Category Archives: Switzerland

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Hiking through the Cristallina Alps

(by Francesco Limacher)

Like last year, my husband and my son took two days to take a hike in the Alps and my son was so kind to write this post about it.

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My father and I began walking from a town called Ossasco, in Switzerland.

The trail leading to Cristallina was steep and perilous at the beginning, but soon twisted into a relatively even stone path after we had passed the Alpine farm which sold fresh Swiss cheese.

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Capanna Cristallina (click on the picture to open the map)

In the stretching Cristallina valley, we came across a group of fifty French speaking pathfinders, assumably from the French part of Switzerland. And as we enjoyed the grass tundra landscape, we walked with them, sometimes behind the group and sometimes before the group when they stopped for a rest.

We heard a group of marmots whistling a few hundred metres away from the gradually steepening snake of a trail, probably wishing us good luck as we entered the pass. Rocks littered the ground, as if a giant had dropped them across the mountains. So the path was tiring, slacking our pace to let the scouts pass on.

Nevertheless, I had already set my mind to be at the hotel before lunch. Who can blame me when we had only started at eight. So we walked on, our strides getting ever higher. Although my father asked for a rest I refused: we had to be there before lunch! We just had to…

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Finally, after much perspiration, we arrived at the Cristallina mountain hotel. It was surrounded by piles and piles of rocks and partly coated with blankets of snow. We entered the rectangular building and had a peek inside our wooden rooms. We shared our room with six other visitors. Being the first ones there, we”reserved” our spots by dumping stuff on the beds nearest to the window.

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View from the window… (©Francesco Limacher)

The view was spectacular. You could see miles ahead to a group of grey mountains behind a closer small oval lake, encrusted with mounds of rocks of various shapes and sizes. We decided to have lunch outside that day, in the pleasant evening sun.

Later, we supped in the dining area where first Minestrone, then Polenta with Goulash and finally a stracciatella cream dessert was served in generous amounts. With our stomachs full, we went to bed. I remember closing the window before I turned in, to keep off the insects.

But I woke in the middle of the night, sweating under the warm bedsheets. Regretfully, I also woke exactly at the time my father was sleeping. You can’t imagine how loud he slept… I was just about to give up on trying to sleep and reaching for my Kindle when I heard the sweetest sound. Silence. Soon I drifted to sleep.

On the next day, we had breakfast with fresh brown bread, muesli, cheese, ham and, of course, spoonfuls of Nutella. We then headed off the way we had come, much quicker this time as we went downhill. In fact, we made such good time that my father suggested that we go to the ropeway leading directly to Airolo, a two hour hike from the Alpine farm. So we went, and soon regretted our decision, walking up roads steeper than the trails leading to the hotel, whilst we were blinded by the rising sun. But somehow, we managed to trudge on, keeping our eyes on the road ahead. It seemed eternity until we reached the lift, managing to catch the next ride down to Airolo. Once down, we took the train to Biasca and were picked up by my mother and our dog, Paco.

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Footsore and tired, I would still recommend the hike to anyone interested in travelling high into the beautiful Alps of Switzerland.

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Swiss Alps: from Disentis/Mustér to St. Moritz

Like many international families we tend to spend our summer holidays in a country where our children can meet family and discover something of one (or all) of their parents’ cultures. Since several years we spend a few weeks of the summer holidays in Switzerland for exactly this reason. We want our children to bond with family and to get a feeling of how life could be in Switzerland.

Personally, I find it important to discover Switzerland by using public transportation. If you don’t live in Switzerland or have an address there, it can be quite expensive. But there are ways to keep it low-cost (find more information on the SBB site).

The other day we chose to take a daytrip which involved a train ride from Disentis to St. Moritz (and back), travelling along the Rhaetian Railway.

(RhB Linienplan)

Coming from TIcino (near Biasca), we started our journey in Disentis/Mustér until Reichenau/Tamins and got on the Bernina Express to St. Moritz.

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The Albula /Bernina lines run along 122 km of track and passes 55 tunnels and over 196 bridges and viaducts and are a masterpiece of engineering. Its combination with the surrounding landscape made it to its recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Rheinschlucht or Ruinaulta is also called the Swiss Grand Canyon, where the railway runs alongside the Rhine (Rhein) and the Ruinaulta amazes you with its bizarre geological formations.

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and

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Ruinaulta

The amazing Albulaviaduct is between Bergün/Bravuogn and Preda – here below rendered by an interesting scupture that you can find at St. Moritz station.

