My friends and I are thinking of going on a week-long trekking holiday in Switzerland next month. I've heard that the trails are glorious and the views fabulous, but we don't know where to start. Which are the most popular routes? We're looking for a bit of everything, from casual rambles to rigorous hikes. Can you help?
Switzerland has declared 2010 to be the "Year of Hiking" (visit www.switzerland.com), so your holiday is perfectly timed. Switzerland is a hiker's heaven - it boasts more than 60,000 kilometres of signposted paths and trails and summer is the ideal time of year to explore.
Helpful signposts indicate everything from the type of route to the level of difficulty. All routes are classified into "hiking", "mountain" and "alpine", with hiking trails, colour-coded yellow, the easiest of the lot, requiring no previous experience. The country's mountain paths are marked with white-red-white signs and, being narrow and steep, require some expertise due to possible risks such as extreme climatic exposure. And last but not least, the alpine trails are flagged with white-blue-white signs. Some pass through unmarked terrain and require a fair amount of climbing - these are the most testing, and are best attempted with a trained mountain guide.
One of the most popular routes is the Swiss Water Trail in Soubey-St Ursanne, Jura ( www.juratourisme.ch; 00 41 32 420 4773), where hikers can follow the Doubs river that runs along the border with France. Because it is a nature reserve and virtually uninhabited, the chances are you'll only come across the odd hiker or fisherman. This is an easy three-and-a-half hour walk. The Historic Water Trail in Nendaz ( www.nendaz.ch; 00 41 27 289 5589) is a test of endurance and is not to be confused with the Swiss Water Trail. It meanders along the many suonen, or irrigation channels, dug deep into the steep Valais hillsides. It is difficult to access, but persevering hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the Bernese, Valais and Vaud Alps. The gradient is 250m, with a hiking time of some three hours and 30 minutes. The level is medium to difficult.
Eigergletscher's Eiger Trail, or the Swiss Alpine Experience Trail ( www.grindelwalk.ch; 00 41 33 854 1210), runs close to the sheer vertical drop of the rock face at the Jungfrau Railways' Eigergletscher station and all the way to Alpiglen. This 6km, two-hour trail is not very difficult to attempt. It is important to remember that conditions in the mountains are prone to sudden change: expect snow even if summer temperatures in the valleys are high.
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