Friday, January 30, 2015

Alpine Swissmas in the Val Calanca

The Val Calanca
No electricity, frozen toes, no indoor plumbing, cooking over an indoor open fire, compost toilet, and hiking high above the Val Calanca taking in breath taking views of snowy peaks with the kind of friends that are just the right combination of wild and hilarious?  This was the recipe for an amazingly rustic Swiss Christmas adventure that will remain one of my favorites.

The Val Calanca lies in the Graubünden Canton just near the Leopotine Alps.  Its main villages include Rossa, Cauco, Selma, Arvigo, Buseno, and Santa Maria.  While the Graubünden area of Switzerland boasts of some of the most virginal forest in all of Switzerland, the Val Calanca seems to be a very well kept secret.  Nothing like the touristy kitsch of many of the other alpine towns seems to exist here and these villages look quite a bit like they might have 100 years ago featuring stone slate rooftops, white chapels with frescoes decorating the outside, randomly roaming goat herds and curiously friendly Italian-speaking locals.   To give you an idea of just how isolated these villages are, the closest village to our little hut was Cauco which only has a population of 35 residents, most of which are above the age of 70.  Many of the area’s historic buildings are only accessible by foot or old-timey cable car. I’m still not sure if I took a regular Post bus or a time machine.
Grandma's House

I would never have thought of looking for a Ferienhaus in which to spend four days of the Christmas holiday.  Even this Colorado girl doesn’t really do winter camping.  If you ask Nick, my butt freezes solid in November and doesn’t thaw until April.  We’re talking permafrost.  However, my friend Sasha has the uncanny ability to find the most unique travel deals.  She’s a travel wunderkind and certainly worked her planning magic when she found our adorable Cà da l’ Ava (“Grandmother’s House” in the local dialect) for just about 30 CHF per day, per person after wood and kerosene costs.  I call it “ours” because at the end of our adventure, we questioned briefly if anyone staying there after us would love it like we did.  We decided that it was impossible.
Boys getting a tan

The advertisement for this rental is one of the funniest I have ever read and I suspect that after meeting the caretaker, Herr Sergio Menzi, he must be responsible for listing “chopping wood” and “chores” as fun, leisure time activities.  Sergio spends the summers teaching a nature camp for kids and the winter visiting and making candles for the elderly members of the villages.  All laughing aside, there is something very rewarding about spending the 4 hours of daylight (sunrise at 10:30 and sunset at 2:30) fetching water, prepping for the evening meal, sorting wood and tending the fire, and exploring the surrounding hillside before having to rely on the dim but cozy light of candles and a few petrol lamps.

Spoiled goat waits for breakfast
Sharing stories around the outdoor campfire, feeding foxes leftover potatoes and meat, and staring at the jaw-dropping winter night sky were followed by Christmas crackers, a dubious and still contentious game of Scrabble and my very first taste of caviar.  Thanks to Sasha and James, the cuisine was elevated beyond Nick and my staple, cave-dweller camping routine of beans, wieners on sticks and marshmallows.

Mr. Murderface Bingam
All was calm until Nick slipped and bashed his face against the rock wall of the outdoor fire pit.  Bloody, but nothing serious and still I tended to hover over him, watching ever step and giving warnings and advice about safety and generally driving him bonkers for the last two days.  Sergio took one look at Nick’s face and asked what happened, laughed and said that Nick’s little brush with danger was “at no extra charge.”  Sergio also mentioned that we shouldn't be offended when people on the train avoided us because we "smell of the fire." Honestly, we looked rough and smelled rougher.  And who says the Swiss don’t have a sense of humor?

Check out the rental here and say “hello” to Sergio for us: