Ready for an adventure for the senses? Imagine nature's best hiking trails across the Swiss Alps, outstanding views, spas sourced with healing waters, and gourmet dinners accompanied by fine wines prepared by the best chefs of the region all combined into one experience.
This summer, Relais & Châteaux boutique hotels launched its first hiking route in Switzerland. We were the lucky pioneers to test the "Route du Bonheur" (route of happiness), and here is why you should strap on your hiking boots, too.
The story behind La Route du Bonheur
The story of Relais & Châteaux began sixty years ago, when Marcel and Nelly Tilloy, the owners of La Cardinale on the right bank of the Rhône, came up with the idea of advertising eight properties under the umbrella of the "Route du Bonheur".
This union led to the creation of the most prestigious hotel association in the world: Relais & Châteaux. Today, there are nearly 530 member properties spread among 64 countries.
The Route de Bonheur is a luxurious treat for all senses
Today, four hoteliers in Switzerland have come together to launch the ultimate treat for the senses: An Alpine hike with spectacular views, connecting their Relais & Châteaux properties along a north-south route (It leads from the Bernese Alps to the central Valais and back). Of course, the hotels feature fine dining restaurants covering a total of 62 Gault Millau points, as well as luxurious spas with healing Alpine waters.
Our luggage transportation from hotel to hotel was handled by Eurotrek. Without the hassle of worrying about logistics, this route can now be hiked entirely by foot. It truly ticks the box of promising us "bonheur" through breathtaking views.
At the Lenkerhof Gourmet Spa Resort
Our trip starts at the Lenkerhof Gourmet Spa Resort, established 350 years ago on the site of a natural sulfur spring. Today, guests can exclusively enjoy the outdoor sulfur pools during all seasons. General Manager Jan Stiller and his wife Heike Schmidt are truly a passionate duo. They take some time to explain their vision of creating a cozy but luxurious environment, capturing the spirit of Lenk.
"Is such a combination possible?" we ask.
The answer is "Absolutely!" We are not disappointed when they invite us to an apéro feast of local alpine cheese and meats at the mountain Restaurant Bühlberg. This classic Swiss chalet is located above the Lenk valley at 1664 meters above sea, with views that can only be described as something else...
Jan explains that gourmet dining is a key unique selling point (USP) of Relais & Châteaux, and that each hotel takes a lot of care in using the best locally sourced ingredients. And the talented chefs will bring these local ingredients to life.
We listen carefully as Jan explains with delight his regular interactions with the local farmers to source local honey and quail eggs. In the evening, our taste buds are taken to Cloud 9 with a menu of 15 dishes prepared by Chef Stefan Lünse at Restaurant Spettacolo (16 Gault Millau points). Each crafted dish looks like a piece of art, bursting with color and flavor. We conclude the evening with a cheese buffet boasting to be one of the best in the region thanks to all those local cheeses.
Then, we are ready for our first day of hiking...
After a hearty breakfast buffet with a Swiss classic of Bircher muesli and freshly baked bread smeared with local butter and local thyme infused honey, we were ready for our first hike. The hike starts from Iffigenalp in the upper Simmental, continuing along the historic north-south transit route over the Rawil Pass (altitude 2492 m) before descending to Lake Tseuzier.
If you want to see many different landscapes in one hike, this is the route for you. The trail takes you through spectacular landscapes ranging from rolling, lush meadows (the stuff of Heidi tales) to dramatic glacier moonscapes, and a breathtaking descent into the French speaking part of Switzerland.
A chorus of cow bells welcomes us, and the classic postcard vista of a valley with manicured, rolling meadows peppered with chalets are a feast for our eyes.
After a hair-raising traverse across a steep shale pass, we come across a small waterfall that makes you feel as if you are on the top of the world. As we go higher, the landscape begins to change from Alpine forests to meadows of flowers.
Ruedi Jaisli, the logistics guide from Eurotrek, explains that luckily for us, the cows have not dined on the flowers, meaning that we can still enjoy this rainbow feast for our eyes comprising Alpine rose to indigo blue spring gentians and violets
As we approach the peak, the landscape changes dramatically to a glacier moonscape. There are vibrant turquoise lakes with floating mini icebergs. Finally, we reach the peak at 2459 meters above sea level.
