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Walking in Switzerland – 137,712 Steps

Written by Denny Custer.

Yup! That’s what the ol’ pedometer tallied. Karen and I did 8 walks to come up with that total, equating to 60.58 miles.

Arriving on August 8, our first two walks were in overcast and slight to moderate rain. Then we lucked out with 8 absolutely beautiful days in a row! We did all of our walks in tennis shoes and had no problems with footing, even on damp paths. We bought walking sticks (one each) and they proved to be extremely helpful, especially going up or down steps. Our paths were all well marked, and technically easy to moderate (they were not the far more rigorous mountain paths). With about 15,000 miles of paths in Switzerland, walking is a national pastime. Clothing was layered and always ended up in shorts and a T-shirt. A rain jacket with hood proved useful along with the small fold up travel umbrella. Small backpacks held cameras, food, water and the like.

Our favorite walk was der Schwiez Weg, the Swiss Path. The path goes around the Lake of Uri as southernmost arm of Lake Lucerne is also known. Built up by contributions from all of the Swiss cantons and finished in 1991 as a 700th birthday present to the country, it is 35km or 21 miles long (5 millimeters for each Swiss person). One option on the path can take you to the meadow at Rutli, where the Swiss Confederation was born in 1291. Lake steamers call at 8 stops on the path and the train at two. So one has a myriad of choices for where to begin and end, if you wish to do the path over several days from one base point. We used Brunnen, our favorite spot in all of Switzerland, as a base. There are also maps and booklets you can buy as guides.

The path begins officially in Brunnen. Since we started on the western side of the lake, one has to take the lake boat across to Trieb and the funicular up to Seelisberg, about a 20-minute trip in total. We walked 9.6 miles to Fluelen and the first 2 hours, from Seelisberg to Bauen were just excellent. At Bauen, you descend about 1000 feet, most of which comes in a long series of steps just as you reach Bauen. The balance of the walk is essentially flat. On another day, on the eastern side of the lake, we started with the bus from Brunnen to Morschach (a 10 minute bus ride, which saved at least an hour’s very uphill walk). While again, it is about 1000 feet down to the lake at Sisikon…one must do as the Swiss do and that is go up and down, up and down…to get down. The first 30-45 minutes was a considerable uphill, with many pauses to catch our breath. Once the downhill was started the views were out of this world, with many pauses for pictures. The final descent into Sisikon takes about 45 minutes, but is just sensational. From Sisikon we walked to Tellesplatte and caught a ship back to Brunnen.

With my love of trains, several of our walks were planned in and around scenic railway locations. They included a walk through on a forest path with a meandering mountain stream, a walk down the wild and rocky Schollenen gorge, and walks on the south ramp of the BLS north ramp in the Kander Valley. One prize find due to the latter two walks was the Bernerhof Hotel at Kandersteg (which we used as abase for those two walks). From the front rooms of this hotel is one of the very prettiest views of a mountain setting we have experienced. Kandersteg is an excellent destination with many walks in that area. Although a rainy day, our second railway walk was from Preda, at the northern entrance of the Albula Tunnel, 7 miles back down hill to Bergun. This was a pleasant walk, a little tricky in a spot or two, enjoying some stunning scenery as the railway line wound through several spinal tunnels and crossed several beautiful viaducts. A great walk on forest paths and around mountain streams.

From Pontresina we took a train to Tirano, Italy via the Bernina Pass. This is a superb rail trip with more stunning scenery. There is an amazing railway feature we visited where, to lose altitude, the railway curves down an outside spiral viaduct, instead of being inside a spiral tunnel. After stopping off at that location for an hour’s worth of taking train pictures, we journeyed back along the line as far as Ospizio Bernina, the highest point on the line. A little lunch there and we started off on a 4-mile hike of some two hours, to Alp Grum. The path goes for half an hour or so along the shores of Lake Bianco, a most gorgeous azure blue owing to its glacial influence. Then you go uphill about 400 feet on a reasonably gradual incline. At the top is a restaurant and there is a fabulous view south to Italy and the route the train took earlier. From that point down to Alp Grum, we descended on a path that is a bit narrow, a bit steep and a bit rocky – for 1,000 feet. Finally we followed the railway into Alp Grum and took the train back to Pontresina. This walk is almost totally above the tree line and is well worthwhile.

Another neat walk was from Andermatt to Goschenen, down through the Schoellenen gorge. Not difficult, it does decline about 1,000 feet (gee that number does come up a lot). The scenery is that of a very wild and rocky gorge…just immense. It took an hour to walk, really an hour and a half with photo stops. The Swiss army mountain rangers practice in this area. So as we descend and cross a bridge, one of the troops was finishing his climb from the valley floor. As he swung over the bridge rail, looking totally and utterly spent, his first sight was of Karen the American Tourist, just three feet away. It was a cute moment.

Using Kandersteg as a base, we did two very well planned and marked walks along the Bern Loetschberg Simplon Railway, one in the Rhone Valley and one in the Kander Valley. In the Rhone valley you start about 1200 feet above the valley floor and the view takes your breath away. At one point the path shares a walkway with a railway bridge. Again, one can look down several hundred feet through metal grating…all completely safe. The walk from Hohtenn to Lalden was 3 hours. Our Kandersteeg hotel, the 3 star Bernerhof, had a just superb mountain view from the front balcony of east facing rooms. We have done some other walks in the area and can highly recommend it as a destination, as well as the Bernerhof as a great place to stay.

Walking in Switzerland is fun, invigorating, will leave you with a great sense of accomplishment and a burning desire to return for more walking adventures.

We completed this trip with a 6-day barging adventure in France, in the Alsace-Lorraine from Nancy to Strasbourg, and then 4 days in good ole Paris. When I finally tallied up the pedometer (not including smaller walks) we had walked a total of 115 miles.