If there is a more typically Swiss tag line than "We plan your spontaneity," I have yet to hear it.
This is the pitch of bbacksoon, a travel site which organizes surprise trips for you. The goal? To go about the serious business of enjoying yourself. This is how I found myself standing at the top of a mountain in a remote corner of Switzerland, surrounded by snow and silence on a Sunday afternoon.
bbacksoon is a Swiss travel site for spontaneous surprise trips.
Three days earlier, I had sat down excitedly with my girlfriend to open our bbacksoon pack. (Let's call her SparseDetails in reference to her Instagram habit.)
We were presented with hotel details and an action-packed itinerary: An intriguing jumble of unfamiliar names - like "Canton Graubünden", and activities we had vaguely heard of: Snow-shoeing, sledging, and hiking. We packed waterproof trousers, boots and our Kindles – we had three trains and a bus ahead of us.
Day One: Traveling first class to Graubünden.
After work on Fridays, Zürich’s main station is the usual weekend scrum of skis and suitcases. Since bbacksoon have arranged everything, we simply need to buy train tickets. Alas, we are way too early.
Switzerland's ability to time trains to coincide with each other means that the journey is painless. As we board the bus (complete with cheery driver waiting for the train) to our final destination, Sta. Maria in the Val Müstair, snow has begun to fall. As we summit the mountain pass, the zero-visibility does not phase him. Our bus tackles hairpin turns with aplomb, and we are grateful that we cannot see the long way down in the dark.
Our hotel is traditional in every sense of the word. From the beautiful, traditional Romansh dress of the owner to the wooden beds, it is rustic yet immaculate. The owner tells us tales of local bears and wolves, and I drift off to sleep dreaming of being in Game of Thrones.
Day Two: Snowshoeing in knee-deep powder.
We are woken by the sound of silence; snow is falling and there is not a tram to be heard. With packed lunch, bus tickets and thermos provided, we sling our show shoes over our shoulder and board the local post bus. Last night’s driver cheerily greets us with Gute Morge. We are his only passengers, and he is the last person we would see for the next four hours.
Today, we are hiking the Senda da l’ours, or Path of the Bears, but we are assured any actual bears will be fast asleep at this time of year.
The route is marked by wooden bears guiding us back to Sta. Maria. Nobody has told us how to use show shoes, but we soon get the hang of it - they are like shoes that you wear on the snow. Certainly without them, we would be knee-deep in powder.
The morning is spent carving a path through virgin snow, under canopies of pine trees and across broad white meadows. Our tracks are interwoven with those of tiny hooves and paws; every woodland creature imaginable has come across our path.
But there is not another boot print to be seen. In fact, there is no sight of the wildlife itself - unsurprising given the deafening crunch of our shoes as they puncture the snow.
As we stop to photograph the view, I exclaim that we would never have come to this obscure, yet beautiful corner of Switzerland on our own. SparseDetails, engrossed in her Instagram story, looks up and replies: "There is no show-shoe emoji." We are both right.
Luckily, the bear emoji makes more appearances than its real life equivalent, despite some suspiciously large paw prints.
A little further on, the path leads to a frozen river and we come to a dead stop. For a good fifteen minutes we stare at the blue-green obstacle. But the impeding snowstorm and potential bears lead us to pluck up the courage to tentatively cross.
As I awkwardly dance across, sticks prodding and shoes cracking the ice, SparseDetails helpfully films me, laughing. I collapse in relief on the other side.
The snowfall increases towards blizzard levels, but through the white we make out the church spires of Sta. Maria. It is mid-afternoon and our legs hurt.
“Would you like to try our sauna?” asks the hotel owner. In the interests of spontaneity, we agree and follow her through a surreal grotto of gnomes (really) to a luxury quality spa.
We spend the afternoon soaking our sore feet in hot wooden buckets of water, and steam ourselves in a tiny chalet sauna chalet.
Dinner is served in a wood paneled room which used to double-up as the village’s post office. We eat traditional food made using simple ingredients from the valley, the highlight being a thick oat soup.
We cap off the night with a visit to the world’s smallest bar, which only serves whiskey.
Owner Gunter’s anecdotes are the best (and only) entertainment in town. After a couple of his tall stories, mixed with a couple of drams of his locally distilled whiskey, we are ready for bed.
Day Three: Hiking to a remote chalet.
Bright blue skies and whips of pink clouds light up our room at dawn. Mountains previously hidden have emerged from the fog, and we cannot wait to conquer them. The bus driver once again greets us as old friends.
Today, he picks up plenty of skiers along the twisty route up to Minschuns. It is a perfect family ski-spot, yet on this Sunday in early February, it is all but deserted. We hike along pristine snowy mountain tracks, breaking virgin snow with each step.
As we turn a corner and stop to take a picture, I realize it is the most silent place I have ever experienced. A bird takes off from a nearby tree and each beat of its wings is audible. “There’s a new mountain emoji,” SparseDetails announces, updating her profile, and we move on.
At lunchtime, we reach a remote chalet. Hot chocolate warms our stomachs and we pick up our pre-booked sledges. The route down sees us whizz past cross-country skiers, dog walkers and vertical drops. It is all over too quickly, but we arrive at Lu in time for another hearty oat soup at the excellent Restaurant Hirschen.
Before we catch the train back home, the family at Hotel Crush Alba excitedly reveal more of the hotel’s hidden gems. Five hundred years old drinking flasks hang from the ceiling of rooms filled with ornately carved grass beds, whilst decorative sledges, deer antlers and spinning wheels fill the corridors. It is a microcosm of bucolic Swiss life.
As our train enters the epic Vereina Tunnel, we vow to return in summer to experience the meadows covered in wildflowers, sit on Gunter’s tiny whiskey terrace in the sun and see if we can find a bear woken from slumber.
The hidden valley of Mustair is a world away from bustling Zürich, and all the better for it. We will be back soon.