Last year, we went to the legendary Lake Lucerne Region in Central Switzerland with Jenny Jones and Hersha Patel. With our eyes well and truly primed on the outdoor activities to be enjoyed around Engelberg and Andermatt, when putting the trip together we sensed an opportunity to grasp some seriously good times with both hands. Were our pre-trip senses on the money? In short, yes they absolutely were (although, as you’ll see in our video from the trip, not always in the ways we’d planned). Here’s some of the stuff we got up to in this incredible part of Switzerland and, generally, a whole bunch of other reasons why you should go there too.
Mountain Biking On Titlis
The weather during our time on the Titlis mountain, in Engelberg, might have been sub-optimal for more fair weather mountain bikers but there’s no denying the set-up here is absolutely outstanding for shredders of the two-wheeled variety. If mountain biking’s your raison d’etre, the ‘flow’ of the main trails here will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. We might not have experienced the riding in all its glory on our visit (thanks for nothing, clouds), but we do have it on good authority that the mountain biking on Titlis is something pretty special. You’ll just have to take our word for it.
From the super sporty and scenic thrills of singletrack riding to free-wheel downhill stuff, the Engelberg-Titlis region has got you covered and then some. Those with youngsters who like to shred, will be glad to hear there’s also a number of more leisurely and family-friendly trails around Trübsee. Those of you who love downhill biking but hate the climb will be delighted to know that Titlis Cableways are on hand to take you and your bike comfortably up to the top. This, in short, means you’ll get less tired and have more energy for endless lapping. The weather, of course, can never be absolutely guaranteed. That being said, everything else bike-session-related is pretty much locked in here; meaning you’re well set to have a blast.
The Jochpass Flow Trail, that runs between Jochpass and Trübsee, opened in the summer of 2018. Serving up 440 metres of descent, the 5 km trail delivers loads (and we mean loads) of fun and flow for riders of all abilities. The curves, bumps and rollers are naturally incorporated into the terrain here. At multiple points on the trail, you’ll feel like you’re riding your mountain bike down a gravity-powered rollercoaster in the Alps. That nice feeling you get when your riding takes on a laser-focused momentum of its own? Yes, you’ll feel it on this trail.
Another challenging route worth considering, especially if you love the buzz of the downhill and can handle yourself on a bike, is known locally as the “Trudy Trail.” Named in honour of the hut warden at Jochpass, this Jochpass-Trübsee trail brings together, you guessed it, Jochpass with Trübsee station further down. A single kilometre in length, with an altitude difference of 200 metres, the route has a number of difficult stretches that are sure to challenge your skills in numerous ways. Brace yourself for that sweet, sweet, hit of bike-based adrenaline rushes which will come when you conquer this trail’s obstacles and nail the route’s steepest turns. Made exclusively with accomplished downhill mountain bikers in mind, this thrilling route is open from July to October.
Sharing its name with a track by legendary rock band AC/DC, Hells Bells Trail turns the volume up to 11 on your adrenaline. The trail’s a 1.6km blast, with 277 metres of descent for riders to factor in. It’s a moderate one on the difficulty level. but does still have one or technical challenges waiting to take things up a notch. The chairlift at the bottom is also conveniently located so it’s perfect if you’re all about laying down hot laps. Get ready to bring the noise.
The 4 Lakes Trail (Engelberg-Trübsee-Jochpass-Engstlenalp-Tannalp-Melchsee-Frutt) has a slightly different pace and flavour to it, but as an introduction to the beauty of Central Switzerland it doesn’t really get better than this one. After taking the Titlis Cableways as far as Trübsee, ride your bike to the chairlift and ride on up to Jochpass. From the top, hop back on your wheels and enjoy yourself as you make your way to Melchsee-Frutt via Engstlenalp and Tannalp. After that, it’s downhill all the way to Sarnen and back to Engelberg. Distance? 32 kilometres? Altitude difference? 920 metres. Open? July to October. Memories? Thanks to the breathtaking mountain panorama and various lakes ranging from deep blue to crystal clear, they’ll last a lifetime.
Titlis Glacier Cave
Engelberg’s Titlis Glacier Cave brings its own otherworldly qualities to proceedings in the region, and makes for a great alternative experience to getting rained on if the weather really isn’t playing ball. Heck, even if the weather is behaving itself it’s still well worth a visit. It’s free to enter, and can be accessed via Level One of the Titlis Mountain Station.
A chance to get close to ice that’s 5,000 years old, a chance to move along a 150-metre-long walkway that will take you 10 metres below the surface of the glacier, a chance to make breathy clouds in a magical environment where the temperature’s a bone-chilling -1.5˚C… as experiences go, this sort of stuff underlines that you don’t need to go heavy on the action sports to get extreme in Switzerland.
The Via Ferrata Scene In Engelberg
If you’re a ‘talk about via ferrata’ in your sleep obsessive, or even if you’re just interested in giving the extremely fun outdoor activity a go, you’ll love what’s on offer in Engelberg. With six exciting routes on the menu, it’s real ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming’ stuff for people looking to explore the Swiss mountains using the ‘iron road’ (English translation of the Italian phrase ‘via ferrata’). Jenny J and Hersha P certainly got fully stuck into some routes during our visit to Engelberg, and were able to access some “gnarly but not too gnarly” terrain that they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
We won’t go forensic levels of analysis on every single via ferrata route in Engelberg, but we do want to flag up some notable ones in the hope it’ll inspire you and your friends / family to pay this region a visit. First up, Via Ferrata Brunnistöckli. The via ferrata over the Brunnistöckli (2030m) is designed as something of a beginner / gateway experience into the world of via ferrata. It’s a great way of building up your confidence in the activity and, thanks to its relative shortness and easiness, would be a real decent option for any families looking to dabble with via ferrata while in Switzerland.
