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Sunday 27 August 2023 – Monocle Minute

The Faster Lane / Tyler Brûlé

Summer heights

You will have noticed by now that this columnist has yet to check out for a proper summer break and has been busy keeping things ticking over in the world of Monocle and its affiliated businesses. The current plan calls for ten days in Greece sometime in October but as September is already fully booked with various events, meetings and client tours, I feel that the little Greek odyssey is under threat. I still remain vaguely optimistic that I’ll have a sunny moment in Vouliagmeni and nearby coves and bays. This is not to say that I feel in any way deprived of a solid summer. There were multiple trips to Portugal, a magical few days at the Villa Arnica in Südtirol, a steady course of morning dips in Lake Zürich and, earlier this week, a mini alpine tour through Switzerland.

As soon as the red light went off in the studio last Sunday and we wrapped up our broadcast, I made the dash up to St Moritz, swapped to my mountain wheels, drove to a nearby lake and attempted to find a place on the lawn. As this was the last day of the summer holidays for eastern Switzerland (with neighbouring Italy still on a break), it was nothing short of wild. The normally calm lake was filled with tinkling kids, inflatable swans, long-range water guns and novice stand-up paddlers. We managed to last just under an hour. Calm was restored a couple of hours later when we met up with our friends, Astrid and Larkin, at a favourite local, downed a hearty bottle of red, a pizza or two and a good cut of beef from the nearby farm that lets its cattle graze along the runway at Samedan airport. If you have spent much time driving through the Swiss Alps, you’ll know that high-altitude cows have a certain fascination with speeding autos taking hairpin turns and like to lie roadside watching Porsches and G-Classes zip past. I often wonder what they make of these four-wheel beasts. Are they jealous? Bewildered? And then I think about their cousins who live at the airport and gaze upwards when a Gulfstream or Pilatus goes roaring past. How do they process all of this activity? And does this environment make for a better filet? It’s also worth pointing out that this is one of the corners of the world where cows really do fly. Agusta helicopters from the Rega air ambulance service can occasionally be seen gliding down the valley with an injured cow slung underneath. It’s for this reason that I sometimes think it wouldn’t be bad to come back as a Swiss cow in another life. There’s not too much to worry about: you’re well subsidised, you get to spend all summer up in the mountains, breathe fresh air, drink newly melted snow, get treated to a village parade at the end of the season, have no P&L or HR concerns and you know that you’ll be airlifted by chopper to a well-equipped vet when you sprain your ankle 2,800 metres up a slope.

On Monday we set a course to Interlaken, then made a hard left and weaved our way up the valley – destination Mürren. Having heard a few reports about Ramdane Touhami’s Hotel Drei Berge, we decided to give it a spin. While it’s still a work in progress and an exceptional exercise in branding, Touhami and his crew get top marks for shaking up the alpine landscape with a jolt of Parisian chic, exquisite printing and some of the best crockery ever designed for a hotel. The property will close for a few months this autumn to go through its next round of renovations but it presents a fresh and much-needed challenge to alpine hotel operators elsewhere across Switzerland.

Tuesday morning saw us back in the car for 90 minutes before pulling up at the Gstaad Palace. If they ran a later summer season (and they really should!) I would also consider parking myself there for ten days of pool time, hikes, lunches at the Sonnenhof restaurant and Indian dishes on the terrace at the Palace.

While the mountains were toastier than usual, you can see that there’s more summer potential than ever as cities and beaches baked at lower elevations. It’s no surprise that this will be a theme at The Monocle Quality of Life Conference in Munich next Friday. This is your last chance to join us for the big event of the year. Hannah Grundy, our woman in charge, can still secure you a seat and a schnitzel but you must hurry. Hopefully we’ll see you at our cocktail reception on Thursday evening at Schumann’s.

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