Let me ask you something. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Switzerland?
I might be wrong, but I have an inkling that you just yelled “mountains”.
With the Alps making up more than half of the country, it’s hard to think of anything else. Except maybe chocolate or cheese. But since those two aren’t exactly gentle on your waist line, I’m going to stick with mountains for the time being.
In this post, I’m going to introduce you to a mountain range in eastern Switzerland. Standing in the shadow of the big players like the Matterhorn, the Jungfraujoch and many more, it’s often overlooked. Even by the Swiss.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Alpstein.
A hiker’s paradise off the beaten track
The Alpstein is a mountain range that covers an area of roughly 1.800 square kilometres, which is about the size of London and Amsterdam put together. According to the local tourism board, it provides the densest network of hiking trails in Switzerland. So from a day hike to a multi-day expedition, it offers something for everyone.
Its highest peak, the Säntis, towers at 2502 metres above sea level. On a clear day, you can see all across Switzerland as well as into Austria, Germany, Italy and even France.
Every picturesque landscape needs a lake or two. Or three.
If you’re into mountain lakes, you’re going to love the three lakes in the Alpstein. The most accessible one is the Seealpsee. It takes less than an hour to accomplish the moderate hike up to its shore.
Reaching the second contestant, the Sämtisersee, is a little more sweat inducing. The shortest way up is ridiculously steep and you’ll be huffing and puffing for an hour before you get there. Maybe even cursing a little. But once you settle down by the water, you won’t even remember the initial pain.
My personal favourite, however, is the Fählensee. No matter how many times I tackle the two hour hike to get there, I can’t get enough of it. And I doubt that you could, either.
(Just to confirm your theory: Yes, See means lake in German.)
Off the radar but still inhabited
Although it appears this way, the Alpstein isn’t completely isolated. Between June and September, farmers take their animals to the so called Alp to let them feed on mountain grass. During those few months, the farmers and their families live in the little Alp huts that are scattered across the area.
With all those cows and goats roaming the fields, the sheer amount of cheese that’s available left, right and centre only seems natural. Every Alp offers something for a hiker’s picnic. A glass of milk, a slice of cheese, a cup of strawberry flavoured yoghurt drink, some more cheese… Anything to make a dairy-lover’s heart skip a beat.
Or a lactose intolerant backside bolt for the valley.
Are you hooked yet?
Granted, the usual suspects in the Swiss mountain scene are impressive. By no means do I question the Matterhorn’s position on any visitor’s itinerary. Or on the packaging of the Toblerone chocolate for that matter.
But in case you’re after a photogenic alternative to the typical tourist magnets, the Alpstein is a place worth considering. Not only because I grew up a stone’s throw away from it, but because it offers spectacular views that will make your jaw hit the ground. Repeatedly.
So grab your hiking boots and your lactose intolerance pills. The cows are waiting for you.
About the author:
Seraina Zellweger is a devoted budget traveller who’s been around the world and back. As a native Swiss, she’s made it her mission to give fellow backpackers tips on how to visit Switzerland on a shoestring. Find out how you can stretch your travel cash by downloading her free guide, 10 ways to save money on food in Switzerland.