Meet the Expert: Paul Britchford in Switzerland

Meet the Expert: Paul Britchford in Switzerland

Known for its towering snow-capped peaks, glistening glaciers and flower-strewn Alpine meadows, the landlocked country of Switzerland in South-western Europe, has been beckoning travellers to explore its wonderous trails for decades. And our very own, Paul Britchford, Head of Operations at Headwater, is here to convince you further why Switzerland should be at the top of your travel list for your next upcoming holiday.

He begins by saying, “I’ll be totally honest with you from the outset. Switzerland is not a cheap destination, but it is worth every penny – or Swiss Franc in this case.” Commenting on the transport to Switzerland, Paul was quick to joke, that it was no planes, trains and automobiles scenario, “The public transport in Switzerland is easy, really easy. Its frequent and efficient bus and train connections mean you’re always bang on time. This is important to know as we use public transport to get you to the start of many of our walks.”

Staying in Meiringen, nestled in the eastern Bernese Oberland region for the week, Paul explains, “The town has long been a firm favourite of the British since the Victorians came here for the fresh mountain air and stunning views – and they were right. This is also the setting in the book The Final Problem for the fateful events that unfolded between Sherlock Holmes and his arch nemesis Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls which is visible from the town and during your lovely walks.”

On our trips, you’ll enjoy an enchanting stay at Hotel Meiringen, where Paul says you’ll be, “warmly greeted by a beaming smile from Pauline, the hotel’s owner.” Offering more than a place to rest your head, he continues, “The small family-run place was recently refurbished in 2020 and is efficiently run by Pauline and her chef husband. Our trip, Walk the Crossroads of the Five Passes, is a single-centre holiday in Hotel Meiringen, which means you can unpack fully and relax, as you will be based here for the entirety of your trip. It offers the perfect base to explore the neighbouring valleys.”

He elaborated further by saying, “The rooms are alpine in feel, simple and tastefully furnished. They’re spacious enough to have a couple of seats, which is nice to sit and read an Arthur Conan-Doyle classic or look back at your photos after a fabulous day out in the mountains.”

When it came to transport during the trip, Paul mentioned that, “the buses, trains and cable cars to the start of the walks were so easy, and I found they formed part of the experience thanks to stunning views en route; be that the blue of the lake to Interlaken, the dams of the Grimsel Pass and, of course, the Eiger from Grindelwald (and lots of other viewing spots as well).” He also explained that there were lots of walking trails to choose from, depending on your ability. “You’ll get access to them all. But we always recommend you walk within your ability; check the local information about route closures (as things change quickly). It’s also important to pay attention to the weather and act accordingly – you are in the mountains after all.”

The first walk took Paul on a bus, up the side valley above the Reichenbach Falls and on up to Schwarzwaldalp. He told us, “Our route was a Level 2, as we were walking up to the pass, but for a Level 1 you just need to swap to the awaiting bus for Grosse Scheidegg and start from the top.” Walking along forest paths and Alpine meadows it took two hours to reach the pass. “The sense of satisfaction was matched by the incredible 360o view. The two valleys fall down either side, while dramatic peaks, including the Eiger, stand above you.”

“After an Instagram-worthy photo and some delicious ice cream at the top, we headed down a lovely path to Grindelwald for a packed picnic, purchased from the supermarket opposite the hotel, and sat enjoying the view and Swiss cheese. Grindelwald is a busier town, with plenty of restaurants, bars, shops and things going on. We found a spot for a well-earned beer before catching the trains back to the more tranquil pace of Meiringen.”

Next, Paul set his sights on the viewpoint atop the Grutschalp cable car, which was the start of a Level 2 walk that promised views of large peaks and glaciers. “It certainly didn’t disappoint”, Paul said. “Two effortless and scenic trains made quick work of the 50 minutes to Lauterbrunnen and the cable car whisked us on up to the top. Before we’d even taken a step, we were staring open-mouthed at the stupendous view. Across the valley high peaks, like jagged teeth, stood against the blue sky and filled our camera screens.”

He continued, “From here, we contoured along the path whilst each emerging vista of mountain and glacier could easily be blamed for taking our breath away more than the climbs along the way. This walk ends in the charming little town of Murren, where it is definitely worth finding a lovely spot to drink in more than just the view – you’ve earned it. For me, this is not one to miss and we have both a level 1 and 2 options to ensure everyone can enjoy those views.”

The last walk Paul mentioned, even though he could, “wax lyrical about them all”, was from the Grimsel Pass. “Today we were doing a Level 1 walk to a Berghaus with a view. We quickly left the crowds behind and set off up the easy path into the valley above the dammed lake as a glacier creeps into view in the distance. The stunning lake of Oberaarsee lying in the bowl at the head of the valley was gorgeous, feeding it, is a huge glacier beyond, and holding it back, a dramatic dam. We head down and walk across the top of the dam – the view is jaw-dropping.”

“For an interesting Level 2, the path continues from the far side of the dam along the lakeside to the base of the glacier you’ve been admiring. However, we turn back and find a table at the Berghaus to enjoy that view a little more. These are out and back routes, so it was very simple to retrace our steps and helpfully the view taking you back is just as dramatic.” He suggested, “If you didn’t fancy walking it, or preferred to linger longer there is a cable car down that conveniently drops you back to the Post-Bus stop above the dam.”

So, if he had to sum up his experience, what was Paul’s verdict on his time in Switzerland? “By day 3 we ran out of superlatives to describe the views. So, a word of warning, you may want to come prepared with a thesaurus. After several days of incredible walking, delicious food and ice-cold beers; what I love about this holiday to Switzerland is that it offers multiple difficulty levels of walk from the charming base of Meiringen. Plus, the walks offer so much variety amongst these majestic mountains, from gorges and glaciers to wide open vistas; and everywhere you look the views are… well, I’ve just run out of superlatives, so you’ll just have to go and see – and then send me your suggestions.”

If Paul’s journey has inspired you to explore the wonderful Swiss landscapes for yourself, then find out more about our Headwater walking holidays in Switzerland here.