Monday, 19 June 2017

Central Switzerland: Chinzig Chulm and its wildflowers

She is kneeling on the grass, a tapestry of bright yellow and green, poring over an open book - this is one of my favourite photos of my Grandma, who was the keenest lover of flowers I can imagine. On walks, she would name trees and flowers as we passed them - such an encyclopaedia of knowledge about them she had that I only wish I could come close to remembering all she told me. As Tim and I hiked in central Switzerland at the weekend, Grandma felt close - in the bright wash of cheery colour that greeted us as we emerged from the Biel-Kinzig cable car at some 1,600 metres' altitude. Petals of orange, yellow, purple, white, blue and pink danced in the breeze, like confetti for a fairy wedding. Above them, grassy slopes swept upwards to rocky crags that carved a magnificent outline against the sky. We spotted marmots too - a flurry of brown fur between the flowers that provided welcome amusement on our steep climb up to the Chinzig Chulm pass. Apparently Russian General Suworow and his troops crossed the pass in 1799 - which made our effort in shorts and T-shirts pale by comparison. From the top, where we stopped for lunch, the views were quintessentially Swiss, stretching across a panorama of snow-topped summits above grassy meadows. An inquisitive Alpine chough tiptoed close to us, appetite clearly heightened by the sight of our Arran oatcakes and Gruyère. From there it was a seemingly never-ending descent - from a wilderness between towers of rock, past an aquamarine lake and a sleepy Alpine farm, then down and down through shaded woodland, finally reaching a splendid gorge of light-stippled pools and caves carved out by a waterfall. A poem etched on a post as we reached journey's end summed the day up: "Eyes filled with green, nose filled with grass, and belly filled with summer," it read. Please note: I have attempted to identify the flowers we saw, as named below, and cannot promise the names are correct!
GLOBE FLOWER, TROLLIUS EUROPAEUS
HAIRY ALPENROSE, RHODODENDRON HIRSUTA
WOOD CRANESBILL, GERANIUM SYLVATICUM
COMMON SPOTTED ORCHID, DACTYLORHIZA FUCHSII
KIDNEY VETCH, ANTHYLLIS VULNERARIA
ALPINE CALAMINT, ACINOS ALPINUS

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Powering to Portavadie, Loch Fyne

There are days when you can't believe where you are, and this was one of them. We tore across the azure water towards an infinite horizon sandwiched between rolling folds of grasshopper green and foxglove pink. The sun baked our foreheads and the wind warmed our cheeks: Scotland in June masquerading as a wild Mediterranean. Behind us was the proud formation of the Isle of Arran; ahead, Loch Fyne and the promise of Portavadie Marina. Nigel's RiB made light work of the water, zipping gracefully over the juicy waves. Travelling from Lochranza on Arran to lochside Portavadie is most convenient by boat, taking only 30 minutes in the RiB to cover the around six-mile distance to an entirely different world - which is hidden away on a promontory off Loch Fyne. Portavadie, which opened in 2015 as a luxury west coast retreat, comprises ultra-modern accommodation and Scotland's largest heated outdoor infinity pool. Later, as we explored the spa complex, it felt ludicrous to be venturing outside in nothing but our swimwear - but as our limbs sank into the deliciously warm, 33 degrees Celsius water, the sensation was heavenly. Beyond the pool edge, Loch Fyne shimmered as if scattered with crystals. I'd have happily whiled away an eternity there, in this beauty spot to rival any I have ever seen, but the RiB and our onward journey to Tarbert across the water beckoned. Tarbert, dubbed the 'gateway to Kintyre', is storybook pretty - a collection of colourful cottages arranged around a horseshoe-shaped harbour. We munched cake, explored the irresistibly stocked Loch Fyne Gallery, and climbed up to the castle, which boasted almighty sea views. When we returned to Lochranza that evening, welcomed by the mountainous outline of the 'sleeping warrior' slumbering under a pinkish sky, we felt wind-battered, rosy-cheeked and entirely at one with the world. Scotland is such a heavenly concoction of surprises. Other highlights of our week on Arran, a universally appealing island lathered with excellent hiking, beautiful beaches and luscious cafes, included a sunny hike up Goat Fell, the island's highest summit; a lovely coastal pony trek with Cairnhouse Stables in Blackwaterfoot; sumptuous massages at Auchrannie Resort's suave A Spa in Brodick; a great concert of John Denver songs performed by singer Chris Bannister; a night in the exquisite balcony suite at the beyond brilliant Douglas Hotel in Brodick; and a wild and wonderful ramble up Glen Catacol and back down Glen Easen into Lochranza, where our company extended to orchids, rare Arran Whitebeam trees and impossibly untouched views. We gorged on to-die-for sourdough bread from Blackwater Bakehouse; creatively delicious sandwiches from Lochranza's Sandwich Station - I had humus with wild garlic pesto; and Arran Gold whisky cream cake from the Isle of Arran Distillery. And we felt at one with the world while watching guillemots and gannets from the pebbly beach at King's Caves outside Machrie on the island's west coast - on another glorious day, when the sun shone, the sea shimmered ... and I couldn't have imagined anywhere I would rather have been.