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Overview of the Mountain Towns in Switzerland

Pauline Kenny

There beautiful mountain towns all over Switzerland. This page lists the places we have been and other suggestions based on the following hiking books for Switzerland. Any population numbers for the towns are taken from a 1991 Baedeker and are probably out of date.

Marcia and Philip Lieberman, Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way - From Vacation Apartments, Hotels, Mountains Inns and Huts

Chet and Carolee Lipton, Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps

Brian Spencer, Walking in Switzerland

Berner Oberland

Click for map of Grindelwald

The Berner Oberland is the name given to the southern mountain area of the Berne region, south of the town of Interlaken and the lakes Thun and Brienz. (The town of Thun is on the western edge of Lake Thun, the town of Brienz is on the eastern edge of Lake Brienz and the town of Interlaken is between the two lakes.) This is in the German speaking part of Switzerland.

Interlaken is a nice town in a valley below the main hiking areas. You could base yourself here for hiking, but you would have a bit of a drive or train ride each day to get to the mountain towns. Instead, I recommend staying in a mountain town.

www.berneroberland.ch: Berner Oberland Tourism. This site has an excellent map showing the whole region.

Going from east to west the recommended mountain towns are:

Meiringen

Meiringen is a charming town. Most of the hiking seems to take place well above the town. There are villages up there, but it looks like a long drive. There is a mountain ride from Meiringen up to the hiking area.

Recommended in Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps.

Grindelwald

We have been to Grindelwald for three different hiking vacations. Grindelwald and Zermatt offer some of the best hiking in Switzerland. Grindelwald is about an hour south (into the mountains) from Interlaken. From Grindelwald, you look at the Eiger and the Jungfrau mountains. You can take a train to the top of the Jungfrau from here.

Town: Population 3500. The town is lovely, with many hotels and restaurants and food stores. Because it is so beautiful, it can be overrun by tourists and tour buses, but when you get on the trails, you leave the masses of tourists behind.

Hiking: The hiking from Grindelwald is excellent. You can take buses, trains or gondolas to many hiking areas. You can hike across the lower levels, middle levels, or tops of the mountains on either side of Grindelwald. See my notes Hiking in Grindelwald.

Recommended in Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way (7 hikes), Walking in Switzerland.

Lauterbrunnen

Lauterbrunnen is at the bottom of the valley between Wengen and Murren. Murren sits on a cliff above Lauterbrunnen. The few times we have been there, it looked like the town would be in darkness early because of the steep hillsides around it, but I have read that some people think it is a very good base for the area.

Recommended in Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps (10 hikes).

Murren

On a mountain side above Lauterbrunnen. Many people love this town. There are no cars - you take the train to Lauterbrunnen and then take a funicular up to the town. You go through Murren on the ride up to the Schilthorn. From my research, it does not seem like this would be a good base for a week of hiking. There are only one or two hikes directly from Murren.

Town: Population 430.

Kandersteg

We spent one and a half weeks here in October 2000. Kandersteg is at the end of a valley south of Spiez on Lake Thun. A tunnel through the mountains at the end of this valley takes you by train or car (cars ride on a train through the tunnel) to the Valais. This is a good valley for hiking. There is not as much hiking as in Grindelwald, but there is sufficient for a week or two.

Town: The town is small with a few hotels and a few small food stores. There is a larger store (a Coop) down the valley in Frutigen.

Hiking: Three chair lift or gondola rides to hiking areas, one remote valley up a narrow mountain road serviced by a mini-bus (service ends in September) where you can then hike back to town, several level walks in the valley. Kandersteg has bus and train service. You can even take a train to Leukerbad in the Valais and then walk back to Kandersteg (3 1/2 hours). See my notes Hiking in Kandersteg.

Recommended in Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps (9 hikes), Walking in Switzerland.

Adelboden

We drove here for the day in October 2000. It is at the end of the road in a narrow valley. There is no train here, only the bus. The town is beautiful and bigger than Kandersteg (more stores, restaurants). The town is on the side of the hill and looks out over the valley to big mountains. I think the hiking would be good here, but because the town is not located on the valley floor as Kandersteg is, there might not be much level hiking. It is only a 30 minute drive from Kandersteg.

Lenk

We spent a few days here in August 1988. Lenk is east of Gstaad, the famous ski resort. It is a small town in a beautiful, pastoral valley. The hiking was over rolling hills and through farmer's fields. This would be a good base for hiking.

