Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

I've hit peak fitness
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The Independent Online

I am currently in Gstaad recovering from my life-changing consultation with Switzerland's top homeopath, who is curing me of my allergy to dust and feathers. The pills are definitely working as I haven't sneezed once since arriving in Switzerland, but as the country is blissfully spotless and its inhabitants on a furious 24-hour-a-day spring-cleaning mission to rid the country of all known germs, this is no surprise.

I am visiting my friend Jo, who is doing up a chalet. You'd think Swiss builders would be a superior breed of builder, but Jo's are a nightmare. They turn up irregularly, and then name-drop madly about the obscure Ruritanian royals they're working for. Jo has taken up smoking organic American Spirit fags from the King's Road Waitrose, which I have to ship out weekly for her.

Disappointingly, the building work is not as green as I would have hoped. The builders look blank when quizzed about solar panels and other eco improvements. And my hotel isn't green at all. When I asked how I could turn the heating down in my room, they said that this was impossible and that I would just have to open the windows.

However, in all other respects the Swiss are top of the form in things eco, not just because they care about the environment but because there is a financial incentive, too. Plastic bags are expensive, so people bring their own. In most parts of Switzerland, throwing away rubbish costs money - each rubbish bag must have a sticker on it that costs at least €1. So the less you throw out, the less you pay. No sticker? The rubbish will be left outside your house to rot. But in Gstaad they are bad recyclers as most of them can afford to be cavalier about the rubbish tax. Again, hugely disappointing.

When I worked as a chalet girl in Switzerland, we had such a strict budget we would cunningly package our rubbish into tiny parcels and deposit them in public bins late at night, to avoid the tax. Several pals got into hot water when their rubbish was traced back to them because they had rather carelessly left items with personal information on them in the rubbish.

These days, organic food is very popular in Switzerland, making up 5 per cent of the average food basket. Each Swiss canton takes great pride in its local dairy, meat and vegetable products, which are widely available. The Swiss accept that they must pay more for good-quality, locally produced food. That is why Switzerland has the world's finest, but most unsung, cuisine in the world.

Every time I leave the country, I am laden with yogurts, Bircher muesli, and smelly but scrumptious unpasteurised cheeses. Last time I visited, I even smuggled home half of a cooked chicken from the biodynamic butcher on Gstaad high street.

Let's hope that there isn't a listeria outbreak next week. The melted cheese trail - and the rather high aroma - will point horribly to me.

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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