My Life in a Postcard

Welcome to my Life, my Blog and my Adventures in Switzerland. The name didn't give it away, did it?! :-)) My name is Giada and I feel like the proverbial mouse living in a giant picture postcard perfect round wheel of Swiss cheese. The sheer concentration of natural beauty in this country is mind-blowing, as is the accessibility to high mountains and remote fairytale valleys. That's why I call it my Swisstagram dream!

Yes I like hiking, but this is not just a hiking blog, it’s about living life now and what this looks like in Switzerland. I share tips on how to research your adventures, how to stay fit outdoors, where to sleep, what to see and how to keep a permanent smile on your face!

Did I mention that I’m also a Yoga teacher and a tour guide?

Ok, so let’s get into it: Hiking is definitely one of my favorites, it gets you out there, on a  trail, by yourself or with others, it doesn’t matter, your feet are your transportation, you WALK yourself across a valley, up a mountain, over a ridge.. the sheer sense of accomplishment from having done it under your own power is intoxicating. On top of this you’re immersed 360 degrees in incredible scenery which you can drink in as you hike, even the hard climbs are cool because when you reach the top you feel like you’re “on top of the world”.

I like that when I go hiking I reduce my life to minimum terms: minimum clothing to bring along, minimum “stuff” (strictly necessary and useful stuff makes it into the backpack) and suddenly you realize that you don’t need much at all. Mostly your basic needs are covered and you can really start to focus on filling your emotional cup living through the experience. If this all sounds like mumbo-jumbo, then I say to you, try it once. It’s really an adventure and you’ll get such a high from just one day out in the open, perhaps one night in a mountain hut, you’ll feel like a kid again, with that same giddy excitement just bubbling under the surface.

I’ll have plenty more posts about the Swiss love affair with hiking and how you can get in the action too, but let me start today by giving you a real insider tip for getting off the beaten path and discovering a true gem of the alps…

Who’s been to this place? have a look at the picture below…

This is the Lötschental valley, a hidden gem which keeps on giving – it’s nicknamed the Magic Valley – and it delivers exactly that. I’ve hiked here in summer, climbed in autumn and skied in winter – definitely one of my top recommendations if you want to get a bit “off the beaten path” and see a more authentic and wild side of Switzerland.

Hiking: big adventures within your reach

For starters you need to keep in mind that Switzerland is quite a small country but it’s packed full of high mountains, lakes, flowers, rivers, cities, villages, mountain huts, traditions, farms, cows, cowbells, cheese & chocolate and Swiss people who speak 4 different languages and coexist together under a direct democracy equal to none. The Swiss are know for their punctuality and precision, and it shows… keep reading….

When it comes to hiking, there is no better and safer place to actually lace up your boots and take on a trail than in Switzerland.  All hiking paths are marked, and I mean well-signaled and signposted, so the choice is yours.

Start by having a look at the map on: https://schweizmobil.ch/en/summer  It’s a great starting point, it’s in English, you can filter for difficulty, length, steepness, point to point vs. circular hikes, and it also has an app version which is handy to check on your phone.

Not into hiking or maybe it’s winter? you can also practice other outdoor activities like snowshoeing (a must try if you want to up the fun factor in the snow)  winter hiking paths to warm cozy huts, sledding & tobogganing parcours, and so on, everything is maintained, information is updated, there are amazing apps to use, great guides to show you the ropes, friendly people to ask for help, and you’re really never far from civilization as we know it. So suddenly, adventures which feel super remote and give you those moments of “awe” are actually within our reach!

Speaking of accessibility, let’s talk about how easily you can ride up to 3,000+ meters mountain peaks –  which would normally be completely out of reach – with super ingeneous gondolas & trains, sitting comfortably while they fly you over glaciers and alongside sheer rock faces. And it’s not just the big popular mountains which are equipped, no, it’s almost every small village and small resort which has some sort of gondola or ride. I have to check on this but my guess is there are more gondolas per capita in Switzerland than anywhere else in the world.

