Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Camping ...Swiss style

A tent in the wilderness, you against the elements….a river to bathe in, a wood fire to cook rice and boil eggs after a long day out walking …………basic, back to nature.
Armed with tent and these romantic clichés of camping trips back home in India, we set out on our first camping adventure here in Switzerland. But there is no raw wilderness and unexplored expanses in the middle of nowhere in this country. And even if there were, you would not be allowed to camp in them. Well, though I know a few people who did  end up camping in the woods; trying anything that could conceivably be illegal, takes a lot of expat courage in Switzerland so we felt morally compelled to limit ourselves to designated campsites.
So there we were, tent in hand at a four star camp (yes camps here have star ratings too) in the Valais, our romantic notions still largely unshaken. An hour later we find ourselves on a small  square pitch of land on a street lined cheek by jowl with orange, red and green contraptions (some with multiple rooms) on either side and separated by a narrow ‘street’ to park cars.  Washing hanging out to dry, kids running amuck. An incongruous, inappropriate, irreverent thought flashes past my mind before I can stop myself .. ‘Dharavi, Mumbai’ …….. (for those unfamiliar with this, according to Wikipedia, this is a locality in Mumbai where nearly a million people live in an area less than 1 square mile).
It didn't take us long to discover the other luxuries that lay in wait ………
dozens of sparkling clean toilets within 100 meters, shower rooms with running hot water,  washing machines, hot water basins to wash vessels. Every little camp pitch is complete with heavy duty electric plug points and of course you are  wifi connected. If you don't want to rough it out enough to pull out the electric BBQ or your coffee machine, there is always the camp restaurant. And if nature isn’t enough entertainment, the site comes complete with ping pong tables, a tennis court and swimming pool. And of course, bouncy castles for the brats.
Nevertheless, we were not daunted by Swiss perfection ……having pitched our tent, we went for a walk got caught in a thunderstorm and returned wet and cold only to find we had left our tent flaps wide open and the tent floor, our change of clothes and our sleeping bags were soaked. Moreover we found that our tent (not Swiss, I might add) had developed a leak  …………here we were in 5 star luxury, with damp clothes no sleeping bags and a puddle for a tent !  And so, two adults, one sulky and smelly (wet dogs always smell!) dog and three sulkier teenagers, spent the night cramped in the car, squished into near immobility and a total ban on trampling arms, legs and dog tails which made getting out to pee somewhat impossible. 

Well unless you get lucky, your camping experince is likely to be tamer and more 5 star. Though washouts for real campers, Swiss campsites do offer an excellent and often cheaper alternative to hotels especially when you have a car, kids and pets. Choose un starred or smaller family run campsites for less luxury, more unpredictability and a more rustic charm.

All in all, I guess there is something to be said for waking up in the pristine alpine air and finding that a 30 meter walk brings you to fresh croissants and cappuccino and then sipping it sitting outside you tent watching the laundry dangle, pets pooping (of course very meticulously cleaned up after their owners) and the birds singing .........
 Have you been camping in Switzerland? What were your experiences?

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