It is a few hours past midnight and the valley of Saanenland is quiet once again. Outside, the thick snow covers the low wooden cabins illuminated by white Christmas lights along the hills. They are all built the same way, obligatory by law, and huddled across the region of Saananland. Beyond, dark woods stud the mountains that continue far across the horizon, visible even at night from the golden moonlight that is two days shy of fullness.
Just a few hours ago, the valley was ablaze with fireworks from all corners of the horizon, each family and hotel showcasing their own set of fireworks to welcome in the New Year. With cheers echoing from the hills, we watched from the veranda, sipping our wines, our bellies full and content from the festive dinner of two types of foie gras, roasted veal, morilles mushrooms, risotto with fresh truffles and apple crumble with ice cream.
For the children who were dressed up in their New Year’s eve best outfits, their dinner was served early with their own New Year’s toast of children’s ‘champagne’ – bubbly apple juice bottled in pretty champagne-like bottle, followed by pasta and bolognaise and green beans with ladybug chocolates and tea candles in the shape of pink pigs for good luck, the Swiss way. They were famished after a day of activities and their own igloo built by the parents for an evening popcorn snack before dinner.
Here, the snow rules the land. Everything has been set up for it – from the graceful slopes, the quiet ski belts, the ice hotel, the after-ski bars and the skating and cross country ski trails. There are no crowds anywhere on the mountains. The few visitors who come to ski during the season mingle with the locals who are polite and kind,
The quiet little town of Saanenland next to the glitzy and celebrity-studded Gstaad is set up along one tiny street, and has only one small grocery store, a milk and cheese shop, a bakery and a butcher. It also has 6 upscale ski shops, two 5 star hotels with spa, and a few elegant restaurants. We visited a friend’s family cabin here last year, and we have not wanted to go anywhere else to ski since.
Every morning, one of us will get up early to drive down the street to pick up freshly baked tresses, braided brioches similar to challah bread, and we have breakfast with salted butter and local jam, cereals and hot teas and coffees, or make French toast with thick local honey.
We spend the days skiing with the children on the bunny hill, adults taking turns to do alpine skiing in the mornings. I have been spending much of the days shopping at the butcher’s shop, and the milk/cream shop, discovering the incredible chicken, veal and pork sausages and the fragrant mustards, the creamy salad dressing and grass fed beef . I have been buying the milk and fresh yogurts by the kilos – so thick, creamy and with flavors like hazelnuts, chestnuts and almonds, it is difficult to resist.
In a few days we will return to our normal lives, but for now, we are enjoying the wonderland of Saanenland winter, aglow with snow, good food and great friends.
Happy New Year to you, and a great 2013.