Epilogue – Reflections on our Walk Across Switzerland

It has been a couple of months since we completed our walk across Switzerland and, now that we have had time to recover and reflect, we will try to summarize our experience and answer some of the questions that have been asked (e.g. what was your favorite part, what was your least favorite, what would you have done differently, etc.).

Let’s start with the least favorite (recognizing that the entire walk was amazing, so “least favorite” is relative). Clearly, that was the last 3 days, mainly between Lausanne and Geneva. Why? The landscape, while beautiful, was somewhat monotonous (“boring”, according to our fellow pilgrim Martin). Also, the farm roads were all paved (great for biking, but very hard on the feet) and there was a lot of town, suburban and city walking…and traffic! (We had become used to and spoiled by solitary fields, farm roads and forest trails.)

Not to mention the multiple trips from the lake shore, up to the hills above and then back down again.

In hindsight, a lake boat from Lausanne to Geneva would have been a better choice (in fact we have read that the boat option was traditional for a pilgrim with means in the Middle Ages). Perhaps we felt this way because our walk was nearly over and we were ready to finish; perhaps we were not as comfortable in a French speaking area; or perhaps it really was not as interesting as the earlier sections. But no, really, it was the sidewalks and the traffic. If there had been time to stop, sample the regional wines and linger in a couple of the lovely small towns like Rolle and Versoix, well, we might have formed a different impression…but alas: the downside of having a set schedule.

Once in Geneva, however, things looked up. The walk through the old town and on to the border of France was definitely worth taking. A worthy culmination to our trek, it had some of the historic feel of earlier sections, and gave us a sense of completion.

On reflection, we both enjoyed the German-speaking areas the most, probably because we are more familiar with them (having lived in Zürich in our youth) and are more comfortable with the German language than with French. And let’s face it, the landscape and scenery are more dramatic.

That is not to say there were not interesting places beyond the Röstigraben in the French part of Switzerland. Unfortunately, we had to rush through Romont, a well-preserved medieval walled town, to avoid a thunderstorm, but it clearly deserved a closer look.


Moudon too was an inviting old town that would be great to visit again.


And, as stated before, the wineries along the hillsides of Lac Leman were enticing, but sadly we passed them by for lack of time.

So, what were the most memorable, most challenging, most enjoyable parts of the walk?

Some of our most memorable and enjoyable experiences involved interactions with the locals (mostly in the German speaking region, probably for the reasons stated above). Our first was our dinner with a couple in St. Peterzell. Expecting to be seated at a table by ourselves, we were surprised when the restaurant owner, Heidi, seated us with an unsuspecting couple from Biel (who were originally from the St. Peterzell area and just back for vacation).

We had a wonderful time, conversing in German (absolutely no English) and covering a wide range of topics.

Another was in Schwyz where we stopped near the end of our walking day for a (much deserved) beer. It was a small restaurant that almost looked closed but, after entering from around the back, we found a group of men and the proprietress playing Joss. After seating us and bringing our beers the proprietress began to ask questions as to what we were doing and where we were going. Despite her speaking solely Schwiezerdeutsch (from which she never retreated!), and us speaking only Hochdeutsch, we were able to communicate. Once she understood we were from America and walking across Switzerland, she became interested and wanted to hear more. As we got up to leave, she gave us blood oranges to help us on our way. Interactions with the local Swiss made the trip very special.

As for challenging, the one day that stands out is the walk between Einsiedeln and Brunnen over the Haggenegg. After a (deceptively!) pleasant walk along the Alp river we came to the very steep and rocky ascent to the top of the pass (~1500 ft. elevation gain).


img_0665-1It was grueling, but we felt good about having topped the pass in good order.

Then the real challenge began: the long, steep, painful descent (~3000 ft.) through Schwyz and the rain into Brunnen that hurt Mark’s knees (and from which they never fully recovered). There is a beautiful inn and restaurant at the top of the pass, and it would have been a relief to stop in; but if we had, we never would have made it to Brunnen for the night.


We enjoyed many other memorable experiences along the way: meeting our German pilgrim friends multiple times;




the smell of cows and freshly sprayed fields (strangely, the smell was not at all unpleasant and became an essential element of our daily experience – in fact, we found the cow smell much more pleasant than the horse smells we encountered in the last half of the walk);


the beautiful wildflowers (in hindsight, we wish we had spent a little time taking some close-ups of all the different flowers);

and the incredible views of the mountains, especially the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau that followed us for days.

