In the run up to International Day of Happiness, Raul Dias tells you why Engelberg, Switzerland is one of the happiest places on earth thanks to some angelic intervention and Mother Nature
I’m not a huge fan of train travel. But whenever I find myself in Switzerland, I always have a change of heart. Bucolic little towns with steepled churches and a countryside dotted with perfect little farmhouses and barns whiz past you, leaving a blur of green with specks of yellow from the wild daisies popping up every now and then. However, my recent late winter trip to Switzerland showed me a totally different side to the country.
The train ride from Lucerne to Engelberg is all of the above save for the last 10 minutes. Just after you pass the station of Grafenort, a dark, depressing tunnel suddenly seems to swallow up the entire train for around seven minutes, leaving you wondering if there is any light at the end of the tunnel.
Quite literally! And then, all of a sudden, your eyes try their best to adjust to the blinding beauty they are forced to witness. A veritable mountainous winter wonderland awaits you, just as the train pulls up at Engelberg’s tiny train station all sheathed in a fuzzy snow blanket. “This is divinity at its best,” you hear yourself say. Without realising that in the case of Engelberg this is very much the case.
The angel angle
Legend has it that it was the voice of an angel that ordered the founding of the medieval Benedictine monastery in the town and thus its name became Engelberg or “Angel’s Town”. A huge, imposing structure, the monastery is the all-important axis around which the entire town pivots. It finds itself represented in some of the most interesting ways. Take for example, my very first stop, the Show Cheese Factory at the monastery.
Dating back to the 17th century, the most important source of income for the monastery and the people of the valley of Engelberg was cattle and cheese trade. Cheese was carried on mules over passes in the Swiss Alps. Traders from Engelberg would journey over the Jochpass to the Grimsel hospice, where they would meet up with their Italian counterparts, in order to trade cheese for wine and silk.
Today, the happy, ever-smiling staff at the well-appointed Cheese Factory take pride in demonstrating to visitors from around the world the ancient art of cheese making. It is here where fresh milk, coming from cows which feed in the lush Engelberg pastures and surrounding Alps, is used to produce the delicious Swiss Monastery Cheese, particularly the very popular Engelberger Klosterglocke soft cream cheese that takes its bell shape from the monastery’s bell that tolls promptly on the hour to this very day.
Another great calling card that Engelberg hold close to its heart is the ultra-popular winter haven of Mt. Titlis. A short 10-minute walk or a 3-minute bus ride from Engelberg’s train station and you find yourself at the base of the cable car valley station to go up Mt. Titlis.
The new 8-seater cable cars whisk you comfortably from Engelberg directly to Stand station. You then take the world’s first revolving cable car, the Titlis Rotair, to the summit station at 3,020 metres above sea level.
Once at the top Titlis keeps up to its promise of being the ultimate in winter fun. Boasting more than 80 km of slopes, most of which are snow-sure, the ski area offers plenty of variety from off piste to the more controlled free style skiing. What’s more, you are guaranteed of enjoying all the snow action from October through until May.
And if skiing isn’t your thing then you can let off some steam in the snow park at Trübsee Alpine Lodge. Just grab a snowtube, minibob or balancer and whiz down the piste, whipping up a mini blizzard as you go. At 3,041 metres above sea level, the Titlis Cliff Walk is not just one of the newest attractions up the mountain, but also Europe’s highest suspension bridge. Once you ford the bridge you can take a walk to the vantage point at Stotzig Egg and admire the view of Engelberg below.
Raul Dias a Mumbai-based food and travel writer and restaurant reviewer. Follow Raul on Instagram @rauldias123