In essence, Switzerland is like a pocket-sized country which folds up neatly into a square, but when you open it up it packs quite a punch (like a pop-up card in 3D with music (yodel anyone?))! The mixture of well-organized & reliable infrastructure (trains, buses, gondolas) with well-maintained and marked adventure trails really makes the great outdoors accessible to everyone and with confidence.

Wild strawberries staright from Mother Nature
That feeling of Adventure is easily intoxicating. Click the pic to find out where
The Queen of mountain flowers, ladies & gentleman, the "Edelweiss". Click the pic to learn about Edelweiss
Plenty of opportunities to get playful with it. Click the pic to find out where
Not that far from civilization, yet feels so remote. Click the pic to see where
Easy navigation on any trail with the distinctive Yellow trail markers. Click on the image to get all the info you need on navigating the iconic yellow markers.

I’ve been on countless hikes, climbs and tours, often by myself and also with friends, mountain guides, groups… it all starts with careful research and planning. First things first you need to decide what to do – let’s assume you want to go on an easy hike, nothing crazy, big panoramas and plenty of WOW moments. Where do you start? So first thing you need to do is check the Switzerland Mobility website (or app) https://schweizmobil.ch/en/summer open it up (it’s in English too) and start checking the map – you can use the filter to narrow down the options, i.e. 1 day hike, family hikes, etc.

Once you’ve selected and area where you want to hike, check the web for the local tourism website of that region and do a bit of research on the trails that you’re considering,  maybe check some hiker’s reports, check current information about the trail, check the gondola operating hours (or trains that you need to take), check distances, elevation, where is the nearest hut or restaurant? really take your time mapping out an itinerary so you have all the details covered. Be sure to read my post about “All you need to know about Hiking Signs” https://swisstagram.com/all-you-need-to-know-about-hiking-signs/ before you set out!

Swiss Houses: the real deal

You know the timbered houses with the typical a-frame roof which you immediately associate with Heidi and / or the Swiss countryside? Just like the one here to the right –>

These houses are sprinkled around everywhere in Switzerland, so you happen to be walking to your local supermarket and you pass 3-4 of these cute houses with their wooden framed windows with embroidered curtains, bunches of colorful geraniums sticking out from the windowsill, the doorway neatly decorated with the year of construction engraved in roman numerals and you think you’ve landed in a time-warp. Some are private houses, some are offices, museums, community rooms and when you manage to visit one, it’s a great experience: exposed wooden beams everywhere, low ceilings, creaky floors and tons of charm.

These traditional houses contribute to the postcard feeling when dotted on lush green countryside hills or perched on mountain ledges, complete with grazing cows and the local farmer. It doesn’t get more “real” than this.

How cozy is this dining room? That's the magic of these old wooden houses, they're dripping with charm and authenticity

One experience which always feels like an adventure is sleeping in one of these houses – there are plenty of historic hotels, B&B’s, mountain huts & chalets where you can spend the night and be transported to the past – think candlelight, water basins, hardwood floors… it’s all very romantic and fun.

Here’s the link to some of those sites where you can book & research these unique sleeps:

Here you find listings for truly historic and unique houses:

https://vacancesaucoeurdupatrimoine.ch/fr/experiences/hiver-dans-un-monument/

Nest up is the Swiss Historic Hotels website (full of gems):

https://swiss-historic-hotels.ch/en/hotels?view=list

For good measure, check also the Switzerland Tourism website here:

https://alp.holidaybooking.ch/?language=en

Walking everywhere keeps you fit!

In this country everything is close by and easy to reach either on foot or with the train or the bus. For me it was a shock, coming from Miami where I would drive practically everywhere,,, but I embraced the lifestyle and swapped out my stylish, but generally uncomfortable, shoes for sneakers and started doing the groceries on foot, running errands on foot, taking the train to wherever and then walking around, going to the mountains with the train and the bus and then hiking… and it’s doable and you’ll see the daily step-count adding up pretty quickly. On top of this, consider all the hills, stairs and other vertical meters that you’re covering, and you’ll see that walking around is a workout.

This subject deserves it’s very own post, so i’ll keep it short: until then, focus on your feet and think of them as your main transportation.

