Swiss National Park: A breath of mountain air

The venerable Swiss National Park is the oldest of its kind in Central Europe. It turns 100 this year - the perfect excuse to spend the weekend there, in the only hut to offer overnight accommodation. Our route started in a cloudy Zernez: we climbed upward through larch and pine woodland to reach the border to the park. Fallen tree trunks revealed when were there - any trees that fall in storms are left to decompose - and signs warned us to keep to the path. There was a magical sense of being in untouched nature, with no ski infrastructure humming nearby. It was slightly ironic that we could hear the beat of a music festival going on locally, but it didn't interrupt the cry of the nutcracker from the treetops, as he sang to warn the other animals of our presence.

Our path wound gradually upwards, over a carpet of fallen pine needles, to a clearing where we could visually follow our route into the Val Cluozza. The oldest valley in the park, it is framed by the inhospitable and imposing 'Devil's peak'. Dinosaur footprints have been found up there. We weren't to discover those, but we did peer up high to meadows where chamois were grazing. Now, the roar of the river Ova da Cluozza was the dominant sound. We could see to the hut, the Chamanna Cluozza, situated in woodland on the opposite side of the valley, and set off again eagerly.

After a total of just under four hours' walking, we were sipping green tea and munching Linzer cake on the hut's charming terrace, which is decorated with heart-shaped stones and little plant pots. Friendly owner Jürg brought out a telescope, and pointed out a red deer grazing in the dense woodland opposite. It felt a little cheeky to watch her eating!

The Chamanna Cluozza is a wooden cabin pre-dating the park - no building is allowed there now - and was cosy, if basic. Think no hot water or showers, and a simple outdoor wash room. That said, the wooden structure created a welcoming ambience, and as dusk fell and tantalising scents began to waft from the kitchen, we knew we had chosen a good base. We played UNO into the evening, settled down early to read and fell asleep in pitch darkness despite there being no curtains on our window.

We awoke to drizzle the following day, and set off on the second leg of our walk early to beat the heavy showers forecast for later on. We climbed steeply through woodland of Scots pine and larches until we reached the foot of the lowest Alpine meadows on the Murter saddle. The valley opened up to reveal the hut in all its isolation, kept company by cold summits, dense woodland and a many a wild animal. We could see down the Val dal Diavel (devil's valley), which is not accessible to the public, and the Val Sassa, framed by a rocky glacier.

As we battled a stiff breeze across the saddle, we saw the occasional marmot dash from its burrow to observe us, before deciding the drizzle wasn't to its liking and disappearing back downstairs. The land underfoot was sprinkled with Alpine crowfoot, buttercups and rock speedwell. Beyond the saddle, we overlooked the Spöl Valley and the Ova Spin reservoir - the latter of such a ghostly turquoise it looked ethereal. As the rain grew heavier, we descended more quickly. All that awaited us now was a first class train journey (a treat for tired legs) and the anticipation of a hot bath at home ...
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