Experience the beauty of hiking through a real-life fairytale in the Swiss Alps.
Hiking the Swiss Alps and experiencing its natural beauty is something that never leaves you. From the wildflowers in bloom and soaring peaks to goats, marmots, and glaciers, there are so many ah-ha moments in Switzerland that will take you to new heights. Get your hiking boots, cameras, and appetites ready for an awe-inspiring summer adventure to Switzerland.
Zurich – Rest and Explore Old Town & West Quarter
Zurich is a perfect place to start and finish your Swiss journey. Whether you arrive by air or train to this global financial hub, you will witness how efficient the Swiss are, in particular with transportation. In fact, it is said that you can set your watch by the train and bus schedules. Switzerland is amazingly tidy and organized, making travel very easy and enjoyable. Most travelers decide to rest up a day on either end of travel to Switzerland in Zurich. Some decide to explore the Old Town on foot, grab a bite or an Aperol spritz (citrus liquor and sparkling wine) at one of the countless outdoor cafes, as well as visit the Fraumünster Church, built in 853 with beautiful Chagall stained glass windows. For those that thrive on what is hip and trendy, head to the West Quarter to indulge in Zurich’s foodie and craft beer scene as well as street art and design. Frau Gerolds Garten Terrace by the railway tracks is a good starting point.
Engadine Region - Walking through a Fairytale
By train, leave Zurich for St. Mortiz whereby every passing quarter of an hour you see fewer homes and more pristine mountain streams and lakes. As you make your way to Engadine, the peaks continue growing higher until they are soaring above you. Within three and a half hours, you arrive at Sils Maria, a quaint cottage town at the foot of the Alps surrounded by aquamarine lakes and farmland. Settle in at your mountain lodge by the fireplace to refuel with a Swiss fondue or raclette (another Swiss cheese dish that is based on heating a large wheel of hard cheese until melted and then scraping the cheese off to pair with potatoes, onions, and pickles).
Sils Maria is a beautiful, yet easy-to-use base for summer hiking in Engadine. Sils Maria repurposes the ski resorts’ chairlifts to transport hikers in the summer, thus taking the hard elevation gain out of the hikes and allowing you to cover more terrain and reaping the rewards of the Alpine vistas quickly. Choose your hiking route wisely as yellow signs indicate that it is moderate for anyone with appropriate hiking footwear; however white and red signs mean that you may encounter unfavorable weather conditions and may need more climbing apparel like crampons for glacier crossings. Be aware that all signs are written in hours, not in kilometers and that weather is unpredictable. Although it is summer, you may experience sun, rain, snow, and winds all in one hike. Bring layers and perhaps hiking poles. In late June and July is the peak of the wildflower bloom. Amazing purples and pinks flourish with fields of Bisort flowers. Keep your eyes and ears alert while you hike as at the higher elevations (3,000m+ or 9,000ft+) where you may hear a marmot whistle as well as catch a glimpse of the national flower of Switzerland, the rare, white Edelweiss.
At most mountain cottages and hotels, there is a spa. Take care of yourself post-hike for a better recovery of your muscles and joints by trying the hot saunas, both dry and wet. Then, enjoy a white wine from the Valais Region while watching the night starry sky unfold.
The Glacier Express Train to the Valais Region & Saas Fee
Continue exploring Switzerland by boarding the Glacier Express Train, which runs from St. Mortiz to Zermatt. With comfortable scenic seats, sit and relax riding through a postcard setting, where around each bend is a more epic mountain slope peppered with flocks of sheep and goats as well as surprising waterfalls and raging rivers. For those that prefer a smaller town feel, a recommended detour is Visp, nearly two-thirds of the way to Zermatt. Depart from the Glacier Express and take a bus to the mountainside town of Saas Fee for your home base. Be aware there are no cars throughout Saas Fee. Your accommodations may use a handcart or small scooter to carry your bags, providing you with the opportunity to meander Saas Fee’s small shops, cafes, bakeries, and more on your way to your cottage
Like Sils Maria, almost all roads lead to the chairlifts. While in Saas Fee, the most popular hike is to the Britannia Hut. To arrive at this 100-year-old hut with food, drink, and rustic accommodations, take the Felskinn lift and then embark on an approximate hour and a half hike. Bask in the panoramic views while sipping a hot tea, coffee, or cocoa as well as trying the soup or special of the day, before continuing on to return to your cottage. If you make it back to town before closing, it’s recommended to grab dried fruits, nuts, and perhaps a pastry for the following morning if you want to hit the trails or railways early.
Zermatt - Matterhorn
Only a two and a half-hour scenic train ride from Visp, is Zermatt, the most famous climbing and skiing town in the world. It is home to Matterhorn (14,691 ft), one of Europe’s highest peaks. For the best view of Matterhorn without needing to train for years and/or hire a professional climbing guide and team, take the Gornergrat Railway. From the opposing mountainside, relish the majestic view from the outdoor café at the Kulmhotel Gornergrat while sipping on a Cardinal beer or a refreshing Panache, a concoction of lemon soda and light beer like a shandy.
Although Switzerland is famed for being the maker of the world’s best watches, pocketknives, and let’s not forget chocolate, it also has some of the most remarkable alpine regions for unforgettable summer hiking. Your body will feel an aerobic high from your daily adventures. Your mind will be blown away by so many mesmerizing feats of Mother Nature. You may even feel like you are living in a fantasy where characters such as Heidi, Peter, and Grandfather walk alongside you.
Experience the beauty of a real-life fairytale in Switzerland.
**Originally published by Home By Design and written by Heidi Siefkas. See full summer 2018 article here.**