- Area: Allmenalp
- Distance: 20km
- Refreshments: Restaurant at the top of the cable car, and a few dotted along the route. But none are guaranteed to be open.
Kandersteg, in the heart of the snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps, offers a plethora of choice when it comes to hiking trails. This makes it very hard to choose which ones to do, as all offer stunning scenery and are well signed. So we decided to do a mixture of routes whilst on our trip – including ones that take us amongst the high peaks, over passes, by rivers and mountain lakes and through pastures.
For our first day, we decided to do a walk that would break our legs in nicely – and also allow us a more relaxed breakfast! Therefore we decided on going up the Allmenalp. Walking from the hotel to the Allmenalp cable car, we passed through some lovely meadows.
One of the buildings on the edge of the meadow had lots of house martins that were nesting under the roof. This was great to see as there are not enough nesting sites for them, which is causing a decrease in numbers. House martins breed twice a year with two to six eggs. They feed their young for 25 days, or in bad weather, when there is less food, it’s 30 days. In really bad weather, then unfortunately the young starve. Amazingly they bring food to the nest up to 220 times a day. Four chicks will eat around 200,000 insects during their time in the nest. This amounts to a kilogram of insects that the parents have to find! This makes house martins a gardener’s and farmer’s best friend, as they decrease the amount of pests that attack crops. In the past house martins were thought to be bringers of luck, and I can see why!
Arriving at the cable car I was surprised to see how small and quiet it was. We had a pass which allowed us access to three cable cars from Kandersteg. Once we had got into the cable car and been given our instructions of what to do to get out at the other end, we were off! Look out for the waterfall on the right – which actually was flowing well but not that spectacular when we saw it, as it was an unattractive brown colour. Five minutes later and at a height of 1725m, we had arrived at Allmenalp.
It is on Allmenalp that there is one of the most exhilarating via ferratas if you feel like an adventure – however, this isn’t advised for beginners who haven’t done a via ferrata before. Although I love a via ferrata and have done plenty before, I didn’t feel confident taking Catherine up it as she had never done one, especially with rain forecast. Therefore, we decided on a 20km hike. Something to remember, for any walk, is to not rush it, and look for the little things. By doing so you will be able to appreciate and see the plants, insects and animals that inhabit such a beautiful area. Keep your eyes peeled for paragliders while walking as well!
Cheese making and Farmer Reichen
Leaving the cable car behind, on a gravel path, you will pass a little restaurant on your right and a milking barn on the left. We passed two lovely looking goats sheltering under the barn from the drizzly rain. We could see the cows, which spend the winter in the valley and the summer in the higher pastures, in the distance. Farmer Reichen lives up here in the summer, spending his time making cheese in a nearby building. From Monday to Friday from 0900 to 1200 you can watch the cheese-making process and taste samples for about 5Sfr.
Alpine flowers and insects
Crossing a stream, shortly after the milking barn, we then followed the sign for ‘Ueschinen / Kandersteg’. During these walks, you will frequently go through a little barrier, which is to stop the cattle entering that area.
We spent some time on this section looking at some of the amazing alpine flowers, and also found some interesting insects. It is amazing what you find and appreciate, once you slow down and become more aware of your surroundings. It was really nice to admire the flowers – and guess at what some of them might be! We also found a lovely looking type of beetle amongst the flowers.
Eventually we continued along this easy path. There are lots of benches along the route where you can rest and admire the view. Although sometimes the benches are not at the best view points, and you need to walk a bit further to take your photo. Across the valley you will be able to make out the lovely blue water of the Oeschinensee lake – this confirmed that we wanted to visit this lake later on in the week! Behind the lake and its sheer cliffs, you might be able to see the impressive Blumlisalphorn towering to 3590m .We could also make out Kandersteg itself in the valley below.
Passing the Barghus restaurant, which is slightly off the track, we continued on the track. Rounding the bend we passed a group of huts. One of the huts had four cows tied up in it. Although we didn’t fully understand why they were tied up with a collar round their neck, and also their tails tied high (we wondered if they were soon to calve), it was great to see some Swiss farming culture. Each of the four cows had a plaque above it which stated their name, date they were born and when their last calf was born.
