Wanderweg is German for footpath. Switzerland is wanderweg heaven; a maze of thousands of kilometres of footpaths and hiking trails of various degrees of difficulty, every path carefully marked, given a number and assiduously signposted. The Swiss, home of impeccable timepieces, even provide the estimated time to hike from one destination to the next, carefully allowing for changes in elevation and difficulty.
Every path is now also available with GPS coordinates for download. Swiss perfectionists have created a hiker’s dream. For two weeks this summer, Kristen and I hiked a pittance of these paths in her carefully curated itinerary showcasing the best of Switzerland.
We start in Heidiland, gentle walks through rural foothills and vineyards to the home of Heidi, Switzerland’s most famous citizen. Like Anne Shirley, our Anne of Green Gables, Heidi is fictional but very, very real to millions of her fans. She is the Swiss girl we hold in our hearts and our imagination. Her home is real; I know, I was there.
The next day, we hike up the Tamina Gorge from Bad Ragaz, a famous Swiss spa town, home of one of the first thermal baths fed by a hot spring since 1840. The hot spring still exists, reached through a narrow opening in the rock face. The combination of history, mountain beauty, storybook fiction, and geology makes our first sojourn memorable.
After a small urban sojourn to Berne to watch the Tour de France, we head for the Swiss-Italian region of Ticino. I immediately fall in love with Italian Ticino, our plans for home cooked dinner in our airBnB are ditched in favour of the local hotel’s pizza – we went twice; after the first night we had to go back. We walk to eat, shameless but guilt free.
Chris pounds out his long, gruelling bike rides, epic climbs on empty roads; we hike up through high mountain meadows to a beautiful lake and an incomparable lunch with a million dollar view. We dine like Swiss royalty.
The next day, a long gentle wander through pine forests along the valley floor is equally satisfying.
In the Interlaken, Swiss mountain paths start in Lauterbrunnen, heading for Kleine Scheidegg. We could take the cog train but we want to be serious alpinists. Five hours later we are finished, rewarding ourselves with Swiss mac and cheese. I’d do it all over again just for that lunch with that view.
This little piece of Swiss heaven has been the set for a James Bond movie and a really, really bad Clint Eastwood movie – the scenery more than makes up for the lame script, misogyny, and Eastwood’s trademark non-acting.
We stay overnight at a small hotel with our balcony looking directly at the Eiger, the Jungfrau and the Monk for hours as the clouds swirl, the light dims, the sun sets and the cow bells echoed; we are even rewarded with a rainbow. Eastwood be damned, this is heaven.
Our final hike is in another valley in Berne Canton, the Oeschinensee. There is a cable car to the top; it hurts to bust my ass hiking up a mountain only to be met at the “top” by scampering toddlers, a mother with a stroller and an amateur artist.
We choose to hike it; my reward for a mere two hour hike up to Lake Oeshinen is lunch beside an alpine lake warm enough for swimming amid a landscape recognized as a UNESCO world Heritage site – I should have bought her water-colour.
My bonus on this last alpine hike is a wild summer bobsled ride on a plastic luge down a steep swerving set of hairpin turns. The slalom ride, sold as the scariest ride of a lifetime, is less intimidating than portrayed; the two ten year olds ahead of me were already on their second ride of the day.
We take regular hill and dale hikes, 25 kilometers from one town to the next. The trail greeting went from “Greuzi” to “Bonjour” – a change of cantons in multilingual Switzerland is usually marked by a change in dialect or language where at least four languages are in use.
The Swiss are blessed; they are a train ride from hiker heaven. Swiss trains are stuffed with hikers, trekkers and cyclists of all ages and descriptions heading outdoors to revel in the beauty of the mountains. We are never more than a few hours from our destination; we can hike all day in the mountains and be home for dinner.
Hiking options are endless; Kristen has offered a sampler of her favourites, all I have to do is keep up. After two weeks, I accumulate about five years worth of ideas for future walks, enough for me to contemplate many more seasons walking Swiss style.
What is hiking Swiss style; wanderwegging?
Incredible restaurants abound, the food is as spectacular as the scenery. Everywhere we go, we find wonderful Swiss huts with magnificent views; places for a coffee break or a full meal. I require incentives and progress markers when I hike. The signposts tells me what I have to do to reach my destination in minutes and hours and I know I have food at the end of my ordeal. It’s simple, brilliantly simple.
Words don’t describe the vistas, the glaciers tucked into high mountain valleys, ringed with snowy peaks, fluffy clouds and endless blue skies. The clear air, pine scented forests, giving way to alpine meadows speckled with flowers. The orchestra of cow bells provides musical accompaniment, background sounds drifting across the valleys.
Swiss hiking has it all; choice, atmosphere, convenient accessibility, an abundance of trail options, history, excellent signage, and food, glorious food. The vistas are stunning, mountains and valleys, glorious greens, brilliant alpine flowers; cows and a their symphony of bells.
It is no wonder the Swiss are so healthy – even with fondues, chocolate, sausages and cheese. Maybe this is why they put all these restaurants at the top of high mountain passes…