Over­seas Walks: Walk­ing Switzer­land’s alpine world

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Jill Grant Jill is an Auck­land based jour­nal­ist and pho­tog­ra­pher

It tra­verses eight alpine coun­tries; France, Italy, Monaco, Switzer­land, ‘Licht­en­stein, Ger­many, Aus­tria and Slove­nia. The por­tion in Switzer­land is 370 kms which could take a keen walker with a good level of fit­ness over three weeks to cover.

Be­ing an alpine trail, the walks are at al­ti­tudes be­tween 1,000 – 3,000 me­tres so the walk­ing sea­son is short, only from mid June to mid Septem­ber. It’s pure un­spoiled na­ture sprin­kled with alpine tra­di­tions. The Swiss still carry on age-old cus­toms like cat­tle drives into the alpine pas­tures, hand­i­crafts such as pa­per cut­ting, wood carv­ing and yo­delling fes­ti­vals.

One of the pret­ti­est sec­tions of this long dis­tance trail is through the Ber­nese Ober­land where vis­i­tors are drawn to in­cred­i­ble views of the “Big Three”; the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. To be amongst these moun­tains you don’t have to climb by your own ef­forts. The Swiss rail sys­tem brought tourism to the re­gion and ser­vices al­most ev­ery small town with ac­cess to alpine re­gions. There are also ca­ble cars high into the alps such as the one to Mt Titlus and the high­est rail­way sta­tion in the world, the Jungfrau­joch, at al­most 3,500 m and in per­ma­nent ice and snow. No won­der it’s known as “the Top of Europe”.

Be­gin­ning the route in Meirin­gen, walk­ers can start with a taste of nostal­gia and visit the Sher­lock Holmes Mu­seum in the town cen­tre which has a gi­ant bronze sculp­ture of the fa­mous de­tec­tive. From here, the route takes you past the 120m high Re­ichen­bach Falls where al­legedly Holmes met his death. You can ride a fu­nic­u­lar in a bright red wooden wagon, a replica of the first one FROM 1899, to a view­ing plat­form above for a spec­tac­u­lar panorama of the Falls and val­ley.

The next high­light along the trail is the nar­rowly-carved, 80 me­tre high Rosen­laui glacier gorge that cuts through sheer sided cliffs of slate and lime­stone. A path­way leads through it and in parts the gap is so slim the walls on each side al­most touch with just a slim sliver of sky be­tween. Af­ter the gorge and across moor­land you hike up to Gross Schei­degg, the pass

be­tween Meirin­gen and Grindle­wald. It was once a path farm­ers used to take their cat­tle to mar­ket in Lom­bardy.

The village of Grindle­wald, with its tra­di­tional cuckoo-clock type houses sets the stage for a clas­sic Swiss moun­tain ex­pe­ri­ence. The im­pos­ing gran­ite north face of the Eiger, a spec­tac­u­lar sheer wall, tow­ers above the village.

From Grindle­wald walk­ers can take the sweat out of the hike up to Kleine Schei­digg by tak­ing the train part way up to re­duce the climb. The view once there is mes­meris­ing and on a clear day the tiny hub of the Jungfrau­joch rail­way sta­tion can be seen. Savour the moun­tains and some lo­cal moun­tain fare of Swiss cheese, ham and bread at a gor­geous chalet restau­rant with grand­stand views.

The way down to the Lauter­brun­nen val­ley is on forested trails be­tween rock cliffs of the moun­tain peaks above. Gush­ing water­falls are com­mon and there is said to be over 70 in the val­ley.

Hope­fully you’ve got enough left in the tank for the 400 me­tre hike out of the Lauter­brun­nen val­ley up to the quaint, car-free village of Wen­gen which nes­tles on a shel­tered plat­form at the foot of the Jungfrau. The village has re­tained the char­ac­ter of a typ­i­cal Swiss moun­tain village.

Fur­ther up the val­ley at 1650 me­tres is Mur­ren which also faces the ‘Big 3’of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. It’s the high­est, con­tin­u­ally in­hab­ited village in this re­gion. For an­other dose of nostal­gia you can take the ca­ble car up to Mt Schilthorn for breakfast in the re­volv­ing restau­rant where scenes from the Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Se­cret Ser­vice, were shot. The view ex­tends as far as Mont Blanc.

