Lausanne & Gryon

Lausanne

On Friday after work we went to an apéro de départ (going away happy hour) for a co-worker leaving for a two year rotation in the U.S.. It was fun to get to talk to her about what she’s about to do and provide some encouragement for what it’s like to get your life started in a new country. On Saturday Andrew went around town to practice his photography skills. Here are some photos of our Swiss home town : )

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Down on the lake front in Ouchy
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The old town of Lausanne with St. François Church in the middle
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Looking down on the colorful buildings of old town Lausanne from Pont Bessiére
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Our office. We get a view of the Alps from the windows!
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My new skis! It’s the bi-annual sales period in Switzerland and I got these babies for 50% off (with bindings) on Saturday morning!

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A favorite meal of ours from the local restaurants in Lausanne is souris d’agneau. This name translates directly to lamb mice in French and refers to the cut of meat we know of in English as the lamb shank. The dish comes in this heavenly, syrupy honey sauce. It was time for me to try to recreate the dish at home. I found a few recipes online, watched some YouTube videos on braising lamb shanks and got sage guidance from my sister’s boyfriend (thanks Dave!). Equipped with all this and two souris d’agneau from our local butcher up the street, I got to work. The finished product was SO GOOD and I have never been so proud. Definitely something to repeat in the future and add to my cookbook!

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The finished product served with rosti (Swiss style to serve potatoes). I ran out of patience to reduce the sauce to the syrupy consistency that I wanted, but the flavor was still incredible.

Gryon

Sunday we went for a 7 mile hike from the village of Gryon to the Refuge de Solalex for lunch. Upon arrival in Gryon we stopped at the local tourism office. For all the lack of operational hours in this country, one thing Switzerland does well is having a tourism office open in all the tiny villages we visit, every day, with tons of brochures, maps and super helpful staff. We rarely don’t visit them and rarely leave unhappy with the information we obtained.

The hike was fairly easy, taking us through the forest with many beautiful views. The restaurant had an outdoor terrace in the sun surrounded by towering mountain peaks. In normal circumstances with more snow you’d easily snowshoe or cross country ski to the refuge. Unfortunately, we have not had much snow recently and it’s been unseasonably warm. Still good for a winter hike!

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View along the hike. The big peak is the Dents du Midi, but from a north-west angle that we normally don’t see.

 

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Our destination for lunch!

We’ve really come to appreciate these remote restaurants like the refuge and the other cabanes, gîtes, buvettes, auberges, etc. that give us a meal up on the mountains. Each one offers a different level of amenities and can be more crowded depending on it’s accessibility. While I appreciate eating a home made lunch in the back country, away from it all, it can really take it up a notch when you’re able to get a cold beer and a freshly prepared meal on the side of a mountain at one of these restaurants as well!

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A typical Assiette Valaisanne
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The refuge had tables outdoors, which on this warm day was perfect. Alternatively, they have a cosy dining room inside with a roaring fire!

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Morgins

We spent the weekend up in Morgins mid-February for skiing and relaxation.

Accommodation: Hotel Helvetia. This place was a mere 5 minute walk from the lift and included a spa complete with a jacuzzi, steam room and sauna to ease your muscles after a day of skiing.

Eats: Andrew ate a quick dinner Friday night at The T Bar while I was taking the train up from Geneva after work. Saturday night we totally played our cards wrong. We forgot that it’s high season in the mountains and that these little villages only have a handful of restaurants (and thus réservations as they generally only do 1 seating a night and maybe squeeze in a second – restaurant meals are 2.5-3 hour affairs and they are careful to not overbook themselves). At 8:45pm we tried to get a table and our hotel concierge found the LAST table available in the village at 9:30! oops! Lesson learned. We ended up having an incredible meal at Les Fountaines Blanches, where I enjoyed duck and Andrew had his first steak sur ardoise. This is a method of serving beef where they give you a piece of raw steak on a hot stone. You get to cook it to your preference on your own table. 