At the other end of the via ferrata scale in Engelberg is the Via Ferrata Fürenwand. The Fürenwand is a steep, high, and potentially vertigo-inducing wall. Before the via ferrata existed, the only way up it was via a technical and extremely demanding climbing route. And while this via ferrata should only be attempted by experienced via ferreta climbers, it has made the Fürenwand feel a lot more accessible. If you’ve got a head for heights, and can handle the exposure, the via ferrata route up the Fürenwand will reward with you some truly spectacular views. One for the bucket list, that’s for sure.
As a destination, Engelberg is a veritable feast for people who like to get vertical. From the bottom of the valley, which is about 1000 metres above sea level, to over 3000 metres above sea level, there’s a real adventure-flavoured buffet of climbing and climbing-related activities to be embraced in full. We’ve touched upon the via ferrata routes already but there’s also eight climbing gardens, various bouldering spots and countless alpine climbing routes to be enjoyed here. It really is no exaggeration to say Engelberg offers everything your climber’s heart could desire, as well as a bit extra to boot.
Get yourself on some via ferrata and climbing experiences in Engelberg.
Dance With The ‘Devil’ In Andermatt
The anything-but-hellish Diavolo (Italian for devil) Via Ferrata is situated just outside of Andermatt, and starts at Devil’s Bridge. The route’s quantity of metalwork (700 metres of steel cables, 265 iron pitons / rungs, and two ladders) means it’s extremely user-friendly, and most people who attempt it should have no problem experiencing the spectacular views of the valley on offer at the top. It might have a scary name but it’s more than doable, even if you’re someone who’s just got into the whole via ferrata thing (i.e. a beginner).
History buffs might be interested to know that the Devil’s Bridge was originally built from wood back in the 13th century, before being replaced by a stone bridge way in 1585 (and subsequently replaced and extended over the years). The newest bridge dates back to 1956, provides access to the Schöllenen gorge and carries traffic across the Gotthard pass.
The bridge’s name can be traced back to an old legend. In the 13th century, so the story goes, the villagers of Göschenen called upon the devil to build them a bridge across the River Reuss. With their wooden bridge always getting swept away, the legend points to a moment where the villagers asked the devil to build them a much more solid, less-likely-to-be-washed-away, stone bridge. The devil, it’s said, agreed so long as he could claim the soul of the first living creature to cross it. The most senior villagers agreed to this ominous-sounding demand, the bridge was built, and the devil waited for his payment. The villagers got out of the situation by utilising a classic loophole, sending a goat across the bridge first. Needless to say, this wasn’t what the devil had in mind. The local didn’t care though. They had their stone bridge. The goat? Supposedly tossed into the raging river. Gone, but not forgotten.
Hiking In Andermatt
Between bouts of the more headline-grabbing activities, be sure to find some time to indulge in the simplest activity of them all while knocking around the Andermatt region. Hiking in Andermatt is a must-do for nature lovers visiting this part of Switzerland. There’s over 500 km of hiking / walking trails here, and 16 mountain huts. Crystal-clear mountain lakes that you’ll be desperate to pack up in your bag and take home with you (somehow), alpine forests and meadows in full bloom, and so much more – yes, it’s time to put your boots on and get that seriously fresh Swiss Alps air in your lungs.
The Four Springs Trail (aka the Vier-Quellen-Weg) comes highly recommended. It snakes its way through the Gotthard Massif, and leads to the sources of four rivers: the Rhine, Reuss, Ticino and Rhone. Walking even a small section of it (it’s 85km in total) will, almost certainly, rank up there with the best walks of your life. Alternatively, if you’ve got the legs for it why not set out on a mission to complete the whole thing over the course of 5-10 days? After all, there’s surely worse ways to spend your holiday than working your way across outstanding Alpine landscape; soaking up fauna, flora, history and culture as you go. Time to don those hiking boots once again, and clock up some miles.
See The Light
The light tower at the Oberalp Pass, and we mean this as a compliment, looks like it’s come straight out of one of those Wes Anderson films. You probably think that a red, 14-metre-high lighthouse is an unusual thing to find in the mountains of a landlocked country; many miles from the coast. And, to be fair to you, that’s a reasonable assessment. They don’t exactly get many ships around here.
The highest lighthouse in the world sits on the Oberalp Pass, 2,046 metres above sea level. The Oberalp Pass links Andermatt with the Surselva region of canton Graubünden, and the surreal lighthouse on it symbolises the source of the Rhine. It’s a weird sight, for sure, but one that any photographer worth their salt will want to shoot from every angle imaginable.
The light tower is a replica of one at the Hook of Holland and, situated at the start of this famous river, acts as a symbolic bridge to the end of the Rhine in Rotterdam. In winter, skiers and snowshoe hikers use the lighthouse of the Oberalp Pass as a clear starting point for tours to the Pazolastock and Lake Toma. In summer, make it a memorable part of an epic walk in the Swiss Alps.
Food and Drink
With so much fun to be had in the mountains, essential human necessities such as fuelling your body with food can easily slip the mind. When you’re staying in Andermatt, and Switzerland in general, this particular mindset will tragically see you miss out on a whole heap of flavour-filled experiences. The culinary experiences in this neck of the woods are often superb.
During our stay in Andermatt, we went to the excellent Restaurant Ochsen and had a fondue that put every other fondue we’ve had in our lives well and truly in the shade. The quality of the cuisine here is not the only reason to visit Andermatt, of course, but it’s definitely a properly lovely bonus when you’re between mountain-based activities. Food, food, glorious food.
More information on Engelberg: Engelberg.ch
More information on Andermatt: Andermatt.ch