Switzerland’s Alpine Hideaway
By Dave Taylor
Published in the Winter 2005-06 Issue of Canadian World Traveller
Photos: Dave Taylor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Switzerland seems to have mastered the art of making mountains seem comfortable, no small feat when the mountains are the formidable Alps. Over the years my wife and I have visited the Swiss Alps several times but one place in particular remains a favourite: Saas-Fee.
Zermatt – Gateway to the Alps
Saas-Fee is a little off the usual tourist beaten path. It is over-shadowed by its neigbouring city Zermatt. Zermatt is more readily accessible and is the starting point for viewing or climbing Switzerland’s most famous mountain the Matterhorn. You can take a train to Zermatt but you need to take a bus or car to reach Saas-Fee.
A Car-free Mountain Retreat
Saas-Fee is worth the extra effort. The bus ride is spectacular and very comfortable (you even get a distant view of the Matterhorn). Upon arriving at Saas-Fee you immediately notice that there are no cars allowed in the town.
An electric golf cart picks you up and transports you to your hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Walliserhof. This is a chalet-style hotel that offers guests a taste of quiet elegance. The first thing my wife and I did upon checking into our room was to go the balcony and take in the scenery. A wall of mountains literally dripping with glaciers spanned the horizon.
The Fairy Glacier
Saas-fee is 1800 meters above sea level. The mountains around it sit astride the Italian border. They form a rough horseshoe around the town with 13 of the peaks rising above 4000 meters. Several glaciers are visible including the Feegletscher -Fairy Glacier. Because of its location the valley gets 300 sunny days a year. The mountains block the inclement weather.
The Alpin Express
We walked through the town, pass the schoolyard where students in uniform played soccer and caught the gondola to the top. It holds 80 people but as this was the beginning of August few people shared the ride up. The gondola did not quite take us to the top. Next there was a train to catch.
The Alpin Express is the highest underground funicular system in the world. It takes you to top of the Mittelallalin (3500m). There the last skiers of the season had just finished their runs and we dined in a rotating restaurant taking in the view between bites. Life doesn’t get much better!
The glaciers here are being studied with intensity few other sites in the world receive. They are melting and shrinking. Do they hold clues that will help scientists understand Global Warming? Certainly proponents of the theory often cite what is happening to them here.
An Invigorating Hike
That evening we enjoyed the dining and a bit of the night life but next morning we were up early and caught another, smaller gondola to another peak. This would be a one-way ride because we were bound and determined to hike down.
My wife’s Aunt advised us that if you are going to do this you are wise to walk up the mountain first in order to stretch your legs. Certainly walking down put strain on muscles not used to going down hill but there were many reasons to take frequent rest breaks.
There were the Swiss cattle complete with Swiss bells posing against the scenery, friendly Alpine marmots to sit with and when you needed a break an alpine restaurant.
Like I said, all very comfortable.
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