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Where hiking is concerned, there are few places in the world that can compete. Walks in Switzerland place you in the beating, glacier-encrusted, lake-speckled heart of the Alps. The world-famous mountains are the stars of the show, whether you’re getting up close to them on neighbouring high passes or gazing back towards them as you traverse the awe-inspiring ridges of their smaller, foothill cousins.Hikes in Switzerland should be on everyone’s bucket list, the adventures are life-changing. Experience gorgeous chalet towns where traditional timber stores stand on stilts to save their produce from vermin and the melodic clonk of cowbells carry on the breeze. Grasshoppers leap along the trails and insects buzz in the warm, alpine air from wildflower to wildflower. Golden eagles patrol the skies and ibex and chamois perform unbelievable feats of balance on precipitous rock faces.
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There are so many incredible trails and fascinating places to discover, but perhaps the best hiking trails in Switzerland are those that get up and close to some of the world’s most iconic peaks. The Valais region is home to what is, for many, the quintessential mountain. There is only one Matterhorn and it’s in Switzerland (and on Toblerone packaging). For a close-up view, you can hike up to the historic refuges at its base, or hike into the surrounding hills where its striking pyramidal form is reflected in mirror-still glacial lakes.
There are few mountain triptychs as famous as the Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger in the Bernese Oberland. The Eiger’s legendary, infamous and awesome north face can be gawped at by hiking to the pass of Kleine Scheidegg, which links the remarkable Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald valleys.
Lauterbrunnen is a hiker’s dreamland, with monumental limestone walls towering above the green pastures. Numerous waterfalls cascade from these ramparts, often falling so far that they are nothing but an ethereal, windblown spray by the time they reach the valley floor.
For multi-day hikes in Switzerland, you will need somewhere to rest and refuel after a great day on the trails. Whilst the charming towns and villages offer every form of accommodation, from simple hostels to world-class spas, perhaps the richest experiences are found amongst the myriad stylings of Switzerland’s mountain huts.
Most of the longer trails are peppered with these wonderful refuges, where your payment will entitle you to a bed, a hearty meal and often breakfast. It is advisable to book huts in advance in peak season, especially if trekking near Zermatt, Lucerne or Interlaken.
Walks in Switzerland are delightful all year round, though the main alpine trekking season runs from June until September. This is when the majority of high mountain passes are free of snow and the mountain huts are all open. Despite this, it is not uncommon for snowstorms, thunderstorms, hailstorms - in fact just about any type of storm - to swoop down from the glaciated monsters above. Always be prepared for all conditions, with waterproofs and extra layers.
In the lower foothills, your hiking window is wider, running from May into late October. In winter, the mountains are generally the realm of those wearing skis, snowshoes or crampons. However, some of the more popular bases have winter hiking trails through groomed snow that allow hikers to discover the sort of winter vistas usually reserved for those with heavier footwear.
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