Category: Switzerland


One of the things that attracted me to the rally in Valais (apart from the roads and the bikes of course), was the mention of opportunity to visit the thermal baths nearby. Now I’m a huge fan of an ordinary hot bath after a rally, so this was something not to be missed. We’d had a recommendation from the lovely Richard to try out the thermal baths at Saillon, which were his family’s favourites, so after a quick breakfast, we headed off.

Castle above Saillon

We hesitated at the reception desk for a while, trying to work out which entrance fee to pay, and decided on the second level package of “Carpe Diem”, as it included hammam and sauna. Off we went to the changing rooms, wondering whether the norm here was with clothes or without, as I know that in some countries it’s considered quite unhygienic to wear swimming cossies in jacuzzis and steam rooms. Peering out to the locker side of the changing cubicles I was somewhat relieved to see folk modestly clad in their bathing suits, so we donned ours and wandered in to sample the delights. First up was the indoor pool, which we quickly wandered past to some steps down to an outdoor pool. It was cleverly done, as you could walk down into the hot water before swimming out under some plastic curtains to the outside world.

One of the outside pools

Well, what can I say? Obviously we have no pictures to share with you (except these little ones I’ve blagged off their website!), but imagine this if you will: a big pool with plenty of room to swim, bubbling jacuzzi all along the far wall, various water spouts and jets, all surrounded by stunning mountain vistas. Bliss.

After we’d enjoyed the delights of this pool, we were trying to work out what we’d actually bought for our upgraded entry to “Carpe Diem”, as there were signs to the hammam and sauna village off to the side of the outdoor pool, and it seemed to be free! Hmmm. Time to investigate. Off we wandered back into the indoor pool, and looked around for some clues. Eventually we noticed a sign to “Carpe Diem”, so off we went. We used our entry tickets to gain access to the top of a large spiral staircase, walked on down and were greeted at a second reception desk. The attendant explained to us, using a combination of the French we could understand and some pictures, that my swimming cossie was OK, but Tony’s swimming shorts (of the baggy shorts variety) were forbidden, and he could either wear tight Speedo type  swimming trunks or go naked. As he didn’t have any others, the latter was the only option open to him, so out went the modesty! She handed us some fluffy white towels which she recommended that we use when walking between rooms though.

Steam room sans steam!

We wandered through into the Swiss take on an old Roman baths. There were 3 different steam rooms, with varying temperatures, levels of humidity and fragrances, indoor and outdoor saunas, a foot bathing area, and a huge jacuzzi in the middle. Ahhh, bliss! We tried out all of the rooms, and I discovered that it was actually far more comfortable going naked, as let’s face it, you’re there to sweat! I did cover my bits up for the jacuzzi though, although Tony didn’t have that option 🙂

What a wonderful place! Our favourite part had to be the jacuzzi, which had the bubbly bit like the one outside, along with various very high powered water jets under the water at different levels, so you could effectively massage most of your body from shoulders to feet.

Carpe Diem Jacuzzi pool

We must have spent about 6 hours in that bit alone, punctuated by occasional forays back around the various steam rooms. One go on the sauna was enough for us though, as neither of us enjoys the dry heat as much as the steam rooms.

After we eventually tore ourselves away from the joys of the Carpe Dium sanctuary, we discovered another couple of outdoor pools back in the main bit of the baths. One of them was another fairly leisurely place with jacuzzi and water jet bits, and there was a final pool that was the standard pool type shape, and laned for people who actually wanted to swim. Needless to say, we didn’t get around to trying that one!

Our own picture of "our" waterfall"!

Eventually, nearly 8 hours later and totally pruned, we tore ourselves away and rode off to find something to eat. We were ravenous after all that lying around, so decided to try a pizza – after all, we’d had pizza once in France and were on our way to Italy, so it seemed reasonable to try one in Switzerland for a country comparison. Very nice it was too, and we wended our way home to the tent for a good nights sleep, serenaded by the sound of the waterfall.

Advertisements

The Sunday of the rally dawned bright and sunny once again. When I say sunny, of course, there’s something a little different about the sun down in the valley. As we were surrounded by such big pointy mountainy things, the actual sunshine didn’t reach the valley floor until a good 2 or 3 hours after sunrise, and left a similar chunk of time before sunset. An interesting phenomenon that meant that in the Winter, folk living in the valley receive only about 20 minutes of actual direct sunlight, where higher up the mountains they got to enjoy a lot more of it. Lower temperatures with the altitude make up the difference though, so it’s all swings and roundabouts.

Then there was... just us left!

It was Tony’s turn to be a tad hungover this time, so he slept on whilst I was up and chatting to some of our new friends. A lot of folk were up mega-early and had packed and left before I was up at around 9ish (I know, early for me!), but our fellow Brits, of which there were 8 in total, all took their time to pack up so that their tents had a chance to dry in the sun from around 10am. No rain, just a heavy dew, as the weather gods had once again been kind to us with a beautiful weekend.

