Deep in Switzerland: Hoehenweg Maderanertal

Aching muscles, a sleepy countenance and an overall feeling of being unable to do anything but sit still: Tim and I awoke today suffering the consequences of yesterday's hike, the 15-kilometre Hoehenweg Maderanertal. We arrived at the Bristen-Golzern cable car at about 10:30 after a long journey; our energy levels weren't helped by the fact that the cable car could only fit in a few people at a time - and there were a lot of people in the queue. We waited and waited and waited ...

Our spirits lifted when, once in the cable car, we felt we were soaring high between sheer slopes of the Maderaner Valley. We danced above meadows strewn with purple Alpine bellflowers and gradually approached the Weiler Seewen, a mountain settlement of wooden buildings not far from the turquoise Lake Golzern.

Quintessential Swiss scenery at its best, this landscape is in Canton Uri, one of the founding members of the Swiss Confederation and the alleged birthplace of legendary William Tell. High up and flat, the panoramic path we set off along was enhanced by a cool breeze and wide-ranging vistas - but ease of progress ended as our route started to climb steeply uphill. And so it did for 600 metres and two hours, to the Windgaellen Hut. The route was certainly picturesque, dipping in and out of woodland, occasionally offering tantalising views of the opposite side of the valley. But my goodness, I have never had to drag myself up a slope to such an extent. My walking poles felt like lead; every footstep was a challenge. Whether it was the heat or the gradient, I'm not sure but, when we reached the hut, I felt such a sense of achievement. Soggy egg mayonnaise sandwiches had never been better earned!

The route eased off from here: true to its name Hoehenweg Maderanertal, it was embedded high in the mountains. I was astonished how, with every step we advanced, new views opened up. We passed tiny Alpine settlements and gigantic erratics, crossed gushing waterfalls and tame streams and, all the while, looked up to glaciers retreating silently between the 3,000-metre summits. Amongst the most spectacular sights was the Chalchschijen, a sharp rock tower presiding over the valley's end. We also saw myriad waterfalls of all shapes and sizes - the most impressive being the powerful Huefiquelle - which created watery echoes throughout the valley.

On the way down we stopped at Hotel Maderanertal - a belle epoque structure that commands all attention in the landscape - and were incredibly disappointed to find they had run out of cake. Settling for ice creams (which did make us feel better), we were even more annoyed to pass another hut further down that was selling home made elderflower cake - how we wished we hadn't already eaten those ice creams! It was a long but picturesque walk out down the valley, that passed quaint hamlets and followed the icy river. By this point, we were simply putting one foot in front of the other. But oh, what a day it was - and how we are paying the consequences today!


Classic Swiss walk: the 5-Seen Wanderung

One of the classics in Swiss walking, the 5-Seen Wanderung (Five Lakes Walk) takes in some of eastern Switzerland's finest scenery. It winds around the Pizol (2,844m) in Canton Glarus and, en-route, five turquoise lakes follow in quick succession. A circular route, it offers the possibility of doing either more downhill or more uphill - guess which one Tim was keen to do!

From Wangs above Sargans, we took a gondola up to Furt, continuing from there by chair lift to a height of 1868 metres above sea level. Here, a cacophony of cow bells echoed within the basin created by the steep valley and a cool breeze touched our cheeks. We climbed steeply uphill through meadows of pastel-coloured, fairy-like flowers, reaching our first lake - the Baschalvasee (2174 metres above sea level) - after an hour. An ethereal shade of pistachio, its glass-like surface reflected the surrounding low summits.

Climbing yet further, we wound up a shoulder into cloud, where temperatures plummeted, and descended to the Schwarzsee. By this point we were hungry and, although the air was so cold we had to put on all our layers (including gloves), we decided to stop for lunch. The lake was impossibly turquoise and so clear that, even in the day's low temperatures, it looked inviting. Unfortunately the route is extremely touristy and a lot of people shared our lunch spot, somewhat ruining the peace and quiet.

We continued, winding up and over a coll to the Schottensee. The 'lake of Scots', this was perhaps the most beautiful yet. The turrets of the Hochwart mountain (2671m) were mirrored in its surface which, in a rich turquoise hue, looked at once in no way natural and yet completely at home. Beyond, the scenery became more spectacular. The view opened up to reveal irregular rocky towers leading to the Pizol, beneath which the scant remains of the Pizol Glacier retreated ever further. In the foreground, the cerulean Wildsee created, as in the other lakes, a perfect reflection.

Tim and I finished the day with a slice of plum cake at the Pizol Hut, to our left the fifth and final lake, the Wangsersee. We watched paragliders dance in the air against the backdrop of eastern Switzerland's Alps and, at the height of summer, enjoyed the cool breeze on our faces. Although the walk was too 'busy' for my liking, it was beautiful and challenging, and left both Tim and I feeling relaxed, healthy and ready for bed!


Back to Bristol

A long weekend presented itself for the Swiss National Day on 1 August and timed rather perfectly with one of Tim's friend's weddings back in Bristol. It's always a treat to be in such a lovely city and we were blessed with sunny weather. On our first evening, we stayed in boutique Bed and Breakfast Number Thirty Eight in Clifton. A Georgian townhouse, it is conveniently located on the edge of the Clifton Downs - a patch of wilderness and freedom above the city. Our room boasted views from the front over the Downs and, from the back, over the city. A free-standing roll top bathtub had been placed in front of the latter window and made the bathroom one of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Despite the heat we slept well thanks to a ceiling fan and awoke to a delicious organic breakfast, featuring raspberry and buttercream muffins and a huge bowl of natural yoghurt.

We meandered into Clifton village and I treated myself to a manicure at the cosy Seventh Avenue while Tim went to the dentist. There are few city spots more lovely than Clifton on a sunny day and we dined al fresco at The Primrose Cafe. I tried falafel wrap while Tim had a trout salad and then we bought Somerset cherries to munch on our way into town. Shopping was somewhat uninspiring - perhaps due to the time of year - but Bristol is nice to walk around with its waterfront and river dotted with kayakers.

The wedding on Friday was held at converted watermill Priston Mill, situated in rolling countryside close to Bath, and was really beautiful. Among other treats were a trip to the SS Great Britain (which has been carefully restored in its dry dock and now treats visitors to an inviting exhibition and a journey back to the mid-1800s as passengers to America), a trail around the city featuring models of Gromit the dog in creative designs, tea and cake at The Boston Tea Party and spending time with Tim's family. His parents have a gorgeous penthouse above the harbourside and from the balcony you can see beyond the urban sprawl to lush countryside. Flying back to Zurich was utterly uninspiring, but at least the sun is still shining here.

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