Switzerland is the home of Alphorns, Yodeling, Cheese, fancy knives, folk music and of course, the Swiss Alps. There are around 8 million permanent residents in Switzerland, however the country houses over 20 million tourism guests each year who flock to the Alps for skiing and mountaineering. Switzerland has more mountains that you can count, and although there are some that stand out above the rest, each area of Switzerland offers its own significant differences that make it a very unique country.
The Alps are world renowned, they are home to some of the best ski resorts on the planet, and anyone who has ever wanted to ski, snowboard or mountaineer will almost certainly have Switzerland high on their destinations bucket list.
In this issue, we look at the best, or most distinguished Swiss Alp mountains. Some of these peaks stand out from the rest for very specific reasons, and whether it is because of their special shape, height or history there isn’t a mountain on this list you should not drive up, ski down, climb or at very least marvel from a distance when visiting Switzerland.
1. Matterhorn – Valais
The mountain of all mountains
The Matterhorn is Switzerland’s hallmark: The pyramid-shaped giant of a mountain is considered to be the most-photographed in the world. The first ascent of this 4,478m peak in 1865, which claimed the lives of four of the seven mountaineers, changed the previously secluded region for ever. The Matterhorn became globally renowned and a goal for many ambitious mountaineers. If you want to marvel at the Matterhorn without the physical exertion, take the train from Zermatt up to the Klein Matterhorn (Matterhorn glacier paradise) – Europe’s highest mountain railway station (3,883m).
2. Jungfrau – Bernese Oberland / Valais
The mountain behind the Joch
At 4,158m, the Jungfrau is the third-largest mountain in the Bernese Alps and forms a distinctive group of three with the Eiger (left) and Mönch (middle). The name Jungfrau originates from the Wengernalp at the foot of the mountain, which was also named Jungfrauenberg, after its owners – the nuns from the Interlaken Convent. The closest you can get to the Jungfrau is the famous Jungfraujoch, which stands at 3,454m and is referred to as the Top of Europe.
3. Rigi – Schwyz
The Rigi made a tremendous impression on Mark Twain
More than a hundred years ago, adventurers and those who were romantic at heart – Mark Twain included – ascended the Rigi and were captivated by the sea of peaks. The Rigi is also referred to as the queen of mountains, which can be traced back to its Latin translation and highlights its grandeur and beauty. The Rigi’s location is also fit for a queen – feudally situated between Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug and Lake Lauerz. Incidentally, Switzerland’s first mountain hotel was opened on the Rigi Kulm in 1816.
4. Eiger – Bernese Oberland
The mountain with the much-feared north face
At 1,800m, the Eiger north face is one the highest north faces in the Alps – to be the first to conquer it was the cherished dream of many mountaineers throughout Europe. After numerous attempts, a rope team of four made it up the northern flank to the summit for the first time in 1938. In contrast to the first rope teams, who took several days to make it to the top, the current record is 2 hours and 22 minutes (achieved by the late extreme mountaineer Ueli Steck on 16 November 2015). The Eiger trail at the foot of the north face will quite certainly evoke some of that mountaineering feeling.
5. Säntis – St. Gallen / Appenzell
This mountain looks out over six countries
Weather permitting, the 2,502m Säntis affords views of Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France and Italy. The highest mountain in the Alpstein Region is a popular destination for day-trippers and hikers as well as being the hallmark of the Lake Constance Region. The mountain, which can be seen from far and wide, is also known for extreme weather conditions that are otherwise only to be found in the high mountain regions.
6. Schilthorn – Bernese Oberland
What brought James Bond to the Schilthorn
German producer Hubert Fröhlich travelled the width and breadth of the Alps in search of the perfect location to shoot the next James Bond film. He reached Grindelwald in 1968 and discovered the Schilthorn with its new summit station – exactly the place he had long been searching for as the venue for the fictitious Piz Gloria. As the summit building had only been partially constructed at the time, the following contract was concluded: Schilthorn Cableway Ltd placed the venue at the film team’s disposal in return for the financing of the permanent extension of the summit building. With success: filming on “On her Majesty’s Secret Service” took place from October 1968 to May 1969. Guests can find out all about the spectacular film shoot in the interactive “Bond World 007” exhibition in the summit building.
7. Dufourspitze – Valais
The highest peak in Switzerland
At 4,634m, the Dufourspitze is the highest peak in Switzerland! It is one of the ten main summits of the majestic Monte-Rosa massif. Its rival is the Dom, the highest mountain located entirely in Swiss territory. The first ascent of the Dufourspitze took place on 1 August 1855 by a rope team led by Englishman Charles Hudson. Hudson was later a member of the team that completed the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 – and one of the climbers who fell to their deaths. If you would rather view the record-high mountain from a safe distance, opt instead for the train to the Gornergrat above Zermatt.
8. Pilatus – Lucerne
Weather maker, dragon’s lair, home to giants and grave of conquerors
Lucerne’s very own Pilatus mountain is one of the most mythical places in Central Switzerland. A dragon rock supposedly fell from the sky in 1420, the Roman governor Pontius Pilatus is said to be buried in Lake Pilatus and a petrified man is said to keep watch in front of a cave. One thing is for certain: the 2,132m Pilatus mountain massif offers a panorama of 73 alpine peaks on clear days.
9. Niesen – Bernese Oberland
The pyramid of the Alps
The Niesen’s perfect pyramid form has often inspired artists to render it in works of art over the years – including Ferdinand Hodler (1909), Paul Klee (1915) and Cuno Amiet (1926). The 2,362m pyramid’s peak can be reached easily via the funicular railway from Mülenen – or in around five hours via hiking trails. Those taking part in the traditional Niesen Run up the longest staircase in the world (11,674 steps) will find it a bit more hard-going – access to the staircase along the railway line is not normally permitted.
10. Piz Bernina – Graubünden
The nameless 4,000-metre peak
On 13 September 1850, the young topographer Johann Coaz and his assistants reached the highest peak in the Engadin and Italian Valtellina and named the 4,048m mountain Piz Bernina. Coaz had been commissioned by the Swiss Federal Office of Topography to measure the hitherto nameless peak. Today it is a fact: Piz Bernina is the only mountain of 4,000m in the Eastern Alps and the highest mountain in the canton of Graubünden. You can enjoy a wonderful view of the 4,000-metre peaks from the Diavolezza upper station.
To find out more about Switzerland and the mountains that call her home, visit www.myswitzerland.com