Gstaad

Click for map of Gstaad

We spent two weeks here in September 2003 and loved it! There are three towns on the valley floor, each about 30 minutes walking apart: Gstaad, Saanen and Schonried. We stayed in Saanen. The area is full of hikes with good transportation - trains, buses, mountain rides. The mountains are not as dramatically beautiful as in Kandersteg, Grindelwald or Engelberg, but the hiking is excellent. See my notes Hiking in Gstaad.

Central Switzerland

Central Switzerland is the region around Lucerne and Lake Lucerne and is made up of cantons Uri, Schwyz, Nidwalden, Oberwalden, Zug, Lucerne.

www.gruxa.ch: Great personal web site with hiking information for Central Switzerland near Zug and Lake Lucerne.

Engelberg (Obwalden)

Click for map of Engelberg

Engelberg is located at the end of a valley south from Lake Lucerne. A special narrow gauge train goes up the valley from Lucerne. You can also drive. You can get to the top of Titlus from here.

Town: Population 3400. The town has several hotels and restaurants.

Hiking: We spent a week here in August 2002. There are three main high level hiking areas: Brunni served by a cablecar to middle level and a chair lift to the high level; Trubsee served by gondolas to middle level and a chair lift to the high level, Furenalp served by a gondola to middle level. From Trubsee and Jockpass, you can access the Engstlenalp and Tannalp valley. Good hiking. See my notes Hiking in Engelberg.

Recommended in Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps.

Altdorf (Uri)

Altdorf is just off the main road that goes to the Gottard Tunnel (going through the Alps to Italy). We visited this town a couple of times in 2002 and loved the town, but I don't think it would be a good base for hiking. You have to drive out into the mountains to smaller villages for hiking.

Town: Population 8000.

Recommended in Walking in Switzerland.

Valais

Click for map of Zermatt

The Valais is south of the Berner Oberland and consists of a long wide open valley with big mountains to the south, smaller mountains to the north. The southern moutains border on Italy. Part of this region is German and part is French. The "border" between the two regions is called the "Rosti Ditch" because they eat Rosti on the German side (the eastern part) but not on the French side (the western part). Zermatt and Saas-Fee are on the German side, the other towns listed here on the French side.

www.matterhornstate.com: Good information for this area including a photo you can move to see all the Valais towns.

Going from east to west the recommended mountain towns are:

Obergoms

This is the valley located along the Rhine River between Furkapass (south west of ) Andermatt and Brig. The towns recommended are between Oberwald and Neiderwald.

Recommended in Walking in Switzerland

Saas-Fee

We spent an afternoon in this town in 1997 but have not done any hiking here. It is recommended in many books, but it did not look as good as Zermatt to us. The train does not go to Saas-Fee and it is a long drive on a narrow road up a valley to get there bus service will also get you there). Also it seemed to be surrounded by more rocky and steep mountains than Zermatt. Perhaps better for the more serious hiker.

Recommended in Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way (14 hikes), Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps (6 hikes), Walking in Switzerland.

Zermatt

We spent two weeks here in August 1988 and a week in July 1997. We think that Grindelwald and Zermatt offer some of the best hiking in Switzerland. Zermatt is in the German region of Switzerland, at the base of the Matterhorn in the Valais region.

Town: Population 4200. Zermatt is a wonderful little town. It is at the end of a long valley. The Glacier Express train ride ends here (from St. Moritz to Zermatt). No cars are allowed in the town. You part in Tasch, about 10 miles down the valley, and take the train from there. There are lots of hotels and lots of restaurants. Good food stores. The town can be full of tourists, but it is not crowded on the trails. Zermatt lies just below the Matterhorn (which sometimes is covered in clouds).

Hiking: There are several trains and mountain rides to take you up the mountains. Frequently you end up walking downhill, back to Zermatt.

Recommended in Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way (19 hikes), Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps (6 hikes), Walking in Switzerland.

Crans-Montana

We spent one week here in July 1997. We chose this town because we were looking for a new place in Switzerland and wanted to try a place in the French section. Also it was mentioned in a Paul Erdman novel, so we gave it a try. The hiking is not as good as in the German speaking part, but the restaurants and cafes are more French and more fun. Crans-Montana is two towns side by side up in the mountains. The main towns are in the valley below.

Val d'Annivers

We spent a day here in July 1997 when we were based in Crans-Montana. This is a long valley on the south side of the main Valais valley - south from Sierre - French region. You climb up a narrow mountain road from the valley floor and then drive south into the valley. One of the main towns is Grimentz. If I remember right, it is a good long drive (maybe an hour) up the valley and the road gets narrow. The day we were there the valley was filled with fog and it was pouring rain. We walked around Grimentz a bit (beautiful town with old wooden houses and interesting carved water fountains - as the water pours the figures move. We found a wonderful restaurant in an old building with really low ceilings and huddled in with everyone else and had an excellent lunch. We did not get to check out the hiking.

