«We always knew we would come back.»
Gian Malär is the sixth generation of his family to manage the alpine lodge Fops in the Lenzerheide. Up there, he takes care of not just guests and cows, but often also his own children. A visit to the family-run business at 1800 meters above sea level.
If you want to visit Gian, you need good shoes and some time. Climbing from the Lenzerheide up to the Fops alpine lodge takes about two hours. Shortening the trip, like we did, with the Tgantieni chairlift takes just under a half an hour. Greeting us on the terrace were Gian, his 3-year old daughter Gianna, and several guests in sports gear, as well as a breathtaking view of the Lenzerhorn mountain and surrounding peaks.
Gian is wearing a t-shirt from the band Sonic Youth, a baseball cap on his head, and a mischievous smile on his face. The 39-year old is the sixth generation of his family to manage the alpine lodge and is busy up here almost year-round. «From June to September, we look after livestock. Right now, there are 62 young cows; most of them don’t belong to me personally but are brought up here by other farmers.» Since 1998, the three-story lodge is open also for two-legged visitors; the offering is small and regional: besides cold and warm beverages, during the summer months Malär serves soup or plates with local meats and cheese. In the winter, there’s Pizokel, a buckwheat pasta dish, stuffed Swiss chard rolls known as Capuns, and, of course, fondue.
Around the world and back
While the autumn sun burns on the terrace, it is pleasantly cool in the lodge itself. In the former hayloft, there is a modern bathroom in addition to the wood reserves. On the ground level, which was left in its original state, you still have to stoop over to move around through the rooms; the combined aromas of wood and salt fill the air. In the small kitchen is Gian’s most important addition: the dishwasher. «I don’t need a lot of luxury, but without a dishwasher I really couldn’t stand it anymore». Soft guitar music plays in the background. Folk music or pop hits will not be found here, which probably has to do with Malär‘s musical background.
Gian Malär grew up in Valbella and spent a lot of time up here on the alp already as a child, together with his parents and siblings. By the time he was in his mid-twenties, Gian had made a name for himself beyond the borders of the Canton as singer in the punk rock band mfs. The band’s emblem on his belt reminds him still of the boisterous gigs. He studied art and cultural management, lived for several years «down» in Zürich, where he worked in sports sales until 2004. In 2008 and 2009, he traveled the world – literally – with his wife Nadia: «We traveled for a whole year around the globe and visited all five continents. There were many places I liked, especially New Zealand. But we always knew we would come back here again.» Meanwhile, the two have definitely arrived back in their homeland. Nadia works as a teacher in the community, and they recently bought a house in Valbella.
A home with permanent guests
The guests call Gian by name when they say goodbye. Anyone who doesn’t know him already is on a first-name basis by the first plate or joke. Even if Gian appears fully absorbed in the role of authentic hut warden, the question of the boundary between private life and work remains open. The same is true also for this house: in the dining room, Gian and his brother smile at the guests from photos yellowed with age. A lot of Swissness hangs on the walls, too – in the form of cowbells, pictures of Schellen-Ursli (from the famous Swiss children’s book A Bell for Ursli), and old skis. «I am connected to this hut by many memories; I feel at home here. But I am really seldom alone; most of the time I share these four walls with the guests. It’s only in the spring and the fall that I’m up here on my own and sometimes the only human being far and wide for kilometers. These moments are an important contrast to the main season.»
The seasons determine the work
«Since the children came, we don’t sleep up here on the mountain as often as we used to. I normally go back down in the evening.» But the top story of the 140-year old mountain lodge still looks very livable and cozy: under the low ceilings lie several mattresses, as well as an old spinning wheel, and next to the crib is a stack of baby wipes and diapers. Meanwhile, Gian’s wife Nadia has arrived in the lodge with one-year old Sienna and Duri, who is only five weeks old. Sienna pounces on the bacon on the plate, Duri sleeps on the terrace, and big sister Gianna checks the water level in the cows‘ drinking trough.
«The best thing about the work up here is the variety», says Gian. «The seasons set quite a versatile rhythm. In the winter months, it’s all about gastronomy, in the spring I drive all the fences by myself into the ground, the livestock come up in the summer, and there’s the wood chopping in the fall. So I don’t get tired of any one thing or the other. And I have time for my children not just on vacation or Dad’s day, I also take them up here with me sometimes during the summer.»
Whether Gian, like his predecessors, will remain true to the alp for his whole lifetime and then pass it on to the next generation is a question he doesn’t think much about. Gianna, at least, appears to be enjoying life in the lodge – in the meantime she is using water collected in a soup pot to clean the benches and is proudly displaying the cow tattoo on her leg that she made herself. «We just have to practice the saying goodbye part a little bit still», says Gian with a grin as the little one hides behind his legs.