Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’


Jurassic World Treasure

August 24, 2009


It’s a dream come true for every dinosaur-mad eight-year-old. And I have to confess that even at the grand old age of 30-something with two kids under my belt and the third en route, I too am excited.

Call it the Jurassic adventure of my lifetime – to view herds of fossilized, dinosaur footprints found in Switzerland during the construction of a motorway. Since the extraordinary discovery in 2000, paleontologists have been hard at it digging, cleaning, casting plaster copies and so on. But it is for just four precious days in August – last weekend and this weekend (29 & 30 August) – that the Paleontology A16 site is open to the public. 

The experience lives up to expectation. From a 15m-high platform, one sees what experts reckon to be one of the world’s most astonishing Jurassic finds – 1700 fossilized dinosaur footprints, best seen illuminated at night. Much to the disappointment of every kid there, the exact type of dinosaur hasn’t been identified. But what is known is these footprints belonged to herbivorous sauropods – a type of diplodocus probably – who stood 2.5m to 3.5m tall and 20m long,

The fossilized footsteps are impressive, but what most woos is the sheer scale of the site – 4000 sq m of Jurassic world treasure incongruously ensnared by a mix of green field, forest and bright-yellow building-site machinery. Standing below the platform on the flat rock plateau, it is easy to imagine the Bahamas-style ‘beach’, mottled with shallow lagoons and tropical vegetation, across which these dinosaurs would have roamed 152 million years ago. A sudden roar behind one’s shoulder as we viewed the prints, each carefully catalogued and ringed in a different colour to match it to a track, would have come as no surprise.


The Béchat-Bovais site is in Courtedoux, a village near Porrentruy in the Swiss Jura. It is one of six sites to have been excavated during the construction of the A16 Porrentruy-Besancon motorway, to be completed by 2016. So far 4200 dinosaur prints and 30,000 fossils have been found, and experts reckon there are herds more waiting to be exposed. But the big question remains: what will happen to them? The decision rests in the hands of the Swiss Federal Department of Environment, although the odds they will be covered in tarmac never to be enjoyed again. Grrrrr ..



Engadin Ski Marathon, Switzerland

March 6, 2009

Living with the Alps in your backyard breeds a feisty appetite for competitive sport. Every other person I have spoken this week seems to be training for the Geneva Marathon, La Marmotte (174km on a bike), the Lake Geneva triathlon. 

I like husband @luefkens’s attitude. Skip the training and just do the race (preferably with Flip camera in hand). ‘His’ race is 42km on long skinny cross-country skis across frozen lakes, snowy plains and pristine pine forests in the Engadine Valley, eastern Switzerland. Warm up on the snow with thousands of skiers to a rousing Chariots of Fire, glide into fashionable St-Moritz in the shade of the historic Palace hotel, wave at the picture-book red train chugging upwards and onwards over the Bernina Pass into Italy, and know there are few Swiss experiences this big.

The price for skating across such a godlike canvas is an ungodly 5.30am wake-up call the morning of the race, a cross-legged queue with seemingly all 12,000 other competitors for a pee in a portable loo, and a mad scramble on the start line to keep your two poles whole, intact and in your hands. (Hundreds of snapped ski poles litter the course by the end of the race and however good a start you get you’ll still probably finish 8888th position four or five hours of sweet ski and sweat later.)


Dine & Dream: Pontresina is a down-to-earth alternative to glitzy St-Moritz to eat and sleep. But nothing beats Gasthaus Berninahaus, 7km away from it all at the foot of the Bernina Pass. Decorative pine and wood beams rule the quaint roost inside and lunching on its terrace at 2046m altitude is heady, peaceful and intoxicating.


For cheaper, basic bunk rooms with bags of mountain panache, continue up the pass to Albergo Ospizio Bernina, a old mountain inn wedged between snow and rock at 2330m. The Bernina Express train stops right in front and views are the big brilliant breathless type that no photo can capture.


If it’s an entire valley you want to feast on, head higher says @luefkens to Muottas Muragl. He’s there now. Wish I was.



Bettmeralp, Switzerland

February 25, 2009


It feels like a secret. Guests arrive by cable car (no cars here mate), pull their cases to Heidi chalets on wooden Davos sledges (the ones pictured in traditional Christmas-card scenes) and hike to fetch the breakfast bread along a snow-filled street so silent one could hear an icicle drop.


The place is made for kids aged under 13 or over 35: Everyone bar absolute beginners ski off the slope into their chalet. Food shopping is a laugh: strap the bottles of local Valais fendant and grocery bags onto the rent-for-the-week sledge (apply the same method for baby cots and tots) or ski it home. And après ski is hot roasted chestnuts and glühwein at the only bar where the al fresco barman doubles as a big cuddly bunny rabbit on skis called Snowli by day. Spot him on a Friday giving out medals in the snow garden.


Bettmeralp is not so much a secret as an exclusive club where every chalet is filled year after year by the same loyal clientele – which makes snagging a place to stay a real challenge. I found ‘our’ chalet (such is the nature of the Alpine village, it feels like ‘ours’) last minute by chance two years ago. This year, like last year, within days of coming off the mountain I’ve been bombarding the charmingly Italian owner of Chalet Tannenduft (it means ‘pine scent’ aka it’s on the edge of pine woods) with over-zealous enthusiastic emails pleading my case for a week in 2010.


Gaia won’t let me know until late autumn, even November. But that lush skiing literally alongside the Aletsch glacier, at 23km the Alp’s largest glacier despite being on the shrink and as such a Unesco world heritage site, is well worth the childish suspense.