Grächen for families
Our trip to Grächen was in partnership with Swiss Tourism and their Families test for Families project where a group of family bloggers were sent around Switzerland to experience family friendly destinations.
A weekend in the mountains was what we all needed, and so we were glad to be given the assignment from Swiss Tourism to explore the alpine village of Grächen. We had never been to Grächen before, having visited only its more famous neighbours Zermatt and Saas Fee, so we were keen to check out what this lesser known village had for families.
FROM ZUG TO GRÄCHEN
Coming from central Switzerland, our long weekend began with an early start to avoid the traffic on-route. We decided for the sake of those who suffer from motion sickness (yes that includes me) to whizz through the alps on the Furka car train instead of navigated the hairpin turns over the mountain pass. Once we had made it into the canton of Wallis, it was an easy drive, first down and then back up to Grächen, and we arrived before the lunchtime bell could chime.
Grächen is a partly car-free village, and our accommodation for the weekend, Hotel Desirée, was only accessible by foot. So we parked our car in the long term parking (we decided on the carpark near the tourist office) and made our way with our luggage to the hotel. We checked in, quickly peeked inside our room, where the kids were highly impressed with their separate room with bunk beds, and then headed out in search of lunch.
Tip 1: If you have more luggage than you can carry, give Hotel Desiree a call at the telephone near outside the tourist office, and they will come and pick you up in their electric golf cart.
BUT FIRST RACLETTE
You can't go to Wallis without eating the cheese it's famous for. Well, certainly not my husband. This bubbling plate of gooey cheese served with boiled potatoes, and pickled condiments would have to be his very favourite food, so of course, our first mission (which would continue over the entire weekend) in Grächen after check-in was to search for raclette. Not a hard task in a village where almost every restaurant has a plate of raclette on the menu. Once we filled our tummies with the melted bubbling cheese, it was time to work off our first meal by lacing up those hiking boots.
HIKING BOOTS ON AND OFF
After a quick stop at the tourist office for a map, we decided that our first non-food related activity would be following the irrigation channels “Zauberwasser” above the village. These little streams that bring water down from the mountains are relaxing to walk past along and took us deep into the forest. We may have gotten a tad distracted part the way through and ended up on a detour, taking us past forest exercise equipment and onto our new destination the Grächen lake.
There we found a barefoot “Kneipp” water feature by the lake and decided to bravely take off our socks and boots and do something good for our feet. To the high pitch sounds of "it's freezing", we refreshed our feet in the icy waters, putting socks and shoes on again felt heavenly.
Tip 2: Grab a treasure map from the Tourist office for the kids, aviailable in both English and German for your walk around the Zauberwasser Irrigation channels.
Tip 3: There are two Kneipp facilities in Grächen to enjoy. Bring along something to dry your feet, and for the younger kids in case they fall in, a change of clothes.
TIME TO CHILL
After a lap around the lake where I took a ton of photos in its reflection, we headed back down to our hotel. The kids were quick to notice at check-in a door labelled "spielzimmer" - which they were keen to check out. Thanks to our early start, us wiery parents were more than happy for the baby corner and PlayStation to keep the kids entertained for an hour or so while we kicked back on the balcony enjoying the view with well deserved Aperol Spritz.
AWake TO THE SOUND OF COWBELLS
We were awoken early Saturday morning to the sound of cowbells, as the cows headed for the alps right past our bedroom window. Alpauffahrt happens across Switzerland each late spring/early summer when the cows head up to the alpine pastures for the warmer months. After filling our tummies at the hotel breakfast buffet, we decided to follow the cows, well their tracks, up to Alpe Äpnet.
The echoing sounds of the bells in the distance were the sign that we had taken the correct path, and a field of chocolate brown Herens cows greeted us. Here in Wallis, the cows were not florally decorated for their journey up the mountain like in other areas of the country but instead marked with a unique number ready for the local tradition of cow fighting.
Tip 4: Check out what events will take place during your stay in Grächen at your hotel or the tourist office.
This tradition is a little less instagramable than those cows adorned with extravagant floral arrangments but no less exciting. With images of bullfights in my head, I was pleasantly surprised to see this long-standing Wallis tradition sounded a lot more dramatic than it was. The Herens of cows are naturally aggressive, and the fights are more of a jostle, determining the leader of the herd. Farmers calmly watch over the matches catching with their friends, making sure that only two cows fight at a time. Cows not interested in fighting hang at the fence line, watching the proceedings around them.
As with every swiss tradition, there was a whole party around the event. Tents filled with food and drinks for the spectators and a bouncy castle for the kids. We decided though to keep walking to find lunch further along the mountain.
A HIKE, LUNCH AND TREE TOPS
For the next hour or so we trodded through the lush, dense larch forest, past bushes that come late summer will become covered with wild blueberries until we reached our lunchtime destination: Restaurant Bärgji.
