The quiet village of Kandersteg in Switzerland makes an ideal base for summer hiking and has the added advantage of a number of cable cars to get you high before you start walking.
I’m spending a week in Kandersteg on Headwater’s Classic Swiss Alps package and the weather forecast is good. Normally, I prefer to hike from place to place and have my bags transported so staying in the same hotel for a week is something new.
I’ve got a list of walks, a few more than the days I will be here, so I’m slightly spoilt for choice. Cable car passes are included as well as local buses and a large scale map.
The only problem with being in one place is that you always go up and down in the same day and there are only a few circular walks.
Still the food in the Hotel Alfa Soleil is brilliant, every night a four course menu, artfully displayed and beautifully cooked so I can’t complain. In addition, at breakfast, they have a separate table laid out with ingredients for you to make a packed lunch, an excellent innovation. Here’s a selection of my favourite walks.
Gasterntal and the Kanderfirn Glacier
13.1km / 6 hours
For my first walk, I choose what I realise later is one of the hardest of the week. It starts off well with a minibus ride part way up the Gasterntal, a narrow gorge with sheer rock faces. I get off at Selden and follow the River Kander uphill, the mountain tops ahead of me still covered in snow. In fact there’s even some in the valley still covering the path, which I cross with caution,
Narrow waterfalls tumble down the surrounding cliffs and the path steepens. I cross a narrow ridge, actually glacial moraine, and then zig zag uphill. It’s a tough climb but eventually
I reach the Kanderfirn Glacier at 2400m, still covered in snow. I can make out sections of blue ice and its much colder here.
The views are tremendous but there’s no time to linger. I retrace my steps and catch the minibus back to Kandersteg.
Daubensee and the Gemmi Pass 19.7km / 5hr 45 minutes
Today I take the cable car up to the Sunnbüel station, getting glorious views of the Gasterntal where I walked yesterday. There are glorious spring flowers lining the green valley and as I climb gradually the landscape becomes more barren. In the middle of nowhere is the Schwarenbach Hotel, originally a customs post, but I don’t stop and finally reach the Daubensee at 2200m.
The lake is still partially frozen and I see my path following its shores before climbing steadily up to the Gemmi Pass.
This is a pleasant stroll, in spite of a scattering of snow fields, and at the pass I can see the village of Leukerbad below me. In the distance is the Matterhorn, standing proud in the middle of a row of glittering white peaks. It’s an easy return to the cable car station.
The Südrampe 16 km 5hr 25min
It’s not all tough hiking here and this hike is reserved for days of inclement weather or for those faint of heart. Itake the train towards Brig through the 14km tunnel and get off at Hohtenn. From here it’s a gentle downhill all the way, mainly following the railway tracks. This means there are always options to shorten the walk by taking the train back.
Around a kilometre from the station is the impressive five arch Luogelkin Viaduct and to the right the River Rhone runs through the valley below. After passing through a series of short tunnels in the rock, I join the railway again and take the pedestrian footway over the 136m long Bietschtal viaduct. Here I leave the railway and follow a narrow channel of flowing water, known as a bisse, designed to irrigate the fields.
This leads to the village of Ausserberg, full of old style Swiss chalets constructed out of larch. There’s an option to finish the walk but I carry on. This is a delightful section, sometimes following other bisse and crossing a narrow suspension bridge by the Baltschieder Viaduct, 130m long, before reaching Eggerberg. I make for the station and catch the train back to Kandersteg.
These two next walks are not on the Headwater list but are for advanced walkers and should only be attempted when the weather is good.
Sunnbüel, Gällihore and Allmenalp 12km / 6 hours
This is a circular walk and seems so obvious it’s a shame to miss it. I take the cable car to Sunnbüel again but this time head up a steep trail to the Gällihore, along with climbers who are going to be tackling its sheer rock face. They stop to start their ascent and, after watching their progress, I’m soon negotiating a rocky path which would be difficult in rain.
Fortunately, it’s bright and sunny, and I reach a sign at 2265m which points to the summit, apparently 20 minutes away. Two other people pass me on their way down and I’m soon on the top, at 2280m, marked by a single cross. The descent is easier, although I do slide down a field of snow on my bottom, before reaching a farm at the valley floor.
From here it’s road or gravel track all the way, passing fields full of cows, munching the grass in fields full of wild flowers. You can watch the farmer making cheese is his dairy next to the Allmenalp cable car station but I can’t wait to get down to the valley and enjoy a beer.
Allmenalp, First, Stand, Golitchepass and Kandersteg 10km / 7 hours
I’m back up the cable car to Allmenalp and start a steady climb. My target is the 2549m peak of First and there’s another person following me. He’s a paraglider and he’s going to launch down to Kandersteg to meet his daughter from school. I watch as he flies then, negotiating a path of loose stones, I reach the summit.
It’s very clear and I can just make out Mont Blanc in the far distance, with the Matterhorn, Jungfrau and Eiger nearer. Cables aid the steep descent on the other side, then I take a long traverse around the side of the next mountain before climbing up to the top of Stand, at 2320m.
From here I descend to the Golitchepass, which links the Kundera with the Engstligental. The trail slowly winds its way down to Kandersteg, with loose stones underfoot, and tricky in places. Despite its demanding sections this is probably the best walk of the whole trip.
PACKAGE: Headwater’s Classic Swiss Alps Walk costs from £1069 pp, based on two people sharing, and includes 7 Nights in the 3* Alfa Soleil hotel, in Kandersteg and all meals and picnic lunches. Flights and transfers extra. Departures Sundays 30th June 2019 – 3rd Oct 2020.
FLY: SWISS operates up to 180 weekly flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer) and Dublin. The all-inclusive fares start from £84 one way, including all airport taxes, one piece of hold luggage and hand luggage, meals and drinks.
GETTING AROUND: The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities and also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £185 in second class.