Switzerland epitomizes what Alpine hiking means in Europe; dairy cows laze in lush green fields, snow-capped, jagged peaks dominate ancient villages and meandering trails bring hikers to some of the most memorable mountain vistas in the world. With world-class infrastructure, from hotels to high-speed trains, to gourmet dining and breath-taking cable cars and funiculars, Switzerland embodies what Europe is so famous for; tourism.
Our guided and self-guided hiking tours will take you to some of the best hikes in Switzerland along with hut-to-hut hikes, day-hikes and cultural journeys all expertly customized to fit your needs. All of our hiking and IFMGA mountain guides are international certified to the highest standards, leading you safely through some of Europe’s most sought after terrain.
With 48 of its mountains over 4000m, ( there are 82, 4000m peaks in the Alps) Switzerland is by default an Alpine country but also one steeped in traditions and with a diversity of languages, culture and religions. Dairy farming and cheese making are core elements to the Swiss identity, despite Switzerland being known for luxury watches and a music festival on a lake. Heavily subsidized by both federal and regional governments, agriculture is everywhere in Switzerland and its very landscape we come to know was in part shaped by centuries of agriculture.
4 languages are considered official. Swiss German, French and Italian are the primary languages spoken but a fourth, Romansh is also an official language. Made up of 26 Cantons, with direct vote from its citizens, Switzerland is considered a bastion of democracy, where the United Nations and other organizations are based such as the Red Cross. With a population of only roughly 8 million people, cities are generally small, with many easily visited on foot. Public transportation and cycling paths are what stand out in Swiss cities as citizens are happy to walk and cycle rather than drive. Flying into Zurich or Geneva allow for easy access to all of our walking journeys.
Our Swiss Alpine adventures take place in several regions of Switzerland.
One of the most visited areas of Switzerland is the Bernese Oberland, in the Canton of Bern, made famous to North Americans by the movie in which Clint Eastwood defied gravity and scaled the walls of the Eiger North Face in the film, The Eiger Sanction. The North Face of the Eiger was also considered the last great problem of Alpine climbing and was finally attempted successfully in 1938. The book by Heinrich Herrer, the White Spider, is an excellent introduction to the region and climbing lore or the region.
Luckily, the Bernese Oberland is not just a backdrop for stunning cinematography, but a lush landscape of huge mountain faces, waterfalls, tiny hamlets clinging to limestone cliffs and plump cows enjoying the abundant grass that grows here. Located just south of Interlaken, the Bernese Oberland is mainly known for two peaks, the Jungfrau and the Eiger which tower above the tourist town of Grindelwald. Our Bernese Oberland Traverse begins in the town of Mierengen, famous for the death of Sherlock Holmes in Sir Conan Doyles’ novel and finishing in the equally charming town of Kandersteg. Easily reached from either Zurich or Geneva, a few hours on fast trains can get you to pretty much anywhere in Switzerland.
Wetter than the Valais Canton, where the Matterhorn is located, the Berner Oberland, boasts verdant fields which are mown up to three times per summer to provide fodder for the animals. Small family farms are abundant, run for generations by passionate mountain folks equally comfortable hiking steep mountain trails to tending their animals in the lower valleys and running mountain inns. Our accommodation range from rustic mountain refuges, know as hutte or cabanes, to 4-star hotels with all of the amenities one would expect from the Swiss hospitality industry. Our Bernese Oberland Traverse visits such iconic towns as Grindelwald, Wengen- home to one of the most famous alpine downhill ski races in the world- Murren and it’s hotels clinging to steep cliffs and of course Kandersteg, located just below the stunning Oeschinensee lake with turquoise waters and endless Kodak moments.
The Haute Route, or high level route in French, is the term used to describe high level traverses, either on skis or on foot. If you are a strong hiker, and enjoy multi-day challenges, then the Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt is for you. Although the Haute Route starts in Chamonix, which is in France, the remainder of the hike takes place in the Valais Canton of Switzerland, so we have placed it under the Swiss section of this website.
First completed in the early 1900s on skis, it has since become the most coveted ski traverse in the Alps. Beginning in one of the alpine capitals, Chamonix, at the foot of Europe’s highest peak, the Mont Blanc and surrounding peaks set the stage for one of the most memorable walks in the world. The walk finishes in the other alpine capital, Zermatt, possible the most iconic mountain town in the world.
Chamonix, a town of roughly 10,000 people, is where the first Winter Olympic Games were held, still remains a beacon for aspiring alpinists who want to test their mettle on the jagged, granite peaks of the Chamonix Needles. In winter, Chamonix, with numerous high speed lifts such as the Aiguille du Midi, is a mecca for free-ride skiers, challenging themselves on the steep north face descents or the range.
