Pleasures for Body and Spirit
Cross country skiing through pine forests followed by a concert
in one of Europe's most beautiful Romanesque abbeys - could
there be any more spiritual way to spend a Sunday?
A few weeks ago, during one of the most miserable rainy days
Geneva can offer, a group of us decided to brave the weather
and loaded our cross country skis into the car. It was warm,
and as we rose along the curving road toward the mountain
pass, it seemed that the rain would never cease. It was only
at the very crest that the gray downpour was miraculously
transformed to thick white snowflakes drifting lazily to the
Four of us set out alone on the Chalet Dernier trail, gliding
through the silent forest of pines, their branches bowed with
thick white flakes. "I feel as though we are in one of
those winter wonderland paper weights and someone has just
shaken it," commented one of my ski companions, almost
whispering in awe. Otherwise, we skied in silence, enveloped
by the peace and purity of the whiteness all around us. Persistence,
even in the rain, had blessed us with one of the most perfect
Chalet Dernier, one of my favorite cross country trails,
is situated at the crest of the Mollendruz pass, just a little
over an hour's drive from Geneva. It's a spiritual landscape
in a spiritual neighborhood. Nearby is Switzerland's oldest
abbey, Romainm˘tier, where classical concerts are often held
on Sundays in the late afternoon. What could be more perfect
than combining the two: a cross country ski run at midday,
followed by a concert in Romainm˘tier (see box on next page
for a schedule).
The Chalet Dernier trail starts on the right hand side of
the road just a little beyond the Auberge du Mollendruz. It
is relatively flat, and winds through forests and pastures
on a one-way circular route. If the weather is right, the
views across the valleys and towards the Alps can be spectacular.
The full circuit extends for around 13 kilometers, and the
only really difficult area is one very steep descent just
before the "last chalet" for which the trail is
named. There are three different places to turn back if you
prefer a shorter route. The last one comes just a few meters
before the steep descent, so if you lose courage after looking
at it, you can back-track and take the easier return route.
Cross country ski equipment can be rented at a little shop
at the top of the pass right next to the Auberge du Mollendruz.
Tickets for the trails cost Sfr 5 per day or Sfr 40 for the
season for the entire Swiss Jura. On weekends there is sometimes
someone verifying tickets at the beginning of the trail, so
it is a good idea to purchase one at the shop and save yourself
a trip back. You'll be contributing to the excellent upkeep
of the trails.
After all that exercise, you'll want to keep your stomach
from growling during the concert. The Auberge du Mollendruz
offers a warm hearth and hearty Swiss specialities. On Sundays,
the Auberge offers a menu ( Sfr 20 en assiette, 29 Sfr en
petit menu, or Sfr 39 for the full meal with dessert ) until
2 P.M. After 2:00 P.M., the restaurant continues to serve
simple dishes including fondue and croute au fromage until
around 5 P.M.
Another delightful option would be to drive down to Romainm˘tier
for a light lunch and pastry in the tearoom at La Maison du
Prieur (the Prior's House), which is located in the abbey
courtyard. Owner Katerina Von Arx has spent 37 years restoring
this unique building which once provided palatial banquet
halls for royalty and other dignitaries on pilgrimage. At
the end of the 13th Century, one branch of the pilgrim's road
between Aix La Chapelle and Santiago de Compostela, passed
through Romainm˘tier. "In those days a King or a Bishop
would travel with an entourage of around 100 people,"
Von Arx explained. Nearly 2000 such grand reception rooms
were built around Europe to accomodate the traveling courtiers
in the style they were accustomed to.
Today the four grand reception halls of the Prior House
can be visited for a donation of Sfr 5 or rented for modern-day
receptions of up to 200 people. Caterer Ulrich Indermuhle
also organizes special dinners and musical events in the Prior
House. See his website
for more details.
The tea house at La Maison du Prieur serves home-baked quiches,
tartes and small meals both before and after the Sunday concerts.
A charming cellar below the main house can be opened for dinner
for groups, but only if you reserve in advance.
Another charming tea house in the village is Le M˘tier. Huge
delicious home-baked tarts featuring unusual combinations
of fruit and nuts are served in a panelled interior that reminds
me architecturally of a Victorian era saloon. Something about
the atmosphere here is very Woodstock in the sixties.
The main attraction in Romainm˘tier is naturally the abbey
itself. Built between 990 and 1028 by monks from Cluny, it
is a masterpiece of the Romanesque period. Religious services
are held daily at 6:45 a.m, 12.15 pm., and 6:20 pm. Sunday
worship is at 10 A.M.
Les Charbonnieres: Visit the
fromagerie Rochat where brothers Remy and Jean-Michel
oversee production of Vacherin cheese. Their little shop also
offers a nice selection of wines.
Dent de Vaulion: Distinctive peak that looks like the old
Prudential Insurance logo. A lovely hike to the crest in the
Maison du Prieure
Concerts, Brunches and Dinner Events in the fabulous old Prior's
House next to the cathedral.
of Concerts in the Cathedral
to get to Mollendruz
(A little over one hour's drive from Geneva )
Take the highway towards Lausanne. Take direction Yverdon/
Neuchatel. Exit at Cossonay (Around 40 minutes from Geneva).
From the exit follow the signs for Lisle and then for Mollendruz.
It is around 30 minutes from the autoroute to the Mollendruz
pass. The ski shop which rents equipment is right next to
the restaurant. The "Chalet Dernier" run starts
around 50 meters down the road on your right hand side. There
is parking on either side of the road.
Mollendruz to Romainmtier
(15 - 20 minutes)
the hill in the direction of Lisle. A little below the top
there is a small road leading to the left with a sign for
Romainm"tier, which is around 10 minutes drive from this