IN ASSOCIATION WITH SWITZERLAND TOURISM
Hiking, biking... and Nordic walking in Switzerland
Get active in Switzerland this summer, says Cathy Packe
Saturday 25 February 2006
People with a passion for winter sports often find themselves at a loose end during the summer, but there is no shortage of sporting challenges on offer in many Swiss resorts. The most obvious is hiking: every village will have a few paths leading off into the mountains. Detailed itineraries for many trails are now available from the website of Switzerland Tourism
www.myswitzerland.com, and there are maps attached to each. It's possible to order ordnance survey maps from the site, too, as well as GPS co-ordinates. But modern technology is not the only new trend in hiking holidays.
Even if you are unfamiliar with Nordic walking, its enthusiasts are hard to miss. They look just like cross-country skiers whose skis, and winter clothing, melted away with the snow while they continued on the trails. Nordic walking started off as a way for cross-country skiers to keep fit during the summer, but its appeal has quickly widened. It is a more demanding activity than regular hiking, burning up to 40 per cent more calories. The sticks, which when used properly give walkers more power, are the only equipment needed; on gentle terrain you can walk in trainers, although sturdier hiking shoes are advisable when the going gets rougher.
Nordic walking trails, and even Nordic parks, have opened up in many parts of Switzerland, and places like Pontresina or St Moritz are good places to get to grips with a new sport. The Pontresina Bernina Nordic Park contains several routes, colour-coded in blue, red or black according to difficulty. The signposting for Nordic trails is very clear: look out for the symbol of two walkers striding out with sticks in their hands. Not far from Pontresina is the Engadine Nordic Park, the largest Nordic walking region in the country, encompassing the towns of St Moritz, Celerina and Samedan. Nearly 200 miles of trails suit walkers of all abilities. A number of places, like the Nordic Walking School in Zuoz, run introductory courses. These are held every Tuesday from 9.30-11am, and cost SFr20 (£9), which includes hire of the sticks.
If Nordic walking is cross-country skiing without skis, inline skating is a summer variation on another popular winter sport. Skating is allowed on quiet streets, hiking trails and cycle tracks as long as it doesn't get in the way of any other traffic, but there are also three specially designed skatelines (as skating routes are known). The Rhone route is 135 miles long and almost completely flat, following the route of the river Rhône from Brig, through Sion and Martigny, before dipping down to the shores of Lake Geneva, passing through Montreux and Lausanne and ending up in Geneva itself. The Rhine route skirts the country's north-east border between Schaffhausen and Bad Ragaz, crossing in and out of Germany on the way, while the Mittelland route heads west from Zurich airport, following the course of three rivers before ending up in the town of Neuchatel.
While trying inline skating will mean investing in some skates, since they are rarely available to rent, it is not necessary to take a bike with you if you are planning to cycle. Bicycles are available for hire at more than 100 Swiss railway stations, as well as a few hotels and campsites, through Rent a Bike ( www.rent-a-bike.ch) which charges SFr23 (£10) for a half-day, SFr31 (£14) for a full-day, if the bike is collected and dropped off at the same place. Deals are flexible and for a slightly higher price you can leave the bike at a different location; mountain bikes are available, too, at SFr62 (£27) for two days' hire. There is plenty of variety in the routes. Set off from Mendrisio, in the Ticino, and you could choose a gentle trail through picturesque vineyards, or a tougher ride through the Generoso massif. Mountain biking is more challenging; although some of the routes, like the circular trail from Les Diablerets, are suitable for the whole family, the route through the mountain pass between Arosa and Davos is a much more demanding prospect.
Most resorts offer a variety of family activites in the summer, although the choice is particularly extensive in Engelberg, which has a summer programme run by companies such as Adventure Engelberg (00 41 41 639 54 50; www.adventure-engelberg.ch). Activities include glacier walking, ice stick shooting, and abseiling. Grindelwald is another good centre, with a range of sports on offer, from climbing to paragliding. Most activities in Grindelwald are based around the Sports Centre (00 41 33 854 12 30; www.grindelwald.com). Adventure parks are another great source of fun for children and adults. Most are based in forests and offer assault courses and a range of other aerial challenges. There are a dozen of these parks around Switzerland, and they include the Forêt de l'Aventure at Vercorin (00 41 27 452 29 07; www.foretaventure.ch), a small village in the Valais between Sion and Sierre. It opens from 9am-6pm from June to early September, and then at weekends only until early November. Entrance costs Sfr40 (£18), with reductions for families. There are adventure parks in several of the major resorts, too, including Verbier (00 41 27 775 33 63; www.maisondusport.ch), and Saas-Fee (00 41 27 958 18 58; www.saas-fee.ch).
An active holiday can be a wonderful opportunity to try out something different. Combining walking with climbing, the Via Ferrata are adapted from the old routes that allowed troops (and smugglers) to negotiate parts of the mountains that were inaccessible. Progress involves ladders, cables and hooks that are fixed into the mountains. The courses vary, some requiring steep vertical climbs, while others involve edging along a narrow ridge. Terrifying though this might sound, it requires little more than an average level of fitness and a good head for heights; everyone is given a helmet and attached to the Via Ferrata by a harness so that falling off the mountain is not an option. Nevertheless, there are varying degrees of difficulty. The Ferrata Videmanette in Rougemont (00 41 26 925 11 66), is ideal for beginners, who have to negotiate steps cut into the mountain and gangplanks suspended between the rocks. But the Videmanette 3, is far more challenging: at the beginning, climbers have to negotiate their way through a rock chimney. Both routes are accessible from the Rougemont-Videmanette cable car (00 41 925 81 61), which costs SFr26 (£11) for the return trip. These Via Ferrata, like most others, are open from June to October.
But for some people, mountains always mean skiing, although surprisingly few skiers realise that it can be a year-round sport. The largest summer ski area is on the Matterhorn glacier, around Zermatt (00 41 27 966 81 00; www.zermatt.ch), where - depending on the snow conditions - up to 15 miles of pistes remain open and skiing is possible 365 days a year. Summer skiing isn't quite the all-day sport that it can be in the winter, though; the lifts may close as early as 1pm because the sun usually makes the snow too slushy for afternoon skiing. A one-day lift pass for the Matterhorn glacier costs SFr63 (£28).
The sky's the limit
Château d'Oex is Switzerland's hot-air ballooning centre. Daily flights are available, subject to weather conditions. They are operated by SkyEvent Ballons, whose office is in the main square of Château d'Oex (00 41 26 924 22 20; www.ballonchateaudoex.ch). A basic, hour-long flight costs SFr350 (£154); by the time the minibus has taken you to the starting point and back, expect the whole experience to last around three or four hours.
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