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Footloose in Les Diablerets

How to Enjoy the Alps Without All the Tourists

October 20, 1985|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles free-lance writers.

LES DIABLERETS, Switzerland — "We could have been another Gstaad," folks say around here, "maybe even a St. Moritz or Davos," still not forgiving Swiss Federal Railways for running its lines through valleys of the Vaud Alps to the town's north and south.

Rather than bemoaning their fate of having to make do with a little mountain chugger that connects to the main line 12 miles away, perhaps they should count their blessings instead of the number of yearly visitors, mainly Swiss, French and German.

But ambition dies hard, and locals are already pinning their hopes on hosting the Alpine events if Lausanne gets the Winter Olympics in 1992. It could make them as famous and loved as Sarajevo practically overnight.

Win or lose on the Olympics, nobody can contest the point that Les Diablerets is today one of the most enchanting if undiscovered summer-winter holiday choices in the country, a ripe and colorful mixture of the Swiss pastoral scene: awesome peaks at every point of the compass; cows clanking through streets with their bronze bells; emerald meadows etched with wildflowers, ash and maple trees; ornate chalets of bargeboards and balconies that could have been fashioned by a Swiss woodcarver.

About the only things missing are hordes of beautiful people and hotels that intimidate you with luxury and Alps-high prices.

But we have the distinct feeling that Les Diablerets' days as a diamond beneath the rock are limited.

Here to there: TWA, Air Canada and Pan Am get you to Geneva with stops, Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France and British Caledonian with changes overseas. Take a bus for the two-hour ride to Les Diablerets, train slightly longer, using Swiss Holiday Card for either.

How long/how much? Anywhere from two days to two weeks, depending upon your schedule and need for mountain serenity. Food and lodging prices are both moderate for Switzerland.

A few fast facts: The Swiss franc was recently valued at 44 cents, about 2 to the dollar. Truly a year-round resort: hiking amid the wildflowers in summer, along with morning skiing on the glacier; winters for cross-country or downhill skiing on 75 miles of runs serviced by 50 lifts and cable cars.

Moderate-cost hotels: Hostellerie Les Sources ($33 double B&B low season, $34 July-August, beyond November not yet available). Only 32 doubles in this new chalet on village outskirts, feeling of country, rushing stream below your balcony, rather small rooms but thick feather comforters, two easy chairs and extra convertible bed. Lounge has fireplace, separate playroom with games for kids.

Hotel Alpin ($32-$40 low season until Nov. 30) has but 15 rooms, modest and homey, an old chalet- home converted. Rustic dining room-bar, garden terrace, more feeling of farmland. Book early and you may get their one small apartment with kitchen for same price as room.

Auberge de la Poste ($31 double B&B without bath, none available) is a typical mid-village gathering spot for everyone. This coaching stop was built in 1769, and it looks like they've been adding gingerbread ever since. Balconies with requisite boxes of geraniums, lovely trees on terrace facing main square. Pristine rooms, all with wash basin, communal baths always immaculate in Switzerland. Ski season rates (end of November until May) will of course be higher for all of above places.

Regional food and drink: Local choux sausage, so called because cabbage is mixed with the ground pork before stuffing, tastes better than it sounds, in fact delicious. The Vaudois is noted for its sausages, almost all containing pork and hearty to say the least, while cochonaille is the name for dishes made up of several kinds of pork.

You'll also see the popular fondues and raclettes in most dining rooms, while zwiebelwahe , a tart of Emmentaler and Gruyere cheese with onions, is addictive. Wash this all down with white Vaud wines, often served by the glass or carafe, and there's always a choice of French and Italian wines.

Moderate-cost dining: Most visitors take pension or half-pension at their hotels, either picnicking at lunch or sampling the table at other hotels for lunch or dinner. Auberge Les Sources turns out a $5.25 daily set meal, the day of our visit including cordon bleu , noodles and salad in the usual Swiss portions, huge.

For traditional specialties in typical surroundings, dine at Hotel de la Post. Beneath a handsome carved ceiling, old copper pots, deer and chamois heads on the walls, you'll find entrecote and trimmings for $9, cheese fondue $5.75 and a fantastic assortment of sausages for $4.50. This is also a good place to try local wild berries with cream, a summertime dessert to remember.

Locanda Livia is a darling new Italian place at mid-village, easy to find even without the marvelous aromas to home in on. Pizza for $3, lasagna $5.25, scaloppine of the day with too many french fries for $8.

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