From Mur­ren there is a climb up to Se­finen­furgge at 2,300 me­tres pass­ing a cou­ple of sturdy moun­tain huts which break up the long as­cent. These trails have fewer hik­ers. Se­finen­furgge is the pass into the Kien­tal val­ley where there are plenty of clear moun­tain streams and water­falls, flower-dot­ted mead­ows, shady moun­tain forests with snow-capped peaks peep­ing above to ac­com­pany you to Griesalp.

From Griesalp the route climbs to the high­est point on the Via Alpina, the 2778m-high Ho­htürli. It’s ad­vis­able to get an early start for the 1,000m as­cent on steep moun­tain slopes as it can get busy with hik­ers later in the day and es­pe­cially hot. There’s even a hut at the top where you can have a beer or tea then en­joy the achieve­ment and the views. It’s an easy gra­di­ent down to crys­tal blue Lake Oeschi­nensee where you have the op­tion of a ca­ble car to Kan­der­steg.

The charm­ing village of Kan­der­steg

has only 1,000 in­hab­i­tants. Its’ wooden chalets have main­tained its village char­ac­ter so quin­tes­sen­tial of the Ber­nese Ober­land.

The next day is an­other ‘steep’ day ne­go­ti­at­ing a rocky trail among chamois colonies through a pass with fas­ci­nat­ing rock for­ma­tions and rock walls. A chair­lift op­er­ates part way up. Once through the pass you walk through a coun­try­side of Sim­metal cows, tra­di­tional alpine huts, and farm­ers with their home cheese dairies. Adel­bo­den is an­other idyl­lic chalet village at the foot of the Wild­strubel. Here, flower filled bal­conies and hand-carved mo­tifs grace farm­houses to pre­serve their tra­di­tional char­ac­ter.

Con­tin­u­ing on to Lenk is eas­ier but does in­volve a gen­tle climb over the Hah­nen­moospass, then down to Lenk in the Hin­ter Sim­men­tal basin, an area

con­sid­ered one of the best for tra­di­tion­ally carved wooden chalets,

At night tra­di­tional cosy Swiss chalet type ho­tels wel­come you with won­der­ful Swiss cui­sine to equalise the ef­forts of the day. You might en­joy a fon­due made with four cheeses, gar­lic and kirsch ac­com­pa­nied by a crisp Syl­vaner Riesing from the Thur­gau area.

Apart from this fa­mous dish, escalopes of veal in a mush­room sauce, ‘rosti’ a fried shoe­string po­tato, sal­mon trout (not two fish but one!), meringues (said to have orig­i­nated from Meirin­gen), ap­ple strudel and Swiss choco­late.

The Swiss tend to cook for a win­ter ap­petite cre­at­ing food that is rich and hearty which is ideal af­ter a day’s hik­ing in the moun­tains.

Be­low left: Plenty of walk­ing trails lead from Kleine Schei­degg as well as the moun­tain rail­way. Above left:

Moun­tain scenery ac­com­pa­nies walk­ers on Swiss alpine trails. Above right: Flower-filled mead­ows of the Ber­nese Ober­land. Op­po­site page be­low right: Hik­ers en­joy mag­nif­i­cent moun­tain scenery on Switzer­land’s Via Alpina.

Switzer­land’s Via Alpina crosses the back­bone of the coun­try from west to east to link up with the long dis­tance hik­ing net­work of the same name that starts in Monaco on the Cote d’Azur and ends in Tri­este, Italy.

Left: The car free village of Wen­gen re­tains its’ tra­di­tional Swiss moun­tain village char­ac­ter.

Above: Walk­ing in the Ber­nese Ober­land is with a back drop of the “Big 3”. Be­low right: Rail­way, ca­ble car and trains give walk­ers ac­cess to alpine trails in the Ber­nese Ober­land.

Above left: Breakfast view of the Eiger from ho­tel in Grindle­wald.

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