We took our time and made sure that we were the last tent still standing, and old rally tradition of mine that we just happened to resurrect. First on and last off, seems fair! One of the Valais club members, Jean-Maurice, had offered to take us back to his house for lunch, and very patiently waited till we’d finally finished packing and were ready for the off at the crack of 1pm.

Still waiting...

He wanted to show us some of the roads which we had missed from the ride the day before, so took the scenic route up some amazing hairpins to Lac de Champex and back round again to his small village near Verbier. Absolutely beautiful, and an interesting challenge with fully loaded bikes, even with the hints on how best to handle the hairpins that he gave us beforehand.

Yes, the water was very cold!

After a wonderful 30-odd mile ride, we came to his house and were welcomed in by his family. Veronique, Jean-Maurice’s wife, who was originally from Mauritius, had prepared a delicious Mauritian dinner which we all dived into after whetting our appetites on the ride.

The view from Jean-Maurice's veranda!

After we had completely stuffed ourselves, Jean-Maurice pulled out some maps of Switzerland and Italy, and we spent a happy hour or two plotting possible routes to and around Mandello del Lario, and looking at the options for heading over to the Stelvio pass.

We eventually took our leave and headed off to get the tent back up, as we’d decided to stay in Valais for a few days. Jean-Maurice had offered to take us on another tour around the region, so we’d exchanged phone numbers and he promised to call us later. Another place with so much to see and so little time to see it in, but we wanted to fit in what we could, including a day at the thermal baths that sounded so relaxing! We had spotted a small campsite by the waterfall on our way to Collonges for the rally, so went back there and got ourselves set up in just enough time before the light left us.

OK, so the road gets a bit twisty up ahead...

Jean-Maurice called to say that the weather forecast was good for the next day and then expected to rain on and off for three days after, so suggested that we postpone the trip to the baths so we could take our tour on the good day. We arranged to meet him in Martigny at 1.30pm, and, as we were nicely full of the meal we’d been treated to earlier, we decided on an early night so that we could be up at a reasonable hour the next day. Well, reasonable for us, anyway!

Tony enjoying the view

Monday saw us up, breakfasted and on our way in plenty of time. We met up with Jean-Maurice and off we went on what turned into a 70+ mile trip. We picked up a couple of J-M’s friends en-route, who we just happened to bump into, 2-up on their Very Purple BMW K100RS. They decided to join in the fun, and away we went, up hill and down dale, or should I say, up mountain and down more mountain! I had the SatNav on so we could track the trip, although I have now found out, 8 days later, that it seems the SatNav only saves the last 7 days, so it’s gone. Gutted! It was a wonderful day, though – we saw all sorts of amazing roads, fantastic vistas, and strange and wonderful things such as the rippley pyramids, which are indeed a natural formation.

Yes, they are actually a natural formation, or that's what they tell the tourists, anyway!

We stopped for a coffee break at a hotel in Nax, a small town perched on the side of, yes, you guessed it, a mountain, and at the juncture of 3 valleys. The break was very welcome to me, as I’d discovered that needing to go to the loo most definitely affected my riding when dealing with the twisty turnies, so the relief was two-fold!

Many miles later we all parted company and we headed off back to our campsite, tired but happy. We decided that we’d done enough riding for one day, so walked over to the restaurant attached to the campsite, and perused the menu. Not cheap, but that was something we’d come to expect in Switzerland, so when we spotted Chateaubriand on the menu, we decided, sod it, we’re on honeymoon, let’s push the boat out! This caused much amazement to the owners of the restaurant, who said, “But the English usually eat cheese omelettes!”. After a little light bantering, it turned out that in 28 years of running the place, this was the first time that any Angleterres had ever ordered Chateaubriand! Good to know that we continue to surprise and entertain as we go.

Camping by the waterfall

The meal was absolutely excellent, and the local wine that they recommended to accompany it was also delicious. We retired to bed fully replete once again. Happy days indeed 🙂

All the Brits

Photo stops notwithstanding, it was an easy ride from Chamonix to Collonges, and we arrived on site at around 2pm. Other than Phil, a fellow Guzzi riding Brit, we were the first folk there other than the Valais club, who were still setting up. We were warmly greeted by Giorgio and Richard, who we’d been in contact with by email beforehand, and were the first to get our tent up so had our pick of the nice level sports pitch.

Nice inflatable, nice duck!

The rally was being held in the Couvert, a local community facility, like a village hall but with three open sides. It was filled with wooden tables and benches, and had kitchen and a bar which were being run by the club. There were also excellent toilet facilities on site, and even some communal showers. Superb. Party on!

After setting the tent up, the club were also organised and we went to book ourselves in. Richard, an ExPat Brit living in Switzerland, took our 15SF (10 Euros) entry fees, and in exchange gave us each a load of goodies, including a sticker, patch, free beer token, minature bottle of the local schnapps style hooch, and a bit of swiss chocolate. Needless to say that the chocolate and minatures didn’t last long.

