Europe has no shortage of great long-distance trails. There are over 100 Grande Randonées (GR) and 12 European long-distance paths (E-paths). But the one that seems to get the greatest attention among Alps hikers is the Via Alpina. So we decided to touch base with Alpenwild’s founder and Chief Adventure Officer, Greg Witt, to learn about this route and discover what options are available. (Book a guided or self-guided Via Alpina trip here.)
Question (Emily Jones): In a nutshell, what is the Via Alpina?
Answer (Greg Witt): The Via Alpina is a network of trails that traverses the Alps through eight countries—Slovenia. Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, France, and Monaco. It was developed in 2000 with public and private funding. It’s comprised of 342 stages and covers over 3000 miles. For North Americans, it’s like walking from New York City to Los Angeles—but through spectacular alpine terrain with lots of elevation gain and descent.
Q: Seriously, who’s going to hike all 342 stages?
A: Okay, that would be superhuman. But unlike Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail in the US, the Via Alpina isn’t focused on through-hikers. It’s best experienced in sections. You can divvy up those sections however you want. Maybe you want to do just the 19 sections through Switzerland, or perhaps just the portion through the Dolomites or the Bernese Alps.
Q: That sounds more doable. Tell me about the sections?
A: The sections are identified by color. Here’s a quick overview:
- Red Trail: 161 Stages through all 8 countries, and runs from Trieste to Monaco
- Purple: 66 Stages through Slovenia, Austria, Germany
- Yellow: 40 Stages through Italy, Austria, Germany
- Green: 14 Stages through Liechtenstein and Switzerland
- Blue: 61 Stages through Switzerland, Italy, France
Q: Does Alpenwild offer the Via Alpina as a tour option?
A: We’ve offered portions of the Via Alpina on many of our most popular tours for over 15 years. If you’ve hiked on the Chamonix-Zermatt Haute Route, the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Bernese Oberland Traverse, or Exploring the Jungfrau, you’ve hiked on the Via Alpina. In fact, we’ve recently added a Via Alpina logo to many of our tours in the Swiss Alps that include stages of the Via Alpina.
Q: Any plans to do more with the Via Alpina?
A: Absolutely. In fact, in 2020 we’ll be offering more Via Alpina segments in Slovenia’s Julian Alps as well as in the Italian Dolomites. But here’s the big news: In Switzerland—Arguably the most scenic slice of the entire trail—we’ll be offering guided and self-guided tours on all 19 stages from Vaduz Liechtenstein to Montreux Switzerland. To top it off, we’re including some wonderful mountain inns (no huts), and luggage transfers every night. So you can days on end with just a light day pack, knowing your luggage is waiting for you at day’s end.
Q: What are the highlights of the Via Alpina in Switzerland?
A: As it marches through Switzerland, the Via Alpina crosses 14 of the most beautiful alpine and pre-alpine passes in the Swiss Alps. You start in Liechtenstein and cross the Rhine into Switzerland. In eastern Switzerland you’ll enjoy long valleys and Switzerland’s largest Alp. Into central Switzerland you’ll see more glaciers and historic towns like Altdorf and Engelberg are welcome overnight stops. My favorite section—and I think the iconic highlight for every Alps hiker—is the Bernese Oberland. I never tire of sights like the North Face of the Eiger, Lauterbrunnen Valley, the Oeschinensee, and towns like Grindelwald, Kandersteg, and Gstaad. The final stage of the trek and descent into Montreux on the shores of Lac Leman is a perfect place to conclude this incredible trek.
Q: Beyond the beautiful scenery of the Swiss Alps, what else can we look forward to?
A: The Via Alpina provides a unique opportunity to experience Swiss Alpine culture from trendy resorts to quaint farming hamlets. The trail includes flower-lined footpaths, graded dirt roads, ancient stone oxcart road, and some faint alpine ridge routes. You’ll be in the domain of the ibex, chamois, and marmot, but you also see plenty of cows, goats, pigs, and sheep. You’ll probably watch an Alpine farmer milking his cows or making cheese in a copper kettle over an open fire. These are experiences you’ll always remember.
Q: How difficult is the trek? Any technical portions?
A: There are no technical sections, and the Swiss Via Alpina can be hiked by any fit hiker. The 19 stages cover a total of 370km (230 miles)—an average of 12 miles per day. There are a few days with vertical ascents in excess of 1500 meters (5000 ft), and one day, from Lauterbrunnen to Griesalp ascends over 2000 meters (6500 feet), but in most of these cases there is an aerial tram which can soften that ascent considerably. Still, with that much up and down, that’s all the more reason to have luggage transfers and hike with just a small day pack.
Q: What about accommodations along the way?
A: We’ve chosen some superb hotels, some we’ve used for many years and others that are new additions exclusively for the Swiss Via Alpina. They include many small, family-owned inns, as well as some historic mountain hotels. In many of the stops you’ll have options to upgrade if you want nicer 3- and 4-star hotels. Let us know your preference, and we can tailor the experience to meet and exceed your expectations.
Q: Can we book now for 2020?
A: Now’s a great time to reserve your spot on the Swiss Via Alpina. We’ll have route details including distance and elevation gain/descent on the Alpenwild website shortly. Pricing and other options will be detailed on the Alpenwild.com website by mid-Summer 2019.
Thanks Greg. A guided or self-guided trek on the Swiss Via Alpina would be a dream trip for a group of friends or family who are avid hikers. So don’t delay in talking with one of Alpenwild’s Destination Specialist—all of whom are Certified Switzerland Specialists and trail-tested in the Swiss Alps—to help make your dream of a Swiss Alps vacation a reality.