The descent takes us down to snow drifts and meadows with a kaleidoscope of alpine flowers nestled among the granite ash grey rocks. Soon, we turn around the corner for a spectacular, zig-zag descent to Lake Tseuzier into the French speaking part of Switzerland.
For those of you who are not afraid of heights, you have the option of continuing to the "Bisse du Ro" water course. The route was carved into the rocks in the first half of the 15th century to bring water to surrounding communities.
L'Hostellerie du Pas de l'Ours in Crans Montana
After our first hike, tired but happy, we arrive at the second Relais & Châteaux: L‘Hostellerie du Pas de l'Ours in Crans Montana, a real hidden gem which takes us by surprise.
With the classic Swiss wooden chalet decor from the outside, we are pleasantly taken aback by the stylish decor of the lobby and individually designed rooms which perfectly captures the spirit of the bear. We were beginning to understand how coziness and luxury can be combined.
We are not disappointed by the culinary creations of Chef Franck Reynaud in the Restaurant "Gastronomique L’Ours", either. (17 Gault Millau points, 1 Michelin star). The immaculate service and the attention to detail in choosing the appropriate local wines to accompany each of the dishes impresses us.
The next day, you have the option to follow the Walliser Sonnenweg (Valais Sun Trail) along the Bisse du Tsittoret watercourse past inviting mountain inns to the Tièche Valley. The route continues over the Varneralp to the third day's destination, Leukerbad. Overnight accommodation here is provided by the Relais & Châteaux Les Sources des Alpes Hotel & Spa with its own thermal spring and the 14 Gault-Millau Restaurant La Malvoisie. The hotel evokes the feeling of the classic belle epoch era, with a bar including leather clad couches and the smell of cigars boasting visits from the likes of Charlie Chaplin in the hey days.
Gemmi Pass is calling...
The next day, our trip begins with an impressive cable car ride up to the Gemmi which would even make Spiderman gasp from where the route continues over the Gemmi Pass (altitude 2’314 m).
This is another traditional link between the Valais and Bernese Oberland. The route passes the small scenic Dauben and Arven lakes, perfect spots for a lunch break. Our hotel provided us with a packed lunch and water during both hikes. (Hint: Make sure to bring a day bag to carry the lunch with you.)
This is a much easier hike where you can appreciate the alpine meadows, flowers and forests along the way. The weather is unpredictable in the mountains, and as we descend, thick fog covers the surrounding mountains. All we see is our path, which leads us to the end of our hike at Sunnbüel. Yet, even this gives it a magical feel of Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit.
During good weather conditions, we are told that you can see breathtaking views extending to Switzerland's highest snow-capped peaks (the Mischabel group, Monte Rosa, Weisshorn, Matterhorn) as well as the Bernese Alps.
Along the way, do not miss out trying the delicious home-made apricot or blueberry tarts at Berghotel Schwarenbach. You will not be disappointed!
Our hike ends at Sunnbüel, where we take a cable car down to Kandersteg. From there, we transfer to our next Relais & Châteaux, the Waldhotel Doldenhorn (15 Gault Millau points).
The Waldhotel Doldenhorn is the youngest member of the Relais & Châteaux group. It is family owned and located in a secluded forest area with views of the Kandersteg waterfall, it is a place that makes you feel at home with its traditional Swiss decor and cozy atmosphere.
Patric, the charming son of the owners, explained how they were motivated to join the Relais & Châteaux family because of its core principles. Namely, giving visitors a unique experience grounded in capturing the roots/essence/spirit of the local environment, providing quality service, and a welcoming atmosphere.
Food is an important part of the experience, explains Patric. Again, we are in for a treat. Our dinner is hosted in a charming greenhouse inspired by an orangerie. The table is decorated with edelweiss flowers. And our mouthwatering six course dinner is comprised of local treasures: From Kandertal fish soup to home-made truffle noodles and Simmentaler veal filet.
With a full stomach, great memories and a relaxed body, we leave the mountains behind. The Route du Bonheur is an exquisite tour for all of the senses which will leave you wanting more.
This is a quintessentially Swiss, alpine luxury package for those looking for a unique experience. It combines meeting passionate hoteliers, hikes in spectacular nature, enjoying gourmet feasts and relaxing in various top spas.
The new tour is on offer through October 15, 2017. It can be adapted individually, starting from and ending at any hotel along the way. Good basic physical condition is required. The stages are of considerable length but can be shortened by using Switzerland's public transport system - for example buses or cable cars.