General quieter than most alpine hikes due to the nature of the terrain, the Haute Route stays high above the trees in the alpine, bringing you as close to the mountains as possible without having to put on crampons. Spectacular villages such as Grimentz with 16th Century homes are the main attraction along with views of the alpine giants such as the Dent Blanche, Matterhorn, Weisshorn and the mighty Monte Rosa, the second highest peak in the Alps. Days can be long, so this hike is truly for the experienced hiker, but the rewards are many. Accommodation on the Haute Route varies from elegant 3-star hotels in most of the villages, to majestic, 19th century buildings such as the Kurhaus in Arolla, a throwback to the Golden Age of Mountaineering. Huts, called cabanes, in the Valais, are extremely comfortable, with hot showers, duvet comforters and all-you-can-eat meals.
The Haute Route from Chamonix finishes at the foot of the mighty Matterhorn, in the alpine town of Zermatt on the southern edge of the Valais Canton just north of Italy. The Matterhorn region is much more than just one peak, as the second highest peak in the Alps, the Monte Rosa at 4634m dominates the skyline to the south of the town. As with many modern mountain towns, Zermatt began as a sleepy agricultural community, with just a few shacks and small flocks of sheep. Slowly as tourism developed and the race to complete the last great climbing problems, Zermatt and the Matterhorn became forever linked. When Edward Whymper, the tenacious British climber finally scaled the Matterhorn on 14 July, 1865, the mountaineering world would never be the same and nor would Zermatt.
Today, with a population of roughly 6000 persons, the town boasts nearly 140 hotels, many 4 and 5-star affairs rivalling some of the chicest hotels in the world. Allowing electric vehicles only, the town is a walker’s paradise. The town sits at an altitude of about 1600m, with towering peaks surrounding it, such as the Dom, the highest peak entirely in Switzerland. With trains running from the Rhone Valley every 30 minutes or so, Zermatt is very easy to access, as the numerous tourists from all over the world with attest to. Its main street, the Bahnhoffstrasse, is filled with luxury boutiques, fine dining establishments and an amazing array of sports shops, selling the latest in mountain wear. Zermatt is also a skiers paradise with a plethora of high speed lifts, cable-cars and trams, racing skiers up to spectacular runs.
But Zermatt and the surrounding areas are more than just luxury. Possibly the best hike on the Haute Route takes place high above Zermatt, heading up the Trift Gorge and the Hotel du Trift, and eventually the Hohbalmen trail. Winding its way steeply for the first hour, hikers are rewarded with a splendid view, the Hotel du Trift, its warm, homemade apple pie and smiling face of Hugo Biner, the owner and mountain guide. Taking roughly 7 hours to complete, the walk is an endless array of mountain vistas with the huge North Face of the Matterhorn on display the entire day. Few tourists realize that this expanse of empty trails, stunning views and alpine fauna are just above them. Better to keep it that way and avoid the crowds on the trails. Zermatt should be on any keen hikers bucket list.
Tour Du Mont Blanc
Part of our Essential Alps hike, the town of Chamonix is one of the most popular alpine destinations along with Grindelwald and of course Zermatt. The most famous alpine circumnavigation trek is the Tour du Mont Blanc, known as the TMB and begins in Chamonix, France and takes you through Italy’s Val Ferret and finally into Switzerland. Three countries with 3 distinct cultures, yet linked by one mountain making for an unforgettable journey.
Chamonix sits in a narrow valley, surrounded my numerous hanging glaciers, Europe’s highest peak, the Mont Blanc and towering granite spires, known in French as Aiguilles or needles. As with Zermatt, Chamonix began as a small hamlet built around its church and spread out along nearly 17 km of valley. Put on the tourist map in 1786 with the first ascent of the Mont Blanc by a local doctor and hunting guide, then followed by the first Winter Olympiad, Chamonix is not far from its roots, with a few small farms still making cheese.
With nearly 10,000 people, it’s almost twice as populous as Zermatt. Chamonix is also linked to its sister city, Courmayeur, Italy, which can be reached via an 11.6 km tunnel constructed right through the massive Mont Blanc. Still considered the climbing capital of the world and the birthplace of steep skiing, Chamonix is an eclectic blend of luxury shops, technical climbing stores, hotels and amazing cafes and pastry shops. Built around its main square, Chamonix hosts the UTMB and other ultra-distance running races and maintains its status as the adventure capital of the world.
The trails on the TMB have been used for thousands of years, criss-crossing the passes of the Alps in order to bring traders, armies and adventure seekers across the great frozen walls of rock and ice. Our TMB walk takes hikers anti-clockwise on moderate trails, starting in Chamonix and heading through towns such as Les Contamines, Les Chapieux, Courmayeur and its Roman ruins, La Fouly, Champex with its spring-fed lake and finally over the Col de Blame and down into France once again. Staying in mainly mountain inns and some mountain huts, the TMB is less demanding than the Haute Route but still requires a certain amount of stamina and sure-footedness to complete.