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When the mountains call, one of our favourite responses is a round trip over Furkajoch in Vorarlberg, just over the Austrian side of the Rhine Valley.

It’s more a pleasure-road than a thoroughfare, so it’s closed in winter, although you can use it to get up as far as the ski resorts.

During summer however, it’s a road much loved by motorcyclists,

Cyclists recovering

fit bicyclists, us  – and this trip – veteran tractors!

While we were having a most und wienerli brot  (cider, sausage with excellent fresh grated horseradish as well as mustard, and bread) at the top, two  pristinely restored tractors came chugging up.   The road is very narrow and winding in some places, so we were glad we’d been ahead of them!

As passes go, it’s not that high – just 1761 metres – but it must have seemed a very long trek for a group of hardy souls in the early 14thCentury who walked from Canton Wallis, over the other side of Switzerland, and settled in Laternsertal and Damüls, on either side of the pass.  The Furkapass became a regular connection between the communities, and they built a stone shelter on the top, for shelter from the weather.   There’s a plaque up on there which marks where the shelter, and later a chapel, was before road works meant it had to go.

As we cruise over in effortless comfort, with a café rather than a stone shelter at the top, it’s interesting to reflect on how the civilising process works.   The 13th and 14th Century had more than ordinary political and religious strife in Wallis – and all the hardship that goes with that – so  a long walk, with all your possessions and livestock, must have seemed like a better option.  I’ve been reading quite a bit about the turmoil of the 14th Century recently: Stephen Pinker notes that it was the time that “sovereign states started to emerge from the medieval quilt of baronies and duchies” – and also it was the time of battles for dominance between church and state. Alongside that the printing press was starting a revolution in thought and human aspirations.

We think we’re living in “interesting times” (that old curse – “May you live in interesting times“) now.   I suspect that if 14th Century Europeans had had access to the information-sharing technologies we have now, and had been in a position to analyse what was going on in their world, they’d contest our claim!

Back to the present.

Alpenrosen

This trip was in early summer,

Gentians

so the mountain flowers were still stunning, and the

Alpenrosen

alpenrose were just coming out.

Among the alpenrose grow the little low wild blueberries (heidlebeere).

Mini Gentians

They’re just flowering now.  We’ve made some great late-summer trips to pick those, so I’ve lovely memories of sitting up the hill, with friends and a bottle of bubbly, picking the tiny sweet berries.

There was still some snow in cool places, and dramatic ice-sculpture where the streams were cutting through.

There are mountain farms up either side of the pass. Traditionally farms are separated into home farms, Maisässe (spring dwellings) and Alpen (high pasture dwellings).

The horizontal lines on the mountain-side are avalanche barriers

The farmers follow the seasons: the warmer the season, the higher they go to take advantage of the most remote corners of pastureland.

But now, farming tourists is more profitable – and most of the new developments as you go down the pass road are designed for that.

Ski resort

Dramatic scenery, hillsides of flowers, and lungs-ful of fresh air – Furkajoch makes a great mountain drive.

Alpenrosen

Falcon in flight

The purple is a tiny orchid

Pink primulas
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