Alex Rushmer enjoys a mountaintop picnic in Switzerland
Lac Des Vaux is a freshwater mountaintop lake that sits, nestled, high in the Alps above Verbier at an altitude of 2,500m, about a kilometre above the town centre. I’d heard about it within 24 hours of arriving in Switzerland and immediately became obsessed with the idea of running (or trekking) up the mountain to enjoy a bracing swim in the cool waters. From Patier, where I am currently living, the route snakes a full 17km up the side of the mountain. An ambitious attempt to reach the top was nobbled by fairly extreme heat, not to mention the fact that I’ve spent the last ten years running through the big-skyed flatlands of the Fens and my legs were not mountain ready.
A second, and less arduous, opportunity presented itself when my wife, Charlotte, came out to visit last week. Instead of taking the long route up from Patier, we chose to take the ski lift to a halfway point and finish the rest of the hike on foot. During my first attempt to get to the lake on foot, I’d taken along a small bag of Haribo to provide necessary sustenance. This time, a bag of gummies just wasn’t going to cut it, and we stopped at a couple of local shops en route to put together a hearty picnic.
Having now been here a month, I’ve come to realise that whilst the scope of Swiss cuisine isn’t particularly broad, what it does offer is very good indeed – providing, of course, you are a fan of bread, cheese and cured meats. Thankfully this happy trio is ideal for packing into a rucksack and carrying to the top of a mountain.
We picked a still warm, but satisfyingly crusty, wholemeal sourdough from the bakery’s shelf and then chose a Tomme de Chevre and a bloomy cured sausage with which to supplement it. Dessert was to be fresh fruit, as the local apricots and nectarines are bang in season at the moment and the region is rightfully very proud of them. A large bag of paprika crisps, a new-found and deep-seated obsession, completed the haul and we were set to make the ascent.
The heat was the first surprise. The second was the vaguely otherworldly, almost lunar landscape that greeted us above the treeline. It wasn’t quite the romantic hike I had planned and having landed only 12 hours previously, the change in altitude hit Charlotte relatively hard. Even so, we pressed on. And I’m delighted we did. The sight of the lake was a welcome one, partly because it is staggeringly beautiful, but mainly because it meant we had truly earned our lunch and it was now time to eat.
Three hours out of the fridge had left us with a cheese that wasn’t merely spreadable but yearning to find its own level. The sausage, too, had developed a texture and set of flavours that simply aren’t present when fridge cold. It was a meal to eat without cutlery, without inhibition and without a table. The rocky shoreline provided a satisfyingly ad hoc dining area and allowed for the dipping of sore feet into the cool fresh water. It was a picnic that will live long in the memory and offered further proof that the best meals are almost always the simplest, the satisfaction and happiness coming not just from the food, but the people and places that give it context.