Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kneipping in Switzerland

The health-conscious Swiss have embraced the water cure and health philosophy of German Priest Sebastian Kneipp (1821-1897).  Kneipp (pronounced k-nipe) understood the connection between mind and body and promoted the use of medicinal herbs, exercise, a whole foods diet, a healthy mind, and his most enduring legacy –hydrotherapy. Kneipp’s book, My Water Cure, was published in 1886!

Walking barefoot through water or on wet grass, stones, or snow was one of Kneipp’s simple yet effective techniques. A thoughtful and observant man, Kneipp saw the benefits of his”cure” but also understood that each person required variations and degrees on his theme.  

There are numerous Kneipp routes and spas offering Kneipp "cures" throughout Switzerland (and Germany). At the numerous thermal baths around Switzerland you will find shallow cold water pools often between the large warm pools that you are meant to walk trough a-la Kneipp to get your circulation and lymph flowing.

You can go Kneipping or walking on a Kneippweg. In Blitzingen, south of Bern and Luzern, you can walk the NaturKneippweg through streams and meadows - it is considered to be the longest natural Kneipp path in Switzerland. 

In Grachen, a village in the Matterhorn Valley, there is a public Kneipp "garden" about a fifteen minute walk from the town with stone lined pools designed for Kneipp leg and arm immersions in cool (well let's face it- cold) water. Two hotels in the area specialize in Kneipp cures and can help you develop your Kneipping skills. These are Hotel zum See with access to the Kneipp garden as well as their own spa and the Hotel Stutz, a dedicated no-smoking hotel.

Happy Kneipping!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Abundant Natural Remedies in Switzerland

Switzerland, like much of Europe and Asia, has a long history of using natural remedies for health care. This is evident when traveling through Switzerland where drugstores and pharmacies throughout the country sell both natural and pharmaceutical products, often side by side. Switzerland is a highly developed, wealthy country complete with its own pharmaceutical giants, who would like consumers to buy their pharmaceutical products instead of long-standing, successful, natural remedies. But cultural heritage and attitudes run deep. In Switzerland, druggists and pharmacy owners must go through years of education and apprenticeship, including not only the study of pharmaceutical products but also of herbal and homeopathic remedies.

Unlike the United States where homeopathic and herbal preparations are sold in health food stores, you must buy homeopathic remedies and many herbal products in a pharmacy or apothecary – called Drogerie, Apotheke, or Farmacia. Fortunately there seems to be one on just about every street.

Natural remedies of the highest quality are made in Switzerland, Germany, France and other European countries. These natural products and medicines are displayed in pharmacy windows often with equal or greater representation than conventional products. Swiss brands include A. Vogel-Bioforce, Ceres, Weleda, and Phytomed.

In Zurich the Bellevue Pharmacy has been in operation since 1887 and stocks thousands of remedies including over 6000 homeopathic and anthroposophical medicines. Open twenty-four hours a day, all year long, you can find them in the old part of the city on Bellevueplatz by the lake.

It is a joy to travel in Switzerland (for many reasons) and have easy and abundant access to high quality natural remedies.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Fantastic Second-Hand Shopping in St. Gallen

Brockis, or Brockenhaus, are thrift shops in German and are very popular and numerous in Switzerland. As a shopper, I would recommend Switzerland as a place to peruse such shops as the merchandise is usually of very high quality. 

In St. Gallen there are a few Brockis, one of which is the Blaukreuz Brockenstube (Blue Cross thrift shop), a three-story second hand shop with proceeds going to support work on alcohol abuse and other social issues. They have an excellent selection of all manner of items including clothing, household items, furniture, books, records, movies, linens, and shoes, all at good prices. 

The have another store in Gais which is great as well but closed in the winter. The rest of the year a visit to the Gais store makes for a great excursion.

