When we first heard about a roundtrip hike connecting alpine cheese dairies, we knew right away: this trail is made for us!
As cheese lovers with hiking boots already strapped on, we sent a message to Engelberg: “Look out for us - we’re on the way!” From previous visits, we remember Engelberg all snowed in. This will be our first summer stay, allowing us to hike to the end of this imposing valley.
Ski Lodge Engelberg, all the way
The local tourism organisation has kindly reserved a room at the Ski Lodge Engelberg right by the train station. This hotel consists of two historic houses cleverly connected by the lobby. From the moment we walk in, the theme is clear: skiing, skiing and more skiing!
There is vintage decor ranging from old skies to tourism posters. The cozy interior design in the bar and restaurant is stylish yet down to earth, reminding us of locales in Berlin or London… But we are in Engelberg, just steps from the shopping street and minutes from the cable cars!
On the recommendation of a local, we call in a quick dinner reservation at the Alpenclub. This rustic eatery near the monastery is a perfect fit: they serve steak on a hot stone, a clear winner for Mamiko. We deliberate for a moment whether to return again the following night after the hike. But then, we would not want to overdo it!
Back at the hotel, our first summer day in Engelberg ends with a natural spectacle.
Hands down, the sunset that was unfolding is among the most beautiful ones I have seen in the mountains. A layer of low-hanging clouds above the Engelberg valley turned the orange sun ever so intense. We take this stunning photograph from our hotel's balcony:
Say cheese for the Alpine Cheese Trail in Engelberg!
We get started early the following day. The intention is not to walk the entire Alpine Cheese Trail in a single day. We decide for the section from Fürenalp to Blackenalp, returning via Stäfeli.
Just outside the hotel at Engelberg’s train station, we take the bus headed for the Fürenalpbahn. An aerial cableway will be taking us from the valley floor to Fürenalp at 1822 meters.
Since it is a summer weekend with sunny weather, we are not the only hikers wanting to hop on. The gondola has a capacity of eight, so we have to wait about 20 minutes before lifting off. To beat the crowds, we will get started even earlier next time - or we might park the car at the Fürenalp station to beat the bus.
The views on the section from Fürenalp to Surenen/Äbnet are remarkable. We keep stopping to look across the valley where we can make out dozens of waterfalls.
At Alp Surenen, we notice some activity inside the dairy.
A cheesemaker in his typical white outfit is busy sanitizing milk cans. He interrupts his routine when he spots us. “Are you Florentin?” I figure it does not hurt asking. The Engelberg tourism manager had given me a hint that a charming cheesemaker by this name was working somewhere along the way.
Bingo! We learn that this young cheesemaker is spending his sixth summer here on Alp Surenen at 1670 meters above sea. The dairy is a co-op dating back sixty years. It is owned by several local farmers who pool their milk here for processing into cheese.
This alpine dairy is off the grid, relying mostly on solar power. Naturally, it is challenging for Florentin to have a steady source of power during the busy times of the day. The entrepreneurial farmers have therefore invested in a water-powered generator in order to keep the operation running smoothly.
“The cows are milked twice a day, once in the early morning and again in the evening,” Florentin explains. “The farmers will deliver their milk around 6:30 AM and at 6 PM.”
This cheesemaker is busy from the early morning hours until the evening. While this alp looks very idyllic, the reality is that there is little time left in the day of a master cheesemaker to sit back and relax.
Inside the dairy shop, there is a cheese fridge with the summer’s production. Florentin presents samples of the dairy’s staples, such as “Surenen Rezent” or “Mutschli”. The latter is the summer’s freshest cheese - a winner! We buy a couple of varieties and continue our hike towards Blackenalp - an elevation gain of 550 meters.
The Spannort peaks are a power spot in their own right
At the waterfall, a yellow way marker lets us know that we will be returning to this split on our way to Engelberg. It is getting time for lunch and we cannot quite see our destination yet. The trail passes by meadows with grazing cows - reminders of whom to thank for all the cheese we have been tasting.
Another steep climb and we spot the restaurant at Blackenalp.
Here at the end of the valley, we have discovered the ideal spot to rest for an hour. We are not sure where the actual dairy is, but the cows and delicious cheese/meat platter are proof that this place is legit.
After resting our feet and gaining back enough energy, we embark on the last stretch to Stäfeli.
To our left is a tall cliff with more waterfalls and some very pointy peaks. Called “Spannort”, these towering peaks are said to be a power spot. Whether they influence the taste of the cheese produced in this valley?
At Stäfeli, we stop for a dessert and what Mamiko called “the best instant coffee, ever.” From here, we follow the Engelberger Aa river back towards the hotel. It was our plan to hop on the bus along the way, but Google Maps does not pick up the schedule. So, we end up walking the entire way back to Engelberg.
By the time we reach the hotel, we have clocked 29’000 steps for the day. Our feet are beyond tired, but our minds are not. With everything we have seen, tasted and experienced today, we feel fully satisfied.
A candid thought about the naming of the trail
“Alpine Cheese Trail” correctly describes the hike as it connects eight different dairies. Cheese making happens to be an early morning or evening activity, though, so you would need to time your hike or stay on an alp overnight in order to watch the action.
Nevertheless, with adjusted expectations, the name of this trail still works for us. We met a cheesemaker along the way and visited a couple of dairy shops. But most of all, the long hike allowed us to reflect.
We learned to appreciate the alpine cheesemakers who work under these harsh conditions. We realized once again that alpine cheese is carefully handcrafted, a skill that takes years to develop. And our senses were stimulated by roaring waterfalls, perfectly tuned cowbells and the smells that only alpine meadows can emit...
Our advice for the Alpine Cheese Trail in Engelberg:
- Bring enough cash, especially coins. Credit cards or Twint are not accepted in the small dairy shops along the way.
- Carry an isolated lunch bag or small cooling box in your backpack. You will want to store your “bounty” in a cold environment while continuing the hike.
- Start your day with freshly roasted coffee from Roastery Engelberg (also served at breakfast at the Ski Lodge Engelberg).