A Family Affair through Switzerland and Austria

Arriving late afternoon in Bad Ragaz, Switzerland, Mum and I were greeted by Dad, Alice and Miranda (while John was off caddying) at the train station and embarked on a somewhat tense and terrifying drive back to the hotel – Dad was still adjusting to driving on the right hand side of the road!! Bad Ragaz where we are staying is a very small town that appears to have two main tourist focuses… Golf, or spa/wellness retreats. As someone who is not a huge fan of either activity I was somewhat sceptical of what this trip would be like! I was however pleasantly surprised to find that the area is where the book Heidi is set and has plenty of beautiful walks and vistas to enjoy.
After an afternoon spent lying by the pool and generally enjoying the bliss that was our hotel we met John and Miranda for what I can only describe to be one of the best eating experiences of my life. The restaurant below John and Miranda’s hotel is incredible and we were treated to a three course meal of DELICIOUSNESS!! The set menu allowed for some individual discretion, we were able to select from a range of dishes what three we wanted.My entree was kingfisher sashimi with avocado (my descriptions will fail to describe the intricacies of the dishes as I did not write down what each involved)… Had I known just how good this was I would probably have just ordered it for all three courses! (The alternatives were a burratta (mozzarella cheese based entree with fresh fruit) or homemade noodles with mushrooms in a broth – I can confirm all were amazing (just not as good as mine).

For the main we had pan seared sea bass with artichokes and potatoes (again an unworthy written description). Yet again my tastebuds rejoiced as each mouthful reached their greedy little bud-like hands.

The alternative for the red meat eaters among us was venison with cherries and a celery purée/mash. I despise celery, the smell of it generally makes me gag a little but it turns out if you can purée/mash it to a mashed potato like consistency and make it as light as air I will love it! Seriously, more people need to start doing this with the vegetable!

The meal was concluded with either a cheese board (of very strong smelling cheeses) or, panna cotta with strawberries and a fresh baked almond cake. Although prior to the dessert arriving I thought I might be full, as soon as I had one mouthful of the dessert I realised I undoubtedly had room for the whole thing… The perfect amount of sweetness and richness combined in one dish!

The next morning, feeling the need to undo some of last night’s indulgences we all dutifully set off up a hill to Old Bad Pfäfers where the taminaschlucht or tamina gorge is. Bad Ragaz, where we are staying is really only a town that came into being because of a thermal gorge that is situated above it. While there is now a pipeline that brings water down to the spa resorts within Bad Ragaz in earlier years the sick used to be dragged up the hill to the bath and then lowered into the water where they would stay for 10 days. The water in the gorge is a constant 36.5 degrees and the belief was that the warm, moving water, would constantly wash over their bodies and rid them of toxins. Belief in the healing powers of this water continues to this day with many ill or injured persons making a sort of pilgrimage to the area for soak in the healing water e.g. Roger Federer. The walk follows a river that is nestled below towering cliffs and winds its way up to the tamina. 

At the top, after paying our 5 Swiss Francs we walked a further 500m through quite a spooky gorge where the rocks hang directly over your head making you feel a little like you are walking into a horror movie set. Inside the gorge we were able to feel the water than people bath in but sadly couldn’t just climb into the bath (I think that costs a little more than 5 Swiss Francs). 

Entry to the Tamina

Trying to exit the gorge Alice and I saw a big green casing around a red button which I assumed you pushed to get out the gate… No. After pushing it six times Miranda came running up behind us to tell us that was the emergency button… Whoops! Thankfully Miranda speaks German and was able to tell an appropriate person that there was no emergency just two stupid NZers.

After our walk the real excitement began… Miranda, Mum, Alice and I were off to Salzburg for a few nights, to pretend we were in the Sound of Music and sing our way through town! We we dropped at the Bad Ragaz train station where we were told we had to buy our ticket to Salzburg from the next town over Sargans which was conveniently only 4 minutes by train. After running for the train to Sargans we made it to the town only to be told it would be 350 Swiss Francs, one way for the four of us to go! We immediately ruled the trip out as extortionately expensive. Abandoning Salzburg and feeling a bit peckish we took our bags for a walk into the Mecca of Sargans for lunch and a look around. 600m from the train station we found a restaurant that had quite a few full tables of locals (although there would be nothing other than locals as I don’t think any overseas tourists have EVER visited that town before) so obviously it would have good Swiss food. Clearly all those locals are lacking in tastebuds, the food we served was almost exclusively yellow (hints of brown in my case due to mushrooms and for Alice due to her bolognaise) and not very exciting. Nevertheless we were determined to have a good time! Conning the restaurant into letting us keep our bags there we set off to see the sights of Sargans. It turns out Sargans has one sight to see, it’s Schloss or castle, and if you ever find yourself in the town I can tell you now, it’s not really worth seeing!

Just enjoying the Sargans Schloss

Our final stop in the tourist hub of Sargans was a lovely little chocolate and ice cream shop with a delightful outdoor seating area that looked at a road, was beside a rubbish bin and a dead bush and had a particularly smelly rubbish bin! Collecting our bags we took them for a final walk through town before boarding the 4 minute train back to Bad Ragaz where we then got to walk our bags in the rain… BLISS! 

