Switzerland's prettiest hikes - well, two of them ...

The meadows slope downhill at an unfathomably steep pitch, eventually melting into craggy flanks that soar out of turquoise waters in a scene that recalls the Norwegian fjords. It's a riot of colour - Clusius's gentian, dark rampion, Alpine calamint, Alpenrose and bladder gentian are just some of the wildflowers that make up the symphony of sunrise yellow, magenta, sky blue, bright blue, purple and white. Our eyes are dazzled. Ahead of us, the path slopes uphill and down along the dinosaur's-spine-like ridge amid a tapestry of shiny golden buttercups.

This is the panoramic hike from Stoos to Fronalpstock above Lake Lucerne in Central Switzerland. The route is a challenging up-and-down affair that tests the glutes, but is ludicrously spectacular and well worth the effort. We arrive by brand new funicular - the steepest in the world, it has a maximum incline of 110% to climb 744 metres' altitude - then stroll through the tranquil car-free resort of Stoos before continuing up to 1932m above sea level by chair lift, where we sit back and listen to cow bells chiming in the meadows.

The route itself meanders behind the Huserstock, around cliff faces and up steep grassy shoulders, all the while permitting panoramas of mountains such as Glärnisch, Tödi, Pilatus and the two Mythe, more majestic than ever in their bluey haze. There are benches aplenty, and we stop frequently to savour the view and catch our breath, before concluding our there-and-back route about five hours and 800m of ascent and descent later with refreshing 'Apfelschorle' (chilled sparkling apple juice) at the summit restaurant.
Another weekend, we find ourselves gazing at tumbling, gushing and dainty waterfalls, glaciers and romantic Alpine terrain on the Hoehenweg Maderanertal. Also in Central Switzerland, the 16km-route starts with a journey on the tiny cable car from Golzern - so small it looks like a red matchbox dangling from a thread - up to a high valley that is a treasure trove for the senses. It opens with a bright meadow coloured as brightly as a rainbow, then meanders towards the Hüfi Glacier between raging snow-dipped summits with waterfalls tumbling down their flanks like garlands into the Chärstelen river.

First, we stroll along an easy path past Lake Golzern - tempting for a swim if it were later in the day - then climb up and up (600m in total) through woodland until the landscape plateaus amid a scenic amphitheatre that encompasses the glacier, the castle-like towers of Chalch Schijen and the mighty rock bastions of Gross Windgällen and Pucher. It proves a beautiful lunch spot - one where the wind whispers into our ears, carrying the sound of insects buzzing - before we continue, downhill all the way now, along one of the prettiest paths in Switzerland.

High and panoramic, it cuts between crags and tangled bushes speckled with Alpenrose, and passes waterfall after waterfall - some powerful, others as if a veil of chiffon, others still like Rapunzel's hair or a puff of fairy dust. Butterflies dance in the air at every turn. The route bends on and on, soon descending among the trees to Balmenegg and 19th-century Hotel Maderanertal, where we sit in the shade on the panoramic terrace and enjoy sweet apple punch.

The route then descends via Alp Stössi, where we encounter cows aplenty and a little farm selling cheese, before running out along the Chärstelen - an icy blue froth - and ever so gradually entering a more manicured landscape of scythed fields and gingerbread-house-like chalets. Looking back up, the valley we have just returned from is nowhere to be seen, as if it were but a colourful figment of our imaginations, a slumbering place up in the heavens.
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