Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of Engelberg.
Tucked into the heart of Switzerland, this quiet retreat doesn’t find its way into the itineraries of most tourists who besiege Switzerland in the summer. Their travelogues instead take them to the giant fountain of Geneva or the lakes of Lucerne.
If there’s anything that draws them even remotely close to Engelberg, it’s the attraction of Mount Titlis whose frozen peak overlooks the sleepy town. In the winter, Engelberg transforms into a ski resort with enthusiastic tourists flooding mountainside resort. But in the summer, when the rush of tourists dwindles to a trickle, the place is ideal for anyone in search of a quiet break from the shrill call of everyday life. At the same time, Engelberg is not so far removed from civilization so as to alienate one from shopping arcades or videogame parlours or the internet. Think of a quiet town dotted with comfortable chalets and surrounded by towering mountains, where a bicycle is the best way to cover distances while a simple treat of coffee and cheese can send the senses into raptures. That is Engelberg.
Although not a nature resort, nature enthusiasts and regular trekkers will find a wealth of things to do, from exploring the labyrinthine wooded paths to scaling the outer ranges of the Alps. Guided treks are recommended, but those with a taste for adventure will relish the chance to simply grab a map and chalk out their own path into nature’s lap. Those interested in cuisine can whip their appetites for tubs of freshly made yoghurt or else a variety of melted cheeses dripping over hot bread and served with an assortment of meats. The old castle that has been converted into a hotel will no doubt delight history enthusiasts while the quirky character of the town itself will invigorate all visitors.
A trek through the vales and dales of this picture-postcard idyll yields a treasure trove of sensory delight. The winding paths through wooded hills on the edge of the town can either ignite a spirit of adventure in those wishing to leap over bubbling brooks and moss-covered logs, or else it can give solitude to those wishing to contemplate the raw beauty of an ancient pine tree and the dazzling bursts of wild flowers. Nothing, however, can prepare the traveller for the view that materializes once the woods have been crossed. Bright green layers of grassland stretch before the eyes, shimmering with every hue from dark green to pale lime. And looming over these grassy stretches are tall weather-beaten mountains, their sides blanketed by patches of shrubbery or exposed as stark grey rock while their snow-encrusted crowns are swathed in mist and cloud and flecked with dashes of sunlight. And resounding through this bucolic vision is the melodic sound of a symphony of bells. These bells don’t belong to any church or shrine, and at first one is dazzled because the melody appears to have no apparent source and thus makes this entire scene seem so surreal. Only then does one realize that these bells are attached to the necks of scattered herds of gently nodding cows spread out over the fields. The effect is mesmeric and the sight never fails to overwhelm either the contemplative traveller or the eager trekker. Even the almost anachronistic presence of the slowly gliding cable-cars overhead does not destroy the magic of the scene.
What makes the experience even more palatable is the fact that it’s relatively cheaper than most holidays abroad. The many chalets have varying prices but even the most budget-conscious traveller will be able to find comfortable lodgings. The town itself is sleepy but not devoid of character. Plush restaurants, roadside cafes and well-stocked shopping arcades jostle for place among shops where bicycles can be rented. The people are very friendly and add to the relaxed atmosphere of the place. This is a holiday where you know you can put your feet up and unwind. Other attractions like a trip to Mount Titlis by cable-car or to the famous Jungfrau station by train also make this holiday well worth it.
Ambar Sahil Chatterjee
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wernizh/3438937924/]