Leukerbad

Posted on: 19 Apr 2018

Leukerbad seems an age ago now - better get it written up at last.

25th March: On the day that it (theoretically) changed to Summertime, off we went to Wallis (or Valais, if you prefer it in the French version). This is usually the warmest and driest region of Switzerland.......... but not this time! After a train to Bern, another to Visp, and another to Leuk, a bus took us up the long, winding road to Leukerbad. I had no idea it was quite so far up in the mountains! By the time we arrived, snow lay more than a metre thick on the roofs, and was piled in towering walls on either side of the roads - these were, however, perfectly clear, with typical Swiss efficiency. And with a piercing wind blowing, the temperature was decidedly on the bracing side! Picking up a map en route, we went in search of our hotel. After dropping off our bags in the room (comfortable, good view, but I didn't think we were going to get much use out of the balcony!) and checking out the lounge and its tea/coffee/hot chocolate-making facilities, we went out to explore. I had been very organized and planned out a route for a walk, but I hadn't reckoned with so much snow. More in hope than expectation, we set off towards the Majingsee, a small lake. A short tour of the town centre, passing two of the thermal baths for which Leukerbad is renowned, revealed the interesting fact that the public fountains carry hot water! (I noticed this because they were strangely steaming.) While inspecting this novelty, I noticed one of the bright pink 'Winter Wanderweg' signs (winter walking path, specially machine-prepared) which seemed to be going in the right direction. Okay, it's not the round walk I planned, but let's see where it takes us. Apart from the fact that we had to share it with occasional skiers, and the gradient and now churned-up snow made it quite hard work, it proved okay. There was a panoramic view over the town and surrounding mountains, and it was even sunny for a while. It did, however, come to an abrupt end some way short of the lake (which in any case would have been hidden under the thick blanket of snow), so we just turned round and went back the same way. An attempt to add variety by taking  a snow-covered road at the lower end was foiled by a barrier with an avalanche warning, annoyingly at the bottom of the hill, necessitating a long trudge back up to its junction with the path. Still, it worked up an appetite for dinner. The hotel itself had no restaurant, but the package included a meal at a local one near one of the steaming fountains. By the time we set out to eat, it had begun to snow again, like fine white dust. The wind had picked up, and with the sun gone, the temperature was well into minus figures. Summertime.......?! - I think not! On the way, we encountered a welcoming committee of the feline kind as a very friendly cat ran up to greet us, quite unsolicited by me this time, and then tried to do the same with a couple of people walking behind us, who rather churlishly ignored it. The meal was........ interesting: chicken served on a red-hot slab of granite (which continued cooking it as the meal went on), with 6 mini-pots of various dips, plus a basket of chips and various vegetables; preceded by a mixed salad, and followed by creme brulée. And some local rosé. Replete, we moseyed back to the hotel and slept cosily, oblivious to the wind and snow.


26th March: Not a promising view, on opening the curtains: snow, low cloud, and general gloom. But we determined to make the best of it, and after a rather fine breakfast, we piled on the thermal underwear and set out on the agenda of the day (as planned by me in anticipation of some rather milder Walliser weather.) One of the other items included in the package was unlimited use of the Gemmibahn, the cablecar up to the Gemmi Pass, and I certainly wasn't going to miss out on this offer. The walk across the town took us past some interesting old buildings, as well as a good proportion of architectually undistinguished hotels and holiday lets, some redeemed somewhat by quirky decorations. We timed it well - the cablecar (every half hour) was just about to leave. I had been harbouring the hope that we might emerge through the cloud into brilliant sunshine above it, but alas, it just got more and more dense. We came out into an impenetrable grey-white fog; not a mountain to be seen. Nothing at all to be seen, in fact, beyond the vague outline of the terminal building. There was another small cablecar going down to another lake, the Daubensee, on the other side; erroneously assuming that this was  included in the package too, we took it down, but didn't even bother getting out, just rode straight back up again. (No-one in the ticket office to take our money, so we got it for free.) My master plan for the day had had us walking round the Daubensee, but that was never going to happen. Not only was there a total white-out (almost impossible to tell where the snow ended and the mist began), it was ferociously windy and Arctic cold. (The thermometer in the tunnel to the restaurant showed -6°, but it was much colder outside.) We did walk about 100 metres down the path (I thought I might as well collect another Conquercise zone while I was there, and would have felt fraudulent not walking any distance at all), but even that was disorientating; all I could see when I turned round was the vague form of one of the poles marking the path.