alps

#26Cantons52Weeks: Schwyz

View from Sattel-Hochstuckli and the cute cable cars

Destination: Sattel-Hochstuckli

Interesting thing: As well as nicking the name, Switzerland also took its flag from the Schwyz coat of arms. As my mate Mad Dog always says: I like Switzerland; the flag is a big plus.

Special guests: my parents – they’re doing me proud on the cantonal visits – that’s three so far!

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Perhaps the canton with the least vowels in its name: Schwyz! The canton is not to be confused with Schweiz – the German word for Switzerland – although it was one of the founding cantons of the country back in 1291 and is actually where the name comes from. From my quick scan of Wikipedia, it seems like Schwyz was calling the shots for a good long while there and hence the name kinda stuck.

Today we visited Sattel-Hochstuckli which, in keeping with the theme, is the beginning of the Alps. Plus it boasts Switzerland’s first revolving cable car that took us up from Sattel at 800m to Mostelberg at 1,191m in about eight minutes. (There are other revolving cable cars in CH now – I think I’ve been on two others – but this was the first one to be constructed and is a cute little thing).

At the top, there was zero sign of snow or the approaching winter, even though the “summer” season officially ends this Sunday. It’s basically a paradise for hikers and families. We didn’t do much walking – only over the 374-metre long suspension bridge and back – however, we did enjoy the kids’ stuff. My six-year-old loved the alpine toboggan (rodelbahn), downhill tube run and the giant jumping castle. OK, so dad and I also had fun on the rides as well!

Lunch was tasty at the Berggasthaus Mostelberg and then it was back for a few more rides before the drive home. Sattel is about an hour by car from Zurich.

We’ve been having absolutely glorious autumn weather during my parents’ visit and today was no exception. It was sun-drenched and 20 degrees up on the mountain. With the green of the grass and fir trees, the gold and russet of the turning leaves, and the shining silver of the rodelbahn, such a lovely day out. 10 points to Schwyz AND Der Schweiz!

 

Cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

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#26Cantons52Weeks: Obwalden

Cogwheel railway

Canton: Obwalden

Destination: Mount Pilatus, Goldene Rundfahrt

Interesting thing: Canton Obwalden is the location for the geographical centre of Switzerland. The cogwheel railway up Pilatus is the steepest in the world and dates from 1889!

Special guests: my parents

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Pilatus is the ‘dragon mountain’ and its dragon symbol is rather a triumph of branding, with everything from the boat quay to the bus stop labelled with that same red swirly beast. To my mind, I can kind of see how the spine of the mountain looks a bit like a sleeping dragon and, where Rigi – “the queen of the mountains” is gently sloping and green, Pilatus seems to loom menacing and dark above Lake Lucerne. Except, as we made our way across the waters of the Vierwaldstättersee (as the lake’s called in German), I realised the mountain I’d been identifying as Pilatus actually wasn’t. So much for my theory anyway! Er… the real Pilatus looks like a dragon too, a bit! (Wikipedia tells me the dragon comes from a medieval legend about winged beasts with healing powers living on the mountain.)

Pilatus’ cogwheel railway is really something. It was constructed in 1889 and electrified in the 1930s. From lake level of 464m at Alpnachstad, the railway rises almost vertical in parts up the side of the mountain to just over 2,000 metres. The elevation gain is 1,635m in total and it has an incline of 48% at its steepest (this is the sharpest incline you can have – otherwise I think you’re actually vertical?). It’s steeper than the triangle of a Toblerone. It’s a longish journey too – about half an hour. Which is great if you’re excited about it, maybe not so great if you’re closing your eyes, blocking your ears and holding on for grim death due to a fear of heights, as my sister-in-law was the last time we went (sorry Laura!).

My parents are thankfully not much affected by vertigo and we had a lovely, clear early-autumn day for our ascent. So nice, in fact, that we even ate our lunch al fresco, with a panoramic view of the mountains from the terrace. Lovely. Afterwards dad and I climbed the “Esel” (donkey) peak to 2,118 metres for a top-of-the-top view. From here we watched a huge cloud roll up one side of the mountain, completely whiting-out the view for about 20 minutes, until it passed. Amazing how fast the weather can change at these altitudes.

To descend, we swooped down in the gondola and cable cars, then caught a bus back to Luzern to complete our “Goldene Rundfahrt” (golden round trip).

Full disclosure: the several peaks of Pilatus are actually on the border between two cantons – Nidwalden and Obwalden. However the cogwheel railway and Pilatus Kulm both fall on the Ob side (and I’ve already written up Nidwalden).

 

Cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

 

26Cantons52Weeks: Nidwalden

Canton: Nidwalden

Destination: Stanserhorn (mountain) and its open-air cable car

Interesting thing: The CabriO build cost around CHF30 million, but the idea was so popular the funding rounds were oversubscribed, attracting around CHF7 million alone from local donations.

Special guests: my parents-in-law

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The canton of Nidwalden is located right in the centre of Switzerland. Something I only just realised looking Nidwalden up on Wikipedia for this entry! It seems fitting, then, that our last major outing with the in-laws before they return to Australia was here – in the heart of Switzerland.