Activities: Andrew was able to take off work on Friday to ski while I slaved away at the office. Then we skied together both Saturday and Sunday. Morgins provides access to Portes du Soleil, which is the same area we’ve skiied a few other times (see this post when we skiied out of Champéry in January). This is the network that allows you to access ski areas for a huge area and overlaps the border of Switzerland and France. We skiied a huge distance in both countries and got to see a lot of the area we hadn’t skiied before. Including lunch in France! On Saturday afternoon we enjoyed the après ski and the spa at the hotel. Overall a fun time! Here are some photos of our weekend…

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A view of the village of Morgins. Typical Swiss mountain village, but in a flat-ish valley, which is rare. Usually these places are perched up high on a mountain side and very steep.
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The Church in the center of the village, with the bells outside. The bells played a really long song a few times over the weekend.
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Skiing in front of the Dents du Midi, our backdrop for a lot of our skiing this past weekend.
You may recall that we took a trip to hike up the Dents du Midi this past summer in this post. That peak we almost completed hiking is the highest one on the far right. We stopped just below the peak.

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Yours truly + Andrew (in my goggles reflection)
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Love this photo of the mountains on our ski down from the top at the end of the day on Saturday.

Vercorin & Leysin

Surprise surprise! The past several weeks have essentially been full of two things: work and skiing. Standard for our Swiss life this time of year. Which also means I am super behind on blogging. Here goes a catch-up on what we’ve been up to.

Vercorin

At the end of January we booked a last minute trip to the village of Vercorin in Valais. Vercorin is a little village that is perched up on a mountainside, over looking the Rhône valley. We stayed a Saturday night in Hostellerie d’Orzival, a vintage style hotel with an incredible panoramic view of the Rhône valley. We lucked into a room with a wall of windows. In the evening we watched the last bit of the sunset over the mountains and the glow of the village lights coming out. In the morning, we woke up to the sun rising over the valley. So gorgeous!

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View from our hotel room at night. This shot is super cool because if you look closely at the high mountains off on the upper left skyline, you’ll see the lights of the groomers working up on the ski runs in Crans Montana to smooth the snow out for the next day’s skiiers.
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The same view but in the morning. Fun to compare!

 

On Sunday morning we went skiing at the local ski area. It hadn’t snowed in a couple weeks, so the snow was old, but they managed to keep the snow nice for the morning. It was a gorgeous day!

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View of the slopes from the terrace of the restaurant. That’s the Weisshorn in the center.

We quickly noticed that Vercorin is popular with paragliders. There were tons of them and it was so entertaining to watch them soar off the mountain and above our heads.

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Leysin

We spent the first weekend of February catching up on chores on Saturday and stayed Saturday night visiting our friends Kevin and Sarah in Leysin at their school. A snow storm was coming with expected white out conditions (no good for skiing). We went out to dinner, went to their local pub that had an awesome live band Saturday night and went rock climbing on Sunday morning at their school gym while the snow came down outside.

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In the climbing gym at our friend’s school. I hadn’t climbed in ages, it was great to break out my gear!
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So much snow coming down that day up in Leysin!

2016 Holiday Season in the U.S. 

I was lucky to get to spend three weeks back at home in Virginia from 24 December 2016 – 13 January 2017. The first two weeks were purely holidays for me and the last week was spent working on my client that’s in Virginia.  It was an amazing time filled with time spent with family, friends and being home. Here’s a summary in photos!

Christmas Day my Grandma and I decorated sugar cookies
Our sugar cookies. Decorating these is one of my favorite things to do at the holidays. They come in handy for not only snacking, but also as gifts to friends and family as we visit together through the holidays.
My uncle Gregg and I treated my Mom, Grandma and his girlfriend Kelly to suite tickets at the Washington Capitals vs the New Jersey Devils game at the Verizon Center on 29 December. It was such a fun thing to do all together and awesome to watch the Caps play live!
Family at the Caps game

 

I met my friends Sally and Andrew when I first moved to San Francisco, bonding over the fact that we had all just moved to CA from from Northern VA. They moved back to VA since then and I got to visit with them and their adorable little boy Charlie for an afternoon.

