Wild Switzerland: Peaks, Lakes & Glaciers
9 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: Zurich, Switzerland / St. Moritz
Upon arrival in Zurich this morning, we’re met by two Expedition Leaders who will lead our Switzerland nature adventure. We'll have a short orientation before setting off for St. Moritz on a private bus transfer by way of Appenzell—a district that’s equally famous for its mountains and cow culture. Meandering through Switzerland’s most traditional region, admire the carved wooden chalets, charming villages and maybe even some flower-laden dairy cows among Appenzell’s rolling green hills that are backdropped by 8,200-foot Mount Santis.
In pursuit of lunch, we’ll ride the Wasserauen cable car to the summit, then make a short walk down to the rustic Aescher Inn, perched precariously on a cliff below Ebenalp Peak. Originally a farmhouse that became a guesthouse for pilgrims seeking the guidance of nearby hermit monks, today the inn is a place for festive consumption of delicious rosti and hard cider. Enjoy one of the area hikes and a panoramic view from the sundeck before heading down the mountain and on to St. Gallen. This university town has a famous Baroque cathedral and the Abbey Library, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which houses some 170,000 documents—many of which are handwritten and over 1,000 years old. We'll make our way over a high mountain pass to the Upper Engadine valley and St. Moritz. This small Swiss resort town became famous for its healing mineral springs some 3,000 years ago, but it's more recently recognized as a birthplace of Alpine winter tourism, having twice hosted the Winter Olympics.
Day 2: St. Moritz—Swiss National Park & Bernina Glacier
Elegant St. Moritz sits just below 6,000 feet in elevation on the southern slope of the Albula Alps. Here the landscape rises dramatically from the hills of central Switzerland into craggy Alpine scenery filled with mighty rock formations and steep-sided valleys. This is the Upper Engadine—the only Swiss watershed that flows to the Black Sea. We visit Swiss National Park, a pristine highlight of the valley. Founded in 1914, this 65-square-mile protected enclave is the oldest park in the Alps and home to wild ibexes, chamois, marmots, bearded vultures and golden eagles, among other wildlife. Soak up the wilderness as we walk along one of the park’s 50 miles of footpaths this morning. Afterward, we head to Bernina Glacier, one of Engadine’s 173 glaciers that surround the highest peaks in the Eastern Alps. Take time to observe this massive ice floe over lunch before heading out to investigate the surrounding mountainscape. This evening, we return in time for dinner and a bit of exploration around St. Moritz.
Day 3: St. Moritz to Zermatt—Glacier Express
Making an early departure from St. Moritz, we board the Glacier Express for a scenic all-day journey by rail through the Valais, Uri and Graubunden canyons. These distinctive red and white rail cars run on a historic narrow-gauge railway that’s been in operation since 1930. Traveling first class in panoramic carriages with windows that extend overhead, we’ll see Alpine villages, the Rhine Gorge—known as the “Grand Canyon of Switzerland”—and the Albula Line's engineering marvel, including the Solis Viaduct, Landwasser Viaduct and helical tunnels that stand as a monument to the pioneering days of railway-building, and have UNESCO World Heritage status. This is known as the slowest "express” train in the world, as it’s not a high speed transport. The Glacier Express does, however, provide a single-seat ride for the entire eight-hour, 181-mile journey over 291 bridges and through 91 tunnels at the center of the Swiss Alps.
Our final destination on this rail adventure is Zermatt, the charming, car-free city that sits in the shadow of the Matterhorn and 37 other 13,000-foot peaks. This mountain terrain has long been a mecca for skiers, bikers and mountaineers, along with nature lovers of every stripe. We arrive in time to explore the village that's peppered with pointy church steeples and quintessential Swiss cottages. Tonight we share dinner together as the sun sets on one of the world’s most famous peaks.
Day 4: Zermatt—Kulmhotel Gornergrat Observatory
The morning is reserved for exploration at lower elevations surrounding Zermatt. We’ll take a guided nature walk in the idyllic valley, where lush, rolling terrain is surrounded by some of the highest and most dramatic mountains in the Alps. Zermatt’s environs include six protected forests and 10 designated wildlife sanctuaries that are home to black grouse, chamois, deer, alpine hares, ptarmigan and ibex. At least 40 local plant species are found rarely in other parts of Switzerland, and seven of them are endemic to Zermatt—meaning they are found nowhere else in the world.
After lunch in town, board the train and ascend to 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat, an observatory at just over 10,000 feet in elevation. Travelers seeking a strenuous hiking opportunity can opt to take an 8-mile uphill hike to meet the train at the top. Set in an unspoiled environment, with clean, dry air and year-round accessibility via the train, Gornergrat, has provided unequaled conditions for successful astronomy and astrophysics research since the middle of the last century. While day-trippers typically visit the observatory to take in unobstructed views of the Matterhorn, the Monte Rosa Massif and the huge-but-actively-retreating Gorner Glacier, most people return to the valley floor at night. We are among the exclusive few who will stay the night at the top of the mountain. Embrace the solitude of a late afternoon hike at altitude, followed by an evening spent closer to the Milky Way. Perched overnight in midst of the Matterhorn’s highest reaches, the hotel becomes our personal observation station.
Day 5: Zermatt / Lake Oeschinen / Murren
The first dramatic ascent of the Matterhorn was in 1865. People have been traveling to the little town of Zermatt with the keenest interest to hike here ever since. Mark Twain even came in 1878 and wrote a comic story, "Climbing the Riffelberg." This is a storied legacy worth considering as we take a crisp sunrise hike along a trail on the Gornergrat summit (weather permitting). After breakfast, we board the cog railway for the 29-minute descent to Zermatt, with the possibility of an intermediary stop along the rail route for another short hike along the way.
