Hiking in Switzerland: 5 Gorgeous Trails

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1) The Terraces of The Lavaux Vineyards

Lavaux is Switzerland's largest concentrated wine-making region. It spans roughly 800 hectares, and the terraced hillsides of Lavaux have enjoyed UNESCO protection since 2007.

This tour begins in the narrow medieval streets of St. Saphorin. The town has preserved characteristic homes spanning a range from the 16th to the 19th century. The original steeple of St. Saphorin's church is beautiful in person, and its image graces many of the region's wine labels. This is also where visitors can experience the wide menu of sinfully delicious delights on offer at the Auberge de l'Onde, a hospitable and spacious venue that packs three floors full of temptation.

Lavaux is too amply stocked with pubs and wine cellars to pass through in abstention. Remember, this is an area that cries out to be tasted - literally - as well as seen. Hiking the winding trail to Lutry only gets more enjoyable when one starts with a fortifying glass or two of Chasselas. For hikers who grow too weary, there are some useful alternate transport resources. The "Lavauc Express" runs on selected days throughout the region. The area is also served by the "Lavaux-Panoramic" train.

2) The Historic Water Route (Haute Nendaz To Planchouet And Back)

This is one of the world's most stunningly beautiful trips. It starts in the terraces of Nendaz, which sit at an elevation of 1300-1400 meters above sea level. The heights and scenic views come on rapidly as the trails wind past some of Europe's finest alps, including the Bernese, Valais, and Vaud Alps.

There is a gondola cable car waiting at the end of the valley which carries visitors up to Mont Fort and 3300 meters. From this vantage, there are more than 20 "four-thousanders" in sight, including the iconic Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.

The Valais features a surprisingly dry climate. To counteract this and nurture the region's still-growing raspberries and apricots, for centuries the local farmers have built and maintained an extensive canal network for irrigation.

Called "suonen" (or "bisses" in French), the canals are paired up with more than 98 kilometers of water hiking trails. This is the perfect ground for casual hikers and families to cover. Because the irrigation canals are built to maintain a steady water level, the trails surrounding them feature minimal elevation changes.

The absolute jewel among the many trails might be the trail flanking the "Bisse du Milieux," or "middle channel," which runs from Haut-Nendaz to Planchouet. The hike takes roughly three to four hours, and the delicacies waiting at the Auberge Les Bisses make a splendid reward for the trip. It's not the only opportunity for fine Valais cuisine; Chez Edith in Lavantier is also well worth a visit.

To keep the return trip interesting, try heading back to Haute Nendaz via the "Bisse Vieux," or "old channel."

Nendaz also happens to be Switzerland's Alphorn capital. There's an annual festival dedicated to the instrument every summer.

3) The William Tell Path (Rütli To Bauen)

Visit the Schiller-Balkon on Seelisberg's Marienhöhe, and you get to enjoy a magnificent view that's also a part of Swiss legend. This is, in fact, the exact spot Geneva's Charles Giron used to lay out his panoramic mural of William Tell's life in 1901. Today, the massive mural adorns Bern's National Assembly Hall, but you can marvel at the real thing if you trek to Seelisberg.

The Rütli meadow, the historic birthplace of Switzerland, serves well as a start point. The 35-kilometer "Swiss Path" covers each of the country's founding cantons: Uri, Schwyz, Lucerne, and Unterwalden. For a convenient and stylish entrance, the meadow (as well as several other stages of the path) is served by steamboats.

Seelisberg awaits at the top of a challenging flight of steps - 850 in all. Bauen is a worthy destination as well. Its sheltered location fosters a near-Mediterranean climate, and the locals cultivate figs, palm trees, and a plethora of exotic flowers. Father Alberik Zwysssig, the composer of Switzerland's national anthem ("Trittst im Morgenrot daher"), was born in Bauen. It has attractions beyond the historical; it's also home to the world-renowned restaurant, Zwyssighaus.

4) The Albula Railway Adventure Trail (Preda To Bergün)

The dramatic design of the Rhaetian Railway and the Albula line have been major tourist draws for generations. In 2008, UNESCO recognized the region's beauty and appeal by designating it a World Heritage Site.

The railway cuts an impressive, practically cinematic path up into the mountains from its start at Bergün, winding its way dramatically in and out of multiple tunnels. To get a good overview of the engineering feat, you can see an accurate 1:87 scale model of the system in Bergün's regional museum.

When you're ready to get a more personal look at what many have dubbed "the world's most spectacular railway," the Historic Railway Trail makes a superb two-to-three hour hike.

The terrain around the railway deserves as much attention as the rails themselves. The entire stretch between Bergün and Preda lays within Parc Ela, Switzerland's largest nature reserve. It stretches over more than 500 square kilometers, and hiking the Historic Railway Trail is a great way to get up close and personal with it.

5) The Swiss Flower Route (Appenzell Alpine Trail) (Schwägalp To Kronberg)

This trail, tucked up beneath Mount Säntis, can be a tricky and unpredictable path. In April of 1999, the mountain was buried beneath a record-breaking amount of snow - nearly eight meters. It is not the mountain's height that makes its weather so tempestuous; it rises only to a modest 2500 meters. Its exposed location is what makes it unusually alpine.

The Appenzell Alpine Trail does not reach the full height of the peak's summit. It begins at Mount Säntis' base, at the rather more manageable altitude of 1350 meters. The flower tour leading up the Kronberg is largely dominated by views of Säntis, the jewel of the Alpstein massif. The tour takes approximately two hours and covers some brisk elevation changes.

The first stop is the Chammhaldenhütte, sited to frame a particularly noteworthy view of the mountain's rock face. From here, the trail proceeds through the moors and forests of the Schotzenälpli. The final stop before the Kronberg is at Dorwees.

According to legend, the Alpstein's pattern of widely-distributed settlement comes from a giant's misfortune far back in fairytale times. Carrying a bag of houses through the region, the giant did not notice when Mount Säntis ripped a hole in his bag. He proceeded, unaware of the problem, dribbling out a house here and a house there all over the Appenzell.

The idyllic terrain and the charming villages remain well worth a look today. At the end of the trail at the Kronberg, it's an excellent idea to get even better views by taking the cable car on to Jakobsbad.

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