Check our the Zurich Vita Parcours trails if you're in the

Check the link below for ad hoc fitness walks sprinkled all over Switzerland which are fun and easy to follow, often in the nearby forests minutes away from your house:

https://www.helsana.ch/en/individuals/services/trails.html

Think of it as including your fitness into your daily routine without setting special time aside for it, just changing the way you move. In other words, walk walk walk and always take the stairs 🙂

 

Thank you to everyone for reading my blog, I’m truly happy to share so please leave a comment below and share your Swissta-worthy pics!

Also check out the link below for a post entirely dedicated to Hiking Signs.

Until next time,

Giada

All you need to know about Hiking Signs

DO YOU KNOW HOW TO READ THE SIGNS?

Hiking signs are second to none throughout Switzerland, and making sure you know how to read them correctly is key.

So here the 7 things you need to know how to read on any given yellow sign:

  1. Where you are now and the altitude.
  2. Destinations – where you can go from here (note: when several destinations are listed in the same direction, the closest will be at the top, the furthest at the bottom).
  3. Walking / hiking time (without breaks).
  4. Route type:         yellow only = easy walking / hiking trail  (easier paths and suited for mostly anyone)                                                                                              white-red-white = mountain hiking trail   (proper hiking trails which require proper footwear, knowledge & prep)                                                white-blue-white = alpine hiking trail       (for experts only, or get yourself a professional mountain guide)
  5. Dividing line: this tells you that the trail has an intersection along the way.
  6. Symbols: these show you what you can find in that particular direction: a train station, a bus, a restaurant,  a viewpoint, a ship…
  7. Itineraries: the green stickers with a number and generally a name, mark specific walking & hiking itineraries (you can find these on the Switzerland Mobility App https://schweizmobil.ch/en/summer

Hiking times: how are they calculated?

Have you ever wondered how they calculate hiking times posted on those signs? On the fit mountain guides or the easy Sunday hikers?

It’s not a stupid question, one that you’ve probably pondered as you pass yet another sign announcing that you’re still 2h 10m from your destination (didn’t the last sign say that??)

I checked and there’s a mathematical formula involved, as well as an interesting bit of history (and some urban legends).

So here’s the formula: On flat paths, the speed per kilometer is calculated as 4.2km/hr, which means that we count a quarter of an hour per kilometer on the flat. Add to this an additional 15 minutes for every 100 meters of ascent or 200 meters of descent, and voila’, that’s the way they come up with those times!

Are you still with me?  here’s a little test: let’s say you’re going on a 12 km hike with 400m up and 400m down… how much time will it take?

Leave your answers in the comments below 🙂

But up until the 1980s, they used to send different people to walk the same route and they would average out all the different times to come up with those numbers. However, this method was not very uniform as some cantons always sent the same people while others sent different people – children, adults, the elderly – to complete the routes, which essentially resulted in wildly different “average” times. Rumor has it that certain cantons used their fittest hikers to keep their hiking standards high! (Swiss humor)

A lot of times the alpine hiking signs are totaly blue, that means that the whole way there is "alpine". Don't get too adventurous, get a mountain guide instead

Trail markers along the way...

Now that you know how to read the signs, keep in mind that while you’re hiking on the trails and  you’re watching your step, looking around at the views, having a chat with friends…  you need to make sure you’re on the lookout for trail markers. What are those? They’re basically painted signs in the colors of the trail you’re on (so white-red-white for mountain trail for ex) and you’ll find them painted on rocks along the trail, sometimes trees, sometimes a wooden stick… their purpose is to mark the path so you don’t suddenly look up and wonder where you are. It’s happened to me a fair amount of times that I had to backtrack and find the way again, or stop other hikers as ask for directions, making me feel like a total beginner 🙂  This is how I learned another essential thing to prepare for any hike: study and bring along a map and/or download your itinerary on an offline map on your phone, so you can always check where you are and where you’re headed to if you should loose your way. As I said before, civilization is always close by, BUT you may end up on a different trail / at a different destination, hut, bus station or you might miss your gondola ride down the mountain, etc etc, which can turn your day into a very loooong one.

