GOING FOR walks — even short, around-the-block kind of walks, has been my quality-of-life saver since my teenage years.
Back then, and sometimes at my mom’s suggestion, we’d head out together in the evenings, traipsing without a plan around the streets of our local neighbourhoods.
It was our “nightcap”. Putting to rest events of the day and returning home refreshed and unburdened, connected by conversation and sometimes by silence.
Just the two of us, arm in arm, ‘shooting the breeze’, as she’d like to say. Those are precious footprints frozen in time, enriched by the memory of autumn leaves crunching underfoot, snowflakes illuminated under lampposts, and a bracing chill or balmy breeze on our faces.
In time, walks for pleasure became less frequent as life became busier, but about 12 years ago, when work got the better of me and various aches and pains precluded jogging or the gym, my sister suggested taking long walks again.
As luck has it, I live in a suburb of Geneva where farmland, fields, vineyards and forests sit not too far from my front door.
I enjoyed discovering well worn paths but always marvelled at how a previously unnoticed side-path or opening in the forest could introduce a whole new panorama such as a nature conservation area or an open pasture where horses grazed.
The more hiking I did, the more I wanted to do.
I rejoined the American International Women’s Club specifically for its hiking group and eventually, with the SwitzerlandMobility app in hand, I learned new trails in Canton Vaud that I began to share by leading hikes for my fellow members.
I felt real satisfaction challenging myself to learn new trails and to piece together strands of intersecting ones to devise a satisfying whole that included a bit of this and a bit of that: forest, lake or alpine panorama, medieval village, architectural landmark, café, or hot chocolate emporium. Readily available local transport made getting to and fro relatively easy and affordable.
The physical and mental benefits added up: weight loss, muscle and stamina building, less stress, more mental clarity, greater self confidence; meeting people (and their pets); getting close to nature and wildlife, and the pleasure that comes from sharing the experience with friends.
I learned my limits as well, stretching myself to go further and pick up my pace while also respecting my fitness in general and on the day. I’m no long distance hiker, nor can I scale heights that others may, but I’m perfectly happy with easy-to-medium trails and congratulate myself if I’m able to do a little bit more than I’ve done before without injuring or exhausting myself.
With that in mind, hiking never fails to reveal new opportunities for discovery that I wouldn’t realise without curiosity, perseverance, a bit of pluck and an invaluable little iPhone app.
SwitzerlandMobility – your ticket to a whole new world
Let me introduce you to my go-to hiking buddy. No need to strap on some hiking boots just yet, we’ll be doing some armchair exploring.
When I plan a hike I look at the SwitzerlandMobility web page on desktop before opening it up on my iPhone. I’ll also open up google maps if I need extra detail such as street names in the area I’m checking out.
With the SwitzerlandMobility web page open, click on Hiking in Switzerland, then on National Routes for a short overview. Or better still, hover your cursor over “National Routes” until a side menu pops up where you can select each route for a more complete introduction.
You’ll see overviews of the country’s seven top-to-toe national routes including details of their length, elevation, and level of difficulty plus a description of sites along the way.
Via Jacobi — The St James Way
One of my favourites is Route 4, Via Jacobi; select it now and then choose the stage of the journey that interests you most, for example, stage 4.18 Rolle to Coppet. At left, click beneath the small map on the text “Enlarged map/print” to get a full view of the route.
On the enlarged map at left there will be a directory (if not, click on the half-moon with three lines located top left) where you can choose, for example, to show Rail/Bus/Boat connections; Photos (of landmarks along the trail to verify your location – the symbol for photos on the map is a small black box with a white circle inside); Route numbers; and Closures/diversion.
At bottom-right on the map you can use the “+” symbol to enlarge or “-” symbol to minimise the map (some symbols will only appear with sufficient enlargement). Plant your cursor on the map to drag it and show more detail in North, East, South or West directions.
Route 4 stands out as a bright green line with the “signalisation” of “4 Via Jacobi” shown intermittently in little green boxes. Or, if you click on one of the red circles along the route, a window will open with the Route number and other related features.
If you’ve selected “Rail/Bus/Boat” in the legend you’ll be able to click on a blue symbol for each train, bus or boat to find out the closest and/or most convenient transport links to get to and from your chosen route.
Another approach to finding a route is simply to use the Search box and fill in a preferred location, for e.g., Coppet, and the map will jump to show you what trails are available in and around Coppet.
To understand what the other routes and symbols represent, click on Hiking Trail Network and Signalisation — on the Hiking in Switzerland page. It’s a good idea to also check out the other pages listed under “More”.
App, app and away…with the SwitzerlandMobility app
Download the SwitzerlandMobility app to your smartphone and open it. In the upper right corner of your phone’s screen, you’ll find three symbols:
- 3 stacked squares: here you can select between Winter and Summer map options and whether you want info for hiking, cycling, mountain biking, rollerblading, or canoeing in Switzerland. You can also select symbols to appear on your maps for public transport links, closures and detours, route numbers, photos, and more. Note that if you choose, for example, the option for hiking in Switzerland, at the bottom of the screen you’ll be able to swipe up to access info about national, regional, local, and obstacle-free routes. You can also save “Your Favourites” from among the different routes for quick referral.
- Search symbol: Enter the name of any city, town or area – the names of your most recent searches come up first.
- Arrow symbol: for GPS tracking, my favourite function on this app though you need good connectivity to benefit from it. Select this symbol to ensure you stay on route – a little red circle with a pointed tip will appear indicating exactly where you are on the map – the direction of the arrow shows in what direction you are facing/walking. Sometimes it can stick, and I have to get out of the app and reenter and reactivate it, but by and large it’s very dependable and incredibly helpful.
Finally, to access a legend explaining the meaning of every map marking, select the app’s logo (white ‘star’ on a red square) and choose “Legend” from the pop-up menu.
The pop-up also gives you access to login to SwitzerlandMobility Plus. This paid feature lets you plan your own tours on the SwitzerlandMobility web page and open them in the app. Since I can print off maps from the web page and add notations afterwards, I don’t need this feature.
Tips for safe hiking
- SwitzerlandMobility posts updates about trail changes on its maps; consult its page on closures and detours and factor deviations into your plan
- Consult the weather forecast and dress appropriately
- Bring water and food to stay well hydrated and keep energy levels up
- Carry insect spray and any medication you may need
- Be honest with yourself about your fitness level and consult a doctor beforehand if necessary
- Dress and equip yourself well, particularly with non-skid, stable hiking shoes or boots; no-blister socks; walking poles for stability and less stress on your back and joints; a warm, rain-proof jacket; a sunhat; suncream and a cell phone charger (lots of photos to take!). And, of course, a comfortable multi-tasking backpack to put your extras into
- Don’t put yourself in danger, be realistic about your level of hiking competence and stay on paths that are safe and that you can comfortably handle.
Start with a simple trail and work up from there. Enjoy yourself!
- The History Trail of Baron Guigier
- Swiss Heritage’s collection of “historic trails” hiking booklets (F/D/I)
- Top twenty hiking trails in Canton Vaud
I’d love to hear from you with tips for hiking trails and apps: please share them in the Comments box below this post. Thanks and happy hiking.
Main photo credit: Ben o’bro on Unsplash.