strawberries (I forgot to make a photo before mashing them) and jam sugar. This is all you need!

I used the following ingredients:

  • 1 kg rhubarb
  • 1 kg strawberries
  • 1 kg jam sugar

The first step is to peel the rhubarb and cut it in small pieces. Add it in a pot with 200 mL water and let it boil until it becomes like mashed. This is why it is important to peel it first. If the peel remains, there will still be pieces inside. Without the peel we lose the red colour, but that will be compensated by adding strawberries.

Then remove the green part from the strawberries and mash them with the appropriate tool. At the end add the sugar to the strawberries and mix. Add this mixture to the cooked rhubarb and let it boil for 4 to 6 minutes while mixing. To be sure it is ready, do the jam check: drop a small quantity in a clean plate and let it cool for a minute or two. Once it is cooled it should be viscous enough. You can see an example of the jam check in this post.

In the meanwhile, you should add warm water in a pot and insert the jars you are going to use. It is better not to leave the caps too long in boiling water, as they have a plastic layer in the inside. Remove the jars just before filling them with jam, fill them, cap them tightly and turn them around. This way the jam will be air tight and can be stored in a cool place before opening.

It is a nice, moderately sweet jam. It smells strongly of fresh fruits and we enjoyed it a lot!

Cooking

Swiss cuisine: Älplermagronen

I have been thinking of writing this recipe for quite some time, but couldn’t get myself to sit down and do it. This is another interesting speciment of the Swiss cuisine. Contrary to the Wurstsalat I published a few months ago, Älplermagronen is served as main dish and quite often in the small restaurants that you can find up in the Alps or around. Its name means anyway Alp Pasta.


Älplermagronen served!

It is a pasta based gratin and although it looks heavy, it is less than its equivalent ones, as it does not contain heavy cream, but semi-skimmed milk! On the drawbacks, it does take a little bit of time to cook it, but the taste totally rewards the effort!

For 4 big portions, the ingredients needed are:

  • 2 spoons butter for frying
  • 500 g onions in slices
  • 1/2 dl white wine
  • 1/2 dl meat broth
  • 200g fast cooking potatoes
  • 500g pasta (Älplermagronen)
  • 1 lt Milk (any type you like)
  • 3/4 ts Salt
  • grated Gruyère cheese
  • 150 g bacon in slices
All the ingredients

It is better to start with the onions. Add the butter in a frying pan and once it is hot, add the sliced onions. Reduce the heat to medium and let them fry until light brown for about 30 min. Then add white wine and meat broth, let reach boiling point and mix until all humidity is gone. Put it aside for later.

In the meanwhile prepare the pasta. In Switzerland they use the appropriate type of pasta, called (surprise, surprise)
Älpler Μagronen. They are egg pasta, thicker and shorter than spaghetti, but thinner than penne. Unfortunately, I am not sure you can find exactly these ones anywhere else but here. Nevertheless, you can use another type of pasta, as long as it is not too small. Penne or fusilli could be a replacement, but not good enough for Swiss people, so don’t tell them.

The correct type of pasta used for this dish

Traditionally, pasta was being mixed with potatoes, as the latter were cheaper and in abudance. If you check other recipes of
Älplermagronen you will find higher portions of potatoes than pasta. But potatoes and pasta do not have the same cooking time. This is important, because if potatoes are in too big pieces, they will not cook in the time that pasta needs. It is a common mistake to have hard pieces of potatoes among the pasta. As a result, in my own version, I have reduced the quantity of fast-cooking potatoes vs pasta, and I pay attention to cut them in really small cubes. It takes a bit more time, I know, but who wants to eat half cooked potatoes?

So back to the preparation, cut the potatoes in small cubes, add them to a big pot together with the pasta, the milk and a bit of salt and let everything cook while mixing, until the pasta is al dente. This is the secret of Älplermagronen: the pasta is cooked in milk. You can use any normal milk you have at home. I use half-skimmed milk and it works perfectly. It is important that the liquid is mostly covering the potato-pasta mixture and mix them, as milk thickens fast thanks to their starch.

Cook the pasta and the potatoes in cubes with milk and not water!

Once the pasta is al dente, add to the mixture the onions you prepared before, grated Gryère and the slices of bacon that you have cut in about 2cm thick stripes. Mix everything together well and pour it in a pyrex or oven-safe tray. Sprinkle with a bit more cheese and put a few thin slices of butter on top. This you cook for about a quarter in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 180 C, until there is a nicely golden crust on the top.

Ready to go in the oven

As with any kind of gratin, it is easier to serve Älplermagronen, when it has colled down a bit. The pieces are not breaking so much. In Switzerland it is served with a bit of apple compote that you add at the side of your plate and mix it with your pasta. Personally, I do not like it with the apple compote. Älplermagronen tastes perfectly even without it!

Enjoy and feel free to comment if you try it!

