Mollendruz and Romainm˘tier
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 ground.

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 outdoor experiences.

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.

Also nearby:
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 summer.

Related Links

La Maison du Prieure
Concerts, Brunches and Dinner Events in the fabulous old Prior's House next to the cathedral.

Romainmotier Website

Schedule of Concerts in the Cathedral

How 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.

From Mollendruz to Romainmtier
(15 - 20 minutes)

Return down 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 point.