Since I last checked in, I’ve been halfway around the world and back.
While I was in New York in May, I got a call from a dear college friend, Solveig, asking me to go with her to Switzerland and Italy for a week. She wanted me to photograph a set of 300 year-old haylofts in the Italian Alps that her family had converted into luxury cottages. How could I say no?
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So, just off my million-calorie binge, I turned right around and headed for Zurich.
Landing early in the morning, Solveig and I headed first to the stunning hot spring baths at the Grand Quellenhoff in Bad Ragaz to ease our jetlag, rotating between pools kept at temperatures ranging from an icy 9° to a balmy 36° Celsius.
Refreshed, we made our way through the misty mountain pass at Spluga over the Italian border towards the town of Chiavenna. There, we picked up some provisions before heading up a harrowing, mountain road to the cottages, which were perched high on a steep slope in the wilds. The road was so narrow, and our sport utility was so wide, that the outside tires were perpetually running on the ledge of the cliff. The hairpins were so sharp that we had to carefully back up at the switchbacks to make the turns. And since Italians don’t believe in guardrails, I nearly wet myself every time we had to go up or down the mountain.
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But it was breathtaking up there, above the tree line. Clouds would swirl below us, come over the mountain at us, swallow us. Sometimes, the sun would peek through and cast amazing spotlights on villages across the valley. Every view was a vista, every perch a panorama.
We spent our days lounging and napping, hiking and snacking. We visited nearby mountain villages, some that seemed untouched for hundreds of years, preserved in their quiet, alpine corners.
We found a lovely little grotto in the sleepy town of Piuro, where the cheery owner was so enthused to see foreigners that he made and bought our lunch and gave us a tour of the three-hundred year-old cellar below the restaurant, where there were giant casks of wine, rows of cheeses, and a magnificent cabinet of curing meat.
In Chiavenna, we took long walks in the rain, passed through hushed cloisters, shopped for housewares, indulged in gelato, and marveled that buildings dating to the 15th century were as commonplace as those from the 18th century.
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Solveig and I were joined by a few friends, including a music mogul from Berlin, and a Michelin-starred chef from Cologne.
The mountain was blanketed with flowers, herbs, and wild strawberries the size of peas, the color of rubies, and sweet as candy. We foraged. We cooked: tempura squash blossoms drizzled with aged balsamico, pasta with eggplant marinara, gnocchetti with tuna and peppers, raclette over an open fire, and a delicious, wild strawberry tiramisu with hazelnut biscotti soaked in vin santo. We ate well.
I’m not sure if I consumed more cheese, espresso, or second-hand smoke. Those Italians love to suck on their cigarettes.
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At night, an inky blue scroll unfurled above, studded with diamonds, twinkling clear and bright. We lit fires to keep warm, and stayed up way too late talking, snacking, sipping.
We consoled ourselves out of paradise, crossing back into Switzerland, by having dinner at chef Andrea Caminada’s lovely Schloss Schauenstein, a three Michelin-starred restaurant in Furstenau, Switzerland, “the smallest city in the world,” population 700. Our dinner ran so late, and our flight out of Zurich was so early the next morning, that we didn’t bother sleeping much.
It was a magical trip, one that I’ll be repeating at greater length in the coming months. I hope to write more about it when I’m able.
Photos: The cottages at night (Presalbert, Italy); the Swiss-Italian border on the via Spluga; lunch, al fresco at the cottages (Presalbert, Italy); a 14th-century, church-side graveyard in Soglio, Switzerland; a bike in an alley in Chiavenna, Italy.
* “Glamping” is a portmanteau that I first heard mentioned by pim. Glamorous camping this was.