Val d'Herens

We spent a day here in July 1997 when we were based in Crans-Montana. This is another long valley on the south side of the main Valais valley - south from Sion - French region. You climb up a narrow mountain road from the valley floor and then drive south into the valley. The main town is Evolene - a beautiful small town full of old wooden houses with window boxes overflowing with flowers. There were a few good looking restaurants here and a nice tea room. Good looking food shops too. We had an excellent lunch sitting outside. I had my first raclette - where they melt the cheese over an open fire. See my description on the Food page. This would be a nice place to base yourself for a week of hiking, although the town is very small.

Hiking: We did a great hike with a steep uphill from Evolene to the village of Villa, then walked a gentle downhill to Les Hauderes where we caught a bus back to Evolene.

Recommended in Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way (12 hikes).

Champex

A small town up from Martigny and Orsieres in the Val d'Entremont that leads to the St. Bernard pass (where the monks raise St. Bernard dogs - you can go look at the puppies). We have not been there, but spent a few days in the area in 1988. The town we stayed in was perched on the edge of a mountain and I felt like I might just fall off (the town was Les Granges).

Recommended in Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps (6 hikes).

Graubunden

The Graubunden canton has Switzerlands large National Park. One mistake some American hikers make in coming to Switzerland, is thinking the only hiking is in this National Park. Hiking is EVERYWHERE in Switzerland. I have not hiked in the National Park, and it probably has excellent hiking, but so do all the other regions.

Arosa

Recommended in Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps, Walking in Switzerland.

Davos

Click for map of Davos/Klosters

We spent a week here in August 1996. Davos is a somewhat larger town near Klosters, the famous ski resort. Davos is well known because of the many world-wide conferences that are held there. It is also featured in Thomas Mann's book "The Magic Mountain", where the main characters come to Davos to heal from Tuberculosis. There are still clinics in Davos. Davos is in the German region of Switzerland, but is close to the small Romanach region. There is good hiking in Davos and you can easily get to St. Moritz or the Engadine for other hiking. When we were here, we did not have a car and took trains and buses everywhere. I think it might be better to have a car as the buses to the Engadine were not frequent and the trains went a very long route.

Town: Population 12,300. There are two parts to the town: Davos Platz (center) and Davos Dorf (village). This did not feel like a tourist town at all. We saw very few Americans or Brits. Mostly other Swiss and Germans there for the hiking. The town is a good size with many hotels, restaurants and stores.

Hiking: Davos sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. There are lots of mountain rides on either side of the valley to the mountains. You can hike at many levels. There are also good easy hikes along the valley on the outskirts of Davos. You can hike to other villages. This is a good base for hiking.

Klosters

We spent a day in Klosters when we were based in Davos. Klosters is smaller than Davos and is an upscale ski resort in the winter (the British royal family ski here). This looks like it would be a great base and has good hiking.

Engadine Valley

Click for map of St. Moritz

We spent a day here in 1996 when we were based in Davos. We visited the village of Zouz and the town of St. Moritz. The Engadine Valley stretches from the Austrian border in the north to Zernez and the National Park in the center to St. Moritz in the south. There is supposed to be very good hiking in the National Park. St. Moritz was a very busy, very touristy, upscale town - somehow it did not appeal to us (even though that description is similar to Grindelwald which we love). Zouz was a lovely little town full of beautiful old buildings. You can do an interesting drive from this valley into Italy through Val Bregaglia - you come out north of Lake Como. These towns are in the Romansch region.

Hiking: This is a long and wide valley. Any hikes along the valley would be parallel to the main road. There is supposed to be great hiking, but it was not obvious to us on our quick visit.

Also recommended in Walking Switzerland - The Swiss Way (Lower Engadine - 10 hikes), Walking Easy in the Swiss Alps (Samedan - 7 hikes), Walking in Switzerland.

Ticino

The Ticino region is the southern part of Switzerland, on the southern slope of the Alps and bordering Italy. Italian is frequently spoken here.

Locarno

We spent a week in August 1996. This is in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. The hiking is not as good as in the German speaking part, but, like the French speaking region, the restaurants and cafes are more fun. Locarno is on the northern tip of Lake Maggiore and is very close to the border with Italy.

Hiking: To get to the good hiking, you had to take long bus or train rides up into the valleys. The trails we did were not well marked and were very rocky and rooty - not as good as in other parts of Switzerland.

Resources

See the Cantons of Switzerland in the Trip Planning section.

www.myswissalps.com: My Swiss Alps

See Pauline's Hiking Notes in the Travel Notes section.

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