Blaukreuz Brockenstube, Turnerstrasse 20, 9000 St Gallen; Tel: 712 222 277; Web:; open Monday to Friday from 1:30 to 6:00pm, Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Take the number 7 bus towards Abtwil and get off at the Vonwil stop (3 stops from the Bahnhof). Once off the bus walk in the direction the bus is going to the corner - go right and the Brockenstube is half a block down on the right. For the store in Gais take the Appenzeller Bahnen (train) to the Zweibrucken stop. Happy hunting!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Booklovers Delight - Rare Books in St. Gallen

Being an extreme book lover, I find the crowning site in St. Gallen, Switzerland to be the Abbey Library. The library, tucked in behind the cathedral, is a work of art unto itself. Upon entering you must slip on giant felt slippers over your shoes to protect the inlaid wood floors. The Baroque-style library has a magical quality to it, filled with treasured handwritten and illustrated books dating from as early as 500 AD. Allow plenty of time to feast your eyes on the extraordinary illuminated manuscripts and imagine the monks tonguing their paintbrushes. The Cathedral and Abbey Library are designated as UNESCO world heritage sites. To find this gem, make your way into the old city and follow the signs for the Stiftsbibliothek. 

For divine hot chocolate and other delicacies you can go to the Chocolaterie an Kloserplatz serving local Munz-Maestrani chocolate and other goodies looking out at the cathedral. For health food eats, see the post Health Food Stores in St. Gallen

If you are unable to make the trip to St. Gallen you can now, as of the past year, view 353 of the precious manuscripts on-line at a virtual library - Codices Electronici Sangallenses (Digital Abbey Library of St. Gallen). The virtual library is continuously being updated and expanded. 

Abbey Library of St. Gall Stiftsbibliothek, Klosterhof 6D, St. Gallen; Tel: 071 227 3416;; Open Monday-Saturday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Sunday 10:00 am to 4:00 pm; closed in November. Entry: 10 CHF.
Chocolaterie an Kloserplatz, open Monday from 1:00 to 6:30 pm, Tuesday to Friday from 9:00 am to 6:30 pm, and Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Food Stores in St. Gallen Switzerland

The city of St. Gallen in the northeast corner of Switzerland, east of Zurich is a delightful small city. It has much to offer including interesting museums and wonderful hiking trails in and all around the city. It also has a bustling old center lined with cobblestone streets that are for pedestrians only.

St. Gallen has some wonderful health food stores all conveniently located in and near the old area. One block from the train station you can find the bright, airy Yardo, filled with a variety of foods from produce, meats, dairy, dry goods and personal care. They also have a salad bar café for lunch. Muller Reformhaus, a chain of stores in northern Switzerland, has two locations in St. Gallen, one a few blocks from the train station and the other in the heart of the old city. These stores are smaller than Yardo but also have a good selection especially the store on Spisergasse in the old city. Stadtladen is a gem tucked into a side street across from the Marketplatz, also filled with everything you could need. If you are in need of gluten-free (glutenfrei in German), Yardo and Muller have the best selections.

Some of my favorite items in these stores are the creamy organic sheep yogurt and the dried salmon jerky (great for travel food). You can also find a full range of natural cosmetics and body care products and some unusual organic Swiss wines.

For more information about the stores and a map of locations see the Green Earth Guide: Traveling Naturally in Switzerland: St. Gallen Health Foods Stores Map at the Traveling Naturally Web site.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Brilliant Idea! Sewing Machine Cafe in Paris

A new cafe in Paris with a definitely new twist- renting sewing machines by the hour. How brilliant and innovative! I for one would make good use of this as I always seem to have trouble with my sewing machine that gets dragged out of the closet every few months - or years in some cases. Do I remember how to thread the bobbin? What is the little trick I need to remember so the thread doesn't break? Is it at the correct tension? The list goes on. And there are many things I would sew if I could scoot off to the Sweatshop Cafe and not have to fret over my own machine that probably needs oiling, cleaning and other things I do not want to deal with for a one hour sew.

So you lucky people in Paris can now head over to the Sweatshop Cafe and sew away on one of the ten Singer sewing machines in the cafe for six euros for an hour - or buy a pass for longer projects. Tea, coffee, and pastries are extra. They also offer workshops on sewing, knitting and do-it-yourself fashion.

Next door you can enjoy the delights of Bob's Juice Bar serving up organic and natural breakfasts and lunches including what some feel are the best bagels in Paris.

Sweatshop, 13 rue Lucien Sampaix 75010 Paris; Tel: 09 787 71 54 61; Email:; Metro: Jaques Bonsergent (Orange 5); Open: Tuesday to Friday from 1:00 pm to 9:00 pm,, Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm
Bob's Juice Bar, 15 rue Lucien Sampaix 75010 Paris; Metro: Jaques Bonsergent (Orange 5); Open: Mondays to Fridays from 7:30 am to 3:00pm
Bob's Kitchen, 74 rue des Gravilliers 75003 Paris; Tel: 952 551 166; Metro: Arts et Metiers (3 or 11); Open Monday to Friday 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, Sunday brunch from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cheap Bike Rental Programs Going Global!

