Säntis rises magnificent, its silvery flanks of ridged rock blotted against a huge cool autumn sky. At 2,502m, the highest mountain in Switzerland's Alpstein region is a sudden jolt in the landscape that stretches from the vast sweep of Lake Constance in the north to the jaunty Alpine foothills south of St.Gallen. It's also the wettest point in the country, and even today, with orange sunshine intertwining the cloud, looks moody and menacing.
Our three-hour walk follows the grassy spine from Kronberg to Weissbad at the heart of Appenzellerland, where grasshopper-green meadows that look moulded from Plasticine are speckled with juicy pines, shingle-clad farmhouses typical to the region and cattle grazing. After taking the cable car up from Jakobsbad, we are greeted with a panorama of Säntis, the mountain remaining always on our right as we walk along the gentle ridge towards Weissbad.
A gravelly descent brings us to the chapel at St.Jakob, then a broad grassy path undulating up and down like a sleeping dragon's spine guides us in and out of sun-dappled woodland. We stop for lunch in the shade of pines, mighty Säntis behind us, Lake Constance obscured in haze on the northern horizon, then continue into a scene that quickly becomes bucolic. Farmhouses and cheese huts are strewn across the grassy flanks and the meadows are raucous with cowbells.
The going is easy, and the sun becoming warmer and warmer. The trees mesmerise, their leaves tinged in gold, as if at any moment about to burst into flames, and on the woodland bed, red-and-white mushrooms tantalise. Our descent to Weissbad is unceasingly steep, but lovely in this scene. On the short train journey back to Jakobsbad, we tuck into brownies and watch as the ridge we navigated charges past the windows in a blur of green and gold. Our sights are now set on Urnäscher Käse, a dairy in the shadow of Säntis that stocks cheese from the area.
With my Aunt and Uncle Isobel and Dave here to visit, we're enjoying some of the loveliest sights close to Zurich. One excursion was a tranquil afternoon at Bad Zurzach, an excellent thermal baths on the German border, with water that emerges from source at 39.9 degrees Celsius and is reported to help treat rheumatism and digestive complaints. Two hours of being pummelled by jets in outdoor pools, dashing around rapids and floating in the salt cavern left us sleepy and relaxed.
The weekend is nicely rounded off with a day on the Bürgenstock that soars to an altitude of around 1,500 metres out of turquoise Lake Lucerne. With haze wisping over the water, trees riotously golden and blotted layers of bluey summits like a watercolour painting, the scene is enchanting. From the Bürgenstock Resort - a dazzling spectacle of Belle Epoque grandeur and modern structural splendour that was once home to Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren - we follow the Felsenweg cliff path to the Hammetschwand, Europe's highest outdoor elevator. Here, we shoot up 150 metres in a glass-fronted box like something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, giddily suspended above the woodland that crowds the lake shores, to a viewpoint that overlooks grassy meadows and the Stanserhorn mountain.
After whizzing back down to the Felsenweg, our walk continues along the cliff edge, where the view looks like one from a Norwegian fjord, then through caves and woodland - illuminated by the sun like stained glass windows in a church - before easing onto a grassy meadow above another finger of Lake Lucerne. Lunch is at Taverne 1879, a traditional Swiss restaurant at Bürgenstock Resort. All wood cladding and giant decorative cowbells, it sits beside the chapel where Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer in 1954 and gazes upon meadows and mountains. We dine on cordon bleu (Tim and Dave), creamy Älplermakronen (Isobel) and salty potato Rösti with seasonal mushrooms and crispy veggies (me) followed by artistic Swiss meringues with double cream and berries.
Hearty fodder to end a hearty autumn weekend - perfect.
And below, beautiful photos of the weekend taken by my Aunt, Isobel Robinson...