Stage 2 – Sargans to Weisstannen – Hiking the Via Alpina 1

Above Schwendi

Stage 2 – Sargans to Weisstannen

Along the Via Alpina trail, both Sargans and the adjoining town of Mels straddle the autoroute and are known locally for its sprawling shopping center. Make no mistake—we’re in this for the alpine scenery, so we had no problem hopping a bus from the Sargans train station to Mels Post bus stop to skirt most of the urban congestion. From there it’s just a few blocks through town to cross the Seez River and set us on the Via Alpina—the steep trail—up the hillside in the direction of Vermol and Chapfensee. Within about two hours of uphill ascent the rest of the route offers commanding views over the Weisstannental. The Weisstannental is a steep-sided, river-cut, V-shaped valley, and the longest valley in Canton St. Gallen, so there’s a lot of expansive views along the way.

Once we arrive in Vermol we’ve gained our vertical ascent for the day. The toughest part of the day is already behind us, and what remains is a stunning mountainside stroll, with lots of stream crossings on footbridges, and the sun to our backs. It’s a mixed deciduous and conifers woodland slope—mostly spruce, but also some of the silver fir trees (Weisstannen) which give the valley its name. About two-thirds of the day’s distance is on level ground but, with incredible Via Alpina views.

Via Alpina Seez River crossing
Seez River crossing on the Via Alpina. Photo credit: Greg Witt

BMWs and Lexus on the Via Alpina

The Weisstannental was discovered and settled in the 12th century and it’s done a good job of retaining its rural charm and preserving its scenic beauty over the past 800 years. 

Schwendi hut
Schwendi hut along the trail. Photo credit: Greg Witt

Small alpine farms dot the hillside, and they become more frequent as the Via Alpina approaches the village of Schwendi. Nearing town, the farmhouses become larger and the prosperity of these farms becomes increasingly evident. The barn doors were decorated with metal plaques awarded to the farms at local fairs and by the local dairy association. These aren’t old buildings either, but large modern farm homes and barns. The vehicle of choice on most alpine farms I see are Suzuki and jeep-like vehicles. But not in Schwendi. Within about 10 minutes, I counted three new BMW Series 5 coupes—with an MSRP of $60k or more. Then I moved the side of one-lane farm road as a Lexus purred by. Another farm I passed had a new RAV4 in the driveway. These Schwendi farmers are doing well.

At Schwendi the route crosses to the Seez River and arrives in the town of Weisstannen within about 30 minutes. Weisstannen also appears to be a similarly prosperous farm village with two small inns and a gift shop selling handmade soaps, herbal teas, syrups, candies and other products made onsite from their herb garden. Everything was so cleverly branded and artfully packaged that I had no problem parting with CHF 8 for a 25 gram bag of herb tea. Someone’s got to pay for the Beamer. 

Food Tips: Cheese of the day is Bergkäse Mädris resent, a semi-hard cheese made on a nearby alp. Don’t miss the creamy Gerstensuppe at the Gemse Restaurant in Weisstannen. The bacon gives it a nice smoky flavor. Lots of trail side strawberries and raspberries. In Weisstannen we purchased the local Weisstannental Alp Cheese which will fuel use over the Foospass tomorrow.

Gemse Gerstensuppe cheese
Gemse Gerstensuppe cheese. Photo credit: Greg Witt

Wildflowers: Alpine Columbine are still abundant, but in the Weisstannental we saw both purple and pink species.

Via Alpina Pink Columbine flower
Pink Columbine flower along the Via Alpina. Photo credit: Greg Witt

Join us on the Via Alpina next summer on either of two exciting tours, the Via Alpina or Bernese Oberland Traverse.

Next: Stage 3 – Weisstannen to Elm

Previously: Stage 1 – Vaduz (Gaflei) Liechtenstein to Sargans, Switzerland

Greg Witt
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