An homage to my favorite European hike: to the top of Mont Salève

Followers of this blog are aware that one of my favorite things to do is go hike up Geneva’s “neighborhood mountain” Le Salève.  I first wrote about it HERE when I unexpectedly hiked both up and down the mountain.  And I recently wrote about it HERE when I discussed some of the fun and interesting people I’ve met on the way up. I first learned that it was possible to hike to the top in the summer of 2016, and since the mountain is just a short bus ride or car trip from our apartment, I soon found myself using it as my own personal “stair master”.

My sons Pat and Chris were in town on a visit that summer, and so naturally I took them for a hike up the Salève.  One of them asked me how many times I’d hiked it, and it was easy enough for me to count, since that was just my 5th time up.  Then a funny thing happened: from that day on, I kept count of how many times I had hiked to the top. Shortly thereafter, I set a completely irrational goal for myself: I would hike up the Salève 100 times before our time here in Switzerland is done.

As a reminder, here’s what the mountain looks like from “base camp”.  I remember that the first few times I prepared to hike it, the view from down below was a little intimidating.  But the more I did it, the less threatening and more fun it became.

Le Saleve

That’s my destination, up there just under the airplane contrails.

Another thing I learned about the mountain 30 or so hikes in was that there are two ways up. For the first 30 hikes, I always took what I came to call the “Easy Salève”. On the map below, the Easy Salève is marked in yellow. It’s only about a 4-and-a-half mile hike to the top, but you gain about a half mile of altitude on the way up. The “Hard Salève” is marked in white and is a 7 mile hike that takes you up through the “Grand Gorge” and terminates a little higher on the mountain.  (As one can see from the map and photos, the Salève is a long mountain, not one with a single peak at its summit.)

Saleve trail map

The Salève trail map.  The “Easy Saleve” in yellow.  The “Hard Saleve” to the right in white.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because the Hard Salève takes a good hour longer to complete, most of the time I opted for the quicker Easy Salève.  I didn’t keep a precise count of my Hard Salève hikes, but I estimate that I completed that about 20 times. So more often than not, my objective for the day was to get to the mountain, go up the Easy Salève, get back home, and get on with the rest of my life.  But then one day, I said to myself, “I wonder how hard it would be to complete two Salève hikes back-to-back, because if I’m going to get 100 of these hikes in, I might need to pick up the pace a little bit.”  So on numbers 13 and 14, a day I had a little more time on my hands, I decided to attempt my first “Double Salève”.  Here’s a selfie I took after completing the epic feat.

 2 X Saleve

Documenting my first “double Salève”

Another challenge that someone trying to hike the Salève 100 times needs to confront is weather.  The téléphérique (cable car), which is my preferred means of transportation back down the mountain is out of service from December through February, so unless you’re willing to hike both up and down in the snow, you have to do most of your hiking during the other nine months of the year.  But even then, sometimes you can’t avoid encountering a little of the white stuff above a certain altitude.  For example, I shot the two photos below at the same spot on two different hikes.  Notice how the trail on the left looks a little more enticing than the same trail on the right.

Saleve in AutumnSnow Saleve

Most of the trail consists of packed earth and rocks, but at certain points the trail forces you to gain significant altitude in a short distance.  So for those segments, the pioneers who laid this trail out used the technique illustrated in the photo below.  These stones are planted into the steep trail at about a meter apart for erosion control, but also to provide “steps” for the climbing hiker.  I always counted these steps as I ascended them on my way up to the village of Monetier, the “halfway point” of the Easy Salève: 108.