In both my books - Green Earth Guide Traveling Naturally in France and Green Earth Guide Traveling Naturally in Spain - as well as this blog, I have highlighted the cheap and wonderful city bike rental programs in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Nice, Nantes, Barcelona and Seville. Now I am happy to report that a successful launch of a similar program in Montreal, Canada called BIXI, is being launched in Boston, Massachusetts, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Melbourne, Australia in June. Later in the summer they hope to be operational in London, England.

BIXI operates very much like the other established city biking programs. You can pay for a day, a month or a one year subscription which entitles you to bicycle use for thirty minutes at a time for free or pay a nominal fee for additional time. For 24-hour passes you will need to pay a refundable $250 deposit. Due to the harsh winters in Montreal, BIXI bikes are available from May to November 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Web site gives details of bike station locations, safety and prices. Happy peddling!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Valencia's Fallas - The Beauty and the Environmental Bane

I have been away from Spain for two weeks and find myself so happy to be back in the land of sun and exuberant people. I am living in Valencia – home to the tradition of Fallas – which while considered a one week festival is actually an almost year long process involving the construction of giant themed cartoon-like sculptures. These used to be made out of wood scraps and papier maché, and prior to that it is guessed that they were made from the boards that held the candles carpenters used to work by during the dark winter months, which would then be burned after a week long-festival as an offering to and celebration of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

The Fallas is a whole city event and unique to Valencia. Each neighborhood has one or more Fallas organizations or clubs, that design fallas sculptures, so there is pride and camaraderie in the week-long celebration that also includes parades, music and an all out city-wide party. Other parts of Spain do not have the week off, but in Valencia schools, many businesses, and certain streets are closed for the week that includes March 15th to 19th. Local Valencians either love Fallas - enjoying the round the clock firecracker noise with official Mascleta fireworks at 2:00 pm every day for three weeks and huge fireworks displays for four nights starting at 1:00 am in the Turia Park - or they hate it and flee the city in search of quiet. 

While I was out doing errands, going to the market and other grocery shopping, I walked past a few of the mega-Fallas and marveled at the magnitude of each creation. Some of the monumentos can be as tall as sixty feet high and costs can range between five thousand to a million dollars or more for each one. I was struck by the good cheer and excited atmosphere in the city – as if everyone was invited to a private party and having a good time. And just as I was feeling all warm and fuzzy about this community filled celebration and all night partying extravaganza, my cozy bubble was burst wide open, as my husband and I discovered that the gigantic monumentos are no longer constructed out of wood, wax, cork and papier maché (although some of the smaller ones can still be), but rather from polyurethane foam….an environmentalist’s nightmare. 

A nightmare I say because at the end of the week long partying and fireworks, all the three hundred and fifty fallas monumentos are burned – sent up in smoke! The U.S. Polyurethane Foam Association says that polyurethane foam, when burned, releases smoke containing toxic gases including carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. 

Hmmm…  I shudder to imagine what the carbon footprint of Fallas might be, not to mention the health effects. 

While I admire the Buddhist quality of creating and destroying the Fallas sculptures like sand mandalas painstakingly created by monks and then swept away, I would hope that the Fallas could be made out of a material, like sand, that when swept or burned would not harm the environment nor the respiratory systems of creatures large and small. 

Can Valencians rise to the challenge of an environmentally friendly Fallas? Let’s hope the city will see that making Fallas Green would benefit everyone in the short and long term. But for this year at least, if you are in Valencia, enjoy the partying and camaraderie, but best not to breathe too deeply on the night of Friday March 19th.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Xativa Spain - Organic Wine and Good Sites

Xativa (pronounced Chativa) (Jativa in Castilian) is a small city a 45-minute train ride southwest of Valencia city. Xativa is a bit of a gateway to what is referred to as the Tuscany of Spain. An agricultural area rich with vineyards - many of which are organic -Xativa makes for an easy day-trip excursion from Valencia city or a place to stay and explore on its own. The main sites - the castle perched on a mountain over the city with sections dating back one thousand years, as well as Paleolithic caves turned into shrines including the Cova Negra - can be easily accessed by foot from the train station. 

