When we first planned this sabbatical, Switzerland was one of the countries we were most excited to visit. Primarily it was to climb and enjoy their outdoors, but I was also excited to meet the Swiss. I have always found it interesting how in spite of being in the heart of Europe, Switzerland has been able to maintain neutrality and independence from their neighbors.
We first ventured into Switzerland near Chamonix, France (near the Southwest border). We made a quick day trip to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn, which was a bit of a headache given how touristy it is. You are not allowed to drive to Zermatt so you must park the car in a very large parking garage several kilometers away in a town called Täsch and travel to Zermatt by train. We only stayed a couple of hours to walk around the town and gaze at the Matterhorn. It really is an incredibly shaped mountain.
From there we headed to central Switzerland near Grimsel Pass and spent some time climbing a few of the low-elevation classics. By now it is early October and the weather is already turning. We were lucky enough to get in three epic climbs. One was in a gorgeous valley (Fair Hands Line) which involved the steepest passenger funicular in Europe to descend, another over a dam (Motörhead) and another over a glacier (Kreuzbandweg)!
We spent some off-days in between visiting friends in Zurich and roundtripping throughout the country. We visited Zug, Interlaken, The Eiger, Bern and even went so far as Basel in the very North. During one of these side trips we also visited Liechtenstein and a Swiss district called Appenzell.
Liechtenstein is odd. It is one side of a two sided valley. What separates Switzerland and Liechtenstein is a river. It takes not even an hour to drive the length of the country but what it lacks in size, it makes up for with impeccable views! There is even a ski resort at the top of its mountain. As you head up that road you casually come across the castle where the Prince of Liechtenstein lives. He apparently opens the castle one day a year for a big party!
Appenzell is quintessential Switzerland. The grass is as green as you’ve ever seen, the cows are mooing along with their cowbells, and the houses are immaculately lined with flowers along each balcony. Hillsides are perfectly manicured and little roads casually weave all around the area. This place is out of a storybook.
Towards the end of our stay in Switzerland, we were able to climb once more along the Italian border in an area called Ticino. That particular day was the most difficult climbing day we have had so far because upon completing our ascent, we found ourselves in complete white-out conditions, covered in a fog. On top of that, we got our rope stuck twice during our descent which made for a very long and stressful day. We did, however, make the very last cable car back down the mountain which saved us two hours of hiking. This climb taught us one of the brutal realities of the Alps—when the weather turns, it turns fast.
Switzerland’s landscapes are breathtaking and even the infrastructure is something to marvel at. I think half of our kilometers were spent in tunnels! They even cut the grass on the side of the highways so that no detail is overlooked. I was impressed to say the very least and this was one of the few times where reality exceeded my expectations.