Always a good idea to read the maps before you set off so you have a general idea of where you’re headed!! warning: sometimes reading the map is the challenge :)))

First we go up here, then take that trail to the left, right at the intersection and keep going all the way to the Alp... got it???
White-red-white funny trail marker
White-blue-white, you get the idea
Sometimes they look like this !!!
Combo of trail signs and markers
Another interesting one
Another combo

Always happy to hear from you about your adventures on the trails and to see pics of trail markers in the most unlikely places…. post in the comments below and share 🙂

Snowshoeing… the winter version of Hiking ++

Strap on a pair of snowshoes and let the winter wonderland adventures begin! Snowshoes  basically turn your hiking boots into “big feet” (Yeti style) which allow you to walk on any kind of snow without sinking too deep or sliding around. Easy to use, inexpensive to rent, and as usual in Switzerland, well-marked trails which meander through enchanted forests, snowfields and easy “peaks”.

Snowshoeing is a great & fun way to hike in winter – just imagine stepping around with your Big Feet in the fresh snow and puffing up a cloud of snow dust behind you 🙂 The pro’s are the same as for hiking: many trails are away from the hustle & bustle of ski resorts, you have the physical challenge of walking and the views all to yourself!

In this post i’ll walk you through How to plan your Snowshoes adventure day, step by step so you can save some time AND make the most of your time!

What you need to go Snowshoeing

1. A pair of Snowshoes
2. A pair of Poles/Sticks (hiking/ski sticks)
3. Backpack
4. Winter Hiking Boots (water proof)
5. A Plan
6. Yourself & your strong legs

  1. You can mostly rent Snowshoes in snow sports stores either in the city or directly at the mountain where you’re planning to go – check first on the internet and if it’s a popular weekend for ex., you may even want to call ahead and make a reservation.
  2. Poles can be rented together with the Snowshoes. Tip: choose ones that larger basket at the bottom, so the poles won’t sink in so deep in fresh snow.
  3. Backpack: for a day trip you need a 20-25L backpack. Best if waterproof.
  4. Waterproof hiking boots with high ankles are essential . Make sure you’re comfortable in them and wear good quality merino wool socks.
  5. Below we’ll talk about planning.
  6. Like for summer hiking, you want to pick trails which are within your physical abilities. Tip: stay on the easier trails to begin with, you’ll find that it takes the whole experience is more intense than hiking.

SAMPLE Planning Session: Step-by-Step guide to planning out your Swnoeshoes hike

I want to walk you through what I normally do to create an itinerary, eliminating the guesswork and giving you all the tools to get yourself out there.

First things first: Research: I live in Zurich, so my first question when I plan an adventure is which day or days can I go and how much time do I have available. I also decide whether it’s a day trip or can I sleepover somewhere? For this example, we’ll assume I’m planning on a Saturday daytrip, leaving roughly at 9:00am and planning to back home by 6pm.

I check my Switzerland Mobility App casting a radius from my home of approx. 1.5hrs of driving or train/bus time and now I can check specifically for snowshoe trails within this area: https://schweizmobil.ch/en/snowshoe-trekking

Let’s say I’ve picked this area here, Furenalp, it’s 1.20hrs driving time,  check! Now let’s have a look at their website: https://www.fuerenalp.ch/

Also very helpful when picking an area is to check the local resort websites and check their maps for trails which may not be marked on the app – so always double check and check local blogs, check the tourism office websites and FB groups (some keywords you can use “schneeshuhwandern” and “schweiz”). Cool blog for inspiration: https://www.wanderwego.com/

Important: going off-piste, meaning outside the prepared ski slopes or prepared winter hiking trails (which have been mechanically flattened) can potentially be risky: steeper terrain can be prone to avalanches and you should NOT go if you have no training and/or experience. If you’re a beginner, stick to the easy trails over gently sloping lands, perhaps across the forest, and don’t worry, some of the most panoramic trails are easy circular routes on the mountain peaks!

Here is the sample snowshoes trail I've picked, it's marked, I can see all the important information, it tells me if it's open, the distance, the elevation gain, the difficulty level, etc, AND it shoes me that I have to take a gondola ride up to the Bergrestaurant Furenalp to start my trail, so I know I have to check on this gondola's operating hours. Click the map to see the link to the trail info.
Furenalp is another hidden gem, nestled really nicely close to Engelberg which attracts most skiers and tourists, yet peaceful and secluded and surrounded breathtaking beautiful mountains. Plus one of the cutest gondola rides in Switzerland, in a small gondola which flies you over a sheer rock wall face - the ride itself is worth going!

