Overseas Walks: Walking Switzerland’s alpine world
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.