Taking the bags for a stroll

Renting electric bikes in Bad Ragaz we went exploring through surrounding villages (and even a country… Liechtenstein). Despite my initial resistance to renting electric bikes it is fair to say that they made everybody’s day far more enjoyable! We were able to bike uphill to a small town for coffee and then traverse the hillside to Leichtenstein and then bike back along the Rhine River to Bad Ragaz. 

The day however was not without it’s navigational mishaps… We took quite a few wrong turns, including one that led us onto rather soft sand which the bikes were certainly NOT designed for. This momentarily brought our cycle tour to a halt!! We found a delicious restaurant called Restaurant Adler in Fläsch. where we ate prawns (somewhat concerning considering the landlocked nature of Switzerland), stinging nettle soup, asparagus soup, homemade pasta with chanterelle mushrooms and homemade chocolates/sweets.

Absolutely delicious king prawns

We spent a day in the very beautiful capital city of Zurich. With intermittent downpours we spent the day eating, drinking coffee and roaming the streets. Zurich was having some sort of festival that day and the streets were littered with food stalls as well as events like dragon boating occurring and a waterslide running down one of the streets! The people of Zurich were clearly not letting the rain stop them from having a good time!

Mum, Miranda and I also took the telecabin up Pizol, one of the ski fields in the area. Taking the chairlift all the way to the top of the mountain we found we were possibly slightly under-prepared. While others put their crampons on and pulled out their walking sticks we fumbled around on the loose rocks and snow and quickly decided that perhaps we should go back down to the lower level and go walking there!

Embracing the limited visibility and cold

We ended up walking the Heidi Trail which was very beautiful and very clearly targeted at kids! All around the trail were playgrounds and activities for children like sack racing! As the clouds cleared the views were beautiful, looking down over the valley to towns like SARGANS, Bad Ragaz and Fläsh. 

We stopped for lunch at a cafe with a woman playing the accordion, and were treated to the “traditional” Swiss way of singing happy birthday… First in English, then German, then in a very racially offensive “Chinese” which involved them all pulling at the corners of their eyes and singing, to the tune of happy birthday, “Ching Chong Ching Chong”. Mum and I could not believe what we were seeing!!! 

Leaving Bad Ragaz we headed to Salzburg, which may well be my favourite city to date. The drive to Salzburg was spectacular, mostly through mountains and ski fields we were treated to what I assume is some of the best of the Swiss/German/Austrian/Leichtensteinian countryside! Stopping in the very sleepy ski town of Sankt Anton for lunch (so sleepy nearly everything was closed) we enjoyed our first truly Barvarian/Austrian meal… A menu heavy with meat and sauerkraut there was somewhat limited (but tasty) pickings for a pescatarian (vegeaquarium)! We made it to Salzburg with next to no confusion, barring one closed road… Ahhh the beauty of GPS! Salzburg is a beautiful city that is easy to navigate and has very efficient public transport, Mum, Miranda and I had a glorious time roaming the streets while Dad and John played golf. The centre of the old city is nearly exclusively a pedestrian area, making it a lovely place to walk. Moreover, there are very strict limitations on how shops can advertise themselves meaning you could walk past a McDonalds or Zara and not realise what it was because their signs blend so perfectly with the architecture of the city!

The two highlights of the trip to Salzburg were undoubtedly going to the Red Bull Hangar and the Fräulein Maria Sound of Music bike tour! The Red Bull Hangar has a seriously impressive array of planes, cars, motorbikes and other motorised inventions that would be a petrol head’s wet dream. 

On top of this it has one of the coolest bars/restaurants I have been to, on a scorching hot evening we sat outside under shade drinking and eating delicious food! The menu is simple as is the mode of ordering and I am certain that regardless of the group there would be something on the menu for everyone.

These are just the flowers in the bathroom at the hangar!!
Despite inclement weather the Sound of Music biking tour was a lot of fun… With singing, sightseeing and a tour guide who enjoyed re-enacting scenes from the Sound of Music I was in heaven! Especially when I was given the speaker and phone so I could play the soundtrack which we biked (and obviously sing-a-long)! 

One of the two houses used as the Von Trapp family house
Leo our guide re-enacting Maria leaving the abbey

As well as being a sing-a-long we were given lots of great fun facts about the film itself such as…

  • Christopher Plumber was quite regularly a bit drunk on set and that he gained a lot of weight during filming and his costume had to be refitted.
  • That Marta (the youngest child) also gained a lot of weight during filming, this was because during filming to placate her they would feed her a lot of chocolate and pretzels, therefore in the final scene where they are escaping over the alps there is a body double used who is lighter than the actress.
  • There were also a lot of examples of Julie Andrews being very clumsy!

For anyone heading to Salzburg I would 100% recommend both of these activities as a way to see parts of Salzburg you may otherwise miss.. And have a thoroughly good time doing it!


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