There are plenty of fountains and eateries including the local daily market and the Restaurante Canela y Clavo specializing in gourmet, market-fresh menus.

South and west of Xativa you can find the beautiful, organic vineyards of Bodegas Enguera and Bodegas des Frailes.

The cercanias (short distance commuter trains) run regularly between Xativa and Valencia city. If you have purchased your ticket over the Internet you will need to show it at the ticket window and get a ticket that is card-size and will work in the turnstile like ticket machines at the stations - and hold on to that ticket as you need it to exit as well as enter.  However it is not necessary to purchase over the Internet as tickets are easily and quickly available through machines at the stations and cost about 3.65 each way. 

The Castle is open in the spring and summer - March to October - on Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, in the winter, October to March, on Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
La Pebrella is a small natural foods store with gluten-free foods as well as offerings of natural therapies including acupuncture on the main street of Jaume I. La Pebrella Herboristeria, Alameda Jaume 1, 1, 46800 Xativa, Tel: 962 281 288; Email:; open Monday to Friday from 9:30 to 1:30pm/4:30 to 8:30 pm. Saturday from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm/ 5:00 to 8:30 pm.
Restaurante Canela y Clavo, Alameda de Jaume I 64, 46800 Xàtiva; Tel: 962 282 624; Email:; Web: 

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Eco-Honeymooning in Spain

Couples looking for a honeymoon that includes a combination of ecological conscience, culture, beauty and romantic atmosphere can find numerous opportunities in Spain. In the southwestern part of the country there exists a magical area famous for “white villages” and deep history. 

The towns of Gaucin and Cortes de la Frontera lay about twelve miles across a valley from each other, each featuring unusual, ecological accommodations. Andalucia Yurts in Gaucin and Hoopoe Yurts in Cortes de las Frontera are rural oases, offering rustic but comfortable solar-powered lodging in hand-crafted yurts – canvas covered round wooden structures traditionally used by nomadic peoples in Mongolia and Turkey.

For a non rustic experience, honeymooners can stay at one of the Parador Hotels. Run by the Spanish government these are luxury hotels in restored palaces, castles, monasteries and other historical buildings as well as some modern structures. Paradors in this area of Spain housed in restored buildings include the Parador Arcos de la Frontera/ Hotel Casa del Corregidor, in a former palace; Parador Hotel Ronda – with views of the Tagus Gorge- in the former Town Hall; and the Parador Carmona/Hotel Alcazar del Rey Don Pedro in a renovated 14th century Arabic Fortress east of Seville.

Andalucia Yurts has two Moroccan style yurts each large enough to sleep up to five people making them spacious choices for honeymooning couples. The yurts are situated amongst orange groves in a fairly remote mountainous area near the pristine Genal River. Kit and Penny Hogg run the bed and breakfast serving homemade and local foods for breakfast. You can dine on one of the terraces or outside under a canopy. Kit and Penny pride themselves on being able to accommodate special diet needs and tend towards a mix of Andalucian and Moroccan menus for their dinner fare. There is a wood-fired sauna and various wellness therapies including massage and yoga are available. There is a swimming hole in the river on the property, as well as a eucalyptus-wood and stone lined outdoor shower. 

Hoopoe Yurts is about a twenty-minute walk from the white village of Cortes de la Frontera, and is about a half an hour drive from the famous white town of Ronda. Hoopoe has five yurts each in their own private acre of land and each furnished as a double room with different colors and woods, and Mongolian-style furniture and textiles. The yurts all have private bathrooms and the complementary olive oil soap is especially made for Hoopoe. Four nights a week Hoopoe offers dinner made with their own or locally produced products. Breakfast includes local honey and fresh fruit. They also offer pack-lunches for picnics and have a bar open until 11:00 at night. There is a pool, and yoga, massage as well as other wellness therapies are available.

The town of Gaucin, filled with tile-roofed white houses, is home to a tenth century Moorish fortress, Castillo del Aguila, which sits atop a cliff offering amazing views on clear days all the way to Africa, where you can see the “Pillars of Hercules” (The Rock of Gibraltar and Jebel Musa in Northern Africa) and the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. 

