Rupert Parker explores the peaks of Kandersteg in the Bern Canton of the Swiss Alps.
I’m spending a week in the quiet village of Kandersteg, a good base for exploring the mountains as the cable cars stay open so you can cheat a little. They whisk you up to altitude before you start walking, always a reasonable option. Normally, I prefer to hike from place to place, with my bags transported, so staying in the same hotel for a week is something new.
The only problem I can see is that you have to go both up and down on the same day and there are only a few circular walks. Still, the food in the Hotel Alfa Soleil is brilliant, every night a four-course menu, artfully displayed and beautifully cooked so I can’t complain. In addition, at breakfast, they have a separate table laid out with ingredients for you to make a packed lunch, an excellent innovation
The Gasterntal and the Kanderfirn Glacier 13.1km / 6hr
For my first day, I choose what I realise later is one of the hardest walks of the week. It starts off well with a minibus ride part way up the Gasterntal, a narrow gorge with sheer rock faces. I get off at Selden and follow the River Kander uphill, the mountain tops ahead of me still covered in snow. In fact, there’s even some in the valley still covering the path, which I cross with caution,
Narrow waterfalls tumble down the surrounding cliffs and the path steepens. I cross a narrow ridge, actually glacial moraine, and then zig-zag uphill. It’s a tough climb but eventually, I reach the Kanderfirn Glacier at 2400m, still covered in snow. I can make out sections of blue ice and its much colder here. The views are tremendous but there’s no time to linger. I retrace my steps and catch the minibus back to Kandersteg.
Daubensee and the Gemmi Pass 19.7km / 5hr 45min
Today I take the cable car up to the Sunnbüel station, getting glorious views of the Gasterntal where I walked yesterday. There are glorious spring flowers lining the green valley and as I climb gradually the landscape becomes more barren. In the middle of nowhere is the Schwarenbach Hotel, originally a customs post, but I don’t stop and finally reach the Daubensee at 2200m.
The lake is still partially frozen and I see my path following its shores before climbing steadily up to the Gemmi Pass. This is a pleasant stroll, in spite of a scattering of snowfields, and at the pass, I can see the village of Leukerbad below me. In the distance is the Matterhorn, standing proud in the middle of a row of glittering white peaks. It’s an easy return to the cable car station.
The Südrampe 16 km 5hr 25min
It’s not all tough hiking here and this hike is reserved for days of inclement weather or for those faint of heart. I take the train towards Brig through the 14km tunnel and get off at Hohtenn. From here it’s a gentle downhill all the way, mainly following the railway tracks. This means there are always options to shorten the walk by taking the train back.
Around a kilometre from the station is the impressive five arch Luogelkin Viaduct and to the right, the River Rhone runs through the valley below. After passing through a series of short tunnels in the rock, I join the railway again and take the pedestrian footway over the 136m long Bietschtal viaduct. Here I leave the railway and follow a narrow channel of flowing water, known as a bisse, designed to irrigate the fields.
This leads to the village of Ausserberg, full of old-style Swiss chalets constructed out of larch. There’s an option to finish the walk but I carry on. This is a delightful section, sometimes following other bisse and crossing a narrow suspension bridge by the Baltschieder Viaduct, 130m long, before reaching Eggerberg. I make for the station and catch the train back to Kandersteg.
My weeklong package is provided by Headwater who rate the walking as moderate difficulty, suitable for anyone looking for hikes of 4-6 hours and confident with daily ascents/descents of up to 700m. Of course, another major factor is the weather and fortunately, I’m blessed with sunny clear skies. In June, however, there’s still snow on the high passes which makes some walks impossible. I’ll save those for the next time.
Tell Me More About Hiking In Kandersteg
Headwater’s Classic Swiss Alps Walk costs from £1,125 pp, based on two people sharing, and includes 7 Nights in the 3* Alfa Soleil hotel in Kandersteg, all meals and picnic lunches. Flights and transfers extra. Departures on Saturdays from May until October. Reservations: 01606 720199
SWISS operates up to 180 weekly flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer) and Dublin. The all-inclusive fares start from £84 one way, including all airport taxes, one piece of hold luggage and hand luggage, meals and drinks.
The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities and also includes the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £185 in second class.
My Switzerland has information about the country.
Cicerone’s The Bernese Oberland has a selection of extra walks.