My annual Swiss holiday fell a week earlier than normal and I was shocked to hear how awful the weather had been in July and August which had had a grave impact on business, particularly in Wengen where I spent five wonderful days. Maybe I was lucky, maybe an Indian summer was hitting the Bernese Oberland as I had four excellent walking days out of six.
As usual, I travelled up to Gatwick the night before my departure and put up at the Travelodge. It works well especially as, in travelling with easyJet, I can check my luggage in the evening before on arrival at Gatwick before going to the hotel and this means getting to the terminal a little later the following morning. It was a short flight to Zurich and I was soon on a train to the spa centre of Leukerbad where I spent the first three nights of my holiday.

I was lucky, having pestered the Lindner Hotel in Leukerbad to see if there were any decent rates, to be given a very attractive offer which included spa offers as well as a decent discount on the main wellness centre attached to the Lindner, the Walliser Alpentherme. The Lindner is a very nice place, convenient and the breakfast was excellent as was my room which, although understandably in the more modest category, was plenty big enough and comfortable. The package included just about everything which anyone could want but not the third night's evening meal and it did cause a fair amount of confusion to the staff but all was sorted out. Maybe I'm getting older - a well-meaning colleague pleased me to a degree by saying that she, unbeknown to me, reads these random ramblings and, when I suggested I am getting a bit cantankerous at times she kindly said that, well, maybe my age is showing - but, after a day's walking, it's wonderful to relax in the pool and saunas. I even had an early morning thrash about in the hotel's swimming pool to see if I could still swim - I didn't sink but I picked my times carefully when there was no-one about to watch me gracelessly slopping water all over the place. Moving arms and feet eventually worked but it took more time to remember to open the mouth to breathe.

My first full day in Leukerbad saw me hiking up to the Gemmi Pass, a wonderful plateau of mountains and a lake. It was a pretty good day for it but, for anyone who might have taken on the Mannlichen in Wengen - and not by cable car - and Trift in Zermatt, the route up is like that: steep, very steep. Popular, too, and it is another of those routes where you spend a lot of time surveying the scenery and thinking how marvellous it is... I had plenty, was soaking after a very short time but did make it up along the zig-zagging and narrow paths to the top in ten minutes less than the sign had allowed for. Don't, though, think that the return is that much easier as my knees testified for but, nonetheless, it was a good walk. There would have been far easier walks for the first day of a walking holiday but, as it turned out, it wasn't a mistake.

The Walliser Alpentherme is a remarkable spa complex housing swimming pools, a sauna village, Roman Irish baths and massage treatments. My usual trick of messing up with the entrance armbands inevitably occurred on both days but my package included a back massage which was worthwhile with a doctor who had qualified in Ayurveda in Kerala. There is an underground entrance to the Alpentherme from the Lindner which was better than traipsing across the main square clad in dressing gown and slippers. ( I do have to admit to making a call from a public phone box after walking down the road in the said attire, mind you). The arrangement at the Alpentherme is similar to other wellness centres namely that the entrance fees include the baths but the sauna costs extra. It did my aching legs the world of good.

Leukerbad enjoys a fairly dramatic backdrop and, whilst maybe not one of the most well-known Swiss centres, is certainly most attractive. My second day was spent at the Gemmi Pass again but this time very much by cable car. If I thought that it was a mistake to walk up the day before on my first day, the second day wouldn't have been any better as it was wet in Leukerbad and snow at the Gemmi Pass... The two other people in the cable car took the same walk as I did so, although visibility initially wasn't great, it did become better and easier after an hour. The walk was flat and, being a bit cold, I was at least fairly well prepared and wasn't at all surprised that the first stage of the walk to Kandersteg which was signposted as two and a half hours, actually took half that. The only other obstacle was a flock of fairly boisterous sheep blocking the path.

The second half of the walk down to Kandersteg was in better weather but not as easy as the first section due to my taking a narrow and stony route down but the scenery was wonderful and, despite the initial snow, made for a lovely walk. I remember Kandersteg vividly from a Kuoni package holiday around twenty years ago. Kuoni were always excellent but it was no fault of theirs that the hotel which I put up in offered nouvelle cuisine and I remember having to go out afterwards for something further to keep me going... The benefits of having a rail pass were evident after this walk and a beer in Kandersteg station: no tickets to buy, a kip in First Class and, on arrival back, in Leukerbad a chance to rest my aching limbs in the Alpentherme.
A section of the walk from Leukerbad to the Gemmi Pass


The glorious view at the Gemmi Pass


The Lindner Hotel, Leukerbad



One obstacle at the Gemmi Pass en route to Kandersteg



Not the worst pre-breakfast view. The Lindner Hotel's thermal, outdoor pool.



Part of the impressive town of Leukerbad



My favourite valley. High above Wengen and the Lauterbrunnen Valley.



One of the Bernese Oberland's gentlest walks along the Mannlichen can give wonderful views of the Eiger



With Sarah at Spiez

An evening view from my balcony at the Silberhorn Hotel in Wengen.



Wengen at dusk



Yes, they really are on display.



Even on a murky day, Iseltwald on Lake Brienz is still enchanting.