Gaucin is home to a number of artists whose studios you can visit. Eco Tienda Pura Vida, sells natural and organic food, as well as having a little café serving breakfast and lunch with freshly made organic, vegetarian tapas and raw dishes available, as well as fresh fruit juices and shakes. The local Mercado (market) is open 9:30 am to 1:30 pm with some stalls selling organic vegetables and free-range eggs. Calle Convento has a few excellent food stores besides Pura Vida including Carniceria Candida, where you can find local meats and the Boníssim Delicatessen selling local and international gourmet products with fresh daily baked artisan breads and pastries, and roast chickens from free-range birds.

Cortes de la Frontera sits in between two natural parks surrounded by cork trees (alcornocales) and is a larger town than Gaucin. With its proximity to the natural parks it makes an ideal area for walking. The Llanos de Líbar is a walking route on the edge of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park. It is almost twelve miles long if walked in its entirety, across the flood plain (llano) of the Guadiaro River. Birdwatching is another favorite activity in this area as numerous species can be found in the region. 

The famous white town of Ronda sits amidst the mountainous area called the Serrania de Ronda and is perched three hundred feet above the El Tajo gorge. Ronda offers incredible views and is full of cobble-stoned streets and monuments like the Palacio Mondragón, a 12th century Moorish Palace. 

History loving honeymooners will be impressed with the cave-viewing possibilities in this part of Spain. The Cueva de la Pileta in Benaojan, west of Ronda, in the Sierra of Grazalema Natural Park, has ancient ochre and charcoal cave paintings as well as natural cave formations that take an hour to tour with your guide, usually one of the descendants of the farmer who discovered the cave. Protected by the government, the cave is still owned by the local farming family who owns the land. Unfortunately cameras are not allowed. The Cueva de Ardales in Ardales, about fifty-five miles from Gaucin, contains Paleolithic and later cave drawings which can be viewed during the almost one mile walk through the cave. The Cueva del Gato, near Benaojan, is a rock pool where icy water pours from an underground river providing refreshing relief from the summer heat. 

With plenty to see, delicious local foods, old world charm, and romantic, eco-minded lodgings it is easy to enjoy a wonderful honeymoon with an environmental conscience. 

The Details:
Andalucia Yurts, La Huerta, Gaucin, Andalucia; Tel: (34) 952 117 486 (Evenings & Weekends) or Cell: (34) 686 888 409; Email:; Web: 35 euros a night per person for accommodation and breakfast. Additional 20 euros for dinner.

The Hoopoe Yurt Hotel, Ed & Henrietta Hunt, Apartado de Correos 23, Cortes de la Frontera, 29380 (Málaga), Spain; Tel: (34) 696 668 388; Cell: (34) 660 668 241; Web:; open May 1st to October 16th. Price: 136 euros/night/double – no kids nor pets – Stays start Wednesdays or Saturdays. 

If you want to travel by public transport and not rent a car you can fly into Malaga and then take a bus to Gaucin or Cortes de la Frontera and have either hotel pick you up (arrange in advance). Or you can fly to the Gibraltar airport. Walk out of the airport and across the border (about a tenth of a mile), then take a taxi to San Roque (10 to 15 minutes) and then take the train to Cortes de la Frontera (50 minutes) where either hotel could pick you up (again arrange in advance). 

Parador Hotels, Prices for the Paradors run between 160 to 275 euros per room per night depending upon the season and room type. Web: 

Gaucin: Castillo de Aguila is open every day from: 10:00 am to 2:00pm/ 4:30 to 7:30 pm.
Eco Tienda Pura Vida, calle Convento 166, Gaucin; Tel: 952 151 369; Web:; open Monday from 10:00 am to 3:00pm, Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 am to 3:00pm/5:00 to 8:00pm, and Saturday from 10:00 am to 3:00pm. Café is open Tuesday to Saturday from 9:00 am to 3:00pm.

Boníssim Delicatessen, calle Convento 54; Tel: 951 16 89 41; Open Thursdays through Sundays from 10:00 am to 2:30pm/5:30 to 9:30 pm. June through September the store is also open on Mondays. 

Cueva de la Pileta - Open every day from 10:00 am to 1:00pm/4:00 to 6:00pm (or 5:00 pm in the winter); Web:
Cueva de Ardales, Web: