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Swiss Alps Vacations

Summers in Switzerland mean warm weather and dramatic scenery, abundant tourists and high prices—unless you vacation like the Swiss: head out on foot to escape the crowds and skip the hotels and restaurants. The only company you’ll have are a few cows or sheep and local farmers making hay in the high meadows.

Switzerland’s extensive system of well-marked trails—many which follow ancient paths to high summer pastures—post walking times (not distances) to neighboring villages or inns and degree of difficulty. Thanks to a thorough transportation network of buses, trains and lifts, you can quickly reach trail heads.

Hikers either establish a base for day trips or walk from village to village. Instead of camping, most stay in a hostel, inn, or hut, thus avoiding the necessity of carrying a heavy pack with extra gear.

The Bernese Oberland and Zermatt: For the Bernese Oberland you can establish a base for day hiking at Grindelwald or Interlaken. To reach the great hikes around Grindelwald, take the lift to First and go from there. From Interlaken, you can take a series of trains and funiculars to the car-free resort of Mürren.

Zermatt, like Mürren, is a car-free resort and an excellent hiking destination. Although the town may seem crowded, the trails won’t be. For a close-up view of the Matterhorn and nearby glaciers, try the following 6-hour hike: Take the lift to Schwarzsee and start hiking up the trail towards Hömlihut, the starting point for the ascent of the Matterhorn. Before you reach the climber’s hut, take the trail that veers right and descend to Kalbermatten. You can either hike back to Schwarzsee the way you came, or descend about 300 meters past the tiny village of Zermutt to catch the lift at Furi and return to Zermatt.

Sticking to a Budget: To save money travel like a local, purchase a half-price card for 50 percent off train, bus, and boat tickets. For food, plan on shopping at grocery stores, bakeries, and local markets. Your biggest expense will most likely be lodging, so choose hostels and backpackers’ hotels. If you’ll be staying in one place for a few days, rent a vacation apartment with a kitchenette to use as a home base.

Gear: For hiking, you’ll need a sturdy pair of boots, trekking pants, and a fleece or wool sweater. A waterproof jacket is essential, even in the summer. Sunglasses, sunscreen, and a sun hat are important for protection against sunburn at high altitudes. Other essentials include a water bottle, compass, knife or multi-tool (for picnics), a small first-aid kit and a backpack to carry it all in. You can get free maps of hiking trails at local tourist offices, but a topographic map will provide more detail and is your best bet for longer hikes.

For more information contact Switzerland Tourism at Tödistrasse 7, P.O. Box 695, 8027 Zünich; 011-41-1-288-11-11, fax 011-41-1-288-12-05; postoffice@switzerlandtourism.ch.

Walking Switzerland the Swiss Way by Marcia and Philip Lieberman (The Mountaineers Books) provides information on day hikes and multi-day tours throughout Switzerland. Switzerland by Mark Honan (Lonely Planet) offers practical advice for independent travelers.

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