Travelling

What to do on a leisure day in Basel

Hmm April is almost over! It has been such a busy month! It started with my best friends from the Netherlands visiting me and continued with two Easters. Why two? Because my husband is Catholic and I am Greek orthodox, so we had two Easters one after the other. In case you are interesting what is a typical way to celebrate Easter day in Greece, check my blog post from last year: Easter customs in Greece.

Anyway, today I don’t want to write about Easter, but about my new almost hometown: Basel. I say almost because we are not living inside the city. Although I grew up in Athens that has about 10 million inhabitants, I find cities far too big, crowded and stressful. But they are still interesting to visit, and definitely Basel complies with that description.

As I mentioned already, in the beginnning of the month three of my closest friends were visiting me. We were blessed with summery weather and of course I had to take them to visit Basel.

For most people, Switzerland is mountains and lakes. Well, Basel is not inside the mountains and doesn’t have a lake, but that does not make it boring. It is the third most populated city in Switzerland (after Zurich and Geneva and before the capital Bern), and it is really expanding with suburbs to France on the west and Germany to the north.

Basel’s heraldic animal, something like its mascot, is the Basilisk. It is an imaginary animal, a hybrid between a rooster and a serpent. Although it looks like a dragon, it should not be mistaken for one, as it has the head of a cockerel. A basilisk is not a big animal, but is so venomous that it can kill people with only its breath and wherever it touched was doomed to die. With a single glance, he can kill a person or turn stones to dust, the latter only as long as the sun is shining! Quite a frightening creature, no? According to the legend, there was a basilisk living in a cave in the Old town of Basel.

The city of Basel is full of statues or depictions of basilisks, so if you visit the city, you should or will see one of them. One of the biggest statues, is the basilisk standing at the south entrance of Wettsteinbrücke. It is one of the four old guardians of the bridge and it is quite impossing!

And if you walk around the city, the possibilities are quite high that you will meet a basilisk fountain. By the way, the fountain basilisk are in the actual size of the legendary basilisk.

One of the several basilisk fountains you can find in Basel. The legendary animal is supposed to be exactly of this size.

As I mentioned earlier, Basel doesn’t have a lake, but it has a big river: the Rhine. It has crossed almost of Switzerland, and at the point of Basel it is big enough to see the big riverboat going up and down. Except from the big boats, there are four small ferries too, spread between Basel’s five bridges. They offer a slower and cosier alternative to cross the river, compared to using the bridges. They are environmentally friendly, as they have no motorised assistance. They move with the power of the current of river and assisted by nothing but a steel cable, so that they do not drift downstream, but move back and forth the two banks.

Another fun activity in the Rhine is swimming it! It is still a bit too cold in April to do so, but as the summer will be peaking, there will be more and more people swimming down the Rhine. My husband and me did it last August, so you can see our experience here.

The view from the Mittlere Brücke last August! Do you see the swimmers?

Two of the most visited buildings in Basel are its Minster and its City Hall.

The Basel Münster stands out thanks to its red sandstone and its distinct coloured roof tiles. Its construction spans through several centruries, as the Minster underwent several expansions and alterations. The foundation of the building we see today took place on 11th October 1019, so this year it celebrates the 1000-year anniversary. It started as a building of the Romanesque style, but its final form has Gothic characteristics and was completed in 1500. It was first a Catholic church, but in 1529 it was transformed to Reformed Protestant one. There are several important people buried inside the church, such as Queen Anne of Habsburg, but I was more interested to the tomb of Erasmus.

If you are strawling in the Old Town of Basel you won’t manage to miss the City Hall. It is a massive, eye-catching red building. It is the seat of the Basel government and its parliament. Its foundation dates back to 1290 and it dominates the massive Market square. In front of it there is most times a market (surprise, right?), so the whole area is busy with people.

The impressive Basler Rathaus (City Hall)
And there is Market at Marktplatz!

Basel has several museums and loves art. One of its most beloved artists is Jean Tinguely. If you have not heard him before, do check him! His works of art are full of motion and consist of kinetic sculpturs created mostly from pieces of machinery that he was finding thrown. The only common characteristic of this creations is motion or noise. There is a big museum with a lot of his works eastern than the centre of the city, which my husband and I visited several years ago, when we first visited Basel. I totally recommend it, as it is an absolutely interactive museum. In most museums, they discourage you from touching the exhibits, but in this one they welcome you to press the buttons.

But in case you do not have enough time to visit a museum, you can still see a speciment of Tinguely’s art: the Tinguely fountain. It is located quite close to the central train station, just behind the Basel Theatre. You will see a few crazy creations moving and spitting water! It is mesmerising!

The Tinguely fountain (Tinguely Brunnen) at Klostergasse 7. The photo is not as interesting as the fountain is in reality!

P.S. Thank a lot girls for the nice visit and for the nice photos you made, so that I could use them in my blog post!