Little did Justine and Chris Tyerman know what lay ahead of them when they went hiking in the mountains surrounding the little alpine village of Tschiertschen in the Swiss canton of Graubünden.
The Swiss don't set out to tell tall tales — but they do it, unintentionally, all the time. Especially the alpine folk.
Here's a perfect example: "How long does it take to reach this lake?" I asked, pointing at the dot below the mountain peak on the map.
"About two and three-quarter hours," replied Heidi, the delightful receptionist at the Alpina Mountain Resort and Spa in the alpine village of Tschiertschen, the correct pronunciation of which still eludes me.
The best I could do was "tear-chin" which got a flicker of recognition from the locals.
"That sounds manageable. We'll do that tomorrow," I said as we checked into the four-star resort.
"You can hike an extra 45 minutes to a restaurant on the top of Hörnli for lunch if you like," Heidi added. "Or take the cable-car from Arosa."
"Three and a half hours to the top? And lunch at a restaurant? We'll hike up there, no trouble," I replied.
The prospect of a restaurant at the summit of the mountain intrigued us. When hiking in New Zealand, we always joke about a cafe around the next corner — but there isn't one.
With the next day sorted, we were escorted to our balcony suite on the top floor of the hotel.
The Alpina Mountain Resort and Spa sits high on an elevated terrace above the village.
The recently-renovated historic hotel, established in 1897, has 27 rooms and suites, two restaurants, wine and cocktail bars, a cigar lounge, library and spa with an outdoor Jacuzzi, saunas, massage and beauty treatments.
I was spellbound by the breath-taking view from our balcony — the green valley, the magnificent snowy alps and the exquisite little village with its steep, narrow streets, sun-blackened barns, window boxes with brightly-coloured flowers and graceful stone church.
Nearby was the bottom of the ski-lift. I could picture the scene in winter blanketed in glistening snow.
We did a quick change into hiking gear and embarked on Heidi's "one-hour" familiarisation hike. The easy stroll turned out to be a strenuous two and a half hours uphill.
But the day was crisp and sunny and the landscape was so beautiful, we were not complaining — autumn forests with deer running wild, friendly cows in green meadows playing ding-dong songs on their bells, pretty waterfalls, cute woodsheds with flower boxes and glorious mountains all around.
The hike was also an important learning curve for us — we discovered the Swiss alpine-dwellers are super-fit and acclimatised to the high altitude. They sprint up steep mountains as if they are mere hillocks. We realised their estimated hiking times needed to be viewed with scepticism. Having learned about "tall tales" early on in our alpine holiday, we roughly doubled the estimates and managed splendidly.
That evening we dined in the hotel's historic La Belle Époque dining room where the parquet floor, chandeliers, wood panelling and plaster ceilings have been lovingly restored. Even the mirror above the piano is in the same position as it was in 1897, perfectly placed to reflect the pianist's hands.
Next day, we caught the train to Arosa, a lakeside village surrounded by mountains. The train ride with its deep gorges, turquoise rivers and high viaducts was stunning.
Considerably wiser, we took the cable-car to the top of Hörnli where the horizon was bristling with peaks from Zermatt to St Moritz and far beyond.
As we lunched in the warm autumn sun on the restaurant balcony, we celebrated how privileged we were to be in such a beautiful part of the world. And hiking down the mountain was a breeze. I was so happy, I was tempted to yodel.
IF YOU GO
* The Alpina Mountain Resort and Spa is a member of the Romantik Hotels & Restaurants International and is included in the Guide Michelin's list. www.the-alpina.com
* Switzerland Tourism: www.MySwitzerland.com
* Swiss Travel Pass: www.MySwitzerland.com/rail
* Full story published in Travelmemo.com: www.travelmemo.com