On the topic of cows, Switzerland no longer is a land of mostly the Braunvieh (Swiss Brown). While the Swiss Browns still predominate in many areas, especially in the northeast, there seems to be more variety now throughout the country.


We found that walking provides an interesting and different perspective on geography. Seeing a distinctive mountain feature in the distance is a common enough experience, but then to watch it approach, grow, slide by and eventually recede behind you, all at the rate of two miles an hour, is something else again!

A great example is the mountain formation between Einsiedeln and Schwyz called the Mythen (home of the infamous Haggenegg). We had our first sighting of the twin peaks through the clouds as we approached Einsiedeln, and caught our last glimpse of them as we left the Vierwaldstättersee at Bouchs days later.

One thing that we found curious was that we were asked a couple of times if we were from the Netherlands (while never being asked directly if we were American). Why was that? Perhaps because our German was not so great, or perhaps, as a German colleague suggested, no one expected to see a couple of old American guys walking across Switzerland.

The informal, self-service Pilger (pilgrim) rest stops were intriguing. They ranged from a simple box where you could get a drink and an inspirational token to large shelters where you could rest and get out of the sun or rain. All were self-serve and on the honor system, but who should be more honorable than a pilgrim?

We came across four different self-serve kiosks that were also interesting and seemed appropriate to the region we were in at the time: milk, fondue and Raclette, cheese, and potatoes.

And new knowledge was gained: who knew that in some regions they serve potatoes with cheese fondue? Surprising, but it is kind of like having fondue and raclette in the same meal. Maybe worth trying at home, especially if you have gluten sensitive friends.

One of the greatest things, and something we did not fully appreciate until we had one of our Ruhetage (rest days), was how far off the normal tourist itinerary we were. It took going to Mürren and Gruyeres to really experience the difference. Prior to that, we were in places that had no, or very few, Ausländern (foreigners) or at least few non-European Ausländern. Until going to Mürren we did not hear anyone speaking English, Chinese or Japanese. Only then did we really realize that we were about the only Gringos on the Jakobsweg.

And on the subject of tourists, we encountered one of the worst tourist traps above Mürren on top of the Schilthorn – Bond World! Tacky to the extreme! Who would have thought that the Swiss would allow a location so dramatic to become such a B-hole. Maybe it is just to contain the tourists …

And then there was the Geiger Museum in Gruyeres – not tacky, but very weird.



So after experiencing Bond World and the Geiger Museum, we were ready to get back on the trail!

Swiss dogs – absolutely great and well behaved. From the farm dogs to the urban dogs, they were a treat (it was rejuvenating to see and meet a dog every now and then).

Ok, now it’s time to reveal the dark underbelly of Switzerland – Ruhetag! “Ruhetag” is a restaurant’s weekly day of rest, and of course everyone deserves one. Unfortunately, the chosen days are not always the same from town to town, and we seemed to be following the Ruhetag highway – on Monday the town we were in had a Ruhetag, on Tuesday the next town along the way had its Ruhetag, and then on Wednesday our next town had a Ruhetag! It seemed liked we hit more Ruhetags than statistically possible!

Cuckoo birds – yes, they exist and sound exactly like a cuckoo clock. We first heard one climbing over the Haggenegg. Made us wonder where the clock was until realizing that it was actually a bird (could we have been hallucinating from the climb?). This is no exaggeration: Mark keep looking for the chalet with the out of control clock that had to have been just out of sight.

We saw an article about how trash discarded along the hiking and bicycle paths was impacting and actually killing farm animals (see Swiss Litter). The article admitted that the problem was indeed being caused by the “sportlich” Swiss and so a big advertising campaign was initiated to inform the public about the problem. We were watching for evidence of this issue and did not see any significant trash, but did find a couple of signs in German and French. Obviously the ad campaign was successful.


And sort of along these lines, a walk through Switzerland reveals a certain awareness on the part of its citizens for many of the other residents of the country. For example, we encountered a number of “insect hotels”,

as well as frequent signs warning us to watch out for our smaller friends.

What would we have done differently? 

