Animal Friendly

by Trudie Evans

This story is part of our 'Unforgettable hotel nights' series, featuring tales from luxury hotel guests which were sent in for our recent travel writing competition.

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What invigorated me while trudging over the alps into Switzerland was the promise of the delightful hotel that would be our destination for the first night of our alpine walking tour. The prospect kept my weary legs going on the undulating slog. Memories of efficiently run Swiss accommodation – crisp, clean sheets, a hot shower, mouth-watering cuisine - kept drifting across my mind, urging me ever onwards. So with sore feet and aching backs, we finally rested in the little village waiting for the hotel transport.

Perhaps the first sign that something was amiss was the appearance of a farm truck bouncing down the hill which I idly watched pass while craning my eyes for the nice shiny mini bus. The second sign was the truck doing a handbrake turn and then grinding to a halt at the foot of my rucksack. An affable voice from within encouraged us aboard. Bewildered we climbed in, gingerly selecting the cleanest spots between smears of what looked suspiciously like cow dung. We clung onto the makeshift boards that served for seats as we hurtled our way up the hill. Oh well, I thought trying to be positive, this was a bucolic area of Switzerland, of course it’s going to be a bit rustic.

However, what loomed before my eyes was a building not dissimilar to a large animal shed complete with row of curious heads watching with evident equine interest. Melting faster than the beautiful glaciers surrounding us were my expectations of that lovely hot water and of gliding between beautiful crisp sheets. With great charm, the proprietor showed us where we would sleep that night - inside the same shed as the donkeys, though thankfully not the same room, in a recently converted area where evidently someone had attached a series of bunks on each wall. A generous supply of straw served as a carpet and not a white sheet could be seen. Instead each bunk was covered with a piece of sacking imbued with more than a hint of equine sweat.

Monsieur regretted that he didn’t quite have enough bunks for all of us and so three of us would have to share a ‘bed’ on the floor. Deep joy! Monsieur then proceeded to show us where we could enjoy a bracing cold wash in basins whose colour bore a distressing similarity to the dried donkey dung neatly piled in one corner. But saddest of all was the thought of that mouth watering dinner that had haunted me for so long. It vanished quicker than steam from a sizzling stir-fry as that juicy steak was replaced with what can only be described as a slab of unchewable streaky pork (at least I’m still telling myself it was pork) cooked on the improvised barbecue and balanced on a slab of bread that could break your teeth.

Disenchantment doesn’t come more highly than that.

The saving grace was the copious amounts of beer and oh yes, those donkeys certainly kept us amused that night!

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