Switzerland is the place many people imagine if they're thinking of high alpine passes ringed by snow capped peaks and connected by lush green pastures and grazing cows. With the Bernese Alps, which rise up between the Valais and Interlaken, combined with the Valaisan Alps, which straddle the southern border with Italy, the country is definitely chock full of such idyllic scenes. The Swiss tourism industry also makes much of this environment highly accessible. On the whole it is an efficient well organised machine refined over decades to capture and distill all of that natural beauty and help bring visitors from all over the world to enjoy and appreciate the wonder of the mountains, climb to their tops, hike on their flanks and ski down their glaciers.
Certain places in the Swiss Alps have particularly captured the imagination of tourists over the years, often linked to especially challenging mountain ascents such as the North Face of the Eiger and the iconic Matterhorn. The tragedy and drama as young men died during their attempt to claim the summit first focused attention there. The tourism industry today still tends to focus on these areas as they are both truly stunning and captivating.
But this focus comes at a price.
|The best view points come with cafes - Eiger, Monach & Jungfrau|
Whilst the lesser known valleys still boasted several cable cars, a good public transport network and a good number of visitors on a daily basis, they paled in comparison to the gigantic scale of operation in place in the more famous resorts. At Zermatt, for example, you cannot even reach the town without first catching a taxi or train from nearby Tasch (all of which costs money so we cycled up). Upon arriving in the famous ski resort we found ourselves surrounded by many other hikers, but also countless builders in luminous vests working on the many expansion and new building works going ahead before the snow returned. It felt like Zermatt was expanding at every moment.
|The ever expanding ski-resort of Zermatt|
We pushed on through the houses and hiked up close to 3200m that day, but at each step of the way we were aware of the cable cars extending all around us carrying others to the stunning vantage points above. Whilst I consider it wonderful that the network of ski lifts, cable cars and even trains in these areas can whisk any visitor close to the top of some of Europe's most stunning mountains to appreciate them, it can also reach a point where too much industry on the slopes detracts from the natural beauty. Also, when the snow has melted, the huge earthworks that are being continually carried out to craft the winter pistes are exposed, leaving very unnatural and ugly scars in the mountain sides.
Plus stopping to examine the prices of the lifts its clear that rather than saying that it "makes the mountains accessible to everyone" it should be "everyone that can afford it". A return trip to 2900m from Zermatt was almost 70 euros, while the train to the top of the Jungfrau is over 100 euros. (This was less so at Saas Fee which to its benefit did offer an affordable Summer Pass for its cable cars). Also, the fact that the station on top of the Jungfrau includes a Bollywood movie themed restaurant and a place your can buy a Rolex was something we found equally off putting.
|Looking down the Lotschental Valley|
All of this industry and commercialism stood in stark contrast to the more subtle and appropriate tourist services in lesser know valleys of Val d'Anniviers, Goms and Lotschental which we visited. Whilst each still had much to offer when it came to accessibility, so that people don't need to be able to ascend 1000m plus on foot to appreciate the magnificence of the scenery, it was far more understated and less garish in our opinion. Lift prices that we checked were also much lower and in Val d'Anniviers in particular they were covered by a local discount card making them ludicrously cheap. The entire feel of these valleys was one of gentle seclusion and harmony with nature rather than the high impact taming of nature we felt in Zermatt and Jungfrau.
|It was easy to feel connected with the natural beauty in Val d'Anniviers|
That's not to say that I regret our visit to Zermatt and the Jungfrau for one second though. They are justifiably known as some of the most magnificent scenery in the world and are both moving and unique places. However, anyone planning to visit them should be aware that alongside all of the stupendous natural splendour, that the tourist machine is both evident and active whilst Val d'Anniviers, Goms and Lotschental gave us so much more. It actually makes me nervous to say it, having appreciated the quiet of these other valleys so much ourselves, but I also want to share that joy with other so I feel compelled to recommend them, not as an alternative but as a first choice. Whether someone is seeking peaceful reflection or strenuous activity, the Val d'Anniviers, Goms and Lotschental can offer it in abundance with far less exposure to the commercial side of the tourism industry.
Why we fell in love with Val d'Anniviers, Valais, Switzerland
9 Things to See and Do in Val d'Anniviers
Touring in the Swiss Alps Without Breaking the Bank - 12 Ways We Kept Cost Down
5 Amazing Summer Hikes in Val d'Anniviers, Valais, Switzerland
Details of all our hikes in the Swiss Alps