Take more time and allow for more flexibility. For this walk, we only had a set amount of time, so we had to keep to a schedule, but having more flexibility to stop whenever and wherever, or to take an extra rest or short walking day, would have been nice. In planning our walk we were a bit concerned with the possibility of stumbling into a small town late in the day, in the rain, and having to then search for lodging. As it turned out, having no schedule would have been just fine at that time of year: we were clearly ahead of the tourist season (May/early June) and accommodation was no problem – more often than not we were the only guests in the Gasthausen.  Next time …

But still, we did get a few things right.

First, we did a good job of keeping our packs light, waterproof and more than adequate. Pack weight was never an issue with either of us: about 12 pounds excluding water (which is admittedly heavy, so say 15 lbs max).

And very importantly, we used the internet extensively in the months ahead of the trip to study the route, learn some of the relevant history and alert ourselves to noteworthy sites. In fact, two apps proved to be indispensable. The SBB (Swiss national railway) app (one of the greatest things ever!) lets you check train and bus schedules and buy tickets, right up to the time you board the train/bus. It was incredibly easy to use and very convenient – much easier than using the ticket machines. Then the Switzerland Mobility app (essentially a GPS map of the Jakobsweg) was great at keeping us on the trail (or leading us back when we missed a signpost and wandered off!). If any of you are thinking of walking in Switzerland, we strongly recommend that you take full advantage of these two apps.

Finally, in the two very “touristy” towns we visited, we had the advantage of staying overnight. The advantage? Being there in the morning before the buses arrived! Here we are in Gruyere before the deluge.

OK, time to get to the hard discussion – lessons learned, focused on us old folks. And they are not pretty.

Lesson #1: Train before you go! And train on hills. Just walking on flat land does not do it. Switzerland is nothing but uphills and downhills (Mark would sometimes complain of “pointless ups and downs”). If you do not have hills to train on (and even if you do), train at at least a 20% faster pace than you plan to walk. If you cannot train at that pace, you will never be able to go for 20+ days at a slower pace, unless you reduce your daily ambitions.

Lesson #2: Do multiple training walks of 10-15 miles on hills at your training pace. This will help reveal issues with shoes, feet, knees, etc. There is a very real difference between walking 6-12 miles and 12-18+! And hills will reveal shoe, knee, foot issues in a way that flat land walking never will. If you find issues, fix them, because once on the trail, it is too late.

Lesson #3: Don’t count on your training pace. Reid trained at around 3 miles/hour on hills, Mark at around 3 mostly on the flats. Taking into consideration rest stops and photo opportunities, what it all boiled down to, uphill and down, day after day, was 2 miles and hour. So plan on that and if you can keep up a faster pace , you can take a nice lunch break (if you can find a restaurant that is not closed for their Ruhetag),

Lesson #4: If you think you may have health issues, don’t wait to the last minute to deal with them. Even if you think everything is fine, get a physical 3 or so months in advance to identify potential issues early. Don’t wait to treat in-grown toenails or other problems until the last minute. Recovery becomes harder once you start walking 6-9 hours a day!

Lesson #5: Not withstanding lesson #2, address problems as you can. Mark had never in his life had knee problems, so he made the foolishly wrongheaded decision (against his wife’s insistance) to not use trekking poles from the outset. Halfway through (and after the brutal Haggenegg decent) he finally saw the light and acquired poles in Murren. Better late than never! Too bad he wasn’t smart enough to also face up to the fact that his boots were wrecking his feet, and purchase new shoes too! Oh well.

Lesson #6: Don’t carry extra weight, i.e., lose weight before going. You will lose weight on the walk, but no need to bring an extra 10-15 pounds on your belly – that is the weight of your pack.

Lesson #7: Plan as much extra time as you can. In our case, due to Reid’s work, we had very little choice. If schedule is not an issue, you will have some flexibility to make changes, take extra rest days, or stop in different towns.

Lesson #8: Don’t kid yourself – the walk is hard (but beautiful and completely worth it)!

But lets end on a positive note: if you are wondering about a similar trek for yourself, but think maybe you are too old…you are not! We were told by fellow pilgrims of a gentleman from central Austria whom they had met on his way to Compostela. He appeared to have some years on him, so when asked he admitted he was 80. Oh, our friends thought, he’s not going to make it. On further inquiry, however, it turned out that he was on his third pilgrimage, the previous two being round trips! So, put those doubt aside: you can do it too!