Saleve stairs

When I tell people that this is my favorite hike and I intend to do it 100 times before all is said and done, I often get the following reaction (from non-hikers, mostly): “Doesn’t that get boring?” No, it’s not boring at all.  Each hike seems to come with some unique experience that makes it different from all of the others.  Sometimes its the weather that makes the difference, or the people I meet on the way up, or the people I’m hiking with that day.  And then sometimes something completely unexpected happens.  Like this:

Then about a year ago, I was ready to attempt a new Salève challenge.  By this time, I had completed 8 or 9 “Double Salèves” (up the Easy Salève twice back-to-back) but I had not yet attempted what I came to call the “Salève Figure 8”: Up the Hard Salève, down the téléphérique, up the Easy Salève and back down the téléphérique.  That’s at least a 4 hour hike involving over a mile of vertical ascent.

Here’s a video I shot from “base camp” (the parking lot) that shows the mountain and the “Figure 8” hike I was preparing for as I approached my 100th hike to the top.

Of course, the best time to do this hike was on a good weather day.  I’ve tried to describe the feeling one gets after a long hike to the top, and the magnificence of the view from the top, but its impossible to describe with mere words.  On clear days, the view toward Europe’s highest peak Mount Blanc and the surrounding “massif” is so spectacular, it takes what breath you have left away.  On clear days, I would stand or sit there for 30 minutes or so and do my best to burn the image of that view indelibly into my memory. (Trust me, it looks even better in person.)

Saleve summit viewAnother great Saleve view

 

Are you wondering if I made it to 100?  Of course I made it to 100.  In fact, I made it to 101.  Here is a video I shot of my last 100 meters of my 101st ascent of Mont Salève, my favorite mountain in all of Europe.

Walking down is not nearly as fun as hiking up, and it hurts my toes, so this is how I would (almost) always go down.

Saleve telepherique

Here are some of the friends I made going about my business within blocks of our apartment

One of the things we’ve enjoyed living in the heart of Geneva is that over time, you begin to identify your favorite business establishments, and as you more frequently patronize those establishments, you begin to make friends with the proprietors or clerks who work there.  So for me, whether I was going to the grocery store, filling the car up with gas, buying a croissant or chocolate at our favorite patisserie, I could always count on seeing a friendly face and getting a chance to speak some french with one of my friends.

Like the city of Geneva itself, this is an eclectic, diverse group of people:

I’ll start with Huseyn, my friend from Turkey who who I wrote about in a recent review proclaiming him the architect of the best shawarma sandwich in town.   The fun thing about Huseyn is that as I would enter his shop, he would enthusiastically greet me with a firm handshake, ask how many sandwiches he needed to make me, offer me a free beer while I waited and then go to work on my sandwich(es).

My master shawarma making friend Huseyn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our go-to grocery store, called Coop (pronounced “cup”) is just a block away.  There were days where I would venture over there once in the morning, realize I needed something else and go again in the afternoon, and realize I needed one more ingredient for that evening’s meal and go one more time as I was making dinner.  Point being, I am there a lot. I became friends with one of the clerks, but never learned her first name because her name tag only revealed her last name.  She is from Marrakesh Morocco, a detail I learned when I told her once that we were going to be visiting that city, and she pondered the idea of me “delivering something to her husband” who still lives there.  She ultimately decided against it, which in retrospect was a good decision because I don’t know how anyone could possibly find anyone else in that crowded city.  I asked her if I could take a selfie with her, but she didn’t like that idea, I don’t know whether it was for religious reasons or just that she thought it would be weird to take a picture with a customer, even though we had become pretty tight.  In either case, I wanted a picture of her for this blog post, so I went ahead and snapped this photo of her without her knowledge.  That’s her with her hands behind her back walking in the opposite direction.

Coop grocery clerk

I also spent a lot of time in the local drug store filling certain prescriptions.  I never learned this woman’s name either, but she was always incredibly nice and helpful and friendly.  One time I was hiking up the Saleve and I ran into her up there.  She also just recently changed the style of her hair, it used to be longer and dark, and now look at it!  The first time I saw her with her new hair style, I made a point of saying, “J’aime bien votre cheveux!” which she seemed to appreciate.

