With its mountains, its many lakes, its wildlife and its flora, Switzerland is a paradise for hikers. More than 60% of the country is covered by the Alps, sheltering not less than 48 summits towering more than 4,000m! If you want to go for a walk in the nature, there are countless trails always perfectly maintained all around the country that will allow you to admire its wonders. I did myself many hikes in Switzerland, but four especially remain unforgettable and I decided to describe them in this article. Don’t forget your hiking shoes next time you’ll be visiting Switzerland!
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1/ The Ibex Trail, Grande Dixence Dam (canton of Valais)
This is the last hike I did, a week ago when I spent a few days in Switzerland (in September 2019), and I enjoyed it so much that it inspired me for this article.
The Grande Dixence Dam is located in the canton of Valais, 30km South of Sion. It is at the end of a narrow, winding and very steep road that is only passable during summer and early fall. The road ends at the foot of the dam, at the altitude of 2,145m. To reach the top of this impressive structure, you can either take a cable car or walk. I chose the second option, which was quite exhausting (the difference of height is 220m and it took me about 35 minutes) but also very rewarding when I finally arrived at the Lac des Dix, the lake that was formed after the construction of the Grande Dixence Dam. It has a stunning blue-grey colour, which comes from fine particles in suspension in the water. These particles are created by the surrounding glaciers, grinding rock below them into a very fine dust.
The Ibex Trail starts from there, at the altitude of 2,364m. It’s a 12km-long hike, with a highest point at almost 2,800m. At this altitude, you really start to feel a lack of oxygen, which makes it a little bit more difficult, but after about an hour I slowly got used to it. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to travel on the entire loop, so instead I decided to walk the first and easiest part of the trail, following the lake until the mountain hut of La Barmaz (2,458m high) before coming back to the dam for a total length of about 8km. It was a fantastic walk; below the path, the milky turquoise colour of the lake was extraordinary (it almost looked like someone had painted it); I was surrounded by lovely blue and purple flowers, typical of the mountains; the further I walked, the more I could see the snow-capped peaks on the other side of the lake, dominated by the pyramidal shape of the Mont Blanc de Cheilon (3,870m high) to the left. Only (tiny) regret, I didn’t see any ibex or any marmot, even though I heard them whistle a lot above me.
2/ Monte San Salvatore hike, Morcote-Lugano (canton of Ticino)
The canton of Ticino is the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, located to the South of the country, at the border with Italy. I went there twice for a few days and always came back amazed by the beauty of the area. During my second visit in 2014, I did what probably still is my favourite hike of Switzerland: the trail from Morcote to Lugano.
Lugano is the most populated city of the canton, while Morcote is a tiny village about 10km further South, which was elected the prettiest of Switzerland in 2016 (pictures above and to the right). Both are located on the shore of Lake Lugano, and a beautiful trail connects them via the summit of Monte San Salvatore, overlooking Lugano from its 912m high. There are two ways of doing this hike: the most popular is to start from Lugano, take the funicular to the summit of San Salvatore and walk essentially downhill until Morcote, from where you simply hop on a bus back to Lugano. Other option, take a bus to Morcote, start the hike from there, climb all the way up to San Salvatore and take the funicular down to Lugano. As you can see on the profile below (I found it on this website), one way is much easier than the other one. Can you guess which one I chose?
You guessed right, I started from Morcote! After a little stroll in its narrow lanes, admiring the beautiful church overlooking the lake, I began the difficult climb to Alpe Vicania via what seemed to be a never-ending staircase. This was the hardest part of the hike, with a difference of height of almost 500m in about 3km. But the rest of the trail after that was just fabulous: the view over the lake and the mountains all around was gorgeous, walking under the shade of the trees was very enjoyable (I even bumped into a hind in the forest), the village of Carona half way was lovely and finally after a short but steep climb, the panorama at 360° from the summit of Monte San Salvatore was exceptional.
After this long walk (about 9km at this stage with a difference of height of more than 800m), my plan was to take the funicular back to Lugano, but I spent too much time relaxing in the botanic garden of San Grato next to Carona and I arrived after the last one had already left the station. The 3km-long descent to the lake was an additional effort I’d have loved to avoid but it wasn’t enough to ruin such an exceptional day!