Once I have an area narrowed down – in this case i’m considering Furenalp, snowshoes trail No. 811 as in the link above – I then check the Weather. First i check it on the Swiss Meteo https://www.meteoschweiz.admin.ch/#tab=forecast-map and double check it on the Begfex app (mountain weather specific) https://www.bergfex.com/lp/wetter/

I also check the webcams to see the current local conditions and know what to expect. For this particular trail in Furenalp, here’s the link to the webcam: https://fuerenalp.roundshot.com/#/

If the stars align right away, i’m a happy camper and I have my plan, i’m done. If not, if the weather forecast looks bad, there’s fog, heavy snowfall or it’s just too cold…. I go back to my original map and pick another area – you’ll be surprised how often you can find good weather pockets in the midst of a gloomy forecast!

This is the most time-consuming part, finding a trail which is within your area, which is rated in the difficulty level you’re comfortable with and which you can complete in the budgeted time, AND has good weather! That’s when the magic happens!

One more thing I want to mention  is to start getting in the habit of collecting resort brochures & maps, those little pamphlets and booklets that are just free to pick up at gondola valley stations, mountain railways, chairlifts, ski resorts and other tourist offices – they often have super valuable information which is not published anywhere else. I have 4 boxes bursting with this stuff, and you won’t believe how often I go digging in there to find inspiration.

I have my trail figured out, now what?

Now you need to check the gondola. In this particular case, I would go here: https://www.fuerenalp.ch/en/opening-hours  So if I leave at 9am, according to google maps it will take me 1.20hrs to get to the valley station at Furenalp. Park, get my gear sorted, etc, that’s another 15 min, get my ticket for the gondola (or even better, I already bought the ticket online the night before *tip: always check the gondola website beforehand and see if you can buy online & save yourself the line), ride the gondola, bathroom pit stop, maybe a quick coffee? I calculate that I’ll be ready to start the trail at 11:15am.

According to my trail info, i’m doing trail no.811 which is easy, it’s only 3km long and has 190m up and down and is estimated to take 1.39.hrs. So I’m going to add in 1h for stops, pictures, a little snack – the best part of being on the hike is actually drinking in the views, so take it easy 🙂

By my estimates I’ll be done with the trail by 2pm, which fits really nicely with lunch or aprés-trail stop at the mountain restaurant, soaking in the views, and still gives me enough time to catch the gondola down (last one is at 5pm), so that’s it, my plan checks out and I’m ready to go!

  • Fun tip: turn your snowshoeing walks into art – what do I mean? have you ever heard of the sacred lines of Nazca, in Peru? where the Incas made incredible designs on the ground which could only really be seen entirely from the sky? Well, you can use the snowshoes to trace a path which is also a design. Find a flat are along your trail, figure out a design – I love doing Mandalas – even better if you are a group and you can all work together, and even better better yet, if you have a drone, you can then fly it and take pictures from above! That’s Swisstagram style!

** Final tips:  Pack light & smart: who wants to wander around with extra heavy backpack? pack smartly and bring only what you need. Dress is layers (not cotton, best wear functional material that wicks moisture away), bring a base layer close tot he skin, a warm mid-layer (like a pile jacket), I also recommend a vest (keeps the trunk warm), a down jacket and a wind and water proof jacket. Ski pants, gaiters (if there’s a lot of fresh snow they can really help), a warm hat, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, water, snacks, first aid kit (don’t forget the band-aids, it really sucks to get blisters and have no band-aids), your phone and a whole lot of good vibes!

*** Check the weather the day before. I finally learned why the Swiss are always talking about the weather… because it changes rapidly and constantly, especially in the mountains. So, for both safety and pleasure, check those webcams.

Leave me your comments below and share any info or pictures, I love the feedback Until next time 🙂

Giada

Everything you need to know about deciphering Swiss Hiking Signs - click here to read the post