TOP 3 HIKES IN THE ALPS
TEXT: NANE STEINHOFF, C.C. SCHMID
The Alps offer a variety of walks and hikes for every skill level. Some of our favourites can be found in the Swiss Aletsch Arena region which is known for its outstanding natural beauty, its many sunshine hours, and more.
For more than 30 years, the biologists Laudo Albrecht and his wife Isabella managed the renowned Pro Natura Center Aletsch in the Swiss Aletsch Arena. Located in the venerable Villa Cassel, high above the mightiest glacial stream in the Alps – the Aletsch Glacier. The Albrechts and their team welcomed guests from all over the world and, on excursions, showed them the beauty and fragility of the Jungfrau Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage region. And what does such a dedicated couple do when they retire after 30 years? They return as tourists at the first opportunity and enjoy the paths they have travelled so often – but in a new way. We asked Laudo and Isabella for their three favourite tips that they would recommend to good friends. There are hikes from easy to challenging, across all types of landscape, always very well signposted – and: all with fantastic views and cosy places to stop for refreshments.
1.The Casselweg trail
The special thing about this hike is the combination of cosy, breathtaking and interesting. Signs along the way tell entertaining anecdotes about the stays of the English upper class on the Riederfurka during the Belle Époque. After all, illustrious guests such as Winston Churchill came here.
The Casselweg is a four-kilometre-long circular route on well-paved, beautiful paths with no significant difference in altitude. It will take a normal walker around 1 to 1.5 hours to complete the walk. For those that would like to take a break, the Victorian Villa Cassel lies amidst the Swiss mountains and impresses with a terrace with a view, a stylish tea salon and the finest homemade cakes.
Laudo and Isabella’s reasons for the tour being one of their favourites: “It’s a perfect hike to start off with!” Before the walking begins, the two treat themselves to an invigorating cup of tea in the villa’s venerable salon. Then they set off on the path that nestles gently against the mountain slope of the Riederhorn. Small mountain villages in the distance, short stretches of forest and soon the first four-thousanders peek out from behind the treetops – the Matterhorn, the Weisshorn, the Mischabel group and other sonorous mountain peaks whose snow-capped peaks glisten in the sunlight.
“Sir Ernest Cassel had a sister with a heart condition who could only enjoy the mountain world here in a sedan chair,” explains Laudo the origin of the path. According to tradition, it cost him around CHF 80,000, which was a small fortune at the time. Small boards along the way tell the story of the rich banker from England, who counted Winston Churchill, church representatives and influential businessmen among his guests.
As a special tip, Isabella adds: “Do the tour in the early morning or late afternoon. The chances of observing chamois are high and the experience (and the pictures) in the early morning mist and at sunrise is an unforgettable one!”
2.From the Moosfluh to the Bischofssitz and to Riederfurka
This six-kilometre hike is also a more leisurely one. For around 2 hours of walking time, it leads over a hilly moraine landscape, root paths and along a magnificent high moor, where deer like to visit for their nourishing mud bath. And here, too, past ancient larches and pines with a beguiling scent and a fantastic view of the glacier are included. What do Laudo and Isabella love about this walk? “It’s particularly varied, with many unique views, a grandiose moraine landscape that was so impressively formed by the last ice age and trees up to a thousand years old, whose gnarled roots invite you to sit down,” they explain.
The views of the glacier and a sea of four-thousanders are the first highlights at the starting point. And the best thing: You will get impressive views on almost every corner of the walk. Behind the waypoint ‘Breitebode’, gently rolling moraines with a variety of dwarf shrubs await. Here, Isabella picks some fruits that she likes to use for all kinds of recipes. Then the huge Aletsch Glacier reappears behind a depression and once again offers the perfect photo opportunity. After that, the path slowly leads down in the direction of the Aletsch Forest and more and more individual larches and Swiss stone pines line the path. Gnarled, ancient trees that inevitably appear mystical. “Gnomes and mountain spirits accompany you on this path,” Isabella grins mischievously. She loves simply looking for a spot on the sprawling roots and breathing in the intense scent of the trees and their resin – and looking for faces in the intergrowths of wooden witnesses.
