|Walking in Switzerland|
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Swiss mountains are among the most dramatic and challenging of all the Alpine ranges, but you don’t have to be a skilled mountaineer or climber to enjoy an active holiday among them, for Switzerland contains some of Europe’s finest walking terrain, with enough variety to suit every taste. In the northwest of the country, for example, the rolling Jura hills are heavily wooded, but with open meadows that provide long views across the lowlands to Alpine giants. The Bernese Alps, with notoriously savage peaks such as the Eiger, Schreckhorn and Finsteraarhorn, harbour a glacial heartland but they also feature gentle valleys, pastoral ridges and charming alp hamlets with well-marked trails weaving through. On the south side of the Rhône Valley the Pennine Alps are burdened with snow and glaciers, yet walkers’ paths lead along their moraines to give a taste of adventure without overtly courting danger. By contrast the mountains of Canton Ticino projecting south into Italy are almost completely snow- and ice-free in summer, and you’ll find a wonderland of trails among their modest, lake-jewelled peaks.
In major tourist areas walkers can use chairlifts, gondolas and cable-cars in summer and autumn to reach high and otherwise remote trails, while rustic inns and a network of Alpine or mountain huts (Hütte; refuge; rifugio, cabane or capanna) provide rudimentary dormitory accommodation, and often meals too, for those who plan to make multi-day walking tours.
Paths are well maintained, and always clearly marked with regular yellow signposts displaying the names of major landmark destinations, often with an estimate of the time it takes to walk to them. Most signposts also have a white plate giving the name and altitude of the spot you’re standing on. There are two major types of path. A Wanderweg, chemin de randonnée pédestre, sentiero escursionistico remains either in the valley or travels the hillsides at a modest altitude, is sometimes surfaced and will be graded at a relatively gentle angle. Yellow diamonds or pointers show the continuation of the route. (You may also spot some cultural trails – old pilgrims’ roads and the like – signposted in brown.) A Bergweg, chemin de montagne, sentiero di montagna is a mountain path which runs higher or steeper and can be quite demanding, often rough, narrow and sometimes fading if not in regular use. They’re marked with the same yellow signposts, but with a red and white pointer instead of yellow. Waymarks along a mountain path are marked with similar white-red-white bars, and you may occasionally come across cairns directing the way across boulder slopes, or where poor visibility could create difficulties. Higher, extremely tough Alpine trails, marked in blue, are only for those accompanied by a mountain guide and carrying specialist equipment.
For more information, and general guidance about walking, contact the Swiss Hiking Federation, Im Hirshalm 49, CH-4125 Riehen (061/601 15 35). Switzerland Tourism publishes a brochure “Ways to Switzerland”, introducing and mapping six major long-distance hiking routes of particular cultural interest, including the network of Roman roads in Switzerland, the “Chemins de St Jacques”, followed for centuries by pilgrims heading from Germany to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and trans-Alpine mule-tracks used by traders in former ages.
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