The Alpine Pass Route is a real-life tourist brochure
The Alpine Pass Route (APR) – now fully waymarked as Swiss Via Alpina 1 (VA1) – is a hiking trail of over 350km across Switzerland. It crosses high mountain passes through the eastern Alps, the Bernese Oberland and the Vaudoise.
Lesley Williams, Cicerone Marketing Director and guidebook author, describes this relatively quiet walking trail for us.
Imagine spending three weeks in the mountains traversing the Swiss Alps, with a central highlight of the Bernese Alps crowned with glaciers and summer snows, either side of which are mountains, valleys and lakes rarely visited by anyone but the alpine trekker. In the valleys, villages that are still centred around cheesemaking provide simple accommodation and high above, farms and alpine huts offer refreshments amid the sound of cowbells.
This may sound like a tourist brochure, but the reality of the Alpine Pass Route (Swiss Via Alpina 1) is just that – many days where you rarely see another person, although there are also days, particularly in the Bernese Alps, where you become something of an object of interest among the tourists thronging the railway platform at Kleine Scheideg!
"A break in the cloud and a shaft of afternoon sun revealed our first view of the mighty Wetterhorn when we walked the Alpine Pass Route."
As the name implies, The Swiss Via Alpina 1 route involves crossing sixteen Alpine passes, and showcases some of the country's most breathtaking mountain landscapes. The route is not suitable for first time alpine trekkers, but best undertaken by those with some experience of Alpine trekking: it amasses over 20,000m of ascent and involves some steep and occasionally exposed sections, mainly on the three high passes – the Sefinenfurke (2612m), the Hohturli (2778m) and the Bunderschrinde (2385m). The entire route can be completed in 2-3 weeks, although it is also possible to walk shorter sections; alternatively postbus, cable-car and rail connections could be used to allow for a tighter schedule if time is limited, and may be recommended in order to avoid one or two sections of walking through urban areas and busy roadside paths.
The Swiss alpine route officially begins in Lichtenstein, a week later reaching Engelberg, starting point of the Walkers' Britain itinerary. Engelberg is a thriving town with an impressive 12th Century monastery situated on the eastern border of Switzerland. From here you spend three or four days wandering through mellow alpine landscapes largely ignored by tourists. The passes are generally of a steady gradient, however there is nothing mellow about the views – as you see alp upon alp stretching far into the distance. From the Bernese Oberland, the landscape changes as the mountains become higher and the impact of tourism becomes more evident. When I did a late summer trek a few years ago researching the new edition of the Cicerone guidebook, the weather was unsettled and on one day we realised we had only taken three photographs, and very poor ones at that!
Over the next two days however, the skies and moisture gradually cleared. High on the new Via Alpina route hugging the crest of a grassy ridge, views down to the valley below were mainly shrouded in cloud. But a break in the cloud and a shaft of afternoon sun revealed our first view of the mighty Wetterhorn; its great bulk and snowy peak seemed unimaginably high.
"The following day we crested the Grosse Scheidegg to walk beneath the ‘giants’ of the Bernese Oberland – Wetterhorn, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in perfect clarity against a vivid blue sky,” says Cicerone's Lesley Williams.
These giant mountains remain in view for several days as you follow the route through the beautiful, but busy Bernese Oberland, leaving the crowds, trains and cable cars behind as you scale two huge passes on the way to Kandersteg.
The final few days of the trek to the west of Adelboden again revert gradually to more verdant lower mountain scenery, although some days of necessity are quite long. Although the official Via Alpine route takes walkers to Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), Walkers' Britain finishes the hike in Lauenen (short bus ride to Saanen) to allow for a two-week itinerary.
The Cicerone guidebook on the Alpine Pass Route contains a wealth of practical advice and information on local points of interest and is written by Kev Reynolds. The trail is one of the great Alpine routes and embraces much of the best scenery Switzerland has to offer.
For more information on walking the Alpine Pass Route with Walkers' Britain, have a look at the 14-day self guided The Alpine Pass Route or the shorter 8-day self guided Highlights of the Alpine Pass Route.
For more information and booking requests, contact our team of travel experts by phone or email.