“My first outdoor cooking memories are full of erratic British summers, Dad swearing at a barbecue that he couldn’t put together, and eventually eating charred sausages, feeling brilliant,” so wrote Jamie Oliver, TV chef.
Things have changed a lot since the 1980s. Now you can buy gas-fired barbecues that turn out food as consistently as if you’d prepared it in your kitchen or, at the other end of the scale, single use ‘instant barbecues’ that contain easy-light charcoal in foil containers. But for me there is still no better barbecue experience than cooking over an open fire in the great outdoors.
Bikes and barbecues
And outdoors is where Saanenland excels. Skiers love the slopes in winter, but for me it’s all about the summer. There are endless places where you can hike, run or cycle and, of course, eat ‘al fresco’.
Our favourite picnic place is situated in a leafy glade just outside Feutersoey. It’s a thirty-minute cycle ride from Gstaad along quiet roads and pathways and while it’s uphill all the way there, this at least means it’s downhill all the way back.
There are two barbecue areas in the glade. Each has a fire pit kitted out with a metal grill arm which you swing forward or back across the fire depending on how much heat you need. Between the fire pits is a shed stocked with wood and kindling for you to use and, with tables and benches to seat 15-18 people, it’s an absolutely terrific set up. A couple of years ago a portable toilet, neatly encased in a wooden frame sympathetic to its surroundings, was also added.
These facilities are available on a first come, first served basis, but we’ve never had any problems using them. At worst you might have to wait a while until a fire pit is available, but this has the advantage of providing a ready-made pile of hot ashes that you just need to poke before unwrapping your sausages and burgers.
Nature’s wine cooler
Our favourite spot has a gentle stream running alongside the picnic area. There’s a large tree with a thick branch that extends over the stream; this gave our boys hours of climbing fun when they were younger. Now they’re older they still enjoy dangling their feet in the cool water.
And to the left of the tree there’s a small cluster of rocks in the stream that serves as the perfect place to cool the obligatory bottle of white wine. On one memorable occasion this didn’t prove to be quite such a perfect set-up, however.
With the salad laid out on the table and the pork steaks cooked, we sent one of our sons to grab the wine cooling in the stream. He lifted the bottle out of the water and held it aloft. “Someone’s been drinking it,” he shouted. Sure enough it was no more than two-thirds full, though we had only bought it that morning.
We looked around, confused. And then we saw them: a group of three or four walkers slinking quietly away. We would have invited them back for a glass to laugh over the misunderstanding, but they seemed keen to get away.
Try it yourself
Any of the local tourist information offices can provide you with a map of the local area. These wonderful barbecue spots are marked as ‘Grillplatz / Aire de grillade / Barbecue area” with a picture of a log and a flame.
Whether you’re keen to cycle for miles or just want a gentle stroll, I’ve no doubt there will be a place to suit you.
But if you spot a bottle of wine cooling in nearby water, hands off! It’s mine.