Enjoy enjoy the majestic beauty of Swtizerland
1:25pm Tuesday 12th March 2013 in News
Owen Pearce enjoys the majestic beauty of Swtizerland.
Astonishing. I mopped my brow, took a swig from my bottle filled at a mountain stream, and gazed in amazement.
In front of me, winding through its valley like a Formula One racetrack for giants, the Aletsch Glacier. This particular glacier is bordered by 4,000 metre high peaks, is some 14 miles long and is a Unesco World Heritage site.
My guide, hotelier, skiier and entrepreneur Art Furrer, allowed me to take in the sheer scale of the sight, before smiling and saying: “The Aletsch Glacier is 900 metres at its deepest, and contains enough water to give every man, woman and child on the planet a litre a day for six years.”
Being the experienced and somewhat cynical journalist I am, I had to check out this seemingly tall tale. But it’s true. Six years!
The glacier is one of many in Switzerland, but this one, as well as being the biggest in the Alps, is also lucky enough to be within easy reach of sites of genuine history, as well as great places to stay, drink and eat.
I’m in the Swiss Canton of Wallis (a bilingual region, French name Valais), a mountainous area in the south of the country, bordering Italy and France.
To the north is the playground resort of Interlaken, and back in Wallis is the famous resort of Zermatt, home to that grandest of mountains, the Matterhorn.
The Aletsch Glacier is in the eastern, Germanspeaking part of Wallis close to the town of Brig. My base for a short holiday of hiking, sightseeing and eating and drinking locally-sourced food and drink is in the area of the car-free villages of Bettmeralp and Riederalp, at the ultra-smart Art Furrer Resort.
Switzerland looks small on a map, but is in reality a pretty big place for the holiday-maker given the steep-sided valleys, soaring peaks and thick forests. Getting around isn’t really done in miles, but hours and minutes, such is the terrain. For a break of three or four days, it is easy to base oneself at a hotel like the Art Furrer Resort, and let a combination of your walking boots, cable car and bus do the rest.
Riederalp and Bettmeralp sit halfway above a valley floor, below 3,500 metre-plus Alpine peaks like the Geisshorn and Grosses Fusshorn.
One must is to hike to the Bettmerhorn cable car for a journey of stupendous views to the Bettmerhorn Bergstation mountain cafe and ski base. The station itself is like something out of Thunderbirds, a futuristic saucer-shaped vantage point where one can take in the views over a coffee and Swiss chocolates, or something more substantial.
North and west from here is the Aletsch Glacier, which can be reached by rocky path from the Bergstation. There are many well-marked hiking trails all along the valley and beside the glacier, all using a useful colour-coding system.
Easier hikes for all ages follow yellow markers.
More strenuous routes through mountains with some rocky paths are red-white-red, and for experienced hikers with at least some Alpine climbing experience and a good head for heights is blue-white-blue.
Herr Furrer took me and fellow journalist John, a man of the Black Country, on a yellow and red-whitered trail from the Bettmersee and Blausee alpine lakes in Bettmeralp (‘See’ is German for lake) up and over into one of the most beautiful, unspoiled valleys I’d ever seen, the protected Aletschwald wood.
“Listen, do you hear?” said Art, looking skywards. The sound was the raw, croaky rattle call of the raven. Back on the ground, Art tells us: “In the Aletschwald is many Arolla pine trees, some are a thousand years old. This one was struck by lightning, as you can see,” pointing at the scorched timber of a tree clinging on to life desperately. All around there are Heidelbeeren – wild bilberries (or whinberries).
Sadly we did not catch sight of a European asp snake, but did hear a mountain chamois. We looked and looked, but couldn’t place the chap.
Our walk ended at a delightful timbered mountain restaurant, the Arvenstube Riederfurka.
“I recommend a Wallis speciality,” said Art, and he smiled as I chose the Walliser platter of waferthin cheese, hearty bread and slice after slice of cured meats and salamis. “Good choice,” smiled Art.
A short stroll from the Riederfurka mountain resort is the delightful Villa Cassel, home to an alpine museum, an authentic English-style tea salon and a real early 20th century charm of tourism’s early days. Famous visitors over the years included a young Winston Churchill and Lord Mountbatten.
While eating chocolate cake here, I must admit I was still feeling a bit blown over from seeing the Aletsch Glacier earlier in the day. I simply had to see it again in all its glory. Luckily, my party was taken up the next day to the Hotel Belalp, further down the valley, where, close to a little mountain chapel, there is a large viewing area at the southern end of the glacier, refreshingly free of any tourist tat.
Back at my hotel, the Art Furrer Resort, the pool, sauna, steam room and solarium was the perfect place to sooth my aching limbs.
A perfect break of natural wonders – and a truly world-class sight as the star of the show.
• Fly to Zurich or Geneva from London with Swiss (from approx £120 return) or with Helvetic from Bristol from around £200 return.
• For travel in Switzerland, the Swiss Pass gives unlimited travel on the national transport system if you want to make several journeys during your trip. Swiss Pass 2nd class for four days is £185 and eight days £267.
• If you are happy to stay in the Riederalp/Bettmeralp area, just buy a return train ticket to Moerel (via Goeschenen from Zurich or via Brig from Geneva where you change for the Gotthard Matterhorn Bahn train to Moerel) then by cable car up to Riederalp.
• Before booking any flights or hotels check with Wallis/Valais tourist office valaistourism.ch the cable car seasonal opening times.
• Art Furrer resort and spa hotels can be found at artfurrer.ch, flights at swiss.com and helvetic.com
• Currency is the Swiss Franc (CHF).
• Swiss official tourism and Swiss Pass details at: myswitzerland.com
Five things to do:
1.Take the cable car to the Bettmerhorn Bergstation and admire the stupendous views over a coffee and Swiss chocolates.
2.Take a hike through the Aletschwald forest to the Riederfurka, take tea and cake at the Villa Cassel, before returning to the pool, sauna and wellness at the Art Furrer resort.
3. Sample a Walliserteller platter of cured meats and wafer-thin cheeses, fondue, raclette or rosti, washed down with a crisp Wallis beer or a Swiss wine – some of the whites are particularly good.
4. Hike from village to village of the region, past cows with their bells, wooden buildings and breathtaking Alpine views on every corner.
5. Best of the lot, take any number of the hiking trails to the Aletsch Glacier, and be prepared to be visually stunned.