On 30 December my Mom, cousin Owen, uncle Gregg and I hiked to the Big Schloss, where we spread my father’s ashes. It was cold out and we hiked through passing snow squalls. It was a good time and we were all happy to make it to the mountain together. Afterwards we stopped at the Winery at Lagrange for a wine tasting and hung out together over a glass of wine.

On New Year’s Eve I cooked dinner at home with my Mom, Grandma and Grandpa.

 

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On New Year’s Day I met up with my friends Mark, Heather, Laura, Jenny, Jen & Clay at Masa 14 on U street in D.C. for brunch.

 

Also two friends from SF that have now moved back home to Virginia, I managed to see Ashley and Kevin in their newly purchased home (congrats!!) and also meet their bundle of fur Huey. So good to see them and catch up!
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I drove down to Charlottesville, Virginia to visit with my friend Brandon, from JMU, for a night. I was able to see his new home that he just had built with his Dad, caught up on life over the past couple years and also went out to his family’s property in Buckingham. Oh! And visited with his family’s adorable new black lab puppy Bella, who I nearly brought back to Switzerland with me if she had sat still long enough 😉

 

 

I spent my last weekend before working in D.C. with my friends. I had so much fun and loved getting to spend quality time just chatting and catching up on life. Friday night my friend Jenny hosted all the girls for a wine and apps get together. We also played this awesome game Watch Yo Mouth that came out this year. It’s a hilarious game and fun fact: it’s developed by two JMU grads!

 

JMU, my alma mater, made it into the NCAA FSC National Championship game against Youngstown State (and won!). I went to a watch party at Chinese Disco in Georgetown with a bunch of friends. Also saw some people I hadn’t seen in a handful of years!
With friends at the JMU watch party

The three weeks back in Virginia was fantastic and I am truly so thankful to have had the opportunity to be home for so long. Now, I’m back in Switzerland and it’s started to snow here finally! Sunday Andrew and I made our way to Portes du Soleil, which coincidentally is where we went this exact same weekend last year. The snow was as good as it gets and we managed to get some sun for a part of the day between snow storms. We had a blast and now we’re ready to kick it into gear for the work week. Plenty more winter trips coming up soon!

 

Just popped over the border into France for some skiing 🙂 Portes du Soleil crosses into both Switzerland and France. It’s a massive network of resorts and was so fun to explore.
Morning drive along the lake towards the Alps. So beautiful with the snow! Believe it or not, it is not common to get snow down by the lake. It’s a rare sight for us and we loved getting to witness it!

My Mom’s visit to Switzerland 

Last year I got delayed for a day in Denver while flying to join Andrew’s family in Tahoe for NYE. The United Airlines rep must have felt really bad for me while trying to help find a solution because without even asking, she compensated my troubles with a $1,000 travel voucher to go anywhere in the world with United by 31 December 2016! I didn’t need the ticket since United doesn’t offer many flights within Europe but it was perfect to use to fly my Mom to Switzerland for the holiday season in December! Mom came to visit from Wednesday 14 December until Monday 19 December. The weather has been cloudy and grey in Lausanne thanks to the typical winter fog layer over the lake, but we managed to sightsee around our area, and then escaped to the sunny Alps for a couple of days before returning to visit the Montreux Christmas market. All in all, a wonderful trip for my Mom to get to see where we live in Lausanne and have a Swiss holiday trip!

Wednesday: Mom flew in on Wednesday morning from Virginia. Andrew and I still had work, but I met her at the train station, got her situated at the apartment and left her on her own for the day to acclimate to the time difference and explore. She rested, went for a run and we all reconnected for a home-cooked meal at the apartment in the evening.