Final comments:

Would we do it again? Absolutely (if Mark’s knees can handle it)! Being able to forget about normal life for weeks on end and just letting the mind wander while walking for hours was incredible. The scenery was great, the food wonderful, and the whole experience was both exhausting and invigorating. But if we ever get the chance, rather than repeating the Jakobsweg or continuing on to Compostela, we would choose to walk the Via Gottardo (Swiss national route #7) south from Basel over the St. Goddard Pass to Chiasso on the Italian border, a route first opened in the early 13th century.  Maybe for Reid’s 65th birthday – But would two brothers attempt such a thing again together?

Bottom line, it was not easy, but it was absolutely beautiful! Spending long days walking through amazing scenery with your best friend was almost indescribable.

Finally and most importantly, thanks to our lovely wives for allowing us to disappear for a month so that we could have those experiences and share these memories! We love you!

Day 23: Versoix to Geneve – And On To France!

Considering yesterday’s experience, we jumpstart today’s walk with a train ride to Chambésy.

And after a couple of miles of morning commuter road walking, we are very glad we did!

Along the way we did take in a few sights, but the constant traffic and noise was quite annoying.

Finally we dodge down away from the main thoroughfare and into a quiet chateau grounds

Well, here we are in Geneva, with tons of traffic, almost there, but what?? No water spout to great us? Oh well.

And right in here we meet up again with Martin (remember the Pilger we met in the rain our third day?).

Passing through Carouge, the Greenwich Village of Geneva, we are focused on our goal.

We leapfrog with Martin right up to about a quarter of a mile from the border, then we part: he has much farther to go!

In parting, he congratulated us, and said we should be very proud of our accomplishment. Reid clarified: “you mean for old guys?” He laughed and said yeah! Young whipper-snapper!

After a brief rest, we head down the last stretch to the French border.

Backtracking a quarter mile or so, we eventually catch a bus and a tram back to the city center, and a well-deserved sit down before we find our hotel.

We did it!

Day 22: Rolle to Versoix

This is along day to be sure: according to our guide it will be our longest day.

We start with a walk along the lake.

But soon it is back up the hill away from the lake.

We have now walked deep into Swiss wine country, with Lake Geneva on our left and vineyards hanging down towards the lake and vineyards climbing up the hills on our right.

Between the villages of Gland and Nyon we encounter the Toblerone Line, a 10 km defensive barrier stretching from Lake Geneva to the Jura mountains.

Built in 1935 in anticipation of a Nazi invasion, it was fortunately never put to the test.

There is now the well maintained educational Toblerone Trail following its entire length, but sadly we still have miles to go so must leave that for another day.

A little farther along the way we walk by a small airport with a grass runway. This old Russian bi-plane catches our eye.

And then there are orchards and more fields.

Finally reaching the town of Nyon, we take a detour to look around. Previously settled by the Celts, Nyon is the first Roman city built in Switzerland, founded in fact by Julius Cesar in 45 BC (then called Colonia Iulia Equestris). In addition to the Roman forum still visible, we find a statue of Julius himself.

“Hey Cesar! How many hotdogs did you have at the forum today?” “Et tu, Brute.”

Then on to Versoix, or so we thought.

As we finally come to Coppet we realize that we are not only reaching the 20 mile mark, but are still 2 or more hours away from our destination.

And look, a thunderstorm!

So we take the prudent path, head to the nearest train station and hop a train to our final resting stop for the night. When we arrive, the rain sets in.

And so to bed. One more day!

Day 21: Lausanne to Rolle

We leave the old city hoping to have a nice gentle walk down to the lake. Being the Jakobsweg and Switzerland, that does not happen. First we climb a hill to see another church (we have noticed this theme throughout the walk – go the most indirect way to see churches or chapels).

On the way to the lake we walk through numerous neighborhoods and parks.

We pass through the Promenade Archeologique, a large public space with many reminders of a significant Roman presence in Lausanne. Today the ruins of the Roman forum, temple and original harbor wall can still be seen (barely, hidden in the grass).

The stroll (march really) along the lake shore, while level, is long and almost entirely on pavement.

We come to the village of Morges, where remains of Neolithic and Bronze ages stilt-houses have been discovered.

