It was as Kathy Lette yodelled for the 48th time that I killed her. That is what a summer holiday in Switzerland does to you. I blame the combination of goats, chocolate, mountains and a sunny day.
What surprised me about the country – and specifically the Graubunden region – is how it is precisely as you would want and expect the place to be.
It is incredibly clean, very picturesque, all the church and town hall clocks tell the right time, and even the buses run to schedule.
River deep, mountain high: Penny and Kathy found spa relaxation amid the splendid scenery of Graubunden
‘Train to Bad Ragaz leaving at precisely 13.32,’ I say to Kathy, as we run from the airport to the station.
‘Laydohlaydolayheyho,’ sings Kathy, popping on her straw hat.
Actually, just assume this is her response to almost anything, because the only thing that seems to stop her tonsils warbling is food and drink.
Bad Ragaz, which sounded to me like a rapper with a low-slung trouser, is a quaint town with a selection of tidy buildings including an obligatory church.
We store our baggage in flimsy-looking tin cupboards at the station to take a bus trip to a famous and very old spa bath.
The taking of the healing waters at Tamina Gorge began 700 years ago, when Benedictine monks rigged up a medieval bungee jump to swing sick people down to the thermal pools, where they left them sitting in the water for up to a week.
Not a low-trousered rapper after all: The town of Bad Ragaz sits framed by glorious mountain scenery
Our guide, Jacqueline Schwitter, says: ‘You can imagine how wrinkly they got, but they believed the skin had to open up to allow the illness to come out.’
It takes ten-and-half years for the water to travel from its source before emerging through a crack in the gorge, and the temperature and mineral content never changes.
In 1535, a local physician wrote about their efficacy and ‘elf and safety suddenly got involved, with men being required to remove firearms before entering and guests who committed indecency being banished for 101 years.
Our night’s accommodation is at the Heidihof Hotel, where our beds have the most gigantic pillows.
The hotel food is excellent – as is the local wine – and we sleep like clean, tidy logs.
In the morning, we walk over to Maienfeld to see the Heidi village – dedicated to the little mountain girl created by Swiss author Johanna Spyri in the late 19th century. It is the most translated novel in the world. ‘Interestingly, her husband, Bernhard Spyri, was a friend of Wagner,’ I remark.
A very pretty state of affairs: Bad Ragaz is a picture of peaceful Swiss tranquility
Kathy yodels lightly and fingers some Heidi honey, before settling on a postcard featuring a girl in plaits and a goat. We’re picked up by Clemens Zehender from the Castle Salenegg, one of the oldest wine estates in Europe and, since 1998, run by a woman.
‘She has changed things for the better,’ says Clemens. Tell you one thing: the place is immaculate. You could eat your dinner off the floor.
Surprisingly, the vineyard also produces vinegar, which is the enemy of the vine because of the bacteria needed to make it.
‘Vinegar is actually a refining of wine,’ explains Clemens, over a delicious lunch of salad dressed with horseradish and mint vinegars.
Later, we dump our bags at the five-star Grand Hotel Hof Ragaz, which has that peculiarly spa thing of people meandering around in dressing gowns, and go for a quick trot up to a ruined castle.
We accidentally get lost and Kathy gets propositioned by an old man called Fritz on a bicycle who is wearing Lycra shorts. All the afternoon’s worries are massaged away with fragrant melissa oil in the spa before we enjoy more local wine at the Restaurant Zollstube, and Kathy eats what she declares is the freshest trout she has ever tasted.
A fragment of literary history: The idyllic village of Maienfeld is the setting for the classic Alpine story Heidi
‘9.27,’ I point out to Kathy the next morning, as we get the train to Ospizio Bernina (arr: 12.39).
Some of the trip is on a Unesco World Heritage railway, following the Rhine and cutting past snow-topped mountains, glaciers and pointy-turreted castles on rocky promontories. ‘I have a total head for heights,’ says Kathy, ‘but I’m more used to social-climbing than mountain-climbing.’
We hike past an ice blue lake to Alp Grum where we lunch while gazing at the glacier. The handsome waiter, Fabrice, tries to explain the meaning of Kasespatzliauflauf mit Schinkenspeck Wurfel und Kase. Kathy flirts with him until he tells her firmly that his name is Fabrice, not Febreze like the smell.
I have the soup. On the train back, she eventually says: ‘I have run out of superlatives for the scenery. I’m going to have to get Stephen Fry to airlift in some adjectives.’
We spend that night at rocksresort in Laax, a typical skiers’ place, with the most delicious big stone bath and steam room combined, which we plunge into after gorging ourselves on Thai food at Nooba.
A very fast form of clockwork: Penny was very impressed by the punctuality of the Swiss railway system
It’s a culinary hiking trail the next day, up to restaurants in the mountains, where we get our cards stamped and build up a full meal.
At 10.02am, we have a glass of prosecco, at 11.17am we march past meadows and huts bearing geraniums in window boxes to another restaurant for melon and ham.
Then, up past a sign pointing to the Crap mountain (oh, how we tittered), we come across a crystal-clear stream which we drink from (‘the Dom Perignon of the Alps’, says Kathy) and into a blizzard of butterflies, beyond which we have our pasta course.
From there, it’s a fairly heavy slog uphill to Startgels where we have a splendid repast, with tons of vegetables.
We skip pudding and set off home, with me running ahead, having perfected a low-gravity lope which Kathy describes as like a little old man with heavy underpants.
Back at the hotel, we elect to unwind in a rather small swimming pool.
‘What does this do?’ asks Kathy, pressing a button just above water level.
A huge dump of water lands on my head.
‘Wasserfall probably means waterfall,’ I say.
Two wheels good: Kathy and Penny explored the meadows and lanes of Graubunden by bicycle
I stand closer to her as she peruses the next one, hoping to avoid any problems.
She presses. I feel a huge thump in the ribs and with a slight woomph, shoot across the pool propelled by two jets. It’s a current to swim against.
We don’t attempt the Bodensprudel button.
At Grandis restaurant that night, we go past the wine racks to get to our table and have a delicious bottle of local red which tastes of black pepper and chocolate.
Our final morning is spent on an electric bike, which is now my favourite form of transport ever.
We zip with minimum effort past meadows full of lilac scabious, buttercups and daisies.
We are tempted by a dip in Lake Cresta, but we have to get back because the bus leaves at 12.22 precisely.
I tap my watch as it arrives. ‘Spot-on,’ I say.
‘Laydodelayohdelayayho,’ says Kathy.
I stab her to death with a Toblerone. It’s what she would have wanted.
Travel Facts: Plan your own escape to sunny Switzerland
Source: Mail Online