Flower Power in the Swiss Alps

Geraniums star in Grimentz.
By Leah Larkin • Photographs Courtesy Leah Larkin

“What a shame. You cannot see the mountains.” This was depressing. I had come to Switzerland for the mountains, but fog, drizzle, and heavy drapes of gray hide them from me. While driving up twisty, narrow roads, hairpin after hairpin, Cecile Vianin described some of the sights I was missing. Our destination was Grimentz, an idyllic mountain village in southern Switzerland where Cecile and her husband Clement manage the Hotel Mélèze, my home for five days.

My spirits were instantly lifted when shortly after arrival I entered the woodsy, gemütlich hotel restaurant. Pungent aromas of melted cheese overwhelmed me. I quickly forgot the hidden mountains and thought of those Swiss favorites, Fondue and Raclette. However, for old time sake, I ordered one of my Swiss ski lunch favorites: Croute au Fromage, thick slices of bread topped with ham, Gruyère and an egg, baked so the cheese melts and the egg cooks. This called for several glasses of Fendant (Swiss white wine). I was in heaven and had hopes of seeing those mountains the next day.

No. Just gray everywhere—almost. I set out to explore the village. Color—big splotches of bright, bold red—burst forth amidst the gray. Geraniums, gorgeous, healthy specimens overloaded with blossoms, sprouted from flower boxes on houses, hotels, shops, along railings, everywhere I looked. Spectacular!

Grimentz is famous for the summer flower. Tourists clog cobblestone lanes aiming cell phone cameras at the blossoms. Residents painstakingly cultivate 34 different varieties of geraniums. They participate in an annual geranium competition which has been a tradition since 1930. Geraniums are to Grimentz what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris.

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