As the snowmelt begins to pour off the Alps and wildflowers emerge in the meadows, I find it hard to banish thoughts of hiking in Switzerland. My plans for this year will focus on California’s Sierra Nevada and Washington’s Cascades, but my heart will be in Switzerland.
A few years ago I tromped around the Jungfrau region with friends, basing ourselves in the tidy village of Mürren that clings to a ridge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley with a front-row view of the legendary peaks the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. A year before that, with young children in tow, my father-in-law, wife, and I trekked the trails out of Grindelwald in the shadow of the Eiger. Both experiences left me wondering if it could get any better.
As everyone knows, it can always get better. These days I’m dreaming of hiking through the terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva in the Lavaux region between Lausanne and Vevey. No, this isn’t alpine hiking, and the trail I have in mind will take only half a day to complete, but the area is near the top of my list of the world’s most astoundingly beautiful places.
If you want to know the truth, I’ve been dreaming of hiking there since 2003, when I saw it for the first time. I was traveling by train after landing in Zurich with my then-five-year-old daughter, on our way to meet my wife and three-year-old who’d flown into Geneva on a different routing. After a couple of hours of speeding through the rolling countryside, through picture-perfect towns, fields, and forests, we entered a long tunnel. When we emerged, we burst into dazzling light, a whole world of blue from the sky above and the azure expanse of Lake Geneva below, tucked in by a horizon of high mountains. Both my daughter and I were stunned. The transition from dark tunnel to blue radiance was so instantaneous it felt like a blow to the chest.
And then the vineyards appeared: rolling, curving green terraces stepping down the hillsides to the lake, mile after mile, with chateaus dotting the rows of vines. Immediately I wanted to hike there, whether there were trails or not. I needed to make my way into that landscape.
Well, I still do. And will. I’ve put it on the calendar for summer 2011.
But if your 2010 plans are still forming and you have an iPhone, get the new Swiss Hike App from MySwitzerland.com and look at hike #1, Lavaux Vineyard Terraces. That’s the one, from St-Saphorin to Lutry. Or just check out their website for the same information. Maybe I’ll see you there if you wait a year.