Six years ago, I visited Switzerland for a week of hiking, camping and breathing in the Alpine-fresh air. I'd expected to enjoy myself, but wasn't entirely prepared for the dramatic scenery or sense of peace that I encountered there. In the years that passed, I would longingly wax lyrical to anyone who would listen about waking up surrounded by snow-capped mountains, meandering alongside milky turquoise streams and sleeping soundly each night, exhausted from the activities of the previous day. This summer, it was finally time to return.
Despite my regular moans about any physical activity that involves steep, rock-hewn steps (particularly when combined with my second nemesis - altitude), I actually really enjoy hiking, so we based ourselves in the small town of Kandersteg, not far from the capital city of Bern. A ridiculously gorgeous place, Kandersteg is the picture-postcard image of the Swiss Alps - rustic dark wooden chalets line the streets, divided by a baby blue river, cold and cloudy. Mountains soar high in all directions and cow bells tinkle from soft green hills. This description isn't the result of an idyllic embellishment, pulled from the recesses of the mind long after returning home - if anything, it doesn't do Kandersteg justice. The town really is that beautiful, and everything caters towards those who wish to explore the nearby surroundings.
It was the second time that I'd visited in July, and I would argue that this is one of the best times of the year to visit the country. The long days boasted vivid blue skies and warm temperatures, the nights clear and cold. We were camping, so a warm sleeping bag is essential, but nothing could beat crawling dozily out of our tent each morning, greeted by the fresh air and the sound of cows (Alpine cows being the common thread throughout our trip - it's rare that I managed to snap a photo without several providing the foreground focus).
The hiking is varied and caters for a range of interests - last time I came I went on an overnight hike, staying in a small wooden hut with views stretching down into the valley below. This time we limited ourselves to one-day trips, wandering through forest trails and tunnels carved into the rock, calves burning as we sought out new view points. My favourite hike is up to a nearby glacier lake - as you approach the peak it seems all in vain, until you come over the top and the path falls away down to the most perfect spot - crystal clear turquoise waters lapping at the base of jagged mountains. After a sweaty walk, there is nothing more refreshing then sinking feet into the ice cold water (or your whole body if you are brave). We arrived early in the morning and spent an hour just gazing out before the area began to fill up with people arriving for a swim or lugging picnic hampers, and loved it so much that we returned again the next day...