A Photographer’s Swiss Storybook Family Vacation

Text by Kelsey Conant-Patterson
Images by Josiah Patterson

Once upon a time, my husband, daughter, and I took a European vacation. Our home base for our week in Switzerland was the lakeside city of Lucerne, which is considered to be the gateway to the country’s central region. An elevated way of living seemed to sustain Switzerland—the water was pristine, the cheese divine, and there was a chandelier in the local McDonald’s.

We went to Lucerne because of my husband’s close-knit circle of creative friends, all of whom enjoy traveling, camping, and working on photography projects together. Our families planned this trip for two years, spearheaded by my husband’s best friend, who had moved to Lucerne after getting married.

We arrived in midsummer and began our exploration on a hot day winding through bustling streets fronting a farmers market where vendors sold artisanal foods, a multitude of flowers, and crafts alongside a lazy river. On a trip to Meggen, a city in the canton of Lucerne, we found that castles and old, stone buildings are common sights. If not for modern conveniences like electricity and cellphones, it would have been easy to imagine in certain areas that we had been transported back a few hundred years.

The same can be said for much of Switzerland. Agriculture, modern design, and old architecture seamlessly blend together. We visited four cantons, and all met a gold standard for balancing nature with technology. There were solar panels on old homes and houses that were embedded in the environment, like one that used the cliffside as a wall. There was recycling everywhere and no trash to be seen. It wasn’t uncommon to hear Swiss German, French, and Italian in the same day, since multiple languages are spoken across the country.

Each day we headed to a new destination. On a stop along the winding road of Gotthard Pass, we listened to three men playing alphorns for racing cyclists. We swam in the ice-cold, crystal-blue waters of Verzasca river in the town of Lavertezzo. We attended the Blue Balls music festival (yes, it’s actually called that, and no, they have no idea). We felt the spray from waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen and found a moment of peace in Locarno followed by divine pizza and sinful gelato.

But the time we spent at Seealpsee lake stood apart. A gondola took us to the top of the mountain summit Ebenalp, and as we hiked down, we watched paragliders while listening to cowbells as cattle grazed the rolling plains. We decided to bypass the large crowd and instead enjoyed a packed lunch nearby with our own private view. In the early evening, we rowed a boat across the lake while sharing a couple glasses of wine. At the moment the sun set, we experienced a traditional Alpine chant performed by a herdsman asking the saints to bless and protect all the plants and animals in the Alps. A friend turned to me, and I felt it before she said it—this was the Swiss equivalent to mana, the Hawaiian concept of spiritual energy. There was a stillness in the valley as it echoed off the hills.