Fortified, we borrowed bikes from the hotel—I strapped Sachi into a baby seat on the back of mine—and rode down the hill to town. As we bounced along the cobblestoned streets of Zuoz, we admired the buildings, some of them 500 years old, with heavy carved-wood doors and walls decorated with sgraffito, a style of drawing in plaster that dates from the Renaissance. Shifting to the smooth, uncrowded bike path, we pedaled to the well-preserved village of S-chanf (its unusual name a Romansch legacy), where we were passed by a bike-racing team in yellow spandex, 10 of them in tight formation. We stopped for a lunch of schnitzel and fries at an outdoor café, and late in the afternoon, circled back to Madulain. My mother, who’d returned home after breakfast, was preparing our favorite leek-and-potato soup. As it simmered, she joined us on the porch, where we drank excellent dry Swiss white wine, produced in small quantities and hard to find in the States. From the fields we could hear the hollow clanking of cowbells, a sound Sachi loved, as I had as a boy.
When I was eight or 10, we spent a summer vacation with friends in Zuoz. My most vivid memory of that trip: a visit to a cheesemaker high up on a mountain, where I drank a glass of milk in a dark, cool barn filled with the pungent smell of aging cheese. I relived that moment at the Alp-Shaukäserei Morteratsch, near Pontresina, a dairy we toured on our way to a hike around Lake Sils, farther down the valley. As Sachi admired a family of sheep in the field, we watched workers stir a gigantic pot of curds burbling over the fire, and added a round of cheese to our picnic backpack.
The hike we planned was an easy one that my mother and Thomas had done many times as children. They had an end spot in mind—"a sort of secret picnic area," said Thomas—a ways off the path. Yumi and my mother and I ambled along with Sachi, who was paying careful attention to every hole in the ground and wondering who lived in each.
"A rabbit?" Yumi proposed. "Or maybe a hedgehog?"
"Or maybe a kitty," Sachi said.
Thomas led the way, through the forest, across a pasture, and along a tiny stream down to the lake. And here, all to ourselves, was, as billed, the perfect picnic spot, a waterside meadow surrounded by mountains right out of a vintage Swiss travel poster. We gathered wood, got a blaze going in a fire ring, stuck sausages on sticks, and roasted away. After lunch, the kids splashed at the shore and watched windsurfers out on the lake. We all dozed in the shade, then we carefully extinguished the fire before heading home.
There were so many things we planned to do but never got around to: the Bernina Express to Italy past the magnificent Morteratsch Glacier, a guided walk at the nearby Swiss National Park, almond tortes at St. Moritz’s historic Hanselmann konditerei. Soon we were back in Zurich with my parents, where we checked into the Hotel Baur au Lac and treated ourselves to a few days of luxury, including swims in surprisingly warm Lake Zurich. My mother’s parents live in nearby Stäfa, and we all met there at a farmhouse restaurant. As we sat on the patio in the late-day sun, we filled them in on our week.
We’d had a wonderful vacation. Truly, I will never forget it, the memories burned into my mind and lit up with a kind of helpless regret because I can’t go back, and I can’t have her back: three months later, my mother died at age 60, and she was too young to die. My heart is breaking as I type these words, but then, there, on the patio in Stäfa, we laughed as an enormous rainbow appeared on the horizon. It was an amazement, especially seen through the eyes of a child, which is how we all saw it, leaning in close to Sachi, pointing at the sky.
Luke Barr is News Director of Travel + Leisure.