Untourist of the Week: John Meyn

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Attention, wine and hiking aficionados.  John Meyn, our Untourist of the Week, could be  the poster child for the traveling wine and hiking enthusiast.  We were delighted to hear of his adventures especially hiking in the under appreciated and truly spectacular Valais, a part of Switzerland treasured by the Swiss but lesser known internationally.  John’s next trip to our Swiss Oberland region will be his sixth!

Tell us a little bit about your most recent Untour.

My most recent Swiss Untour was to Kandersteg, June of 2011.  I’ve come to love that valley, its people, and the surrounding hills and valleys.  Great hiking opportunities abound!  I built my plans around both the excellent Untour recommendations, and the resources available on the Internet.  With an interest in Swiss wines, ready access to Cantons Valais and Vaud is a plus.  I even did a day-trip to Twann over on Lake Biel.  Amazing wines in every area – the more challenging (and uniform) the geology and climate, the better the wines.

Also did a great deal of hiking in the region: Lötschental, Griesalp, Gemmi Pass, Gasterntal, Adelboden; also Lauterbrunnen, and several “Weinwanderungen” in three Cantons.  Day trips to Luzern (market day!), Thun, Bern. One must do something in bad weather! [Or when your body thinks you have over-extended.]
My “Swiss family” celebrated my birthday by taking me to dinner!  This was a gesture well beyond any reasonable expectation.  Untours certainly has chosen some fantastic host families! In my three visits with this family, I feel like I’ve been welcomed as a part of it!

What is your favorite Untours memory?

So many to pick from!  Let me go to one recent experience.
While walking from Salgesch to Sierre in the Valais in 2010, I came upon a vintner working his vines high on the south-facing slopes above the Rhone.  I first struggled in German, then we discovered we both spoke English.  We chatted for quite a while as he finished pruning his vines.  (A couple of weeks before harvest, it is his nature to discard any bunch of grapes he does not expect to be perfect at the harvest. Those he discarded tasted great to me! That attention to detail makes for excellent wines!)
As he finished, he asked whether I had some time to extend our chat.  I gladly said yes.  He led me to his storage shed, and asked me to have a seat on a rock wall, and asked whether I preferred reds or whites.  I answered “reds, generally, with my meal or some nice cheese, and demi-sec whites as an aperitif.”
He walked into the shed and came back with two glasses and a bottle of his own Chasselas (called “Fendant” on many labels).  It was very nice indeed!  We sat and enjoyed a chat and discussion of the history and practice of viniculture in the region, and particularly his connection to the land, the climate, and the vines. I very much appreciated his approach, and the results that arrived in my glass.
As early afternoon approached, he realized he had to get back to his “real job”, and asked if I’d like a lift into Sierre.  I declined, wanting to soak up a bit more vineyard exposure as I completed my hike.  He said “Wait a moment”, and walked back to his shed.  He returned with a bottle of his own Pinot Noir!  A gift for me!  (I think he appreciated my interest in and appreciation of his skills as a craft winemaker.)
That was a wonderful couple of hours of very close contact with the attitudes of the Swiss toward a skill-centered activity.  I have the impression, developed over many years visiting Switzerland, that this careful attention to quality is part of a great many Swiss activities, both commercial and craft, from driving a bus to making a watch.
A very memorable afternoon, indeed!  More so for being utterly unexpected.

How is taking an Untour different from other ways of traveling?

Untours provide the opportunity to experience the people and culture of a place, not just its highlights.  “What makes this place what it is?” would be an Untourist’s question.  Apartment living certainly beats hotel living when close contact with the people is a goal of the traveler.  You can take a day to visit the Schilthorn, or Zermatt, or Geneva, but I’d rather find out why spring-dated cheese tastes so different from autumn-dated cheese (from the same meadow!).  And how can so many small farms survive on such difficult land?  Dealing closely with the people provides good answers to the inquisitive Untourist.  

If you get tactically challenged or simply inquisitive while on your Untour, the Untours staff are always happy and qualified to help you out.  You’re never “alone” on an Untour.

If you could describe an Untour in just 3 words, what would they be?

Engaging.  Rewarding.  Gemütlich.  (Sorry, but I don’t know an equivalent single word in English.)

Do you have a hike in Switzerland you love?  Tell us about it in a comment!

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