Thursday: I was able to take off work Thursday through Friday and Andrew took off on Friday. Thursday morning my Mom and I went for a run down on the lake front, and then at mid-day set off to walk around Lausanne to see our Swiss home town. We visited the Lausanne cathedral, the old town, the anatomical clock in Place de la Palud, and walked through many of the shops.

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Inside the cathedral, all dressed up for Christmas. We lucked into stepping into the cathedral while the organist was practicing.

After seeing Lausanne and making some important chocolate purchases at Chocolats Blondel (we’re a little late to the game in discovering this place and it is THE BEST chocolate), we got on the train headed for Saint-Saphorin.  We love taking visitors to this adorable little village on the lakeside. You feel like you’re stepping back into time as you wander the narrow, winding cobblestone streets up the hillside into the terraced vineyards of Lavaux. We spent an hour walking through the village and along the  the vineyard terraces. The sun was setting and the clouds were blocking our view of the Alps, but it was still lovely.

Mom & I walking through the wine terraces above Saint-Saphorin.

Friday: Our “big” trip while Mom was visiting was to head into the canton of Valais for two days. We first drove to Crans-Montana to do some hiking. You might recall we did the KPMG ski weekend in Crans-Montana last winter and we also stayed there last June before doing a via ferrata on the anniversary of my father’s passing. We had originally wanted to do a hike along the Bisse du Rho, but we arrived at the trail head to discover it was closed for winter. Instead, we hiked an alternate trail through the forest for a couple hours. It was beautiful!

Mom on the section of the trail below some really cool rock cliffs
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View from the hike and where we stopped for lunch. That is a dam at the center of the photograph.

After our hike we stopped in the village of Crans-Montana to walk around a bit and take in the panoramic view of the Alps. The Crans-Montana resort area is famous for its south facing slopes that soak in the sun and provide these amazing views.

View from Crans-Montana
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View of the Weisshorn (4,506m/14,783 ft) from Crans-Montana. The valley below it is Val d’Anniviers, where we stayed on Friday night.

Friday afternoon we drove across the Rhône valley and up into the Val d’Anniviers for our destination village of Grimentz, where had reserved a spot at the Hotel Alpina. Friday night we had just enough time to walk through the adorable little village streets lit with Christmas lights before time for dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Walking through the Streets of Grimentz

Saturday: Saturday morning we woke up to see the streets of the village in the light. Grimentz is seriously one of the cutest villages we have been to, and I can only imagine how much cuter it is in warmer months when they have all their flower boxes overflowing with bright red flowers. We just might need to return next year!

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Graveyard at the church in Grimentz. Instead of gravestones they had these wooden markers. It was a beautiful spot.

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Once we were packed up and the sun had made it’s way a little higher in the sky, we purchased tickets and rode the Grimentz Bendolla cablecar up to the top of the nearby peaks into the Zinal ski resort. A short walk later, we found ourselves sitting in the warm sun on the porch of the Buvette de la Marmotte. We hung out in reclining chairs, had drinks and took in the incredible view at 2,800 meters.

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Andrew and Mom suffering through the afternoon on the porch of the buvette . The Weisshorn (left) and Zinalrothorn (right) are in the background.
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There were a lot of para-skiers practicing on the slopes. It was amazing to watch them

 

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View of the buvette as we were leaving. Pretty sweet spot!

 

After we couldn’t stand the views any longer we figured we should get in a bit more relaxation. We headed down to the car and drove to the village of Ovronnaz to enjoy the thermal baths. Typical with these places, we could not take pictures but if you look at the link I referenced you’ll be able to see that the view was incredible from the outdoor baths and we enjoyed every relaxing moment as the sun set over the peaks rising above us!

Sunday:

At 1 we got on the train and headed for Château Chillon, another favorite place to take visitors. They were having a special Christmas event for families, with shows for children and vendors selling gifts and food in the main hall of the castle. The clouds were clearing, so we got a great view!