3/ Männlichen-Kleine Scheidegg Panorama Trail, Grindelwald (canton of Bern)
When I arrived in Switzerland in 2011, I didn’t know anyone there. It took me a little while before I started meeting new friends, so during my first months, I often used my weekends to visit the country. One of my first excursions lead me to Grindelwald, in the Bernese Highland.
As you can see on the map above (I found it on this website), the area around Grindelwald is overflown with hiking options. Even better, between the many buses, trains or cable cars, there are a lot of different ways to gain altitude quickly before starting the hike of your choice.
The trail I’m describing here is one of the most popular of the area. I did it in October 2014, just before the first snowfalls of the winter. I started from the Männlichen station, after a 35 minutes cable car ride from Grindelwald. The view from there was already fabulous, but a 1km climb to the summit of the Männlichen (2,342m high) made it even more extraordinary. From this point, I was facing three of the most iconic summits of the Swiss Alps; from left to right, the Eiger (3,970m), the Mönch (4,107m) and the Jungfrau (4,158m). There aren’t many places around Switzerland that can compete with such a panorama!
After this short climb, I walked back to the cable car station and started the hike in the direction of the train station of the Kleine Scheidegg, from where I was going to take a train back to Grindelwald. It’s an easy 5km-long track, mostly flat and slightly downhill (the Männlichen station is 2,227m high while the Kleine Scheidegg is at 2,061m) but it felt extraordinary to walk towards the very impressive North face of the Eiger, a legendary climb for mountaineers. When I finally arrived at the Kleine Scheidegg, I kept going until the Eigergletscher station (an extra 1.5km one way), at the foot of the Eiger glacier, at 2, 320m high. What an amazing sight!
Next to the Kleine Scheidegg is the starting point of what I think is the most spectacular downhill race of the alpine skiing season (also the longest and the fastest, not to mention one of the most dangerous): the Lauberhorn downhill run. I walked down the very steep slope for a few hundreds of meters, trying to picture it covered by a thick layer of snow, until I reached a beautiful little lake: the occasion for one last picture, before heading back to Grindelwald with beautiful memories filling my head.
4/ Eggishorn-Mossfluh, Aletsch Glacier (canton of Valais)
The Aletsch Glacier is located in the easternmost part of the canton of Valais. It’s the biggest glacier of the Alps, although because of climate change it might disappear within only a century. It’s one of the most beautiful panoramas of Switzerland, and there are once again countless trail options to explore the area.
Contrary to my habits, I chose one of the (relatively) easiest options. From Neuchâtel where I used to live, I took the train until the village of Fiesch, from where I hopped on two cable cars, the first one until Fiescheralp (2,212m high), the second one from Fiescheralp to the Eggishorn Station (2,869m high). From there, it’s a short climb until the summit of the Eggishorn (2,926m high), the best lookout over the glacier but also over the entire area, at 360°. That day was so clear that I could perfectly see the Matterhorn (4,478m high), probably the most iconic mountains of the country, even though it was about 80km away to the South!
As the Eggishorn is so easily accessible, there are always a lot of people on its summit. Most of them only come for the view and go straight back to the valley via the cable car. Some others (including me) use it as a starting point for a long hike in the mountains. I first walked back to the station, from where I took the direction of Märjelensee. It was a very steep descent: in 5km from the top of the Eggishorn, I lost more than 600m of elevation. It was a beautiful sight to see the mountains around me reflect in this little lake.
From there, the track was mostly flat for the next 7.5km until the cable car station of Moosfluh (slightly downhill with a few ups and downs for the first part, a short climb at the end until the station). I was just above the glacier, close enough to hear some cracks of the ice and to feel its cold. Fantastic!
Finally, from Moosfluh I simply went back to Mörel down in the valley via two more cable cars and then took a train to Neuchâtel. I felt exhausted but once again amazed by all the natural wonders I saw that day!
Have you ever hiked in Switzerland? Any favourite tracks you’d like to share with me? Write your suggestions in the comment section!
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