We recently spent a little over a week hiking in Switzerland, mostly in the Valais region. Switzerland is magical. That was the word that kept popping into my head. I think it’s the combination of stunning mountain scenery and castles that triggered thoughts of fairy tales. I hesitate to use the word fairy tales because I’ve been watching the Bachelorette and it gets really overused—but regardless, magic and fairy tales came to mind.
We flew into Geneva and took the train to Martigny. We hiked along the wine trail- the Chemin du Vignoble- and also took trains and hiked around Fiesch and Zermatt where the Matterhorn is. We followed the route highlighted here. We did 3 of the 4 hiking legs suggested and took the train between one part, Sion and Sierre.
We stayed in Martigny for two days before starting the hike so that we could recover from jet lag and also enjoy the sites there. There are Roman ruins in town, including an amphitheater, and a nice museum called the Fondation Gianadda. It had Roman artifacts from the area as well as paintings, a sculpture garden, and a car museum (as well as a nice sun room café perfect for enjoying a croissant).
The third day we hiked out on the wine trail. The country has an awesome network of hiking trails and signs for the trails are posted frequently. Our packs had our clothes, a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, food (oatmeal, packets of soup, and rice and lentil dishes), a small camping stove, and Dan carried a small tent. He had gotten the most lightweight items possible, so surprisingly everything was comfortable to carry. We also packed super light- only a few shirts and pants each and these awesome ExOfficio underwear that can be washed and dried really easily (I’ll definitely take these again on any sort of trip).
We walked through vineyards with snow-capped mountains in the background and there were tons of flowers. I loved the poppies that grew like weeds all over the place the best. We walked to the town of Saillon first. It has an old medieval part on the hill with a castle. Then we went to the thermal pools. It’s part of a hotel complex and consisted of a couple large, warm pools and also a sauna. Two of the three pools were outside so you could relax amongst the mountain views. We later camped at a campground a little ways away. During the trip we stayed at a variety of places—a studio found on AirBnB, two campgrounds, two hostels, and two hotels.
After the first day we were pretty sore. And the second day too. The third day we relaxed in Sion and took the train later to the next city, so that helped. Surprisingly the soreness eased up as we went along. Sion has not one, but two castles. It also has a fantastic museum in one of the castles that highlights the history of the region from thousands of years ago to present. We saw metal artifacts from before the Romans and then artifacts from that time, medieval religious pieces, and even some high heel shoes from the 1700s (one pair had a platform from the toe to the heel to prevent the lady from sinking in the mud).
We also made our way to the towns of Sierre and Leuk before taking the train to Fiesch where we wanted to hike and see the aletsch glacier. It was uncharacteristically snowy there. We took a gondola from the nearby town of Betten half way up the mountain to Betten Dorf, and then another cable car up higher to Bettmeralp, a small town where there are chalets, stores, and restaurants accommodating skiers.
Since it was the off-season it was almost completely deserted. It was snowing and we were amidst some clouds, so it was pretty difficult to see. We passed one man who spoke to us in German. I told him in English I didn’t speak German and he smiled and said in English “normally there isn’t snow in summer, but it’s not quite summer.” This area of the Valais region spoke German, while the area we came from spoke French. The other two languages spoken in Switzerland are Italian and Romansch. The first part of our trek through the wine country we found not as many English speakers and had to muddle our way through. I learned how to say I don’t speak French, in French. And so sometimes responded with that and then my basic word, like Fondue! Or pointing. People were nice about it.
So since it was virtually impossible to see much on the mountain, our planned hike up higher from Bettmeralp lasted about 5 minutes and we decided to take the cable car back to the half way point and hike down from there. That turned out to be a good decision since we could actually see more than ten feet in front of us. We hiked through a backdrop of grass and fields of flowers with the occasional cow instead of vineyards and only got slightly turned around once.
After hiking down the mountain we took the train to Zermatt, home of the iconic Matterhorn. It was also the off-season in Zermatt, with skiing being over and late summer hiking not having started. Even so there were still tourists from all over the world- China, Japan, India, Europe, and the US. I’d read that the Matterhorn is captivating because it looks like a shark fin. It also seemed like we were animal watching because we kept waiting to see if it would show itself from cloud cover. We didn’t have a perfectly clear day, but saw most of it. We hiked a trail up towards the Matterhorn, seeing a nearby dam. We read that Switzerland gets about 60% of its energy from hydropower plants and 40% from nuclear. We also came across public fountains for drinking water all over, some quite ornate and old. I’m guessing all of the snow peaked mountains and the run-off of melting snow makes this possible.
Our last day we spent in Geneva before flying out. After hiking through smaller towns and amongst mountains it was a little bit of an adjustment to return to a bigger city. We did enjoy seeing a beautiful old church and the botanic garden along Lake Geneva. One thing we didn’t realize is that there is a red light district (which we found out by looking out our hotel window). No wonder our hotel was so reasonably priced. Maybe on a weekday it wouldn’t have been so bad, but Saturday night it was quite the happening spot and pretty loud. C’est la vie.
All in all, Switzerland was definitely still magical.