Just the five of us, and the mountains.
But for me, well, it was all of that - plus the food! Fabulous meals that we didn't feel guilty eating because we'd hiked so long and so far to get to them.
The jet-set town of St. Moritz - the mountain retreat of shahs and sheiks and others who are shamelessly rich - was just four miles from this small, unpretentious village. But it was not St. Moritz that drew us to the Upper Engadine Valley in the southeastern corner of Switzerland.
Rather, we were attracted by the valley's reputation for sunny weather. In addition, we had found an inexpensive condo to rent. And, of course, we were excited about experiencing hiking European-style.
Unlike the United States, where it tends to be a climber-against-the- mountain experience with few amenities along the way, in Switzerland hiking is gentler. Trails, no matter how rugged, always seem to lead to a restaurant, and sometimes even hotels. Benches are strategically placed at overlooks, and a warm sense of fellowship bonds people along the way. And those who want to enjoy strolling along paths at the higher elevations - without sweating to get up there - will be glad to find that the mountains are linked together with a network of cable cars, chairlifts and rack railways, offering myriad possibilities.
The differences were obvious on our very first hike, where the first stretch of trail meandered past white farmhouses set off by elaborate flower gardens.
This was the path to the Lake Cavloc or Lej da Cavloc, as it's called in the local Swiss dialect of Romansch. Using directions we had copied from Walking Switzerland, one of the few books we'd found with detailed trail information, we easily found the trail head. It started at the Maloja Pass, a few yards before the road plunged 17 steep hairpin turns down into Italy.
Although the trail was not crowded, it was clearly no secret either. Hikers of all ages, most sporting the latest in serious but lightweight hiking boots, greeted us as they passed.
Only language set them apart. Bonjour, said the French; Buon giorno called the Italians; Gruezi, said the Swiss, and the Germans offered, guten Tag.
But "good day," "hello" and "hiya" were noticeably absent. Where were all the Americans? we wondered. Later we discovered them - shopping for watches in St. Moritz.
Meanwhile, on the path to Lake Cavloc, we climbed a steep wooded ascent for about 40 minutes when suddenly, with no hint, an incredible vista opened just over the crest: an ice-blue alpine lake surrounded by evergreens, reflecting snowy peaks in its surface.
The older girls dared Naomi to duck behind a bush and change into a bathing suit. She went even further, taking a 20-second plunge into the freezing water.
What the baby of the family will do for attention!
On the lake's edge was a tiny but charming restaurant with a huge wooden veranda, where, over glasses of wine and beer, hikers were taking in the view. Children were skipping stones from the pebbly beach while their parents sat on rocks, reading books retrieved from their rucksacks.
From the lake, the trail crossed a broad, green pasture and the scene changed to something out of Heidi. Cows were grazing on long summer grass, their brass bells ringing out against the silence of our footsteps.
At the far end of the field, standing outside a low, white-washed barn, a farmer was selling milk in tin cups. If this was a tourist trap, I was a sucker for it. The price was outrageous: 2 Swiss francs or about $1.20 a cup. But so was the product - a warm, creamy flashback to childhood. At least, my childhood.
Our homogenized, supermarket-raised children eyed the milk with distrust and refused even to taste it. If it's not 2 percent, cold and sold in a plastic jug, then it can't be milk to them.
Beyond the pastures, the path became a rocky trail heading deeper and steeper into the mountains. A frothy gray stream bubbled below us, carrying away water from glaciers yet unseen. The world seemed to be closing down on us as the valley narrowed and the mountains on each side pressed in tighter.
Becca, dubbed by a close friend as the "city girl" of our family, demanded a rest - and lunch. On a wooden bench along the trail, we unpacked some of the goodies we'd bought at a Co-op, a Swiss chain of supermarkets.
AT THE GLACIER
After lunch we persuaded the children to climb a little more - just enough to reach the first glacier. It looked more romantic from a distance. Up close, it was an ice patch surrounded by mud. The kids squeezed the cold, granular ice into lethal snowballs, venting their exhilaration and fatigue on the parents who had dragged them there.
As Larry and I were debating how much farther we'd have to walk to reach the overnight shelter, we met a lone hiker studying an enormous map that, frankly, made me jealous.
She was Erika Grunwald, a sturdy German woman in her late 50s who spends her summers hiking - alone. Her detailed topographical map revealed every pond, glacier, mountain peak, trail, restaurant, hut, train station, bus station - you name it. The map made it easy to get around, even without a car. Every village, every trail head was reachable by public transportation, which is how she traveled.
Assuming she would prefer not being alone, we invited her to walk down with us. But she was not interested. "Hiking alone," she said, "means I have no distractions. I can see so much more."
To us she exemplified many of the people we met along the trails, especially a large contingent of hikers who were well into their 70s. They seemed as addicted to the Alps as Americans are to Monday Night Football.
MAP AND FOOD
We gave up on reaching the overnight shelter and retraced our steps, with several missions in mind: To take showers, buy the $10 map at the train station and find some food for dinner.
