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Affordable Alpine Retreat in Switzerland

Guidebooks warn budget travelers that Switzerland is the most expensive country in Western Europe. I almost skipped the country altogether during a five-month trip around Europe until my friend and I ran across a brochure for the Chalet Martin—a budget Swiss Alps retreat, run by an Australian woman and her Swiss husband in Gryon, where dormitory-style rooms go for about $12 a night. It’s a great place for weary travelers to catch up on rest and experience life in the Swiss Alps.

The small village of Gryon is near the French border and the Swiss towns of Lausanne and Bex. Getting to the village is a beautiful adventure of its own. From Geneva, take the train to Lausanne and then to Bex. From Bex, a glass-roofed cable car takes you up the mountain to the tiny village, where you can follow the signs to the Chalet Martin. Gryon consists of only the Chalet Martin, a grocery store, a butcher shop, and a bakery.

There is plenty to do or nothing at all, whichever you prefer. Full kitchen facilities allow guests to cook big dinners together and avoid the expense of eating out. (Expect to spend about $12 a day on groceries if you plan to eat well.) Weary travelers can sleep in, read by the fireplace, or play board games with fellow travelers.

Or you can take to the meadow and mountain hiking trails for all-day hikes with breathtaking views, or soar above the mountains with a paraglider (cost about $70). The chalet is also outfitted with its own ski shop. About $14 a day gets you boots, skis, and poles.

The hostel is equipped with laundry facilities, Internet access, area maps, train schedules to European destinations, and even movie rentals. The staff (many from Australia) is more like family.

The hostel has created a web site “by the traveler for the traveler” at www.backpackingeurope.com to help travelers feel comfortable when they move on to a new place.

So there you have it, the full Swiss experience—the sheep with their magical tinkling bells, the Swiss cows with their deep clanging bell symphony, an old-fashioned wooden chalet filled with fellow travelers, and, of course, those soul-stirring Alps—all for an affordable price. To reserve, call 011-41-24-498-33-21.