Taking the family to the arboretum

More than 3,000 different trees and shrubs, countless insects and wonderful butterflies – all this can be found in the arboretum between Ballens and Aubonne. Valentine and her family visited the landscaped grounds for us.

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On Saturday morning, we woke up with a smile on our faces because we knew we had a really exciting day in store. It had been weeks since we first planned to visit the Vaud countryside, following one of the hiking routes recommended by Swiss Post, partner of Swiss hiking trails. I had ordered the 2019 brochure beforehand in order to choose our route, and I also downloaded it on my phone. 

The brochure recommends 8 hikes that are specially designed for families with children throughout Switzerland. Each hike is represented by an animal, and each animal introduces a particular place where they live. For each walk, there is also a questionnaire we can complete and a really nice prize up for grabs.

How are my kids going to get through this?

Anyway, as you can tell, we were ready to set off on our hike. The picnic was ready, the sun cream, the hats, the baby carrier, and even the child carrier backpack, which I had borrowed from a work colleague seeing as I doubted Leo, our 3-year-old, would have been able to walk for several hours.

We’d planned to leave in the morning, take the train to Morges where we would have to change to get on a small regional train to Ballens. This meant we had to factor in an hour on public transport to get to where the hike starts, and then three hours walking (four, give or take, with the children) on fairly even terrain, and finally an hour on public transport to get back to Geneva at the end of the hike.

On that day, though, the weather was unpredictable. It had rained during the night and it was a grey morning, but the afternoon was forecast to be sunny. So, we waited until early afternoon to leave the house. We couldn’t postpone the hike, unfortunately. 

If you have young children, you know how difficult the end of the day can be when they’re tired and hungry, especially given that my youngest one, Axel (11 months), goes to bed really early. At 7 p.m. there’s no-one around!
Giving how pressed for time we were, we decided to go by car because at least that way, the kids could rest during the journey. 

With the weather being against us, we decided not to do the full hiking route. Instead, we did little sections of it broken up by short car rides. We used the brochure to choose the main sections of the hike so we could be sure we wouldn’t miss anything.

From the city to the countryside

When we got to Ballens, we were amazed by what we could see from the road we’d taken there. The landscape had a lakeside feel, and the more we headed away from the lake, the brighter the colours became. Then there was the pretty little village of Ballens, very quiet on a Saturday afternoon. We carried on until we reached the small station where we had initially planned on arriving by train, and Leo really enjoyed seeing the level crossing barriers come down to allow a small train through. There were fields as far as the eye could see, and in the distance, the forest we were heading for. There were poppies everywhere. It was absolutely wonderful. Being from the city, it was such a treat to be here, to see the village’s residents and to simply say hello to each other – a real breath of fresh air compared with our city life.

Close-up shot of Valentine and her little son Axel. Valentine beams into the camera. She carries Axel in a grey baby sling over her chest. His blond hair sticks out.
Valentine carries her little son Axel. At eleven months old, he's still too young to go hiking. Copyright: Valentine Carporale
The forest seemed enchanted, the sun was shining through the trees, and the light this created had a magical feel about it. There were also a number of small paths running along a stream. The first thing we did when we went into the forest was find a magic wand for Leo. Once we’d found one, we kept it for the rest of our hike. Meanwhile, Axel had fallen asleep in the baby carrier I was wearing, having been lulled to sleep by the rhythm of my footsteps and my heartbeat. 

Solitude and plenty of nature

The four of us were all alone, and what a lovely feeling it was! Nothing to distract us but the natural environment around us, the sound of rushing water, leaves rustling in the trees and the snapping of branches beneath our feet. Family hikes really are great opportunities to spend some quality time with our children. When Axel was not sleeping, he was watching and taking in everything that was happening in front of him. As for Leo, he was asking hundreds of questions about the plants, insects and animals we encountered. It was a really enriching experience for all the family.

If we didn’t know the answer, things got easier once we got to the arboretum. This is because the arboretum is an area that is home to over 3,000 different species of trees and bushes, and there are signs everywhere where you can find out about what you’re looking at. We also spent some time watching a family of frogs as well, and of course the numerous butterflies fluttering around. Then we had time for a quick break at the wood museum, where we had something to drink at the little café and used the toilets.

Valentine and her older son crouch in front of a cow pasture. In the background you can see a brown cow watching them curiously.
Valentine and her sons make friends with the cows they meet along the way. Copyright: Valentine Carporale

I’d never heard of this place before even though it is so close to us. It’s an amazing place that’s both fun and educational, and well worth taking your children to. We also made friends with some cows there, which Leo and Axel loved.

Aubonne, a previously unknown treasure

And last but not least was the old town of Aubonne with its captivating beauty. Stupidly, I used to only associate Aubonne with the IKEA industrial area you can spot from the motorway seeing as that’s the only thing I knew about, but how wrong I was! The old town of Aubonne is in fact a stunning place! It’s surrounded by vineyards, the patrician-influenced architecture gives the town a certain identity, and, on that lovely, colourful note, it’s also the place where our little family adventure came to an end.

We travelled back to Geneva, in other words back to reality, traffic, traffic jams and urban life. How lucky we are to be able to get away from it all and have such beautiful places on our doorstep. We all agreed that we’d go back in spring because apparently it is the best season to enjoy the beauty of the landscape to the fullest.

Valentine Caporale, from Geneva, is not only a devoted mum to Axel and Leo, she is also a passionate vlogger and shares her life in humorous videos. You can watch them on her YouTube channel “Valentine – Reine des Tartines” or on Instagram.