By Amy S. Eckert
The snow-capped Alps soar into the sky. Lake Oberalp (Oberalpsee) lies peacefully still, fed by 12 mountain streams dotted with wildflowers. A cable car rises up the mountainside, promising views that can only improve with another 2,000 feet of elevation.
Switzerland’s Oberalp Pass links the towns of Andermatt (an hour’s drive south of Lucerne) and Disentis, and ranks as one of the world’s most beautiful. The drive through this mountain pass is just as remarkable. Route 19 isn’t long: You could complete the journey in less than an hour, if you didn’t stop. But with surroundings this spectacular, why would you?
No fewer than eight mountain passes surround the alpine town of Andermatt, including the Oberalp. And four European rivers trace their sources to the surrounding mountains. The richness of this region’s natural beauty so impressed the German poet Goethe that he declared it “the dearest and most interesting to me.”
Become familiar with Andermatt at the Ursern Valley Museum (Talmuseum Ursern). Located in the heart of town, the museum details domestic life, regional history and culture and alpine fauna in the surrounding valley. Then head outdoors, as the locals do. Andermatt offers bicycle rentals, several short train excursions, including a steam railway, as well as the Gutsch gondola lift.
From Andermatt, Route 19 wends its way through the Oberalp Pass. Steep inclines force the roadway into a series of tight hairpin curves, slowing the route’s automobile drivers as they head toward Disentis, only 20 miles away. The road includes a number of scenic overlooks, making it easy to pull over for photo stops and glimpses of the circuitous road below.
At an elevation of some 6,700 feet, the Oberalp Pass isn’t Switzerland’s highest. But the area ranks among the country’s most beautiful. Winter sports lovers flock to the Oberalp region much of the year, when Route 19 lies buried beneath meters of snow and access is via train. In April or May, when the Oberalp’s snow cover finally recedes, hikers, cyclists, climbers and shutterbugs take the skiers’ place, eager to enjoy summer in the Alps.
Exploring the Oberalp Pass
Once you’ve reached the Oberalp Pass, park your car for the day and immerse yourself in some of Switzerland’s loveliest views. Dine al fresco on crisp white wine and Swiss cheese before ascending the pass via cable car. Designed to deliver skiers to the slopes of Platte and Schneehuenerstock mountains in winter, the enclosed glass gondolas treat summer sightseers to glimpses of alpine lakes and rocky peaks capped year-round with snow.
Travelers can further enjoy the views over a meal on Schneehuenerstock Mountain, more than 2,000 feet above the Oberalp Pass, or on hiking excursions along one of several trails. Instead of returning via cable car, visitors often opt to hike back, pausing at crystal-clear Lake Luter (Lutersee). From the lake, the trail zigzags downhill, past bare rock outcroppings and alongside gentians and cuckoo flowers, before eventually skirting the northern edge of Lake Oberalp in town.
Visitors can also choose to explore the Oberalp Pass via train. Swiss Railways offers short excursions to the small villages of Tschamut Selva and Rueras, all within the shadow of the Oberalp Pass.
It may be along a quiet hiking trail that the true beauty of the Oberalp region comes into full view. Away from the crowds, along the banks of snow-fed streams and sparkling mountain lakes, lies the magic of Switzerland.
One of the most popular hikes from the Oberalp Pass is a 90-minute walk to Lake Toma (Tomasee). The hard-packed, marked trail leads through meadows dotted with wildflowers: pink alpine roses, daisies and fluffy white cottongrass. Overhead, rocky crags reach skyward, and sheltered mountainsides protect patches of snow, even in the height of summer.
The smooth waters of Lake Toma form the source of the Rhine River, indicated by a brass trailside plaque. The Rhine travels nearly 800 miles to the North Sea, through the cities of Strasbourg,
Cologne and Rotterdam. But here, at Lake Toma, you can cross over Western Europe’s second longest river in a single stride.
After visiting Lake Toma, return to Oberalp Pass, or hike further, for an overnight at a mountain hut. Operated by the Swiss Alpine Club (SAC), Switzerland’s mountain huts offer simple accommodations, often dormitory-style. SAC lodges are famous for their traditional alpine construction, their hospitality and their tendency to attract nature lovers from around the world. Fill up on a hearty dinner including dumplings or fried potatoes, and, after sunset, bathe in the light of a million stars.
Finish in Disentis
The village of Disentis promises many of the natural attractions common throughout the Oberalp Pass: wildflower hikes, alpine vistas, mountain lakes and glacier-fed streams. But the town also enjoys a unique history as part of the Romansh culture, which traces its roots and language to the Roman Empire. In fact, Disentis is known as Muster to Romansh speakers.
Disentis’ Benedictine monastery preserves another piece of the town’s history. Founded in the year 720, the monastery continues to bridge the region’s historic and contemporary life, offering a public cafe, simple but stylish overnight lodging and a Benedictine museum.
Make plans now to hit the road in Switzerland! Your AAA Travel Agent can hand all the details. Call 800-750-5386 today!
(photos: Andermatt Tourism/MartinWabel; Switzerland Tourism)