Sierre

Sunday dawned just as overcast as Saturday, with the mountaintops shrouded in mist. Our planned 10:30 am start allowed us the benefit of sleeping in until some time after 8:00 am when we rose, showered and had breakfast. Although we could see down into Sierre and Majella fancied that the cloud was clearing in the west, the Val d’Anniviers, our preferred destination for the day, was full of mist.

Marie Francoise and Roland arrived shortly after 10:30 am with Nicolas and Yoann. Michel was saying mass at the convent and would join us later. Roland announced that the weather forecast for the Val d’Anniviers was not suitable for us to visit there. We would go with the alternative plan.

That began with a walk through the vineyards behind Serafino and the old buildings of Muraz to the Chateau Mercier, a house built by a wealthy family in the early 1900s and celebrating its centenary in 2008. We had visited there with Emily in 2006 and found the building and surrounds very interesting, so much so that Emily had insisted on a second visit. Joel and Yoann enjoyed the gardens with their statuary, the caged geese, and especially climbing the tower which afforded a 360 degree view of the valley. We could see the valley, but not the mountains which remained shrouded in mist.

We walked back to Serafino, arriving there by about midday. Michel arrived soon after and began making preparations for cooking raclette. Had we gone into the mountains, he planned to do it in the traditional way with an open fire but at Serafino he was using an electrical device which held half a wheel of cheese in a clamp with the flat side up where it could be heated by an electric element. After each portion of melted cheese was scraped off onto a plate using the back of a knife, the clamp was rotated around a central screw so that the cheese was raised a little each time. While Michel and the others made preparations – apart from the cheese and associated equipment to be readied, there were potatoes to cook and wine to be opened – Majella, Joel and I played boulles with Yoann. Majella won and I came a long last.

Raclette is slow food. As each tin layer of cheese is melted it is scraped onto a plate for one of the guests who then adds pepper to taste and eats the cheese, rumoured to be indigestible if allowed to cool, with hot boiled potato and pickles, washed down with white wine (or in Joel’s case, fruit juice). The process continued until we had eaten our fill of cheese. We were then offered schnapps to assist our digestion, followed by ice cream, coffee and more schnapps if it was wanted. Lunch occupied a bit more than 2 hours during which, in addition to eating, we engaged in lively conversation, or those who spoke French did and we others tried to follow what we could. As lunch finished, Nicolas and Yoann had to leave to catch their train back to Geneva.

After lunch was over and the clearing up was done, we headed west along the valley to St Leonard, which is between Sierre and Sion. There we spent an hour or so visiting the lac souterrain, the largest underground lake in Europe. The cave that contains the lake is about 300 m long, up to 15 m wide, and 50 m high. Tours are taken in boats that hold 30 or so passengers and a guide, who rows the boat and provides commentary in French, German, and English.

From St Leonard we were driven back to Sierre where we were to visit Bernard, a brother of marie Francoise. We met outside a disused shop near his apartment where he keeps his extensive collection of snakes – pythons of various species, patterns, origins, and sizes. He has been interested in snakes for the past 10 years or so and has developed a hobby business around breeding and selling them. he demonstrated the wide variety of snakes that he keeps with extensive commentary that, unfortunately for me and Joel, was in French. Joel enjoyed being able to hold a couple of snakes but was uncomfortable with the feeding demonstration in which a live rat was placed in a container with a python to be quickly caught, killed and swallowed.

Once the snake demonstration was completed, we walked the short distance to Bernard’s apartment where we met his wife, Sylke, and their two young children and enjoyed an hour or so of conversation over white wine and cold meats, cheese, and bread – traditional foods of Valais. As we left their apartment it started to rain again. It had rained intermittently through the day but never enough to affect our activities – other than twarting our planned excursion to the Val d’Anniviers.

We took Marie Francoise, Roland, and Michel to dinner at a restaurant in Sierre to thank them for their hospitality as we celebrated the end of our travels in Europe.

Our plans for the evening were to take our hosts to dinner to thank them for their hospitality. Because they had local knowledge which we lacked, we had left the choice of a venue to them. Around 8:00 pm we found ourselves in the Cafe d’Anniviers, toward the eastern end of Sierre. Joel had eaten a good deal of the cold meat served during our visit with Bernard and his family and confined himself to soup of the day washed down with Pepsi. Majella and Michel each had the gratin dish which was a mix of vegetables with a cheesy covering. Marie Francoise had a mushroom dish. Roland and I each had tranches du porc, a couple of lean pork pieces grilled and served with match stick fried potatoes. Each of the meals, other than those ordered by Joel and Marie Fancoise, included a salad that was served, USA style, before the meal. I had left the choice of wine to Michel who seems to be well acquainted with the local wines, and probably most of the makers. He selected a red that went well with the food and we also had some water to help it along. Dessert for most of us consisted of variations on ice cream served in different ways but Joel opted for the flambe mocha dessert and was most impressed as the waitress lit it in front of him and spooned the sauce over to make sure that the alcohol was burned off.

Dinner was over by about 9:30 pm and we headed back to Serafino to pack our bags and prepare for our departure the following morning.