Next, we head north into the Bernese Oberland via private vehicle. From the town of Kandersteg, a gondola sweeps us upslope to the placid turquoise waters, countless waterfalls and dramatic cliffs surrounding Lake Oeschinen. As one of Switzerland’s most renowned mountain lakes, this stream-fed wonder is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Jungfrau-Aletsch. Spanning out from the mountain station, trails lead us on an easy walk through blooming meadows and pine forests. In solid Swiss tradition, ample benches line the trail for us to stop and absorb the scenery. After descending on the gondola, we continue onward to the quintessential mountain hamlet of Murren—an idyllic pedestrian village perched above the dramatic Lauterbrunnen Valley with its towering rock faces and 72 thundering waterfalls that plummet in view of notorious snow-clad mountains.
Day 6: Murren—Eiger, Monch & Jungfrau
Even within the impressive context of Swiss Alps, the triple peaks of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are nothing short of spectacular. Eiger, meaning “high peak,” is actually the shortest of the three at 13,013 feet, but perhaps most famous for its towering Nordwand, a 5,900-foot face of rock and ice which has continued to spawn some of mountaineering’s (and Hollywood’s) most epic climbing tales since it was first climbed in 1938 by an Austrian-German expedition. Jungfrau, the 13,642-foot “virgin,” was named for the dairy-farming nuns who grazed their cattle in its wildflower-filled meadows. And the Monch towers in between, all together forming a massive wall that oversees the Bernese Oberland and the Swiss Plateau. We’ll have an option to hike or take a gondola to the top of 7,687-foot Mannlichen today to take advantage of views over the famous peaks and the lush Lauterbrunnen valley down below. A wide range of hiking trails are available to us at the top of Mannlichen. Up here, there's often an equal chance of spotting a wandering ibex or a soaring paraglider in our midst. The evening is ours to explore the irresistible nooks and crannies of tiny Murren.
Day 7: Murren / Montreux—Lake Geneva
Spend a leisurely morning descending from Murren, then board a private transfer to Switzerland’s languid lake country. Winding our way out of the Alps, we’ll venture into the foothills and on to Montreux, along the shore of Lake Geneva. Today's journey follows a trail of wineries, castles, farms and pastoral hills all the way to the water’s edge. Along the way, we’ll pass through regions made famous for their decadent cheeses, including Emmental with its iconic Bernese timber farmhouses and medieval Gruyere with its hilltop fortress. By the time we arrive lakeside at tranquil Montreux, we’re in the heart of a legendary winemaking region, making our base for exploration at the area’s most historic guesthouse. They’ve been making wine around here since the 12th century, when monks planted the first vines. The winemaking never stopped, and 800 years later these local terraced vineyards earned UNESCO World Heritage Site cultural honors. The Montreux Riviera has long captivated celebrities, from Charlie Chaplin, who had a local manor house, to Freddie Mercury, whose band Queen recorded their final album here. Mercury used to say, “If you want peace of mind, come to Montreux.” Vast Lake Geneva beckons this afternoon, and we’ll board a boat to cruise its open waters and quiet bays, being wooed by the charms of a Swiss life lived waterside.
Day 8: Montreux—Glacier 3000
Ascending from village life in Montreux to the highest point in the Vaudois Alps, we explore Glacier 3000 this morning. The glacier is open year-round for winter recreation, and our vantage accessed from the cable car is unsurpassed. Offer up a final bon voyage to the Swiss ranges from this enticing perspective over the Swiss Alps, including 24 summits over 13,000 feet high. The mountain station was designed by renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta, and we’ll enjoy lunch there with a panoramic view. Our time on the glacier concludes with an afternoon Nordic walk on one of the high-altitude trails that leads to the most spectacular overview. This evening, our inspiring Swiss journey wraps up with our return to Montreux, where we'll gather to share stories gleaned over peaks, glaciers and lakes during a sunset farewell dinner overlooking Lake Geneva.
Day 9: Montreux / Geneva
Bid farewell the Alps this morning as we transfer to cosmopolitan Geneva, the cradle of watchmaking and home to some of Switzerland's finest chocolate makers, to meet flights onward.
All This Included
Matterhorn. Eiger. Jungfrau. Santis. Schilthorn. Swiss mountains ring familiar as sumptuous beauties with storied encounters. Switzerland is home to about 100 peaks that measure 13,000 feet or higher. The extravagant result of a collision between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, the Alps rise in sculptural majesty above twisted valleys, where waterfalls pour from perennial glaciers. Abundant high-country snow feeds terraced vineyards and lush pastoral foothills where every grazing cow wears a bell—and every dairy farmer makes a cheese more delicious than her neighbor’s. Switzerland is at the forefront of climate change, bent on protecting its wild places and promoting sustainable action. Thrill-seekers have always flocked to legendary Swiss peaks, but it's unnecessary to climb them to glean their intense aura of adventure. On the trail, find your own pace in this delightful country where embracing nature is an adored civic duty, and nary a home fails to let that bounty spill from its flower-filled window boxes.
St. Moritz: Hotel Steffani
Zermatt: Hotel Bellavista Zermatt and 3100 Kulmhotel Gornergrat
Murren: Hotel Alpenruh or Hotel Eiger
Montreux: Hotel Masson
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