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Enjoying the Swiss summer while hiking from the Wispile to Lauenensee

Want to Get to Know Switzerland? Do it on Foot

In the footsteps of Mark Twain, one of the world’s best known authors, I trudge up a mountain called Rigi in Switzerland.

Immerse oneself in nature’s cradle with hikes along some of the world’s most beautiful lakes, mountains and chalet filled villages.

From lakes to mountains to chalet-filled villages, Switzerland is a hiker’s paradise.

In the footsteps of Mark Twain, one of the world’s best known authors, I trudge up a mountain called Rigi in Switzerland. Six thousand feet high, majestic Rigi lords over glistening Lake Lucerne, stares down adjacent, snow-capped mountains across the water, and casts shadows on emerald valleys and tiny, shore-sited villages. Twain referred to this landscape “as charming as glimpses of dreamland.”

Based on my awe-filled observations as I hike, every direction proves out Twain’s paradisiacal description. Cows, their colossal bells clanging from their necks, watch me clamber across uneven trails, through wildflower flecked meadows, into fragrant forests and atop ancient rocks. My guide urges me on—allowing me to stop only occasionally to read the informational signs that accompany the 10.4 kilometre Mark Twain Trail, one of many pathways up the mountain.

The touristic hike, suitable for beginners and interesting for Twain fans, holds a variety of rest stops, highlighted by signs presenting Twain fun facts and quotes. Like a child following breadcrumbs, I run from sign to sign, barely noticing how fast I progress up the mountain. “Slow down,” says my guide, looking at his watch. “It took Twain days to get to the top. At this rate, you’ll be up in two hours.”

Hikers often stop for a break after their ascent sipping hot chocolate or having a beer before the long trek back down
Hikers often stop for a break after their ascent sipping hot chocolate or having a beer before the long trek back down

Winding from the lakeside village of Weggis to Rigi Kulm (the highest point of the mountain), The Mark Twain Trail, one of many dedicated hiking opportunities in Switzerland, follows a classic ascent, a route used by residents for centuries.

The way up became easier when the Swiss built Europe’s first cogwheel train in 1871. Today, a ride up offers a popular alternative to huffing and puffing on the mountain. Many take the train to the top, then hike down, stopping to take a swim in the mineral baths at Mineralbad & Spa Rigi Kaltbad, a retreat with a mountainside infinity pool and saunas galore. I finish my homage to Twain with a dip in chilly, crystalline Lake Lucerne at my hotel, Park Hotel Vitznau. I may have rewarded myself with a glass of Swiss wine at their waterside cafe.

Slip on your trekking boots to enjoy Switzerland’s plethora of mountains, characteristic villages complete with red geraniums growing in window boxes, rugged mountain huts amid meadows, cheesy fondue, and more than 65,000 kilometres of way-marked trails. Whether you’re hiking alone, with a group, for days on end or for just an afternoon, Switzerland’s paths trails offer something for everyone.

In Gstaad, hikers will pass a giant fondue pot, where they can stop and make themselves lunch on the mountain
In Gstaad, hikers will pass a giant fondue pot, where they can stop and make themselves lunch on the mountain

One way to get up Mt. Rigi is by funicular. The nostalgic ride is a delight for hikers of all ages
One way to get up Mt. Rigi is by funicular. The nostalgic ride is a delight for hikers of all ages

Family Outing  Inspire kids to have a lifelong love for hiking with this easy, 6-kilometre ramble in the Swiss National Park in the Graubuenden region. It wends from Champlönch to Il Fuorn amid rolling, emerald terrain. Look for the animal statues, from marmot to deer, meant to encourage children as they trek. Who needs a playground, when the mountains await?

Oenophile Way  It takes about three hours to trudge from St. Saphorin to Lutry, along the banks of Lake Geneva. That’s just about enough time to get thirsty, a good thing since you’re hiking through part of Switzerland’s esteemed wine region. As you step, gaze at the perilously steep vineyards, hillside terraces so stunning they’ve garnered UNESCO protection. Begin in medieval St. Saphorin to follow uphill/downhill paths, edged by wine cellars galore.

Culinary March  Slogging through Switzerland’s mountainous landscape, you’ll work up an appetite. Let the Saaneland’s Fondue Hike motivate you. This stunning section of Switzerland, near Gstaad, known for its variety of cheese satisfies epicurean travellers. Purchase a fondue rucksack (available at area cheese shops), pre-packed with supplies. Then head to the villages of either Wispile or Schlittmoos to begin. Hike the panoramic scenery, stopping to cook your lunch at one of two path-side huts, cleverly outfitted with oversized fondue pots, plus everything you need for a cheesy picnic.

Forest Bathing  Japan gets credit for popularising the forest bathing movement, a trend which turns a walk through the woods into a moment of mindfulness and reflection. The Swiss, however, have been “bathing” amongst trees for centuries. Base in Zug to access countless trails amid lake and mountain. Walk with Zug Forest Bathing Meetup, which organises group hikes and meditation.

Regal Ramble  Fairytale castles add romance to Switzerland’s ancient landscape. Experience three stellar fortresses in one hike that starts and finishes in charming Bellinzona, a city in the Italian-speaking region. Begin near the railway station at Montebello Castle, then proceed in the direction of Artore, to find SassoCorbaro Castle. Walk amongst chestnut trees, orchards and vineyards, finally reaching views of jaw dropping  Castelgrande. Take a photo of Lake Maggiore seen in the distance.

The Marathon  You’ll have to train for this one: The Via Alpina reigns as the best known long trek trail in Switzerland. A stellar way to see six unique Swiss cantons, this long distance trail crosses 14 Alpine passes on its more than 390-kilometre tour of the tiny nation. Wide roads and narrow ridge paths, plus a plethora of flora and fauna, comprise the approximately 20-day route, which begins in Vaduz and ends in buzzy Montreux, one of Lake Geneva’s most famous shoreside towns.

For information on Swiss hiking trails www.myswitzerland.com

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© This article was first published in June-July 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.

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