Aletsch: the immense glacier in Switzerland
Franco Voglino and Annalisa Porporato introduce the spectacular area surrounding the Aletsch glacier in Switzerland: more than thirty 4000m peals, just a few minutes away from the Bettmerhorn cable car. An amazing experience for both young and old.
Aletsch is an impressive 23 km long glacier that starts at an altitude of 4000 meters and plunges down to 2500 meters. At it’s thickest it measures 900 meters in depth, and in total it covers an area square kilometers. These impressive numbers make Aletsch the largest glacier in Europe, with a huge variety of landscapes. In 2001 this white giant was declared a World Heritage Site and its official name is "Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch". But these numbers obviously do not do justice to this natural phenomenon and, in order to fully comprehend its vastness, you need to admire it close up. Don’t worry though, as you don’t need to be a great alpinist or daring climber, all you need to do is travel to the Aletsch Arena.
Located within easy reach of the Italian border (only 50 km away), thanks to its intricate network of paths the Aletsch Arena area can be visited all year round by everyone, from super athletes to families with children, grandparents, grandchildren and dogs. There’s something for everyone, from skiing to mountain biking and quiet, easy walks. What makes this area unique is its panorama onto Aletsch’s long, spectacular glacier.
But let’s start at the very beginning: Aletsch, as mentioned, is located in Switzerland, just a dozen kilometers east of Brig and easily accessible thanks to the efficient trains and buses. Viewed from the valley bottom it doesn’t look particularly impressive: the thick forest rises upwards and curtails all views. At this point your best bet is to take the cable car. Yes, we recommend you don’t drive up to the three villages up on the Aletsch Arena, the road is narrow and Bettmeralp is closed to traffic.
All cable cars lead above a sort of pedestal, from where the view unfolds onto wide plateaus dominated by steep mountain faces. The view south is particularly impressive and is dominated by the unmistakable silhouette of the Matterhorn (4478 m) and Dom (4545 m).
The three villages at the Aletsch Arena (Riederalp, Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp) are all highly characteristic mountain villages, closed to traffic, all with typical houses. From all three you can walk up a bit to take in the marvellous view onto the Aletsch sea of ice.
Let’s start from the west: the first village is Riederalp (1925 m) and can be reached from the Mörel valley station (759 m) by walking through the small village of Ried-Mörel (1188 m), or directly from the villages of Breiten (900 m - no stop, with fantastic salt water spa), and Greich (1361 m). From here you take the chairlift to the panoramic Hohfluh (2277 m) in the heart of the Aletsch Forest (Aletschwald), a nature reserve protected ever since 1933 with the oldest pine trees in Switzerland. Those who want to find out more and walk along some beautiful trails can visit Villa Cassel with its permanent exhibition of natural history and its botanical garden with 350 planet species (from Riederalp: 150m altitude gain, a couple of km). To get an even better view take the cable car to the Moosfluh (2333 m); this is the highest point of Aletschwald and from here the glacier contrasts strikingly with the surrounding vegetation.
The second village is Second center is Bettmeralp (1950 m), and this can be reached via cable car from the Betten Taltstation (826 m) or directly via Betten Dorf (1203 m). Bettmeralp is the most charming of the three villages and one with the most typical homes. Cars are strictly prohibited here and the only ones you’ll see are the ones used for the hotels; it comes as no surprise that they’re all electric. The position of the church is magnificent, on the lush green meadow with an amazing vista. Bring a good book: you won’t be leaving here in a hurry!
From here you ascend by cable car to Bettmerhorn (2647 m). This provides a fantastic view onto the glacier that unfolds down below. After having walked through the large restaurant, you reach a wooden walkway with a balcony that overlooks the valley: the view spans from right to left onto almost the entire 23km long glacier. After this feast it’s worth stopping off at the multimedia exhibition "The world of the Bettmerhorn glacier (Eiswelt Bettmerhorn)" with talking mannequins, games for children and loads of curious information about the glacier and its surroundings.