The Bishop of Canterbury also used a seat on a large pine root when he was persuaded to go hiking for the first, and probably only time, by Ernest Cassel. “The bishop was rather obese and not in the best condition,” Laudo tells the story of the name ‘bishop’s seat’. “He preferred to come to the mountains for the good food and the company.” One evening, however, wine and whiskey helped him to agree to a short hike and on the next day he set off from Riederfurka in the direction of the Aletsch Glacier. When the ice giant came into view and just at that moment a large Swiss stone pine invitingly offered its roots to sit, the bishop decided to settle here and chose this place as the turning point of the hike. For him, this first view of the glacier was so overwhelming that he couldn’t imagine going any higher. The name ‘Bischofsitz’, which translates to bishop’s seat, was born.
3.From Bettmerhorn to the Fiescheralp
“Now you’re warmed up and in good condition,” Isabella and Laudo grin happily and present their undisputed favorite tour. A bit more demanding and alpine this time – but with incomparable views of glaciers, glacial lakes, the Rhone Valley & Co. It is 11 kilometres long and will lead visitors for around 3.5 hours through partially rocky terrain. The path leads from the Bettmerhorn mountain station at 2,647 metres and descends slightly in the direction of ‘Uf de Setzu’, before it changes into a rocky path down into the Märjelental. With the glacier within reach, you head towards the Tälligrat via the cozy Gletscherstube restaurant with the opportunity to stop for refreshments. Here you can continue the path to Fiescheralp either through the Tälligrat tunnel or, the variant preferred by the Albrecht family, around the Tälligrat which adds around 1.5 hours of walking time to the walk.
“On this tour, you have incomparable views of the unique Aletsch Glacier, which is really unbelievably beautiful and overwhelming.” Even after more than 30 years of working and living with the ice giant, it has apparently lost none of its fascination with the Albrechts. From the Bettmerhorn we go directly towards the glacier via the turning point ‘Uf de Setzu’. Step by step we approach the ice flow and can soon see almost up to the starting point. The Jungfraujoch gleams snow-white and offers a magnificent backdrop. “You have to see the glacier with your own eyes to grasp its fascination,” emphasizes Laudo.
After about 1.5 hours we are approaching the Märjelental, which has its own harsh climate due to its proximity to the glacier. “A rich flora is at home here, such as the dense cotton grass, which looks like snow coming from above,” Laudo’s eyes light up.
From here you have to climb a few meters uphill to the Gletscherstube, which is ideal for a break and offers a view of the surrounding mountains, the glacier and a picturesque glacial lake, which still today provides the residents of the Aletsch Arena with healthy drinking water . “Previously, when the glacier was much larger, the ice formed a natural dam wall and the glacial lake was much larger as a result. Due to the flow movement of the glacier, cracks often form and the outflowing water always led to large floods,” says Laudo. The history of the Rollibock originated at these times. A spirit that lives in the glacier and only appears when someone mocks or slanders the glacier. But then he comes with emphasis and lets his masses of water flow as punishment.
Today, water is routed to the villages through the Tälligrat Tunnel – the walkable, illuminated tunnel that would also lead to Fiescheralp. But Isabella and Laudo like to choose the circular route around the Tälligrat, which offers even more wonderful views on, for example, the Fieschergletscher, the third largest glacier in the Alps, which rolls down the opposite mountain slope with its masses of ice into the valley.
The path meanders leisurely to the Fiescheralp – where either the cable car and train lead back down to the valley – or the path continues to Bettmeralp. “Then it becomes a day tour,” Isabella grins. “And when our legs get tired, we’re even happier about the nice places to stop for refreshments on this last section of our favourite circuit.”
SELECTED EVENTS IN THE REGION
- 16. Juli 2023: Walliser Alphorn Festival
- 06. August 2023: Das Große Älplerfest
- 13. August 2023: Cassel Fest
- 07.-10. September 2023: Mountain Glow Yoga Festival
- 10. September 2023: Chaesteileta (cheese dividing)
- 15.-17. September 2023: Traditionswuchunaend
The places are well connected by mountain railways, buses and trains. The Aletsch Discovery Pass covers almost all mountain railways and also includes the train route Brig-Mörel-Betten valley station Fiesch-Fürgangen. From CHF 27.50/day.
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