This summer, I had a real treat. Three full days in Grindelwald, and nothing that I absolutely had to do. So many options, so much time!
Exploring Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland
Grindelwald, for those of you who know it, has an absolutely stunning backdrop – the Wetterhorn, Mättenberg and Eiger side by side, towering over everything. But it’s also kind of busy, with narrow sidewalks, a fair bit of car and bus traffic, and lots of lifts. To be honest, when recommending time in the Bernese Oberland, we normally send people to car-free Mürren, one valley away, which feels more peaceful. When hiking our Bernese Oberland Traverse, we normally arrange just 1 night in Grindelwald. But I love hiking around Grindelwald, and finally had time to hike some favorite, lesser-known trails.
I decided to hike to Schreckhorn hut, a hike I had not revisited in about 15 years. Hiking directly from Grindelwald, the bustle quickly fades and everything changes. This hike takes you through peaceful farms, up into a dark, spruce forest, along a daunting gorge, and deep, deep into some of the biggest and most impressive mountains in the Alps.
Not far into the hike you pass the Bäregg hut, a nice alpine restaurant with an unforgettable glacier panorama. There are always a fair number of hikers at Bäregg, but once you hike another 15 minutes… nobody. Wow, it is gorgeous back there, with giant glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, and huge mountains in every direction. The scenery is powerful, and the solitude – in mountains like this – is epic. Admittedly, Schreckhorn hut is a really big hike for one day, and not for everyone, but these meadows just beyond Bäregg… they are amazing, and nobody knows about them.
This is what we truly love about the Alps. Getting off the popular paths, and poking around in the nooks and crannies of the Alps. It’s an adventure, and you’ll always find something amazing, but there’s no time for it unless you slow down and explore one area for awhile.
Hidden Surprises along the Haute Route
I had a very similar experience later this summer in Zinal, a charming village right in the middle of the Haute Route. On our Classic Haute Route, we hike through this region pretty quickly, with one night at Moiry hut (spectacular) and another in Zinal, before continuing on to the next valley. But on this trip I had 4 days, with time to update old hikes and time to see something new. So I hiked up to Roc de la Vache – not new, but a hike of ours I wanted to update – and wow, that Arpitettaz valley splitting off of it sure looked inviting. I didn’t have time that same day to explore more, so I came back the next day, hiking all the way up to Arpitettaz hut, a tiny hut surrounded by peaks that felt positively Himalayan. Again, nobody. (Technically not true… I did see 3 other people on the trail that day). It’s magical.
The quiet side of Mont Blanc
Everybody wants to hike the TMB, and so that’s what everybody does… Chamonix to les Contamines, to les Chapieux, to Courmayeur, and so on. It’s a really pretty trail, but it’s full. The inns in the smaller valleys are completely booked almost a year in advance now, and the trails are always busy.
But you know what’s incredible about Mont Blanc? The mountains are incredible. There are a ton of beautiful, gorgeous and unforgettable trails leading through, over and around the mountains and valleys of this region. My favorite hike in Chamonix is probably the steep but-oh-so-rewarding hike up to la Jonction, a hard-to-believe viewpoint tucked between two massive glaciers. You only get to hike there if you are spending extra time in Chamonix.
There are beautiful hikes to do in the nearby Bionnassay valley, or up to the Mer de Glace glacier, and more. In Courmayeur, the scenic ridge walks on either side of town are breathtaking. You really miss a lot if you skip these hikes and try to just power through the circuit instead.
Introducing our Base Camp Adventures
It’s these experiences that we want to share with people. Maybe not even these specific hikes, but this style of travel. Come to the Alps, find a great spot, and explore. We’re calling these our Base Camp Adventures, where you’ll have 3 to 4 days at each stop, with the time and freedom to dive deep into the great hikes each place has hidden away. You can hike the classics like lac Blanc, Hörnli hut or the Eiger trail, or get out on your own adventure. Whatever you do, it’s going to be great. Best of all, you have a great hotel to come back to night after night. Your home away from home, or base camp, if you will.
This is how I fell in love with the Alps over 20 years ago, and I think you’ll love it too. It’s how I explore still, and it’s the only way to treat yourself to Schreckhorn hut or Gleckstein hut above Grindewald, at Arpitettaz hut beyond Zinal, the steep hike to la Jonction (how many people blow through the TMB and never leave time for this?), the blissfully quiet Pfulwe pass above Zermatt, the unbelievable Aletsch glacier and forest from nearly unknown Riederalp, panoramic Monte Pic above Ortisei, or heavenly la Crusc near Corvara in the Dolomites. There are so many more.
Check them out for yourself. There are quiet corners in the Alps and unique adventures to be had… this is how you find them. Base Camp Adventure tours.