There’s much more to Switzerland than snow-capped peaks and ski slopes. For a stimulating and not physically arduous break, go east to Canton Thurgau and you'll see what I mean. As a regular visitor to Switzerland, I found Thurgau both familiar and different. The Canton boasts beautiful Lake Constance and the pleasantly familiar ring of cow bells that fill the air. But, nestling in the broad fertile plain bordering the river Thur, it also contains one of Switzerland’s best kept secrets: Kartause Ittingen.

A mere four hours from Edinburgh, Kartause, or Charterhouse, is off the beaten track. It’s the perfect place to chill out, pamper yourself and soak up the atmosphere of this luxuriously transformed monastic settlement. After our train from Zurich deposited us at Frauenfeld, my wife Jane and I took the postbus the few kilometres to our destination.

On arrival, I looked south east. In the distance I picked out snow-clad Säntis, the Alpstein’s highest mountain, and the Churfirsten, those orderly, almost identikit, peaks said to represent the seven Imperial Electors of Mediaeval times.

I got a foretaste of what lay ahead the moment I entered Charterhouse. Although the large courtyard was busy during the Whitsun weekend, it readily absorbed the crowd. Beyond the reception area and a shop filled with lots of home-produced goodies, I spied the Charterhouse concert hall, and a nearby path leading to a small heritage seed garden, a hop field and the Ittingen beech forest beyond.

The Charterhouse museum and art gallery lies to the right, just above a path to the gardens, a field of herbs, kitchen garden, herb labyrinth and much more. And since I was peckish after travelling, the restaurant beckoned.

Between the 12th and 19th centuries, Charterhouse with its extensive lands had been a monastery and, after falling on hard times, was bought as a 21st birthday present for Viktor Fehr, whose successors ran the estate till it was bought in 1977 by the newly established charitable foundation, Kartause Ittingen.

As Valentin Bot, the Charterhouse director that showed me round, explains: "Our aim is run an organisation that encourages self sufficiency, promotes culture and provides education and welfare for some who need it." Charterhouse is an ancient settlement and the foundation is keen to interpret the best of the old for the 21st century.

And they succeed. Charterhouse meets all its targets. Visitors can simply enjoy their immediate and fulfilling surroundings, or use it as a base to explore the extensive Charterhouse lands, by foot, bicycle or electric bike, and visit nearby Lake Constance and other places of interest in Thurgau.

Charterhouse offers a selection of different rooms for guests, close to the main courtyard. Many of them have great views or a balcony. There are also family rooms and the attic suite which includes a small sitting room.

Undoubtedly, the coolest suite is the Bubble Hotel, an igloo-shaped clear plastic dome. Valentin tells me the idea had come from the Thurgau tourist board.

As a major fruit growing area, Thurgau is Switzerland’s Carse o’ Gowrie so the board promotes events like the fun apple trail round the village of Altnau on Lake Constance. Other apple trails are signposted in the Canton, including one through Charterhouse.

Apple blossom provides quite a spectacle, so the tourist board had suggested visitors might enjoy seeing it from the comfort of their beds in a bubble tent. The Charterhouse orchard was clearly the perfect location for one.

I guess St Lawrence’s day on August 10 could also be a winner. Seemingly a meteor shower often accompanies the monastery’s saint’s day, so a visit then could be fun.

As a gardener and environmentalist, I was keen to see the Charterhouse zero kilometre food principle: it works superbly, judging by the meal the restaurant generously laid on for us. The foundation wants to continue the old monastic practice of self-sufficiency. Their farm, under the management of one of the foundation’s six directors, provides nearly everything for the restaurant and sells some surpluses to the rest of Switzerland.

The fullest co-operation between farm and restaurant is essential. When the project started five years ago, Valentin admitted the staff were not amused at the prospect of trudging out to the garden, getting dirty feet and having to deal with carrots that could have ‘two or three legs’.

But with the head chef’s enthusiastic support, staff were won round and the different priorities of farm and kitchen were gradually ironed out. The farmer had thought of growing wheat by the acre or ton and the chef needed a modest 400kg. The hotel gradually upped its needs and peace reigned. They bake what I can only describe as brilliant bread every day.

Dealing with gluts and shortages is a perennial challenge for gardeners, so the chef has to be inventive. Surpluses like cucumber appears on the menu in endless different but appetising forms. Others are dried, smoked, salted, and preserved as jams or chutney, as well as frozen.

This self sufficiency also reigns in the bar. As an experienced beer consumer, I wholeheartedly approved of the product brewed with home grown hops and found the wine in the restaurant most palatable. An after dinner cocktail containing verjuice, a mediaeval beverage of fermented green grapes, was used instead of lemon.

When home produce isn’t available, the hotel sources supplies within 10km. The delicious asparagus I enjoyed came from a nearby farm, and another firm puts the dried herbs in teabags.

Charterhouse offers so much more. On the second day of our visit, we were invited to a solo cello performance of the first three of Bach’s suites by Nicolas Altstaedt. Throughout the Whitsun weekend and at other times of year, solo or chamber music are performed in the theatre.

I also enjoyed a visit to the museum, which houses the Thurgau Art Museum’s collection together with temporary exhibitions. The rooms and spaces of the former monastery lend themselves to the display of work by conceptual artists like Joseph Kosuth.

And the historical museum was right up my street. As a life-long enthusiast of mediaeval history, I found the reconstruction of monastic life fascinating and spent a good 90 minutes with our guide, Hedwig Zeller. Realising I knew a wee bit about mediaeval life, she also wished we had more time, but another appointment beckoned me.

The glorious weather made Ittingen’s farm, forest and nearby countryside every bit as enjoyable. Who could resist the purple flowers of greater knapweed, bright blue cornflower, the violet flowers of field scabious held above the gently swaying meadow grasses, to name a few.

The nearby river Thur and the walk there were a must. Looking up, I spied red kites gliding over a hill, riding the warm air currents rising from the valley and heard a resourceful blackbird cleverly inserting the sound of the church bell in its song.

We passed a group of Braunvieh calves needing a good head scratch, skirted an enchanting lagoon, before arriving at the river bank. Fishermen are well prepared here, with a little hut and a barbecue ready to roast their trophies.

More adventurous visitors could borrow a bike from the hotel and follow one of the many marked trails.

My son and his wife joined us for the weekend while we toured the garden with Daniela Stuber.

After riding through the forest, where wood is processed as charcoal and for firewood, they reached the Hüttwilersee where Eric indulged in a refreshing swim.

They passed a 15th century church with a tale worth telling. When the monastery was taken over by Carthusians, the church became reserved exclusively for men, so a group of women staged a sit in, as they still felt entitled to worship there. This was a step too far, so a new church was built for them as compensation. Good on these early pioneers of women’s rights!

Travel notes.

EasyJet flies daily from Edinburgh to Basel. Edelweiss Air flies Edinburgh to Zurich, not daily with fewest flights in winter.

Swiss rail ( run frequent trains from Basel and Zurich to Frauenfeld from where there is a bus to Kartause Ittingen.

Dave was a guest of Thurgau Tourism, and travel expenses and the generous hospitality of Kartause Ittingen.

For more information on Switzerland visit: The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days in the Swiss Travel System network.