Expat adventures

Fri, 06. Mar. 2020

You’ve undoubtedly seen the sleighs parked outside St Niklaus-Kapelle during the winter season, complete with magnificent horses and sleigh bells. They really look the part and are, not surprisingly, a popular attraction with visitors and locals alike.

Gstaad offers visitors breath-taking scenery, a respite from the hurly-burly of modern life and a dazzling array of entertainment and experiences where you can “come up, slow down”. But if, like me, you’re not keen on whizzing down hills at breakneck speed and are seeking a less energetic activity, why not try a sleigh ride?

Slow down
I experienced my first horse-drawn ride here many years ago, when my husband booked a sleigh to take us from Gstaad to the Chlösterli. Aware that we would be travelling no great distance – only six to seven kilometres – I distinctly remember him asking the driver to “ride around for a bit” if there was any risk of our arriving at the restaurant too early.

As the horses trotted along the tracks, sure-footed despite the compacted snow, I remember feeling a tremendous sense of calm as we shushed along in the sleigh. I have little doubt the temperature was well below zero, but we were cosily bundled under countless layers of blankets.

We’d been travelling for quite a while before I realised that despite the horses’ measured pace, we were still a long way from our destination. It’s at times like this you realise how quickly and efficiently cars transport you from A to B without giving it a second thought.

Suffice it to say, there was no need that evening for the driver to make any kind of detour and on reaching the Chlösterli we headed straight for the bar to cup our hands around warming glasses of brandy. Our return journey lasted a matter of moments in a taxi.

An unexpected turn
Twelve years later we were back in Gstaad, this time with our young family. We had recently moved to the region and were ambling along the Promenade, taking in the sights and sounds.

It was one of those beautiful winter days, freezing cold yet bright and sunny. As we came across the sleighs parked outside the chapel our middle son raced up to pet the horses. He began pleading with us to go on a sleigh ride. Mindful of our chilly trip years before, we opted for the shortest route. In hindsight we were mightily glad of this decision, but for an altogether unexpected reason.

Everything started well. Our boys were almost too excited to sit still as they oohed and aahed at the horses and waved madly at every passerby. But it didn’t take long for us to realise that something was amiss with our eldest son.

It started with a sneeze. Followed by another. And another. And another until his face turned a speckly red and the skin around his eyes started to puff up in a rather alarming manner. Uh oh. He was clearly having an allergic reaction to the horse hair and a trip to the pharmacy became our top priority. Happily he was soon as right as rain and there was even a silver lining from the whole episode: our son is at least now armed with the knowledge he should avoid sleigh rides when romancing girlfriends and skip straight to the bar instead.

But for me there’s nothing quite like the sense of calm you get from being drawn across a snowy landscape. So why not “come up, slow down” and book yourself a sleigh adventure of your own?

Anna Charles

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