In February, the southern Swiss Alps are in a period of transition. While ski lifts swell in the north, the south sleeps and awaits the spring thaw. Holiday towns of the summer like Les Avants hibernate in the winter chill.
Located quite literally up from the coast of Lake Leman (or Lake Geneva), Les Avants spends winter resting. Warm air from Europe’s biggest lake rises to be nestled in the mountain bosom. In winter only the locals move about, chalets and hiking trails sleep, verdant dreams under white pillows. During the winter slumber you can feel the awesome power of the earth, feel the old age of the stone, and feel how truly small we are. In the winter, everything sleeps, and you can finally enjoy silence.
Above Les Avants (Sonloup Funicular)
We didn’t actually take the funicular, but instead walked up to its start from its end next to our AirBnb. The colorful little town matched the little color nature had to offer: deep evergreen and the rust of unfallen leaves. Everything else was white with either snow or fog. It was around sunset when we reached the top. Not that you could see the sun, there was much too much mist. Instead the town just slowly became darker then dark.
Les Avants –> Col de Jaman
The second day was committed to a long hike, hopefully ending at the top of something. Our hike started early, before the sun (which, admittedly, rises fairly late in February). Les Avants this time of year is sleepy. Locals go to work, children go to school, life goes on, but hotels are empty, souvenirs shops closed, everything nestled in bedsheets of white snow. But, then again, it could be because it was 6am.
“Down” in the town, Lake Geneva fog was thick and clung to everything, human and plant. We eventually surfaced into the crisp mountain air, the kind that freezes your lungs and gives you the invigorating, but harrowing reminder that you are alive. The sun lightened the sky, but it too seemed reluctant to get out of bed. We finally got peeks of peaks withheld by the fog. Glittering, natural magic. Also there was an ATV with treads clearing a path up to a chalet. At the pass, the restaurants and hostels of summer were buried in snow, closed for the season.
Les Avants –> Montreux
We hiked down from Les Avants to Montreux, a small city on Lac Leman. This hike was eerie and thrilling, wandering through the haunted morning mist, getting lost a few times, feeling totally alone. That was, of course, until we got near the city. There a big highway rumbled as urban began to overtake nature. Being a city carved into a mountain, Montreux has some amazing cliff views, but getting down (or up) means stairs. 1055 stairs, to be exact. My knees will never be the same.
Switzerland is often called magical and for good reason. I hope to see it when it has thawed out.