My inner gourmet was happy to dine here, not the cuisine you expect to find in a mountain restaurant. I enjoyed three mini meals in one, a bread salad, goats cheese with apricots and a hay soup. Hubby was more than happy with his choice of Käseschnitte, a fancy toasted cheese sandwich with thick bread soaked in white wine and then topped with ham, melted raclette cheese and a fried egg. The kids were kept happy with their sausage and chips and the playground. We stayed awhile because it was just that idyllic, playing cards, drinking local Walliser white wine and enjoying the views.
Tip 5: You can also drive to Restaurant Bärgji, but Raclette tastes much better after you’ve hiked ;-). Also don’t miss their homemade desserts.
After replenishing our energy, we took a more direct route back to Grächen, this time along the road that connects Grächen with Bärgji. The stroll took under an hour arriving just in time for the high ropes course to open up at the Robi's Forest playground. While The Boy spent 30 minutes in the treetops and little Z explored the playground, and we sat at the picnic benches with an Aperol Spritz from the onsite shop.
Tip 6: The high ropes course is from age 5 but you still must be 100cm tall. This is a great beginners course for kids up to about aged 12.
Before heading back to the hotel to kick off our shoes for the evening, we stopped by a party in the town square. I love Switzerland and how they can find just about any excuse to celebrate, this time the opening on the summer season as well as beginning the countdown to the world mountain bike championships that will happen in Grächen in September. Over raclette (of course!), wine and beer, the town celebrated with the local marching band, speeches, live music and a stunt display. We though enjoyed a quieter dinner back at the hotel where the kids, of course, had to spend some more time in the awesome hotel playroom.
A SUNNY SUNDAY IN THE ALPS: Hike, views and fairytales
The weather up until this point in our trip hadn't been clear, but Sunday was the day for brilliant blue skies and sunshine - and it didn't disappoint. With the perfect mountain weather, we were glad to of left a visit up Grächen's mountain - Hannigalp - till last.
After breakfast and check out, we headed up by the gondola over the forest we had walked the day previously, we even spotted the cows from the fights the day before eating their alpine grass peacefully. Once at Hannigalp we were surrounded by mountain peaks, no matter which way you looked, and the in the distance the most famous peak of all the Matterhorn. We decided upon a relatively easy good hour-long hike which took us through more forest where we heard birds and saw what we thought was a squirrel scurrying up a tree.
Tip 7: This was a steep in parts so if you have beginner hikers or a pram, consider the path to Staffel.
For lunch, we enjoyed one last Walliser meal, raclette of course at the family-friendly Bergrestaurant Hannigalp. This place is huge! We enjoyed the live music with our lunch out on the terrace but inside can seat hundred; I can imagine it filled during winter after ski school. The restaurant even had a playroom which we skipped, the outdoor playground with a slight Matterhorn view was calling our names.
It was there after lunch that the kids enjoyed that well-deserved ice cream, otherwise known as the five-year-old hiker's bribe, at the playground, while we lazed in the sunshine. We took in the mountain panorama for the last time, for a moment forgetting that we would have to leave Grächen soon and make the four hour journey back home.
Reality was calling, but not before one last gondola trip back down to the village, and one final surprise, a ride in one of the ten fairytale themed gondolas. As we settled into our sleeping beauty decorated gondola, a voice boomed out of the inside speaker, and the actual story of sleeping beauty in German began. Little Z was thrilled, keeping her awake for the journey back down to the village. She made it to the car, but not much further than that, falling asleep before we even left the village, dreaming of fairytale gondola, playgrounds and forest walks.
Tip 8: There are only 10 Fairytale Gondolas so if it isn’t busy wait until one comes along.
Three days just weren't enough, and if we had longer we would have gotten up early to observe the wild animals, completed the treasure map around the irrigation channels and spent more time at Robi's forest playground. Oh and we for sure would have gone back to the Restaurant Bärgji for more raclette and to try their homemade vanilla slice. Grächen, we will be back.
Dad's favourite: All the raclette and the Chäesschnitte at Bärgji
Mum’s favourite: Fresh mountain air and panoramic views
The 11 year old's favourite: The high ropes course!
The 5 year old's favourite: The bunk bed at the hotel and the freezing waters at the barefoot baths.
Good to know
at the Parking Autosilo in their outdoor spots paying 7chf per day. Parking spots undercover cost 10chf.
at the 3 star superior family Hotel Desirée.
We recommend to eat at
Käseschnitte, Raclette and unique meals at Restaurant Bärgji-Alp
Raclette at Family Mountain Restaurant Hannigalp
We also heard that the Walliserkanne is also worth a visit
Check out the other bloggers who went on this adventure with Swiss Tourism: