Everyone knows that France and Italy are incredible foodie destinations, but don’t forget Switzerland.
Switzerland is a food paradise, especially for chocolate and cheese, as Greg Witt enjoys demonstrating. For 30 years, Witt has been the owner of Alpenwild, a first-class travel company he founded to let you have your cake and eat it, too. You will hike 3 to 5 miles daily in the Alps and then enjoy a guilt-free gourmet dinner, plus accommodations at five-star hotels, not to mention a few spa treatments and incredible culinary demonstrations and experiences. I just completed a highlights tour that showcased the best that Alpenwild offers, and it was a treat from day one. But then, each tour vividly brings the Alps to life, highlighting unrivaled Alpine scenery, rural gourmet gastronomy and one-of-a-kind experiences.
Spoiler alert: Yes, you will be spoiled. Witt — the company’s self-styled “adventurer in chief,” is a prince of a man — kind and helpful to a fault, taking care of your every need, from providing two European adapters for your phone and computer, to telling you the best place to buy a watch (and escorting you there). His wife, Elaine, who accompanied us, is a walking encyclopedia of all-things-Swiss and is refreshingly enthusiastic about everything from foraging for truffles (which we did, more on that in a minute), to telling you all you need to know about Swiss culture. (For example, the law-abiding Swiss would not dream of trying to use public transportation without purchasing a ticket.)
Both Greg and Elaine are filled with enthusiasm for mountainous places. (They’re transplanted Americans who live much of the year in Utah, where Greg remains an avid climber and believer in the sound in body, sound in mind approach to life.) So it’s not surprising that Alpenwild attracts an affluent demographic — mostly doctors, lawyers and CEOs who want a personalized Swiss trip that provides remarkable food experiences, lots of exercise and first-class hotels and restaurants.
On our highlights trip, we went foraging for truffles in the forest — specifically in the “truffle capital of the world,” the forest of Bonvillars. This was a complete delight and a thrill. We had two guides who brought their beloved dog (one of the Lagotto Romagnolo breed), and we all watched in amazement as she sniffed out truffles in five different places in woods that are known for their lime-rich soil. Later, we went to a kitchen and shaved down the truffles to make truffle butter, which we enjoyed on crusty bread. It was a wow moment.
We also experienced sensational chocolate tastings from different top-notch chocolate makers. (I learned that one of the reasons Swiss chocolate is so terrific is that the cows eat all kinds of vegetation, including violets and black vanilla orchids and that this is carried into their special milk, which goes into the chocolate.) At the confectioner Läderach, for example, we were first impressed with the amazing display of all kinds of exquisite chocolates. Included were mini chocolate shoes in homage to Charlie Chaplin, a resident of neighboring Corsier-sur-Vevey for more than 30 years. (The museum devoted to him there is a must-see.) We donned aprons and toques and set out to make chocolate “chestnuts.” First, we added a hazelnut to the chocolate shell Läderach provided, then we used pastry bags to fill it with praline. We garnished our creations with green marzipan, even making the little spikes that appear on the chestnut. It was delicious — and probably doubly wonderful, as I made it myself.
Another great advantage to Alpenwild is that the accommodations and restaurants are top-notch. In Gstaad, for example — that haven of the rich and famous — we stayed at Le Grand Bellevue, a five-star hotel. The owner and manager, Daniel Koester, (a Prince William lookalike), showed us all around this fabulous property, which instead of being boring and stuffy, has an edge to it. (Cue the giant camel in the lobby.) “We aim to be provocative,” said Koester (who told us how the hotel gloriously fulfilled a guest’s request for a pygmy goat, which he brought home to Italy).
Later, we all received excellent first-rate massages in the sublime spa. My sciatica was acting up, and my masseuse gently caressed me, then instructed me to sit later in the infrared sauna. The pain completely went away. The spa also features a salt inhalation grotto, ice fountain, bubbling footbaths and 11 treatment rooms.
Trust me: One Alpenwild tour is not enough. Put me down for that goat’s milk bath in Gstaad next time around.