My friend at the drug store.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of hairstyles, after posting a piece in this blog lamenting the fact that haircuts — like everything else — are expensive in this town I found a barber who would cut my hair at a reasonable (sort of…) price.  His name is Salah, and he hales from Iran.  He doesn’t speak a lick of English, and since its a barbershop where you are obligated to make small talk for the duration of the haircut, I could always count on getting a good 20 minutes of french practice in.  The most exciting thing is that he recently became a first-time father of a little girl, which gave us plenty to talk about.

Salah and me

Salah and me after one of my reasonably priced haircuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the perks offered to foreign U.N. diplomats is that you get a break on gasoline taxes.  I’m not sure that I like the idea or even think that its fair, but as long as it is UN policy, I’m going to take advantage of it.  But the process of getting the cheaper gas requires that you fill up at just one or two stations in Geneva, so I got into the habit of always filling up at the same gas station, which is where I became friends with this nice young lady, whose name I never learned.

Gas station lady

My gas station friend always had interesting colored hair.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last but not least are my friends at our favorite patisserie, Frederic Ducret.  Frederic Ducret is a little shop just up the street from our apartment that we identified early on as the best place to buy croissants (my favorite, their almond croissants!) and chocolate truffels.  We would frequent this shop every time we had guests and lots of times when we didn’t.  On trips back home, we would always stop there before heading to the airport to buy some chocolate truffles, of which they had about 40 varieties.  As you can see from the photo, they were the nicest people ever.

Frederic Ducret friends

Frederic Ducret friends

 

 

 

 

 

 

When it comes time to leave and head back home, these routine encounters are some of the things I am really going to miss.

 

Joe and I set out to find Geneva’s best shawarma joint

I have a friend Joe, and one of the things he and I enjoy doing together is taking long walks around Geneva where we discuss solutions to the world’s problems and then reward ourselves by enjoying a meal featuring Geneva’s fast food staple: a shawarma sandwich.  Shawarma/Kebob is Geneva’s most popular fast food.  Seemingly every block has one or two shawarma joints, so Joe and I had the idea that it would be fun to try a different one every time and then I’d write this review and anoint one of our lunch destinations as the “best shawarma joint in Geneva”. Continue reading

We went to the Chateau d’Oex Hot Air Balloon Festival!

I think we can all agree that there’s nothing better than a hot air balloon festival. What a sight to behold, dozens of massive, colorful, and often whimsical balloons lifting off together into a clear azure sky. So when I learned that the village of Chareau d’Oex, the Hot Air Ballooning Capital of the World,  would be hosting its annual “International Festival des Ballons à Air Chaud”, I made plans for us to spend that weekend in the Swiss alps. Continue reading

I’ve made some good friends hiking up Le Salève!

Have I mentioned that I like hiking up Geneva’s local mountain the Salève? I like hiking up the Salève so much that I’ve done it 80 times. Yes, for some obsessive compulsive reason, I’ve kept count.

In past posts, like this one, I’ve chronicled my hikes up with various family members and friends. Most of the time, though, I’m alone. And because I’m kind of a friendly Gus, I am always on the lookout for potential hiking companions who are there to hike the mountain at the same time as me. Continue reading

I spent 3 days in Lullin, France with Philippe, and we took down his 100-year old shed! (…and we had pig blood sausage one day for lunch.)

Followers of this blog will recall my good friends Philippe and Linda from a previous post on how they make the best ice cream on the planet. When they are not working in Geneva at ArtyGlace making ice cream, Philippe and Linda live in a beautiful, quaint, rural village called Lullin, nestled in the French alps about an hour away from Geneva. Lullin is characterized by the surrounding majestic mountains, sloping fields with grazing cattle, and all the essentials necessary in a small village, but not much more, which is just the way its 800 or so residents like it.

A while back, Linda happened to mention that there was an old shed adjacent to the property that had become a bit of a hazard and hinted to me that Philippe might be able to use some help in taking it down. Continue reading