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One of my mom’s top reasons for wanting to come visit us in December was to visit the Christmas markets. Luckily, we live near the Montreux Noel Christmas market and could go for a visit on her last day in Switzerland. We went for the late afternoon into the evening, wandering through the shops, stopping for vin chaud (hot, mulled wine) and had fondue at one of the pop-up restaurants.

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Inside one of the bars at the Christmas Market. This one is a huge pop-up log cabin with a fire. They sell special beers made by Boxer, a local brewery, specifically for the markets!

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A real live Santa flies by on his sled on the hour. Here he is against the Sunset and Lac Léman. Pretty incredible!

 

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Our dinner restaurant. A pop-up restaurant that features traditional Swiss fare.

 

We had to give Mom her fondue experience! Here’s our pot of cheese, and below is my croutes au fromage, which is a piece of bread, with either a slice of ham or pièces of ham, topped with cheese. Some restaurants often offer to crack an egg on top. It’s SO GOOD …… for you? 🙂

After reading this post … you may have noticed that some of these pictures are looking much better than the others? Well, Andrew and I have upped our game!  We recently purchased a “real” camera for ourselves to capture all our adventures. We settled on a Sony Alpha a6300 mirrorless camera after Andrew did a ton of research on different cameras based upon our expected use. So far, I can really tell the difference in our photos.

So, this is a wrap for 2016 in Switzerland. I am so happy my Mom had the chance to come visit us in Lausanne and experience our Swiss life. Both Mom and Andrew flew back to the U.S. on Monday December 19th, and I just finished working one more week before I fly back to the U.S. for the holidays today on Christmas Eve. I’ll be in Virginia for 3 weeks as I am working in VA on a work engagement again in January. I can’t wait to be home to visit with friends and family for the holidays. After that, we return to Switzerland to begin our work busy season and hit the ski slopes as much as possible. Stay posted 🙂

Kicking off the holiday season in Basel

This past week the Christmas markets opened country-wide. You may recall our visits to the Christmas market last winter when Layla & John visited last winter (see post), but these last for the month preceding Christmas all over Europe. Traditionally originating in Germany, the Christmas markets are a mix of local artisans selling handicrafts and holiday trinkets, concerts, plenty of special drink and food. It’s so fun! Andrew and I have had a trip to Basel on our list for a while and when we read that their market is supposedly the best in Switzerland, we immediately knew it had to happen so we headed there this past weekend.

Accommodation: We chose to stay at the Hotel Rochat for its central location near the old town. It was in a quieter neighborhood but still within walking distance of everything we wanted to see.

Transportation: Andrew and I were at our clients on Friday so we took the train to Basel. In the end, it’s only a little over a 2 hour train ride from Lausanne, so very easy.

Eats: A fun aspect of the Christmas markets is to try local treats. Here are a few we had this time around.

Kartoffeln puffen (Potato puffs) with garlic sauce. These tasted like piles of hashbrowns but very well seasoned and fresh from the frier. Very healthy 😉
Standard for the winter months: Gluhwein (mulled wine) in the mug unique to the 2016 markets
Raclette, a traditional Swiss melted cheese typically eaten with steamed potatoes as seen above.

 

Flammlachs: Fire roasted salmon on planks
We got our flammlach salmon on a sandwich with a honey-dill sauce

 

Besides all the grazing on Christmas market snacks, on Saturday night we had dinner and house brewed beers at the Restaurant Fischerstube.

The Christmas Market: One of the top activities of our trip was to visit the Basler Weihnacht. It’s one of the biggest in Switzerland and had a great reputation. While we found we didn’t think it was better than the Montreux market close to Lausanne, it was a really nice market with amazing decorations, tons of shops and fun stuff to wander through to get into the holiday spirit.

