Is there such a thing as the BEST HIKE in the Alps? After leading hiking tours for over 20 years, I have a lot of favorite hikes throughout Switzerland, France and Italy. But if it comes down to one “best hike”, my answer is easy and always the same… go to Obersteinberg.
Obersteinberg is a quiet mountain inn and working farm at the upper end of the Lauterbrunnen valley in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. The inn dates from the late 1800’s, and is a simple wooden structure with a variety of small, spartan rooms with bathroom down the hall. There are no lights or electricity (they have candles and oil lamps instead), and meals are taken family style in the common dining room. Milk, butter and cheese all come from the cows next door. It’s one of the most beautiful and authentic places I know.
It takes some hiking to get there – read our next post for route details – it’s over 3000 feet uphill, and about 3 hours of good honest exercise, but the effort is well worth it. You can get there and back in a day as a great dayhike, but an even better idea is to spend the night. There are no roads or cable cars. The only way to get to Obersteinberg is to hike, which definitely keeps the crowds away. Sure, there are countless quiet Alp farms and plenty of stunning mountains in the Alps, but what really makes Obersteinberg unique is the combination of the two. Obersteinberg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, deservedly, and is surrounded by stunning mountains and waterfalls in seemingly every direction. There are actually very few places where you can experience some of the most incredible mountains and waterfalls in Switzerland and experience it in relative solitude.
When I first moved to the Alps in 1997, I lived in Mürren, a small car-free village clinging to the top of the Lauterbrunnen valley cliffs. I came to Obersteinberg early and often, explored every trail in the valley, and I’ve never tired of it. I still make a point of going back every time I am near. The appeal, though, is universal. Obersteinberg features heavily in almost all of our Bernese Oberland tours. There is a timelessness – an escape from the pace of the modern world – that is addictive. After people take one of our Bernese Oberland tours, when they want to come back, their most common request is “we want more Obersteinbergs”! We understand, and we do what we can.
There are a lot of contenders for Best Hike in the Alps, of course. Some are in big, popular places like to Gornergrat or Höhbalmen above Zermatt, to Bonatti hut on the TMB outside of Courmayeur, or the gorgeous stretch from Biglenalp to Kleine Scheidegg above Wengen just up the valley. Some of my favorites are less known but just as awe-inspiring, like the Herrensteig balcony trail above St Maddalena in Italy’s Val Funes, or walking through the Engadine’s Val Bregaglia to medieval Soglio (we would need to talk custom tours to take you there). But the hike to Obersteinberg still sits at the top of the pyramid.
Taking the time to detour to Obersteinberg perfectly reflects what we strive for at Alpinehikers, not just bringing you to the Alps but getting you into them… into the heart of the Alps, yet off-the-guidebook-trail. The pace is different and the experience is full. It’s what we’re all about. We will always want to point you to the prettiest vistas, but we’re not necessarily ticking off the most famous names, and we are most definitely not in a hurry.
Sometimes it’s best to slow down, go a little out of your way, stay an extra night someplace and explore a side valley. It’s these detours that take a great trip and make it truly magical.
If you think you’d like to go to Obersteinberg, we have your covered. Most of our Bernese Oberland tours stop there, including our Classic Bernese Oberland Traverse.