We’d had enough. Enough sun and heat. We needed a way to escape.
Without many options to avoid the heat we realised the only way we could cool down was to find a lake or swimming pool. I took a look on the Vaud Alps website to see if I could get any ideas. All of the different districts of Switzerland seem to have their own tourism websites which are useful and extremely comprehensive.
I found a page about swimming and overlayed the possibilities with P4Ns stopovers. There were a few options nearby. We decided we’d prefer a lake rather than pools (although the swimming pool in Aigle was quite tempting) so we picked Lac Retaud as our destination.
Staying in a Motorhome at Lac Retaud
First of all we had to pass through the village of Les Diablerets (Ormont-Dessus is the actual name of the village but the ski resort name of Les Diablerets seems to have stuck). Here we could pay our tourist tax and get the local tourist card which gave us access to free public transport.
In the tourist office we double checked that parking was allowed at the lake. After the assistant had checked their documentation we were informed there were three places we could stop; in the village car park, in the Glacier 3000 gondola car park and at Lac Retaud. In each of those places there was no parking charge, just the tourist tax to be paid. I have no doubt that many people don’t even bother with that, certainly we never saw anyone checking.
We had a quick wander around Les Diablerets. There was a small selection of market stalls so we picked up some very nice bread, for a very nice price. 7 francs for a small loaf of this enriched bread called ‘Tresse’ (also known as Zopf in German speaking Switzerland) seemed quite extortionate. It was good though.
Then it was onwards and upwards to our lakeside spot. I was a little nervous about the drive, something I tried not to make too obvious to Paul even while I double checked that he knew the access road was steep and narrow. In the end I shouldn’t have worried too much. There were enough passing places and just a couple of blind bends, we’ve certainly been on more difficult roads in the UK. Having said that we decided that we would be leaving on an afternoon so that we were going in the same general direction as the other traffic.
Up by the lake we were one of only a handful of vehicles in the parking. There was one other motorhome and a few cars. We were both a little disappointed that we couldn’t see the lake from the car park as it is obscured by an embankment.
As soon as we’d found a level spot, which was a bit tricky with the uneven ground, we walked over to the lake. We took a short stroll around it’s perimeter, trying to measure it’s length and width, maybe 120m by 80m. Not huge as lakes go but a lot bigger than a swimming pool. A couple of people were swimming, but it was very peaceful. Dragonflies darted over the water and in it’s green depths we could make out some decent sized fish, something with red fins. Paul said later that many small perch type fish have greenish bodies and red fins so we have no idea what they specifically were.
We sussed out the best points to enter the water, places where it was a little gravelly or stony rather than soft and squidgy, and somewhere there was the option to sit in shade or in sun. Then we went back to the van to put our swimming togs on and pick up towels. A plunge in the water was just what we needed. By swimming out into the centre of the lake we could float in the cool water and have views of the glacier clad mountains beyond. It really was idyllic.
A couple of explosive blasts from the mountains opposite us broke the peace. We found out later that a footpath was closed due to mining/construction work. It wasn’t clear what was being done but the work must have stopped for the weekend as we didn’t hear them again.
That evening we saw a wedding party setting out a picnic by the edge of the lake, fussing around trying to get the perfect shot of the bride’s dress while the groom stood a distance away patiently waiting. We felt we should give them some privacy, although they had chosen a public place to do this. Back at the car park many small vans started to arrive n the car park. It is obviously a popular weekend spot and suits small vans as there are toilets open 24 hours. There was a bit of a party atmosphere until it got dark.
In the morning we had fun watching a helicopter delivering a shepherds hut and some building supplies. We’ve seen a few of these little huts on the mountains, wooden sheds with a stove inside and solar panels on top. A worker was lowered from the helicopter and then the helicopter left and returned with the deliveries. We watched as the worker tried to control the descent of the hut under the downdraft of the helicopter. I was very glad we weren’t parked anywhere near it.
Once the helicopter had gone there was noise of a different kind as we saw a small herd of cows being driven down the mountain, their bells clanging loudly. A practise called ‘désalpe’ in French speaking Switzerland. We’re hoping to see more of this over the coming weeks.
On the Saturday morning we went for an early bike ride up to the Col des Anderets. It started with steady ascent up mountain roads above the treeline. We passed the top of a ski lift and several small farm buildings. There was a distinct smell of goat in the air but we could only see a distant flock on the hillside. As always there was the clanging of bells accompanying us.
At the top Paul collapsed dramatically on the grass declaring it was too hot to go a step further. I walked over to the other side of the col where I got amazing views of the reservoir Arnesee, definitely worth the 20 or so additional steps.
On the way down we retraced our route, zooming quickly down the tracks and taking care to avoid the many groups of pedestrians who were now out on their morning walks. At the small refeshment hut of La Marneche we decided to take an alternative route, following a marked bike trail that contoured above Lac Retaud. This became a very pleasant stretch of moderately downhill single track which we both enjoyed.
We returned the bikes to the motorhome and swiftly changed into our swimming clothes for another dip. As we walked past the restaurant we could see a sign declaring it was ‘complet’ and it’s small terrace was full of people. Around the lake there were plenty of visitors in various states of dress, from sunbathing families to folk dressed up for a meal out trying to circumnavigate the lake on the occasionally muddy path in heels and shiny shoes.
After returning the Bertie for some lunch Paul was in the mood to sit and relax for the rest of the afternoon but I had itchy feet. The small peak of La Palette provides the backdrop to the lake, so I declared I would quickly climb to the top and back. It was a short path, barely 3km to the peak and as usual when I’m on my own I set off at a bit of a pace. This was fine until the path steepened for the final push uphill. I imagine I was beetroot red as I puffed my way up to the top, wishing I had bought my poles with me. The path took small rocky and occasionally exposed zigzags up to the peak where I could finally get views over the lake and to the peaks beyond.
I waved at Paul sitting back down below outside the motorhome and swigged my bottle of water. It was definitely worth it but now I needed another swim. I picked my way back down the path and texted Paul to make sure he was ready to go back to the lake.
Short walk to Cascade du Dar
The following morning we started early again to go on a short walk in the other direction, downhill to the Glacier 3000 parking and then further down to find the Cascade du Dar. There is a via ferrata here but we decided not to attempt it. We were already planning one on the following day.
We found our way easily to the point where the main path crosses the Dar and then followed a narrow path uphill along the side of the stream. Soon it became a series of small cascades through limestone worn into smooth hollows with the constant flow of water. Eventually we reached a point where it felt impossible to continue. We knew there was a way up to the bottom of the main cascade because people use it to descend from the via ferrata but we couldn’t find it.
A lady behind us was bemused too and we both set off in different directions to try and find it. We crossed the stream and she stayed on the west side. As Paul and I sat on an outcrop with views of the waterfall she called over to us that she had found the way. It was obviously a better vantage point than us as the main spout of the waterfall was obscured from our side. Paul tried to climb higher to see if he could recross the stream, but it looked far too dicey to me so I waited for him. Eventually he gave up his search, tired of scrabbling up mossy rocks, and we walked back to the Motorhome.
Then it was time to leave. It was a wrench to pack up and get ready to go but water was running low and we couldn’t stay forever. We waited for another vehicle to leave and followed them down, using their brake lights as an early warning system to tell us if something was coming up the road We only met one car and then it was plain sailing to the main road and back downhill to Leysin.