Leukerbad, in the canton of Valais in the Swiss Alps, is better known for its thermal springs than adventure tourism. The sleepy little town, located at 1,411m, sees nearly four million litres of thermal water bubble up every day to the delight of visitors, especially anyone suffering from rheumatism and neurological disorders.
The region’s medicinal waters have been used since Roman times, while millennia later the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Tolstoy and Goethe have bathed in the calcium- and sulphate-rich thermal springs. Regardless of who was soaking in the valley springs, in the pastures above, farmers continued to move their cattle along the ancient trails connecting alpages (clusters of farmers’ huts on summer grazing areas high in the Alps).
The winter months have always seen skiers descend on Leukerbad, hitting the pistes by day and then recuperating in the baths by night. Recently, however, the region has witnessed something of a summertime transformation. The sunny southern slopes above the spa town are home to a network of dramatic hiking, biking and climbing routes connecting the high Alpine passes, panoramic viewpoints and rustic villages.
If you’re planning a summer trip to Switzerland’s Leukerbad, here are five ways to make the most of your time in this year-round mountain town.
The action around Leukerbad is largely split between the slopes of the Torrentalp to the southeast and the cliffs of the Gemmi Pass to the northwest. The best of the region’s mountain biking trails can be found around Torrentalp in the Pfyn-Finges Nature Park. Here, the historic farmers’ trails have been widened and extended to meet the needs of bikers, while the Torrentbahnen cable car can whisk passengers 900m up to Rinderhütte (2,304m). Here over 225km of trails connect the high Alpine passes, ridges and villages.
The flagship track is the flow trail, a downhill mountain bike course designed to minimise pedaling and braking, encouraging the rider to coast and jump along a series of banked turns and rolling terrain. The result is a swooping, slippery, dusty descent that, despite the invariable spills, will leave the rider with a broad smile on their face.
Walkers have their pick of over 200km of dedicated hiking trails as well as most of the biking routes on the Torrentalp (although stay well clear of the flow trail). Several routes begin in Leukerbad while others start from Rinderhütte or Gemmi (just a short cable car ride away) and traverse the higher passes and ridges in the area.
A classic walk from Gemmi is the sedate but breathtaking trail down to the Daubensee, a sheltered lake that’s popular with skiers and snow-shoers during the winter when it freezes over. The undulating 6.2km waterside track circumnavigates the lake and takes around two hours to complete.
There are four via ferrata routes around Leukerbad including Switzerland’s longest via ferrata on the Daubenhorn and the Alp’s oldest via ferrata that follows the historic Albinen ladders. They were first installed in 1781 but have thankfully been updated since!
The Great Daubenhorn route is graded K5 (extremely difficult) and leads almost entirely along and up a vertical rock face. It takes around eight hours to complete and ascends 1,000m before finally topping out on the 2,941m summit of Daubenhorn. There is a shorter option which takes around a third of the time but still includes some hair-raising traverses and vertical ascents.
If you prefer a more sedate course, then the Gemmiwand horizontal route runs beneath the Wildstrubel Alpine restaurant to the Gemmi cableway mountain station.
Photo: Peter Watson
4. Meals with a view
If all this charging around is getting a bit much, then head for one of the region’s panoramic restaurants to sample some local delicacies and drink in the views. Don’t miss feasting on Rösti, a traditional Swiss dish of sautéed potatoes with eggs and lashings of cheese and chutney.
The most thrilling high-altitude vistas are to be found at the panoramic restaurants of Gemmi Lodge or Rinderhütte. Both have inside and outside dining areas with – as their name suggests – 360-degree views across the surrounding valleys to the Matterhorn et al. Other idyllically-located eateries include Bodmenstübli, Weidstübli and Birchen.
Photo: Valais/Wallis Promotion; Tamara Berger
5. Thermal baths
Chances are that all this exertion will have left you with an assortment of aching limbs and possibly a bump or bruise to boot. Fortunately, you’re in the right place. After all, Leukerbad has been known for its soothing thermal waters since ancient times.
Several lodgings – such as Hotel Regina Terme which just happens to be Leukerbad’s oldest family hotel – come with their own private thermal spring. There are also three public thermal baths, three sauna worlds, three children’s pools and 18 wellness facilities to choose from. A long soak in your pick of one of them ought to do the trick.
Ready for Leukerbad?
If you’re ready for your mountain adventure or your relaxing getaway, find out everything that Leukerbad has to offer at Leukerbad.ch Find all of what Valais has to offer at the online booking centre.