The House of Norbert
By Sally Paterson. The delight of finding somewhere undiscovered is tempered only by the need to share the treasure.
Situated in the South East corner of Canton Vaud, and nestled in a valley in the Alpes Vaudoises, Les Plan Sur Bex is one of those special places. The winding road up from Bex is a good indicator that this is a route that coaches don’t take –though we did pass the occasional local bus. The village is small with a cluster of houses spread along two streets – a church, a couple of restaurants and a cross -country track around what must be the village green in summer months.
Our home for a few days was Chalet Tanner – an 18th Century traditional Swiss chalet – sensitively modernized to make a cosy, comfortable refuge from the wintery weather outside. Norbert, our neighbour, (he lives in the other side of the Chalet which is, one suspects, less modern) is there to greet us and explain how the heating arrangement works. Complicated only by the fact that our French is not up to scratch, the heating simply seems to involve pushing logs into the top of the range – thus providing heat for cooking and warming. There is no danger of being chilly here even on the coldest nights, as the beds are covered in fur rugs and there is a huge pile of traditional felt slippers to keep your toes warm.
Norbert is an excellent host and produces detailed, hand drawn maps with labels in indecipherable French that give us directions to all the places we might like to go. He was also on hand to help with the wood and share a beaker or two and a chat in the evening.
Heavy snow fell throughout our entire stay creating a white blanket that gave a stillness to this already quiet valley. The wooded mountains rise up steeply, enclosing and protecting this small community. A hike up from the top of the village along the banks of the Avancon river (more of a mountain stream ) takes you to Pont-de-Nant and the delightful Auberge – a charming restaurant and small hotel that serves the most delicious food. They kindly accommodated our rather meagre budget (had forgotten to bring the credit card) and we supped on robust flavoured mushroom soup and bottles of local beer. Walking home the sun soaked snow cascaded down from the trees dumping on our heads and sounding like mini avalanches.
This is a place for cross-country enthusiasts, with head torches for night skiing de rigueur. It also the place for snow-shoeing, hiking and ski-touring. But, you need to come with your own kit as there are no hire shops in this village!
If you tire of the peace and solitude of life in Les Plan-sur-Bex you are a 35 minute car journey away (quicker route in the summer through the high pass) from the international jet set in nearby Villars. This has an extensive ski area and is popularized by the numerous international schools that have set themselves up here. But, don’t let the monied teenagers put you off, it is a great ski area with good mountain restaurants – Lac de Chavonne, Auberge du Col de Sud and some easy to navigate off piste routes – especially from the top of Petit Chamossaire.
If you truly want to get away from it all and experience the natural beauty of the mountains this is the place to go. I can imagine that it is equally beautiful in the summer but, it seemed highly appropriate for the snow to be falling and heaping up on the roofs of these ancient Swiss chalets. Take your phone if you have to but there is an excellent phone in the chalet that reflects the pace of life here so if I were you I’d leave it at home and just enjoy.