Julia Stephenson: Green Goddess

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The Independent Online

I've retreated to the peaceful shores of Lake Geneva where I'm staying at the sumptuous La Réserve spa, a leafy paradise easily accessible by train from London - eight hours door to door. I'm here on a serious mission, to visit Madame X, my miracle-working homeopath who cured me from debilitating hay fever last year.

The train was so much more relaxing than flying. My journey was only two hours longer than that of my pals also visiting Madame X, Margie and Richard, who made the same journey by plane - it was a bit like the race of the tortoise and the hare.

While there are lots of options and websites that offer cheap flights, it's not so easy to find specialist train companies that will put together the sort of incredibly complex hotel and travel itinerary that I always seem to need. Fortunately I was recommended the impressively efficient railbookers.com who find cheap rail deals for you.

Hopefully the recent airport security paranoia will encourage us to forgo planes - one of the fastest growing sources of carbon emissions - for the train. Indeed, my patient railbooker said business was booming and for good reason. Travelling on Eurostar and TGV is a delight. Speedy check-ins, no ridiculous confiscating of lipstick and other essentials, and competitively priced.

Swiss trains are the ne plus ultra of travel and even the immaculately dressed guards are a cut above, tall, charming and fluent in at least four languages. Champagne on tap in first class in Eurostar, too - though in tiny glasses.

I'm in Geneva enjoying the spectacular lakeside setting and making the most of the sumptuous spa with its exotic range of treatments and herbal waters. It's luxurious but very dark; flattering for Genevan matrons du certain age, or maybe they're just trying to reduce their carbon emissions by using low-watt bulbs.

Unlike our Government, which is all talk and no action on green issues, the Swiss actively legislate to protect the environment with financial incentives. Plastic bags are expensive so people take their own. In most parts of Switzerland, throwing away rubbish costs money. Rubbish bags must have a sticker, and each sticker costs at least one euro. So the less you throw out, the less you pay.

When I worked as a chalet girl in Switzerland we'd cunningly package our rubbish into tiny parcels and deposit them in public bins late at night to avoid the rubbish tax. I was very strict with my chalet guests. When I caught one of them sneaking a glass bottle into the bin I had a fit. I could get 50 cents per bottle - enough for a chalet girl to live on for weeks in those days. "Who d'you think we are, the Rockefellers?" I spluttered.

Such draconian measures mean that Switzerland has the highest recycling rates in Europe - and yet detractors say the country is boring!

www.railbookers.com; www.lareserve.ch

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