Change of scenery
Keeping ahead on this wide track we descended gently. The high imposing rock face towering ahead is the Gallihorn (2284m). This forms the northern end of the Ueschinengrat ridge, which divides the valley of the Alpbach from that of the Schwarenbach. We could also just make out the narrow entrance to the Gasterntal valley opposite. We passed a beautiful little chalet called ‘Diana’ and we stopped to look at a lovely metal sculpture of an owl. It is here the view opens out and we could see the lush green meadows in the upper valley we were about to walk through.
It is here you can make the decision to carry on further into the Ueschinen valley or descend straight back down to Kandersteg. If you are descending directly to Kandersteg, go left at the first signpost for Kandersteg in the meadows following the path by the wall. This cuts the corner off and takes you to the little lane you see below. You will descend alongside the wall, meet a lane and arrive at the signpost ‘Ausser-Ueschinen 1548m’. If you do this shorter route, continue reading from the ‘descent’ section.
We decided to continue walking a bit further up the Alpbach valley, to Inner Ueschinen. Catherine had always wanted to see a marmot and this area of Allmenalp was a renowned area for them. So despite the cloudy and drizzly day we decided to go a bit further and see if we could spot one. And either way, we could see it was a lovely wide, open valley with panoramic scenery, so we would still enjoy the walk.
Staying on the main track we passed a signpost for ‘Ausser-Ueschinen 1595m’. We carried straight on past traditional alpine chalets following the sign for ‘Inner Ueschinen’. Gently walking uphill, whilst chatting away, I miraculously spotted a single marmot, clearly on guard duty on a rock. We took a picture, and snuck a bit closer, then took another …. we kept doing this until we were only a couple of metres away from it. Unfortunately, at that moment a car came down the track, which made the marmot quickly go back into its burrow. We had a look but it was nowhere to be seen – although we could see all the holes of its group’s burrow.
Continuing on the track, with the river bubbling away below, we could see the Gross Lohner range on the right (around 3000m) which forms a ridge with sheer faces, while at the far end of the valley is the Steghorn (3146m) and the Wildstrubel (3244m). We walked to the chalets at Inner Ueschinen, where we then decided to stop for a picnic. Choosing a lovely large rock overlooking the river, with the sound of the water, and the cow bells, you would think it was an ideal setting. However, the cows did wonder what on earth we were doing …. sat on a rock adjacent to their walkway. Thankfully however, after watching us with curiosity, they decided to carry on their way.
After our lovely picnic we retraced our steps back downhill. We were lucky enough to spot the marmot again – back guarding his group atop the rock. We felt very lucky to have spotted him with it being such a wet cloudy day! Reaching the signpost for ‘Kandersteg / Eggenswand’, we left the gravel path and joined a grassy path which descended gently across the hillside, closer to some of the chalets. You meet a gravel track at a signpost ‘Ausser-Ueschinen 1548m’.
Going through a unique alpine metal gate we started the steeper descent, signed ‘Kandersteg / Eggenswand’. Passing through pines, with the rushing torrents of water beneath the sheer rock face, the scenery never stopped giving. We were caught out by a thunderstorm at this point, and got thoroughly wet, but it didn’t spoil the walk. Crossing the river on a footbridge, we continued to follow the signs for ‘Kandersteg / Eggenswand’.
We eventually joined flatter ground, and the rain cleared just as we went into the open to walk across some beautiful flower-filled meadows following the yellow Wanderweg signs. The River Kander now became much wider, shallow and fast flowing. We stayed on this path beside the river, going past the International Scout Centre until we reached the turning we took earlier on in the day for the cable car station. From here we simply retraced our steps back to the hotel, reminiscing on what a lovely day it had been on Allmenalp despite the weather. Maybe those house martins did bring us some luck after all, with us also spotting the marmot!
Other articles about Switzerland:
- Introduction to Switzerland and the Swiss Alps
- Day 1: Allmenalp