Our plan was to ride the open-top, double-decker CabriO cable car from cantonal capital city Stans, up to the peak of the Stanserhorn mountain. It was a good plan and the weather was lovely.

The Stanserhorn CabriO is the first and only cable car of its kind in the world so far. The original 2-stage cable car was struck by lightning in the 1970s, causing much destruction and burning down the hotel at the top. It was replaced at the time but, as 2010 rolled around, they were looking to upgrade and this deluxe, 90% Swiss-made model with its rather impressive USP opened in 2012.

First you have to catch a creaking cogwheel funicular railway up the bottom part of the mountain. This ‘oldtimer’ celebrates its 125th birthday in 2018 and, due to its age is quite tiny – with capacity for only 40 people. Because we’d come on a busy Sunday, this meant a bit of waiting around, which was rather frustrating. They have a slightly odd system of time-slot tickets that didn’t quite work as well as it should, but is necessary given the small size of the cogwheel carriages (the Cabrio has capacity for 30 on top, 60 below). Chatting to the train driver on the way back down, he said they’d experimented with various ticketing methods and this was the one which worked best. My advice would be to pick a less-busy, ie: non-weekend, day if possible to avoid some of the kerfuffle.

However, it’s worth putting up with a bit of potential annoyance, because the view at the top is just superb. You’d think I might be sick of these alpine vistas by now, but each one is different. From the Stanserhorn’s highest peak (1,898 meters above sea level), you could see so many other mountaintops: Titlis, Santis, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, and a bunch of others besides. Then, if you look down, there’s the stunning Lake Lucerne below, as well as chocolate-box scenes of green fields and wooden farmhouses studded with cows and goats. Just so, so pretty.

A QUESTION FOR READERS: Last time I did the photos through the post, this time I’ve gone back to a slideshow. Which do you prefer? 

 

Cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

 

#26Cantons52weeks: Valais

Canton: Valais / Wallis (in German)

Destination: Zermatt / Matterhorn

Interesting thing: Zermatt is car-free, there’s only small, commercial electrical vehicles in the town (taxis, delivery vans) to prevent air pollution obscuring the views! You could really notice the fresh air and the lack of traffic noise was lovely.

Special guests: my parents-in-law and sister-in-law visiting from Australia, and my aunt-in-law from Scotland

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Valais is one of the farthest-away cantons from Zurich. It’s around 3.5 hours by train to the town of Zermatt, located at the end of the Mattertal valley and loomed over by the majestic Matterhorn mountain. So, since we had international visitors and we figured there was some pretty spectacular stuff to see, we decided to spend four nights in this alp-studded canton in the southwest of Switzerland bordering Italy and France. I’m so glad we did.

Zermatt is 1,620 metres above sea level and surrounded by snow-capped peaks. However, we spent our first couple of days here feeling rather teased by its most famous inhabitant. Possibly the world’s most recognisable mountain was acting coy – swathed in clouds, shrouded in fog, we only caught glimpses here and there. It didn’t stop us enjoying ourselves though.

First glimpse of the Matterhorn

Zermatt itself is a small alpine town that felt large since it was chock-a-block with tourists at this time of year: the first weekend of the official summer season. That said, I can only imagine how much more packed it would be in winter when all the slopes are open and everyone is padded out and weighed down with snow-gear and all the trappings! (fun fact – Zermatt’s permanent population of around 6,000 doubles, triples or even quadruples in the tourist seasons).

The town and surrounding hamlets looked very pretty for the first weekend of July – full of all the requisite wooden chalets, bright bunches of flowers flowing over balconies, grey-green glacial rivers and lakes and, of course, the stunning, if rather shy-at-first Alps.

Zermatt from our flower-decked terrace

Our first fully day (Saturday) coincided with the annual Zermatt marathon. Since I’ve recently taken up running (eek!) this was inspiring/intimidating in equal measure. Billed as one of the most gruelling marathons in Europe, the route ranges up and down an altitude of 1,800 metres over its 42 kilometres. Watching the 2,500-odd runners throwing themselves down the rocky paths as we walked from Sunnegga to the incredibly lovely Chez Vrony for our leisurely lunch, you can see how the race earned its tough reputation. (I promise not to become a run-bore, but I need to tell you that I was inspired to complete the circuit of the far-more humble Zermatt Parcours the next day!)

Sunny Sunnegga (but also cloudy!)

Day two, we awoke to more cloud cover, but undaunted and unable to resist a swooping cable car ride, Himself and I took advantage of the built-in babysitters and jumped on the Matterhorn Express cable car/ gondola which takes about 50 minutes to rise around 2km in altitude (!!) to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise, the highest I think I’ve been on land – 3,883 metres above sea level. From which viewpoint we would have had an amazing view of the elusive Matterhorn, if it hadn’t been a total whiteout.

