Gstaad and L’Etivaz—Worlds apart
You couldn’t find two towns in all of Switzerland more different from each other than of Gstaad, our starting point, and L’Etivaz at day’s end. One is German, the other French-speaking. Walking out of Gstaad you pass Louis Vuitton, Prada, Ralph Lauren, and palatial hotels. Arriving in L’Etivaz you’ll find one small family-owned hotel and a few grocery items sold at the cheese cooperative. Gstaad is growing rapidly with a population around 10,000 compared to L’Etivaz with just 150 residents who are certainly outnumbered by cows.
But considering all the differences, there is a lot to love about L’Etivaz. The village isn’t much at first appearance—literally, just bend in the road. There’s a small hotel, the Hotel du Chamois, with 12 rooms that date back to 1888 and has been run by the Mollien family for four generations. The specialty in their restaurant is fresh trout. But the town’s claim to fame is cheese. This little town is the worldwide center of the Etivaz cheese empire, complete with cheese maturing caves, a large cheese shop and market.
Exclusive L’Etivaz cheese
L’Etivaz AOP, the signature cheese of the region, is perhaps the most exclusive cheese in Switzerland. It’s made in the Vaud Alps in about 130 chalets situated at an altitude of between 1000m and 2000m. L’Etivaz is always made in copper cauldrons and exclusively over a wood fire. It’s made by only 70 family producers and about 3000 cows, and only from 10 May to 10 October; so L’Etivaz is not just a process, but a specific cheesemaking season. There is no transporting of the milk permitted. The cows are milked at the place where the cheese is produced. The cheese is matured a minimum of 135 days, then salted with salt mined from the nearby Bex salt mines. It’s a wonderful a cheese as you find in Switzerland, and naturally rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. Don’t miss stopping at the cheese cooperative in the center of town.
The hiking on this stage is thoroughly enjoyable. It starts with a quick departure and ascent from Gstaad. You’re hiking alongside the ski slope, but in a forest, so the ski slopes are barely noticeable. Once past the mountain station of the ski lift, the route stays high as it rolls from one alpine pasture and dairy to another. There are forests, saddles, interesting geology along the Egggli ridge and plenty of sweeping views to hold your attention. Views of the 2458m Gummfluh (see featured photo above) are especially impressive.
The grassy Col de Jable forms the language border between German and French-speaking Switzerland. It’s a beautiful and relaxing pass crossing—one where you actually descend to the pass. The boundary is marked by a long dry-stack stone wall that extends far up the hillside.
It’s late in the wildflower season, and early in September the autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) makes its appearance. It’s sometimes called the meadow saffron—but don’t be fooled. The autumn crocus is not the source of saffron which is obtained from the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus). The autumn crocus is poisonous.
We don’t dare leave the Pays-d’Enhaut region without enjoying a dessert of Gruyères double crème with meringues. Double crème is cream that has gone through the centrifuge twice, so it’s especially thick and lusciously dolloped on top of fresh berries and crispy local meringues. And as long as you’re at the cheese shop in L’Etivaz try their sheep’s milk yogurt.
Coming Up Next Week
Via Alpina Stage 18 and 19 combined – L’Etivaz to Rochers de Naye, and on to Montreux!
- The National Three Peaks Challenge Doesn’t Have to be a Beast - January 11, 2022
- Corries, Becks, and Crags: British English Helps for the American Hiker - January 7, 2022
- Aletsch Arena: Commanding Views and Panoramic Hikes - November 22, 2021