Pelting forwards, our train took us from bright sunshine into heavy shade where the river was a thick torrent. Forests climbed dense and sun mottled out from the clouds. Valley buildings kept to themselves in tall stacks, adorned with red geraniums and matching shutters, whilst up the steep mountain slopes crept clutches of smaller wooden huts. If we had been close enough, we would have heard the whole mountainside whistling with wind and ringing with painted bells. The train bore us on.
At the station we left the valley and wound our way upwards in a series of tight hairpins, stopping precariously to let unfazed motorists past.
The village was something I had imagined during childhood when conjuring up pictures to bedtime stories: a landscape long forgotten. It was a cluster of crooked gingerbread cottages, all creaking wooden bones and heavy stone-slab roofs. Spring water spilled from the mouths of taps set in stone basins and wooden figurines and black sheep faces peeped at us from concealed bends between the warped walls of centuries old shepherds’ huts. It was like seeing an old friend that you had forgotten about after many years of solitude; it was like coming home.
We reached our abode for the next four days and set down our bags; I already knew it wouldn’t be long enough. From this cosy attic space we could gaze out of the window on a crisp autumn morning to see what the clouds would choose to reveal in the theatrical skyline of craggy mountain top and epic sliding glacier. We could watch as old ladies braved the bitter cold, huddling under headscarves, hobbling towards the baker’s first batch. We saw the post-lady on her motorbike, frittering away her paper bundles at each door. We were already too late to see the men going to work. They had begun their daily trawl down into the valley, or up into the pastures to tend their sheep (the most beautiful in the world).
Teetering on the edge of our precious four days in the Swiss mountains, we leaned out between the shutters, catching the scent of wood-smoke, straining to hear the gentle mountain song of bleat and bell, catching snippets of arcane Swiss-German dialect on the wind, and wrapping our blankets tight about us to keep our throbbing hearts from spilling out. We looked towards every snow-capped pinnacle and made plans to climb to the top and look out on the world. Later, we would drink from clear spring-fed streams, eat Raclette with the locals, and find shepherds’ huts on the pass, and chalets that secretly spread into the mountainside behind them like hobbit houses. We would see the crystalline lake on a high plateau that was annually filled with fish and then emptied again by the fisherman in time for the big freeze, and we would sample wine from the steepest vineyards in Europe. But now, framed by the little attic window in the village, it was all just promise and dream.