New York-based Indagare member Chris Meltesen is a passionate outdoorsman, whether it’s skiing, biking or hiking, and he and his wife, Tina, travel to Switzerland every year. Here, he shares his love for the Swiss Alps and gives advice on how travelers should tackle planning a short—or longer—hiking adventure in the St. Moritz area.
You mentioned that there are hundreds of hikes in the St. Moritz area: which are some of your personal favorites and why?
I like the short hike in the Bever Tal (valley) to Spinas, where there’s a lovely mountain restaurant serving good food. We live in the Bever, the small village where the walk starts, and it’s a good one for a rainy day or when you’ve just arrived and want some fresh air but haven’t found your legs as yet. It is no more than an hour up and back.
A really lovely valley is the Fextal, starting in Sils Maria, a charming town (Nietzsche lived here at one point). While it’s a walking valley without cars, there are horse carriages available to the various hotels and restaurants. We like the Hotel Sonne and further on the Hotel Fex. This walk is always a favorite – the valley is probably the most beautiful in the area. It’s a good one to take if some of the group can’t walk, as they can take the horse carriage.
More spectacular is a classic walk from Corvatsch to the Rosatsch. Take the lift to the Corvatsch middle station, walk up to Surlej, over into Rosatch Tal, back down to Hotel Rosatch and then down to Pontresina (you’ll need a car, taxi, bus to get back Corvatsch, unless you parked at the Pontresina entrance to the valley and took a bus to the Corvatsch lift station). The view of the Bernina mountain group as you go over the small pass to the Rosatch valley is remarkable.
If you like real alpine hiking, take the hike up to the Forno hut from Moloja. It’s a good four hours up and four hours back, and you pass over a glacier. The last approach to the hut (a 15-minute climb) is a scramble over rocks, so be prepared. The view at the hut is spectacular and the entire valley system ranges from lovely woods and a lake to real sparse alpine rocks and ice. It’s a taxing day but a rewarding one.
What should a traveler trying to decide between days versus overnight hikes ask themselves to figure out which one is right for him/her?
Time and ability. If you’ve never hiked, you can’t do the overnights and if you like multi-day hikes, you might find the day hikes dull. If you want to return to the same place each night (particularly a sumptuous hotel) and don’t like a heavy pack, then day hikes are best. I’ve done both and like them both. Using a service and a van to take your luggage to the next hotel can make overnight hikes easy as this allows for a lighter pack. Also, consider the type of holiday you are after: if you want to do multiple things, even say rest or shop one day, then overnights are not practical. Basically, day hikes are easier and overnights are more difficult, though anyone in fair shape can do them.
What were the accommodations like during the big hikes you did (Mont Blanc and Haute Route)?
A good thing to know is that you are not allowed to camp (in a tent) in any of these countries, so you must stay in accommodations, which range from very rustic dormitories to fancy hotels. Every place I stayed was very clean and comfortable, with nice innkeepers and good to terrific food. Some of the lovely old hotels were stops on the Victorian Grand Tour during the 19th century. For example, during the Haute Route hike, from Chamonix to Zermatt/Saas Fe, we stayed in a town called St. Luc, and there the Grand Hotel Bella Tola & St.-Luc was very nice and truly left over from Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty days. Based in Chamonix, I climbed Mont Blanc with a friend, while our wives treated themselves to a stay in Hôtel le Hameau Albert 1er. (I guess they figured if we never came back, they’d at least have room service.) It’s a splendid hotel.
If you had to do either one over, which one would it be and why?
Probably Mt. Blanc, because our excursion was such a well-run tour by Chamonix guides, and it has great scenery. But the Haute Route is just as spectacular, so it’s hard to pick.
What do you wish you had known in advance before setting out on overnight hikes?
I’ve done it so often that I know all the ropes. You need a good packing list and lots of details about where you are going. One book I would highly recommend getting Walking Switzerland (www.amazon.com), which has lots of maps and great advice. When we first started planning trips, we used it a lot. For instance, our Haute Route trip was planned based entirely on this book: no guides, no pre-booked itinerary and all the hotels were confirmed by phone and fax (it was pre-email).
What are some of the advantages of hiring a guide, like you did on the tour of Mont Blanc?
Lots and lots. They do it for you, particularly when you are doing overnights. I’d really recommend it, if one can afford it; a guide split amongst a few people is a minor cost and would be a great help. Even on day hikes they know unusual ones, can explain all the local flora and fauna. If you haven’t done much or are unsure of the area, then hiring a guide is invaluable. Once we stayed at a lovely guesthouse just up the mountain in Zermatt for a few days, and the innkeeper was also a Zermatt guide who took us for a day hike to an unexplored valley, telling us about the geology of the area along the way. It was a great immersion.
For foodies, are there hikes you would recommend based on the quality of the restaurants along the way?
Hotel Rosatsch in the Rosatsch Tal, and the restaurants at Hotel Sonne and Hotel Fex in the Fextal. But the best ones are the light lunches you pack and take with you and eat high up in the midst of a mountain saddle with a stunning view. Boy, does bread, salami and an apple taste great!
What was the most physically challenging hike you’ve done in the region?
The 10-hour approach to Zermatt or the hike to the National Park near S-Chanf, but Tina and I did it with a group of friends and everyone managed.
Could you recommend what you would rate as your top hikes for a day hike with great scenics and food; a moderately challenging multi-day route; a challenging multi-day route?
DAY HIKE: The Fextal is the best day hike with great scenery and lovely food. The Hotel Sonne was so good at Christmas, when a group of us ate there, that some folks are thinking of taking a room for someone’s big birthday this year.
MODERATE MULTI-DAY: A moderately challenging multi-day route: the Swiss National Park hike from S-Chanf, via the Chamanna Cluozza (overnight hut) and down the next day into Zernez. This was the best short overnight I have done. Top of my list is the three-day hike from Maloja south of the Bernina group in Italy where you end up at Lagalp, which I hear is marvelous.
CHALLENGING MULTI-DAY: I’d vote for the Tour of Mt. Blanc here, though everyone in our group did it with ease. Having our packs taken ahead and a guide carrying the wine and lunch helped, of course. Also, the Haute Route, ending up in Saas Fe, is a challenging multi-day trek.
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