Happy smiley people

The club had local beer on tap, but as I have never managed to aquire a taste for beer of any flavour, I asked what else was available. Now I’ve never thought of Switzerland as a wine producing nation, but we couldn’t help but notice the large quantities of grape vines clinging to the mountain sides in pretty little terraces whilst on our way into the valley, and it turns out that they do make wine, and do it rather well. They just tend to drink most of it themselves rather than export it, which seems fair to me! I partook of one of the local whites, a Fendant de Fully, which I liked so much that I partook of a bottle or three more than was good for me. Suffice it to say that a good night was had by all, it’s just a shame that it all gets rather fuzzy for me past about 1 or 2am! I do believe we were amongst the last still standing though, in true Tony and Sarah tradition.

Then there were two...

The next day I was somewhat the worse for wear. Definately too wobbly to go out on a challenging ride on twisty mountain roads, so we declined the offer of the organised run and went back to bed for a while after seeing the rest of the folk off. Saturday night was a much more sober affair, well for me, anyway. We had the opportunity to enjoy a local speciality, the Raclette. This was a simple affair, basically take half of a round of cheese (and they’re big rounds!), stick it under a little grill, and wait untill the top layer has melted and started bubbling. Scrape that on to a plate and add a new potato, a gherkin and a few pickled onions, then eat. Scrummy, but not desparately filling, and after a couple of these we moved on to the main event, a full platter of cheese, salami and walnut bread. A little more civilised than your standard rally burger van! A little more pricey, too, but this was Switzerland. We scoffed what we could manage, and ended up asking for a doggy bag for the substantial leftovers. The nice man at the cheese stall happily re-assembled the sliced cheese and packaged it all up beautifully for us.

Bit posher than your standard burger van!

The wine was going down a tad more slowly for me that night, so of course it was Tony’s turn to get a serious drinking head on. Several bottles of wine later we were chuffed to bits to be given a prize simply for attending the rally from the UK on our honeymoon – a huge bottle of the local brew in a presentation case along with a couple of matched glasses, oh, and a couple of beer mats too, just so we could keep things civilised. Long distance awards went to a lovely Danish chap, Sven, and Val from the UK, who had only passed her test a year and a half previously so was still on a restricted bike. The prizes were a minor challenge to work out how to transport back home, and we always love a challenge!

We managed to be some of the last to retire yet again, and eventually threw in the towel and headed for our tent at around 2am, tired but happy – a good rally indeed. Big thank you to the Moto Guzzi Valais club for making us so welcome and organising such a great event, highly recommended to all of you Guzzi riders out there!

PS This was my first ever non-UK rally, definately not my last!

Proving the Swiss have a sense of humour!

The view from our bedroom window

We awoke refreshed just in time to see a bunch of paravane parachutists enjoying themselves, swooping and swirling about in the clear mountain air above Chamonix. One tasty continental breakfast later, we were packing the bikes under a blue sky in bright sunshine and getting ready to set off. We have been so lucky with the weather.

In no time at all we were enjoying throwing the V7’s around some more twisty roads with stunning views and before we knew it we were at the Swiss border. We slowed down at the customs post, ready to be checked out, but no one appeared so we just rode on through. We were on our bikes in Switzerland!

We stopped to refuel and had a pleasant surprise as the petrol was much cheaper than in France. The prices were displayed in both Swiss Francs and Euros but my mental arithmatic quickly revealed that it was cheaper in Swiss Francs than Euros. I paid on my card and we decided to keep our eyes open for a cash machine so that we could pick up some Swiss Francs. No problem, after all this is Switzerland, renowned for it’s banks.

Near Martigny

We had a great ride and got to the town of Martigny, which was not too far from the village of Collonges where the Valais Moto Guzzi Club were having their rally. We had been looking out for a cash point on any likely bank looking type building since crossing the borderbut had failed miserably. Sarah pulled up in a layby outside the tourist information office and I went into the bank next door to try and get some Swiss Francs. As I walked in I realised why we hadn’t been able to find any cash machines: they keep them all safely inside. A few moments later I walked out much relieved, with our Swiss Francs in my hand. We were soon on our way again, destination the Moto Guzzi Rally.

Riding down the road from Martigny to Collonges, we had to pull over to admire a cascading waterfall that spewed out from halfway down a mountain. I love waterfalls, actually being around water generally, and this one was pretty spectular. A couple of photos later we were on our way again, only to halt once again by the side of the river we crossed over once we left the main road. We’d noticed when riding through the alps that one of the streams we followed was an amazing bluey-grey colour, and this was a river that was exactly the same! We had no idea whether it was because of being glacier run off or what, and later discovered that it was none other than the Rhone, so at some point we’ll do a little internet research to find out the cause.