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In Bergün you can get off the train and visit the Railway Museum or decide to first admire the Albula Viaduct and descend right before the  Albula Tunnel in Preda.  The actual tunnel is going to be replaced by a new one in 2021, but will still be functioning as escape tunnel for the new one. – You want to find out more about the construction of the tunnel at the Albula Tunnel Infoarena in Preda: “packed with all manner of exhibits and facts in German and English worth knowing about geology, tunnel technology, logistics and other exciting subjects involving the region and its very own railway. Fun items such as a virtual footplate ride and children’s slides and climbing frames complete the list of attractions on offer.” – You can take a 90 minutes tour to discover all about the tunnel and the railway (I advise to book beforehand, especially in the weekends as the number of participants is limited!). Younger visitors will be delighted by the presence of Kobali the Mole, with an adventurous expedition through the construction site, „virtual blasting” and a surprise included!

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We ended our journey in St. Moritz, the cradle of winter sports and where will take place the 2017 World Ski Championships.

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The Bernina Express continues to Tirano through the amazing landscape up to Pontresina and Bernina – with the highest point at 2253m Ospizio Bernina) – before descending towards Poschiavo and Tirano. – We didn’t have that much time the other day, so we’ll have to return next year to complete our tour.

If you want to find out more about this route, visit the Rhaetian Railway site.

Acquacalda, Switzerland, 2-Day Hike to the Mountain Hotel

On our way to the west mountains surrounding Olivone, (one of the smaller towns in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland), my dad and I trudged up through the hills close to the place my mum dropped us off.

Karte Gemeinde Olivone

Karte Gemeinde Olivone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since tackling the whole 15km way to Acquacalda would be very tiring, my mum offered to drive us to a village which was ideally scattered on the side of a mountain surrounding Olivone.

The hills we walked up through reminded me strongly of the cosy Hobbit holes dug in the side of a grassy green hill. As we finally emerged from the hillside of the small village, we were, or I was, not pleased to see a winding path leading steeply up through dense woods.

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Although the ascent was tiring, we made it and made ourselves comfortable in the mini restaurant of the next village named .

I drank a quick bottle of Rivella (a very famous Swiss beverage) and went off again, the map indicating that there were some steep paths ahead. The worst was not over yet.

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When we finally emerged from the woods surrounding Acquacalda, we were both sweating, our clothes sticky and wet. The last slope up the hill of the Mountain Hotel was tiring and the first thing we did was to sit by a nearby stream and ate lunch.

The hotel rooms were surprisingly cosy and well furnished as we went to sleep, our bellies full with homemade pasta.

The next day was less tiring and we made a short ascent up a small mountain, the remaining hike being just a flat landscape with a steep descent at the end. However, it wasn’t the steepness that irritated me that much. It was the flies… Only in the fields, I could already count nineteen hitch-hiking flies clinging onto our T-shirts…

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The last route down was also tiring because it was riddled with serpentine bends, making your feet numb and sore. We eventually arrived in Olivone before lunch and surprised everyone by turning up so early.

 by Francesco Limacher

Hiking in Ticino (Southern Switzerland)

Map of Ticino districts.

Map of Ticino districts. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The southernmost canton of Switzerland is Ticino. It has 8 districts and borders the Canton of Uri (to the north), Valais (to the west), Graubünden (to the northeast) and Italy’s regions of Piedmont and Lombardy to the south (and it has a small Italian exclave, Campione d’Italia).

In Ticino, named after the Ticino river, which flows through it from the Nufenen Pass to Lago Maggiore. Italian is the official language (like in southern sections of Graubünden).

Tisino is split geographically in two parts by the Monte Ceneri pass. The Sopraceneri – in the north – is formed by two major Swiss valleys around Lago aggiore: Valle del Ticino and Valle Maggia. The region around the Lago di Lugano is the southern part, also called Sottoceneri.

Its nickname “Sonnenstube der Schweizcomes from the 2,300 sunshine hours the canton receives every year, compared to 1,700 for Zurich. But Ticino is also “prone to fierce storms and has the highest level of lightning discharge in the whole of Europe”.

If you are interested in hiking in Ticino, Ti-Sentieri is a very good site to plan your journey.

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You can choose to start by one of the valleys, choose an intinerary and check the huts (capanne). On the site Capanneti.ch you can have a look at the different huts available.

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Make sure that before your first hike you gather all the information you need, by visiting Ticino-Sentieri , where you can find emergency numbers, the kind of roadsigns you’ll find on your path (segnaletica), the rules of conduct (regole comportamentali), and what to do before you start your hike.

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