Our condo had been rented through Utoring, a Swiss company that manages condo apartments in vacation spots throughout the country and one of several of its type in Europe. For about $500 a week we landed a spacious one-bedroom apartment with knotty- pine cabinets, handcrafted wooden furniture - and two bathrooms. A large living-dining room became a dormitory for the children at night, with a sleep-sofa and two beds that folded down from the wall.
From our balcony, we could sit in deck chairs and watch the sun play off the rainbow-colored windsurfers on placid Lake Silvaplana and off the glaciers on the famed Corvatsch. But our long days on the mountain didn't leave much time for sitting.
We approached with trepidation our first dinner out. We had heard horror stories about eating out in Europe in the era of the weak dollar.
But in the tiny mountain towns of Switzerland we found dinners to be reasonable. A crowd of Italian bicyclists, still dressed in their shiny black shorts, drew us into the modest Hotel Conrad in Silvaplana. The Conrad also had one of the best sounding prix fixe dinners - lasagna and salad for $7.50. For a simple place, the food was anything but. A huge plate of wild mushrooms in a cream sauce over pasta cost $10.50 and rivaled anything served by Joe's, the famous mushroom restaurant in Reading, at twice the price.
And the pizzoccheri, a local dish made of buckwheat pasta baked with potatoes, spinach, string beans, onions and dripping with cheese, was a find for Jordi.
Naomi, eligible for the kinderteller or children's plate, got the best deal - a large piece of Wiener schnitzel (breaded veal or pork cutlet) with a mini- Alp of French fries for about $4.50.
Our week quickly fell into a rhythm. As a family, we began pulling together, settling arguments quickly and with humor. After all, where on a mountain or in a small condo can you safely go to sulk? Besides, the peace that comes with physical exercise had settled on us.
TO THE BAKERY
We would get up about 8 and Larry would walk a couple of blocks to the bakery fresh rolls and croissants that most Philadelphia restaurants would die for. (Our civilized condo would deliver to our door, but he preferred to select them himself.) We'd eat a breakfast of breads, cheeses, granola - even plum-colored orange juice made of blood oranges. A rotating lunch committee packed up lunch and filled canteens, and then we headed for new adventures.
One day we took a rack railroad up to a peak called the Muottas Muragl, where we walked along a wide, exposed ridge as thunder and lightning threatened from across the valley. With Larry and Naomi way ahead, I panicked that the laggards - Jordi, Becca and I - were the tallest targets on this treeless mountain. The girls meandered at their own slow pace, singing and ignoring my hysteria. But the storm passed, and not a drop of rain touched us until we reached the hikers village of Pontresina three hours later.
Another morning we drove in our rental car to the Bernina Suot train station and walked along the surreal landscape of the Lago Bianco - White Lake - so called because of its calcium deposits. It is a route that ends at an even more unreal vista - the craggy, Piz Palu glacier, more than 12,000 feet high.
AN ANCIENT VILLAGE
One day we headed away from the glaciers, tackling the stomach-in-mouth hairpin turns of the Maloja Pass in the car, on the way to the village of Vicosoprano. We parked there and walked four hours through the wooded Bregaglia Valley to Soglio. The tiny hillside village of stone-and-wood buildings, graced by gigantic window boxes of crimson and pink geraniums, dates from the 1700s. Most amazing of all were the flowers in the cemetery, where the dead sleep overlooking the best view in town.
Larry used the excellent bus system to get back to our car, while the children and I indulged in ice cream sundaes, crowned with wafers, at a small garden restaurant.
The hike that turned out to be my personal favorite - and just reward - was one to the Hotel Roseggletscher, a mountain inn with dormitory-style accommodations and renowned for its food.
The most popular approach is a gentle two-hour uphill walk from the village of Pontresina, or a $6 45-minute ride in a horse-drawn wagon.
We came the opposite way, from above, first riding the Corvatsch cable car (along with skiers headed to the glacier) to gain altitude, then hiking more than two hours down into the Roseg valley.
What we found turned out to be the most delicious dilemma of our trip. On an enormous table on the veranda, was the famed dessert buffet.
Should we eat the apple strudel or the profiteroles with chocolate sauce? The raspberry tart or the crepes? The Black Forest chocolate cherry cake or the fresh blueberries, currants, raspberries and strawberries, with a choice of sabayon or whipped cream . . .?
I, for one, did not ponder long enough to count the calories.
IF YOU GO
Two of the largest organizations renting apartments and condominiums in Switzerland are Interhome and Utoring.
Interhome, 124 Little Falls Road, Fairfield, N.J. 07004. Phone: 201-882-6864.
Utoring, located in Zurich, Switzerland, can be called at 011-41-1-497-2727. Because of the time difference, it is best reached by calling between 6 and 10 a.m. Philadelphia time.
The Swiss National Tourist Office also has a two-page apartment-rental list. Write to it at 608 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10020, or call 212-757-5944.