Spiez, on Lake Thun, is always magical



My fondue attempt
After three excellent days in Leukerbad, I moved on to Wengen to again stay at the Hotel Silberhorn. I have always been very lucky that Cornelia Thierstein and Jasmin allow me to not only stay at an excellent price but also let me eat in their sister hotel, the Belvedere. My suspicious mind, though, has played a few tricks as, whenever I stay in Wengen, Cornelia has, in the words of the staff, always been "in Urlaub" ( on holiday). We have written to each other about my bookings, spoken on the telephone, I met Jasmin last year to say hello but never had I met Cornelia so, this year, I remarked that inevitably Cornelia would be in Urlaub again. Not a bit of it, I was told, but hurry as she would be the day after next so, uninvited, I made my way to the chain's third hotel, the Wengenerhof, where we did finally meet. It was lovely too and we had a good laugh. So, thank you once again, Cornelia and Jasmin. Poor women now know what they have been dealing with over the last few years...

I wouldn't expect my readership to remember how I made a little bit of a faux pas last year in forgetting to bring a bracelet for a waitress, Beata, in the Belvedere and how she had made me - jocularly - feel dreadful about it for a while. Well, there could be no such repeat of this and a bracelet duly accompanied me to Wengen. One slight problem was that Beata had left but a very helpful staff member told me that the good news was that she is still in Wengen, kindly contacted her for me and off I went to present it to her. Job done. It was lovely seeing her again and shows how very friendly all three hotels are. The Silberhorn's manager, Guiseppe Guiliano, is always friendly and we had many a chat about many a subject and everyone in all hotels made it another memorable stay. Five nights was ideal but this isn't a hint to Cornelia and Jasmin...

I must say that I don't especially enjoy losing a day to travelling but the journey from Leukerbad to Wengen via Leuk, Spiez, Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen was lovely and, on arrival, I was delighted to have another lovely room with a fantastic view over my favourite valley, the Lauterbrunnental. After a painful period of shopping - half an hour looking for possible presents and walking out with next to nothing - I relaxed in the Silberhorn's spa which includes a jacuzzi and spa before taking my, as always, excellent five-course evening meal in the Belvedere.

My stay in Wengen included walks via the Mannlichen to Grindelwald; alongside Lake Brienz to Brienz from Interlaken; a shorter walk to Interlaken before taking the train to Spiez to see my friend, Sarah and a walk through Sherlock Holmes territory from Grosse Scheidegg near Grindelwald to Meiringen.

The weather having been so appalling in this area during July and August, I count myself lucky to have had such decent weather during my stay. Maybe a Swiss Indian summer? One highlight is always taking the cable car to the Mannlichen for, on a good day, the views over the plateau of mountains including the Eiger and, on the other side, the dramatic view across the Lauterbrunnen Valley to the Schilthorn, from where On Her Majesty's Secret Service was filmed, can be memorable. The day I had most certainly was.

The walk alongside the Brienzersee from Interlaken to Brienz wasn't quite as good due to inclement weather. I haven't always been lucky with the weather on this walk but maybe I prefer mountains and choose this walk - a wonderful walk, it must be said - if the prospects aren't quite as good. One bizarre point was that I had planned to take a slightly earlier train back to Wengen but hadn't made it so, taking the next one, I was a bit surprised to find the First Class carriage pretty much taken up by a group. Nonetheless, I plonked myself down amongst them, suspected that my presence had been noted and was then, with the group, introduced to a chap from the Glacier Express, shook his hand before adding that I wasn't with the same group... It struck me that this group might have been travel agents and this was exactly the case. Their leader, James Wilson from the Switzerland Travel Centre, couldn't have been nicer even before he found out that I was a travel agent unattached to his trip. Whilst I went back to Wengen, James and his group went to the Schilthorn and I couldn't help thinking that the group had a very knowledgeable escort for their four day trip.

I also met up with my friend, Sarah, in Spiez. It was another glorious day and we had a drink overlooking the breath-taking view of the town on Lake Thun. I regret that my German wasn't as good as it had been during the week but it was lovely seeing Sarah again. It was after Sarah went back to the Valais and I to Interlaken that I bought a present for my parents. A fondue packet. Ready made also which didn't show off my culinary skills but, a week later, we did have it and, without a fondue set, made a Heath Robinson contraption involving an oven tray, four tins of Ravioli and baked beans and two candles to keep the dish of fondue warm and bubbling on. It worked quite well until the dish started burning...

For whatever reason, I had underestimated the number of days I had in Switzerland so had to buy a ticket online to get me back to Geneva Airport from Wengen. Having found that there are Supersaver tickets which can be booked a maximum of two weeks before travel on the SBB website, I was pleased to buy a reasonably-priced ticket on exactly the trains I wanted. That did presuppose that nothing went wrong even by the almost metronomic standards of the Swiss but it did almost immediately as there had been an accident at Wilderswil and replacement buses had been put on instead to Interlaken Ost. Sadly, the onward train to Bern didn't wait even though we were just two minutes late so I was glad that my planning had allowed for this. It did mean that it was a bit of a rush at Geneva but, without being ideal, I did at least make it. The aircraft was then delayed due to some hold-up through bad weather at Gatwick and I didn't remotely have a chance of making the train I had to take from Gatwick when I saw the longest ever immigration queue which I have ever had the misfortune to stand in. So, maybe my colleague wasn't as crackers or cuckoo as I thought when she said that I'm beginning to show my age. After another wonderful week, that last day might just have aged me a bit more but I returned far from cantankerous, at least.