Stilt house communities were common along many Swiss lakes in prehistoric times, but archaeologists have noted large gaps in habitation in this area. A likely explanation is that these communities were periodically wiped out by huge lake tsunamis. These were likely caused by enormous rock slides which dislodged vast quantities of river sediment in the upper lake, displacing enough water to create waves up to 15 meters high which could sweep the length of the lake with devastating effect. The most recent example, known as the Tauredunum event occurred in 563 AD when a massive wave broke over the city walls of Geneva, inundating much of the town.

A quick glance over the shoulder as we walk seems like a good idea, right?

But enough of stilt houses and tsunamis. Right off shore a strange ship is anchored. Is it it a replica of an old lake ship or something else (we would try to Google it, but don’t have the energy right now).

After a long walk next to a trouty looking stream in a shady wood, appreciating the time out of the sun, we completely the requisite hike up a steep set of stairs and finally we se that we have entered into the heart of Swiss wine country.

We are in the canton of Vaud, the second largest of the Swiss wine regions, and Morges is known as the capital of Vaud wines. Today many grape varietals are being grown, but the predominate white is still the Chasselas grape (from which Fendant is made), and Pinot Noir remains the most produced red.

And then we have another few mandatory climbs and descents, but the views are great.

This was a very long day, but after settling in to our nights lodging in the town of Rolle, we look for a taste of the local wine.

Swiss wines do not enjoy a wide following outside the country, partly because before the 1990s they were mostly not so great, though the biggest reason for their obscurity is probably the fact that less than 4% of all this wine is exported!

For a good article on the subject check out Swiss Wine – By Sue Style

Day 20: Moudon to Lausanne

Sorry about missing yesterday’s post, but just as we were reviewing the final draft WordPress decided to delete everything. After a nearly 20 mile walk we were too beat for a do-over, so now we will try to catch up with a leaner version.

Our hotel in Moudon was down by the river and railway station, so we set out to climb through the upper town.

We stop to fill our water bottles at one of the fountains. The house next to it is especially beautiful.

Most of the day involved walking around or through farm fields that are much larger than ones we have been used to.

If anyone is interested, the mystery crop from the previous day was rapeseed (thanks to Bruce for helping to identify it). It looks good next to the red poppies.

Then through the clouds we see large mountains in the distance, certainly in France though Lake Geneva remains hidden.

We did have a few creek crossings (with steep up and downs) and at the bottom of we found a Australian Shepherd playing in the water…made Mark a little homesick!

Finally we catch a glimpse of Lac Léman.

There is quite a lot of suburb-walking to do as we approached Lausanne, but in the middle of a small forrest we come upon a tall double- helix tower.

Reid decides to climb it to confirm the lake sighting.

Mark wisely chooses to guard the packs.

Finally descended to the old city we find our way to the Notre Dame Cathedral, to get our passports stamped to be sure, but really to visit the tomb of Otto de Grandson, perhaps the most important Swiss historical figure no one seems to have heard of. Living to be 90, he was a confidant of kings, a leader of Crusaders, a Templar knight and (perhaps?) the Father of Switzerland!

You will find a detailed but rather dry account of his remarkable life on Wikipedia (it is worth the read for anyone with the time and interest). A much more entertaining take on Sir Otto is provided by author and blogger Grigor Fedan, who connects the dots between kings, popes, Templars, crusaders and Swiss peasants to discovers the “true” roots of the independence and founding of Switzerland! Conspiracy theorists out there will love this: Otto de Grandson – Swiss Templar

Our hotel is a little hard to find, and the four flights of stairs are daunting at the end of the day, and there is no breakfast tomorrow because it will be Sunday, but we made it.

Day 19: Resume Walking – Romont to Moudon

This morning we leave Gruyeres by train and return to Romont to resume our walk where we left off.

It is obvious that Romont is a growing place, based on all the construction cranes (but that seems to be true of every town in Switzerland).

Moving along the path we are once again presented with wonderful vistas.

And we come across a farmer with a different way to spread his manure – individual hoses spaced evenly behind his tractor providing a more controlled application and much less chance of backsplash on innocent hikers!

And then more fields (while beautiful, the walk was mostly over and around fields today). As an aside, if anyone can identify this crop, please let us know – we have no clue what it is and there are large fields of it that we have been walking for days.

And then more scenery.

And why would there be a picture of a rock you say? Well, this stone apparently migrated (with some help from a glacier) from way up valley.