Non-view from Matterhorn Glacier Paradise

Day three was due to be our best yet according to the weather reports so we headed off early for the Gornergrat bahn and finally the mountain of mountains revealed itself (himself? herself?). It was certainly worth the wait, in fact, possibly more awe-inspiring for the fact that we’d enjoyed a burlesque of clouds concealing/revealing it for days now.

Oh. My. Word. What a sight!

Matterhorn from Gornergratbahn

I had this weird-beautiful moment with an older Swiss-German guy on the train. We had a short conversation as we politely shared the window space to take 1 million photos. I said something like “Diese Berge sind sehr schön” (these mountains are so beautiful) and he agreed, adding “Wir Ameisen!” (we’re ants). But, through my momentary misinterpretation, I thought he was saying “Wir atmen” – we breathe… which is also quite apt.

We picked the best place to see it from too, IMHO. Gornergrat is 3,089 metres and from there you’re surrounded by a vista of big guns – around 50 peaks that all clock in at 4,000+ metres (Matterhorn is 4,478 and you can also see Switzerland’s highest mountain, Monte Rosa and its highest peak, Dufourspitze, at 4,634). Plus, you can hike or catch the train down to the impressive Riffelsee lake, in which the Matterhorn is reflected on clear days (and this was one of them, yay!).

Some of the party hiked further, while the rest of us got back on the train to enjoy another gorgeous lunch at Alphitta, this time with the Matterhorn views fully in our favour. There was also a rather superbly situated playground, which my two kids thoroughly enjoyed.

Behind you!!

Final day – can’t get enough of those Matterhorn-vista playgrounds! I actually felt I’d have liked to stay in Zermatt longer. Once I finally saw that mountain, I didn’t want to stop looking! It has got its own weather system, little puffs and candy flosses of clouds that float and drape around it in different configurations by the hour. So pretty.

Considering the distance to get there and time spent, Zermatt/ Matterhorn / Valais felt like a real ‘destination’ that did not disappoint. I’m thrilled (and kind of humbled, even) to have seen the Matterhorn in real life. And we breathe …

 

Reflected in the Riffelsee

 

Cantons visited / to go so far. 

Aargau

Appenzell Ausserrhoden

Appenzell Innerrhoden

Basel-Landschaft

Basel-Stadt

Bern *

Fribourg

Geneva

Glarus

Graubünden

Jura

Luzern

Neuchâtel

Nidwalden

Obwalden

Schaffhausen

Schwyz

Solothurn

St. Gallen

Thurgau

Ticino

Uri

Valais

Vaud

Zug

Zürich

 

*I haven’t written this up yet!

Glarus #26Cantons52Weeks

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Canton: Glarus

Destination: Braunwald / Glarnerland

Special guest: Cath

Cool thing: Glarus has one of the funkiest coat of arms of any canton –featuring this cool dude, Saint Fridolin of Säckingen – an Irish missionary who spread the good word (ahem) in the Rhineland during the 6th or 7th century

 

Happy New Year! 

This post kicks off my “26 Cantons in 52 Weeks Challenge” where I’m attempting to visit each canton of Switzerland throughout 2017. I was hoping to go alphabetically or in some sort of logical order (by geographical size, population, altitude or when each canton joined the federation etc) but in none of those lists does Glarus come top. It’s just a nearby canton with a mountain that seemed like a good one to visit right after New Year’s while our friend Cath was in town.

So – Glarus!  Conveniently located a 45 minute drive from where we live in Zurich, the Braunwald in Glarnerland is a pretty mountain area just up from Glarus’ capital city, also called Glarus. The city of Glarus looked very attractive as we drove through it, but sadly we didn’t have time to stop.

The Braunwald was a new mountain for us (hence the appeal). It contained the usual assortment of cable cars, Bergrestaurants and stunning vistas. Unfortunately there was almost no snow! Up until this point, it has been a rather disappointing winter for skiiers and snow bunnies. We saw quite a number of people making the best of it, gritting their teeth and playing games of cards on the terrasses of their chalets while there. We did feel a bit sorry for them – you would have expected guaranteed snow in the first week of January in Switzerland at over 1,000 meters above sea level! I bet they were relieved when it started snowing the next day and there’s been plenty more snowfall pretty much ever since.

Anyway, it was good for us, as we had snow-free roads to get there, non-slippery paths to walk and even some nice green grass. We arrived at Glarus Nord and parked near the station (from here up it’s all car-free) so we caught a cable car up to the Braunwald (1256m above sea level). Then another cable car to Grotzenbüel (1559m) where we ate our lunch. We were kicking ourselves though, because if we’d spotted the path to walk five minutes further along, we could have gone all the way up to Gumen at 1901m! You start to become an altitude snob on these trips.

Anyway, it was lovely. Taking people up mountains is probably one of our favourite things to do with visitors, so I imagine we’ll have a fair few of these sort of trips in the year’s challenge. I also like the idea of having a special guest on some/all occasions! In this case, Cath got a respectable dose of the Swiss alpine experience, we had some lovely sunshine and all got a very decent “mountain high”.

One canton down, 25 to go!