On a hot summer's day, you want nothing better than to cool off and take a dip in refreshing waters. Going on a hike is probably the last thing on your mind. But what if you can have both? Freeontour found three outstanding tours in Switzerland that don't entail going up mountains, but instead take you through rivers and gorges. You can even endure the midsummer heat here on secluded trails, surrounded by rippling water.
Tip #1: Spectacular journey into prehistoric times – the Breggia Gorge geopark
The Breggia Gorge Park (Italian: Parco delle Gole della Breggia) was Switzerland's first geopark. It is located in Mendrisiotto, the southernmost region of the canton of Ticino, between the municipalities of Balerna, Castel San Pietro, Morbio Inferiore and Morbio Superiore. Each trail is two kilometres long and regardless of which one you choose, it will take you through nearly 200 million years of geological history. Today's river landscape was once in a primeval sea. The Breggia River carved its way through the rock formations over the millennia, bringing to light traces from the Jurassic to Tertiary periods. You will have a huge primeval open-air museum at your feet, with traces of ancient seas everywhere; from a time when the planet had no inkling that human beings would emerge in the very distant future. The Breggia Gorge geopark vividly tells the history of our Earth with e.g. fossils, evidence of submarine volcanic eruptions and underwater avalanches.
However, the park also has a few man-made attractions, e.g. the Red Church from the 14th century, the Ghitello Mill built in 1606 and the Sabeca cement factory, whose history you can learn about on the educational trail. The two-kilometre tour goes from the open-cast mine to the tunnel shafts and the stone crushers, ending at the furnace towers – the actual heart of the factory, which is now a museum. The contrasting interplay of industrial and geological history is unique for a nature park. You can get more information from the park's visitor centre in Morbio Inferiore. The trails are signposted in the park.
Distance: the park covers an area of approx. 1.5 km²
Duration: approx. 4-8 hours
Parking: there are parking spaces at the park. If coming by motorhome, please note that some of the roads are relatively winding and narrow, with some hairpin bends. Therefore, slow, anticipatory driving is recommended.
Monte San Giorgio Camping: about 12 km northwest of the park. A beautiful campsite nestled in nature with Wi-Fi, electricity, hot water and a swimming pool. Pets are allowed. In addition to visiting the Breggia Park, the campsite is a perfect base for many other interesting activities, e.g. walking with alpacas, a visit to the fossil museum (only 500 m from the campsite) or a trip to the town of Como (30 minutes drive).
Area Sosta Camper - Tavernola: about 7 km southeast of the park. Just pitches with electricity and water supply and waste disposal; space for 15 motorhomes (over 7 m also possible).
Tip #2: Wild romanticism and old legends in the Taubenloch Gorge
Located between Biel and Frinvillier in the Bernese Jura, the Swiss Taubenloch Gorge is a popular destination for tourists. This mystical place is entwined with a legend that is as romantic as it is sad: once upon a time there was a hard-working miller who fell in love with a young maiden. She was so charming and beautiful that everyone simply called her la petite colombe – the little dove. The couple were held in great esteem by the entire village apart from Ingelram, a cruel knight who wanted the beautiful girl for himself. Full of resentment, he killed the hard-working miller at the wedding in order to kidnap the little dove. To avoid falling into the arms of the cruel knight, she threw herself into the Taubenloch Gorge. Since then, according to legend, couples in love can hear the soft whimpering of the petite colombe in the gorge.
How to get from the watchmaking metropolis to the Taubenloch Gorge
The hike begins in the city of Biel. It's a unique experience to be able to start hiking right after taking a stroll through the city, especially as Biel – also known as the watchmaking metropolis of Switzerland due to its long watchmaking tradition – is a beautiful town well worth visiting. You won't notice it right away, but some of the most important watch manufacturers are based in this modest town, including Rolex, Omega and Swatch. Accordingly, you can combine a hike through the gorge with a visit to one of the museums about the watchmaking tradition, e.g. the Omega Museum. The idyllic Three Lakes Region, consisting of Lake Biel, Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Murten, is another attractive destination just outside of Biel. Incidentally, both Swiss German and French are spoken in Biel.
The adventurous hiking trail begins at the "Zum wilden Mann" restaurant at the "Biel Taubenloch" bus stop, which is easy to reach by taking a bus towards "Eisbahn" from Biel train station. You can then take a train back to Biel from Frinvillier, the destination of the hike. When you get to the Taubenloch Gorge, you will come upon steep rock faces under a leafy tent of green forests as well as sunlight refracting off the Suze River in a magnificent way. Comfortable wooden benches are dotted along the trail, on which you can take a break and enjoy the pleasant, cool breeze while listening to the soothing sound of the river flowing past.
Distance: approx. 2.5 km
Duration: approx. 45 minutes
Hotel Camping Sutz: located about 5 km from Biel city centre on the beautiful Lake Biel. The Sutz-Lattrigen railway station is within walking distance of the campsite (approx. 15 minutes), from where it will take you only a few minutes to get to Biel. This 4-star campsite has many modern conveniences and a breathtakingly beautiful location.
Tip #3: Grottos, caves, forests & mountains – en route to the Tüfels Gorge
The Tüfels Gorge ("The Devil's Gorge") is situated in the beautiful Swiss municipality of Hägendorf on the south foot of the Jura, winding its way along the Cholersbach stream, a tributary of the Dünnern River. The Devil's Gorge owes its mysterious name to a legend, according to which the devil was up to his tricks here until he was finally driven away by a priest from the nearby Olten Monastery. While hiking through the karst Tüfels Gorge, you'll be amazed by the scenic variety: the moss-covered roots, Jura rock faces, grottos, caves, rampant vegetation, bridges and waterfalls fill the air with so much magic that if you didn't already, you will start to believe in mystical sagas and legends. Most people who want to explore the Tüfels Gorge start in Hägendorf, walk through the gorge and then up the Allerheiligenberg mountain. The trail will then take you through a forest and across lush mountain meadows to the Belchenflue mountain where a great panoramic view awaits you. The hike eventually ends in the pretty town of Olten. You can find this hiking trail and other routes here.
Distance: approx. 7 km
Duration: approx. 2 hours & 15 minutes
Parking: you can park your mobile home near the starting point of the trail.
Campsite nearby: Camping Wiggerspitz is the closest campsite, about 8 km away. It has pitches surrounded by greenery, Wi-Fi, a restaurant, a fire pit, a swimming pool, a children's playground, electricity, sanitary facilities and much more.