And on we go.

Under the birch trees, castles in the distance.

After a fairly easy day’s walk, we reach our destination for the night, the medieval town of Moudon.

For our friend Maria, who was asking for pictures of cheese, here is one from the local COOP (grocery) store.

And what about a cheese Automat?

Since our hotel is right next to the church, Mark will sleep well with the bells chiming every quarter hour.

Tomorrow will be a longer day, but will end on the shore of Lake Geneva!

Day 18: Rest Day – Gruyeres

Today is a day for rest, not for spending what’s left of our energy chasing after William Tell or climbing Alps! So what are we planning? Can you say cheese?

In fact, last night’s dinner was (what else?) Fondue!

But before we get to that, and before the tourist busses arrive, we take advantage of the calm to walk around the village

and then tour the castle.

Built in the 13th century, we find the castle to be well preserved and quite interesting. The apex of its influence came in the late 15th century when the count joined in the Burgundian wars on the side of the Swiss Confederates. Certainly worth the look, but what are these things hanging just inside the entrance? Another representation of good and evil, heaven and hell, or something else entirely?

And the views from the castle walls are great.

Leaving the castle we walk back into the village center. Could too much cheese cause hallucinations? Walking down from the castle we come across this!

Turns out that H.R. Geiger, the creator of the superstar aliens in the films Alien, Aliens, More Aliens, etc. is a Gruyere homeboy! And he even has a museum, which this time we simply cannot guggenheim.

As expected, it is bizarre! But, we do guggenheim the Geiger Bar.

Now back to the cheese.

Of all the cheeses in the world, Le Gruyere is Mark’s favorite: smelling, eating, cooking…it’s the best! So this too is part of our pilgrimage, to the shrine of Gruyere! If you want to know more about the cheese that caused an international incident, read on: The Wild History of Gruyere Cheese

After the Geiger experience it is time for lunch, and none too soon: another thunderstorm is on the way.

As we eat lunch and wait out the rain we see something which strikes us as odd, or at least new. Here in Gruyeres at least, fondue is served with thick slices of bread, to be torn by hand at the table, and a bowl of boiled potatoes. It’s as if they want to make sure you are not disappointed if what you really meant to order was raclette!

We get back to our room between raindrops and settle down for a nap just as thunderstorms resume. This is a good day to not be walking!

After a wonderful non-cheese Fondue Bourguignon for dinner, we retire for the night, wishing we had another rest day or two. Tomorrow it is back on the Jakobsweg!

Day 17: Posieux to Romont – Train To Gruyere

Today’s walk will end at the walled town of Romont, where we will leave the path for a side-pilgrimage to the village of Gruyere. But first we have to get there.

There was rain overnight, so the morning is reasonably clear and cool. We are again reminded how the landscape and farming has changed from just a few days ago.

The path leads around a small airport and the end of the runway before entering a wooded section. We are surprised to see that there are no fences, other than the cow fences, to keep anyone from walking across the runway (not a smart idea, but you could if you wanted to).

And then more awful scenery.

In the small village of Farvagny outside of Posat we walk past a small chapel with scallop shapes surrounding the door.

On the side is a small fountain, and we stop to refill our water bottles.

Farther along we pass through a small wood and a beautiful stream. The day has gotten warmer, so the time in the woods is much appreciated.

And then it is into the fields again.

Along the road we encounter not a bee hive, but an entire bee house. Apparently the beekeeper can access all of the hives within the single house. It was certainly active with bees!

And it was a good day to spray the “Mist”. We passed a number of fields being actively sprayed, or just recently sprayed.

Eventually we approach Romont perched on the top of a hill.

We first come to the Cistercian Abbey at the foot of the hill and get our stamps. Then we face the climb up to the old town.

Romont is a beautifully preserved medieval walled town, so before departing for Gruyere we take a quick look around.

Unfortunately a thunderstorm is approaching, shops are shuttering, and we are suddenly in a hurry to get down to the Bahnhof.

Consequently we guggenheim the castle and renowned glass museum. This is a very appealing place, and it would be a pleasure to spend more time exploring. Though we will return in a couple of days to pick the trail up where we left off, it is unlikely we will climb back up that hill! We just outpaced the storm, and now it’s off to catch the train to a rest day Cheese Land!