Alpine Adventure


There’s supposed to be something terribly romantic about the Alps. They’ve been attracting British tourists in ever-increasing numbers since Victorian times, when young men imbued with the confidence and arrogance of Empire pitted their strength against the elements on the likes of the Matterhorn and the Eiger. Those of us who grew up in the 1980s watched spellbound as, in the BBC adaptation of Johanna Spyri’s famous book, sweet little Heidi beguiled her gruff old grandfather and Peter the goatherd on the slopes of the Swiss mountains. The von Trapp family even escaped the clutches of the Nazis by fleeing across the Alps. Well, they did in the stage and film version of their story, anyway.

Most entrancing of all, however, were all those boarding school stories in which parties of girls and mistresses on half term expeditions set off for a jolly walk in the mountains only to find themselves stranded by a sudden thunderstorm, avalanche, twisting of an ankle or generally all three with, just as all seemed lost, help appearing in the form of a sturdy young man, generally handsome, single and on the lookout for a wife. I’d always secretly longed to be caught up in a scenario like that, but the most exciting thing that ever happened on any of our school trips was an encounter with a flasher outside York Minster. Many years past my schooldays, it looked as if my chance of adventure in the Alps had passed.

So I was actually rather thrilled when the cable car which takes tourists up and down Monte Tamaro, just outside Lugano, broke down whilst I and the rest of my tour group were atop the summit. Surely some dashing young goatherd, or at the very least some dashing young cable car engineer, would soon race to our rescue. In the meantime, surely some apple-cheeked farmer’s wife would offer us rich, creamy milk and home-made cake by the fireside in her cosy kitchen. What an adventure it would be!

Well, no, actually. There must have been some farms up there somewhere, but we didn't manage to find any of them. The best on offer was a canteen of sorts which served up coffee at extortionate Swiss prices and sold baseball caps with “Monte Tamaro” printed on the back of them. It didn’t even have very much in the way of chocolate, which was the least you’d expect in Switzerland of all places. Furthermore, instead of thick flakes of snow beginning to dance down, which always seemed to happen in books, or, as an acceptable alternative, glorious sunshine framing magical views across a panorama of southern Switzerland and northern Italy, we just got grey clouds and a very British sort of drizzle. Instead of being borne off by a handsome goatherd, I ended up sharing a table with a group of strangers whilst attempting to understand La Gazzetta della Sport’s opinion on the likelihood of AC Milan winning the following season’s European Cup (I’ve never been able to get to used to calling it “the Champions League”).

They fixed the cable car eventually. We got back down to ground level. We missed most of our allocated time at Lake Lugano, one of my favourite spots in Europe – although I still managed to find a few minutes for an ice cream and a bar of Toblerone. Then we just went back to the hotel. It wasn’t very dramatic, really. No-one went hurtling over the side of a cliff and had to be rescued by a rope made of knotted underwear hastily stripped off by their companions. No-one fell into a snowdrift. No-one even “dished their ankle” as people in school stories were always doing. It was just exceedingly dull and boring – and that was precisely what misfortunes in the romantic, romanticised Alps weren’t meant to be.

So much for adventure.

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