The city was lit up with so many Christmas lights! This is the Marktplatz where the Rathaus (City Hall) is located
The market stalls lined the streets surrounding the Barfusserkirche and were topped with festive garlands and lights.
The impressive bar with a massive Christmas pyramid

The above is a bigger than life size Christmas pyramid, which is a traditional Christmas decoration from Germany that typically rotates due to the use of candles. They come in varying sizes and levels of detail. Here’s a link to a German company talking about them.  This one was lit up, rotated and topped a bar. Pretty awesome!

The city had two separate areas with the Christmas markets. This was the biggest one, on the Barfusserplatz in the Old City
The smaller part of the Christmas market, set up on the Munsterplatz with the Basel cathedral in the back


We bought some Christmas decorations at the market, including this Santa who was handmade in Germany and is a “smoker” which would hold incense.

Sites in the city: On Saturday morning we got up early and went for a run along the Rhine river. Running is always such a great way to get to see the city on foot and especially areas where we didn’t plan on walking through during the rest of our trip. Here we are on the path across the river from the Old City where we spent our time seeing the Christmas Market and other major sites.

 

Andrew found that the Basel Tourism office had a great app on our phones with a free audio walking tour guide for the city. We brought some head phones and took ourselves on a walking tour of the city on both Saturday and Sunday as we casually wandered our way through the city.

A view of Kleiner Basel on the other side of the river
The Spalentor: This is the remnant of the old city walls along with a city gate. As you can see, the city has Christmas trees lining the streets all over the place 🙂
In the courtyard of the Rathaus (City Hall)
The City Hall

Basel was great for a short weekend trip. I loved getting to see the Christmas Market and wander the city!

November in Switzerland

November in Switzerland has shown up much snowier in the mountains than last year! In Lausanne it has just been clouds and rain but we’ve had fun getting up into the mountains the last couple weekends to see the snow.

Last weekend we had a bunch of social engagements, with a work party on Friday to celebrate the incoming first year class of audit staff, a dinner on Saturday with another couple from the U.S. who came here with KPMG recently, and Sunday we took the hour cogwheel train ride up to Leysin and met up with our friends Sarah and Kevin. We walked about 20 minutes to a viewpoint above their village and then had fondue at Restaurant Prafandaz. We tried flavored fondue for the first time and I’m telling you the tomato fondue was amaaazing!


After fondue they took us for a tour of their school as they work at a local American boarding school as teachers. We hung out at their place and got to see the snow come down as we looked out over the valley. It was so nice!

This weekend we didn’t have any plans and at the spur of the moment on Saturday after taking care of errands we booked a last minute trip to go up into the mountains to the village of Château-d’Oex for a short night stay. This is in a different area than we typically visit, technically the “pre-Alps” so we were excited to get out there.

Accommodation: We have found we love staying in the little mountain B&Bs with breakfast and Rosaly was exactly what we wanted! Each room had a huge balcony with a mountain view.  For a reasonable price we got a room with shared bathroom – but we were 2 of 3 on our floor since it’s low season, so really not so bad having to share! The manager was also super nice and they had the cutest little cat named Souris (mouse in French).

Eats: We went to the Brasserie de L’Ours. They had their own brewed beer and excellent food.

Our B&B with the view in the background
Andrew on the balcony Saturday night. We had some wine as the sun set 🙂
Our room in the photos on the top and right. Bottom left is the breakfast room. Hanging up are the traditional Swiss cow bells!

On Sunday we got up and headed out for snowshoeing. We did a 7 km, 3 hour loop to climb to the summit of Mt Chevreuils. It wasn’t too cold and the clear air provided gorgeous views. We even bought a little sled and did some sledding on our way back down!  It was a great way to spend our Sunday.

From the peak we could look down into the valley below of Château-d’Oex where we had just spent the night

That’s it for this weekend. Now it’s a week of work and then we’re headed to Basel next weekend to tour the city and visit the Christmas Market! Happy Thanksgiving everyone 🙂