Western Switzerland offers excellent wines, cheeses and spectacular views

We were traveling through central Switzerland in an ultra-modern GoldenPass panoramic train, which has a partially glazed roof and massive windows to give 180 degree visibility.

I may not have had control of this high-tech engine—the driver was behind me in a control booth—but it certainly felt like I was.

We were traveling through central Switzerland in an ultra-modern GoldenPass panoramic train, which has a partially glazed roof and massive windows to give 180 degree visibility.

Sitting in the very front row just behind the windshield wipers, we glided through the dramatic scenery while fighting the temptation to lean right or left as we approached a turn, like on a roller coaster.

Luckily the wipers weren’t necessary as it was a gloriously sunny day with temperatures in the low 20s. Returning to Ireland would have meant a very uncomfortable hot and clammy journey. But this was in Switzerland where the trains not only run on time, but have top notch air conditioning.

We had only been in the country for a few hours so this seemed like the dream start to our late summer vacation.

After flying with Swiss International Air Lines from Dublin to Zurich, we hopped on a regular double-decker train from the airport station before changing in Spiez for our scenic journey.

We were due to catch the train a few days later and that was definitely one of the highlights of our visit.

But for now, we have disembarked in the pretty alpine village of Château d’Oex in the Pays-d’Enhaut, which was to be our base for the first two days.

Located 1,000m above sea level, the city is surrounded by green hills and mountains and is, in fact, the world’s alpine ballooning capital, due to its favorable microclimate.

But our interests were much more down to earth – we were on a tour to discover the gastronomy of the canton of Vaud, one of the 26 regions that make up Switzerland.

That’s why we met on the second day at a cheese-making demonstration at Le Chalet restaurant in Château d’Oex, a few steps from our hotel Roc et Neige.

When we entered, the first scene to greet us was cheesemaker Bruno stirring a vast 200 liter copper pot of cultured milk and rennet over an open fire, before scooping out the resulting curd to start the cheese-making process. .

We then tasted some of the finished product in a delicious lunch with hot cheese in a pastry shop, on a green salad.

That afternoon found us at another cheese dairy, the caves of L’Etivaz in the village of the same name.

Their hard cheese is known throughout Switzerland and 40 pc are exported to France, Germany and Belgium as well as the UK, USA and Canada.

When it was launched in the 1930s there were 20 producers supplying the milk, today there are 70 and the name L’Etivaz is a protected trademark.

The cheese is only made between May and October when the cows feed on the rich grasses of the mountain pastures, which gives it its special flavor. In winter, deep snow keeps the animals indoors.

The wheels of cheese, weighing 18 to 35 kg, are kept in the cellar for at least a year and sell for around €400. There are 20,000 stored at any one time.

Of course, Switzerland is not only known for its cheese but also for its wine and chocolate.

Our group fell in love with the fruity white wines on offer at each restaurant and regretted that few were available in Ireland or even the rest of Europe.

The reason is that the Swiss – the lucky ones – drink almost all of it themselves.

Maude Vogel, who runs a beautiful vineyard in the village of Grandvaux on the Lavaux hillside above Lake Geneva, told us that exporting large quantities just wasn’t practical.

With a high cost of living in Switzerland, winemakers could not compete with countries like Spain or Chile. Once international taxes and VAT were added, the cost would be prohibitive for customers, she said.

We spent a wonderful afternoon tasting some of the 26 wines that she and her brother Simon produce from 14 different grape varieties in their Domaine Croix Duplex vineyard, including Chasselas and their Fleurettes 4 Plants.

Their engineer grandfather Samuel Vogel opened the business in 1929, after falling in love with the stunning location above the lake. He passed it on to his children, and now it is run by the third generation of the family.

We sat on a sunny terrace watching the vineyards as far as the eye could see on a perfect afternoon.

It’s only a seven-minute journey to Grandvaux by local train from Lausanne, where we had booked the lovely Best Western Plus Hotel Mirabeau for our last night.

There’s plenty to see and do in Lausanne, famous for being home to the International Olympic Committee, the Olympic Museum and the lakeside Olympic Park, all easily accessible via the city’s great metro system.

There are wonderful walks along the shores of Lake Geneva, while the hilly old town has medieval quarters, including a 12th-century Gothic cathedral and a thriving café/bar scene.

We had a great evening at Le Vestibule pub just opposite the cathedral, where toilets and a speakeasy bar are all hidden behind bookcases.

During our few days, we enjoyed excellent meals in prestigious restaurants including the chic Le Café du Valrose in Rougemont, near Chateau d’Oex, and the lively Le Roc at the Hotel de Rougemont.

In Lausanne, we had lunch in the new Jacques restaurant and dined on the terrace of the trendy Sardine in the old quarter of the city.

Don’t miss a visit to the famous chocolate workshop, Noz, to sample some of their wonderful treats. The founder and chocolatier Nicolas Noz even taught us how to make carac, a regional specialty, while demonstrating his skills as a cake decorator.

We left Geneva a few hours later, still dreaming of dark things.

SWITZERLAND See myswitzerland.com ■ Swiss offers direct flights from Dublin to Zurich and Geneva. See swiss.com ■ The Swiss Travel Pass allows free travel by train, bus and boat in more than 90 cities (and entry to 500 museums) from €239 for 3 days to €370 for 6 days. See swisstravelpass.com. ■ See Hotel Roc et Neige and Hotel Mirabeau Lausanne

Elisha A. Tilghman