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Hike – Chaltbrunnental (Via Surprise stage 4)

    Via Surprise 4. Chaltbrunnental

    Photo: in the Chaltbrunnental.

    A fantastic varied route climbing up to a ridge line with extensive views then diving down through a lush gorge in a fairly obscure corner of Switzerland.

    Despite not being far from Basel and other towns most of the time the route felt like it was in the middle of nowhere with only scattered farmhouses and seeing nothing bigger than a small village.

    Key Information

    Route: Beinwil SO – Meltingenberg – Meltingen – Chaltbrunnental – Grellingen. Follow signs for Route 32 most of the way.

    Length: 15km, +435, -680m.

    Date: 2024-April-28.

    For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.


    Practical Information

    Season: Spring to Autumn. With a high point at a mere 900m this would also be doable most of the time during winter these days. Doing this in late April was perfect; just about everything was in the full spring bloom with flowery meadows and almost neon green trees.

    Arrival/Departure: Bus to ‘Beinwil SO, Kloster’ / Train from Grellingen.

    Supplies: Next to nothing. Restaurant Meltingerberg is the only restaurant on the route, and there are restaurants and a COOP supermarket close to Grellingen station at the end, but that is it. There are a few farm shop stalls around Meltingen but they had more jam and syrup than useful things for a hiker. There were no fountains with drinking water.

    Alternate routes/shortcuts: Take the bus to ‘Meltingen, Meltingerbrücke’ to skip the climb and start at the top of the Chaltbrunnental.

    Exposure/Hazards: The path can be a bit slippery in the Chaltbrunnental which is likely to stay damp longer in the shade, otherwise nothing to worry about.

    Other points:

    • It was very quiet. I only saw 2 other hikers before entering the Chaltbrunnental, and even after that I passed about 10-15 people the entire way through the valley. I had expected more people, but given the location and extra bit of effort to access from most places it maybe isn’t too surprising.
    • There are a number of caves along the Chaltbrunnental – bring a head torch.

    Notes along the route

    Even just getting to the hike is scenic. The Postbus route which Beinwil is on between Balsthal and Zwingen is very beautiful – especially so coming from Balsthal where you go over the Passwang.

    The former Kloster Beinwil is also absurdly picturesque in its setting and makes a fantastic location to start – especially coming from Balsthal which means that you arrive almost on the hour and have bells to play you in on your arrival. On my last visit back in May 2021 there was a self-service farm shop selling snacks and ice cream, sadly it wasn’t there this time but maybe it comes out again closer to summer.

    Via Surprise 4. Kloster Beinwil
    Starting out by Kloster Beinwil.

    Right from the start the path climbs 300m up and up and up to the Chastenchöpfli. Sometimes steep on footpaths, sometimes gentler on gravel roads. The reward for this are views from the ridge, and the knowledge that it is downhill all the way afterwards. The folding Jura around this area isn’t alpine in height, but it is very beautiful (going up to nearby Vogelberg is another good option)

    Via Surprise 4. Jura ridge
    Between Chastenchöpfli and Meltingenberg.
    Via Surprise 4. Jura ridge
    Between Chastenchöpfli and Meltingenberg.

    After following the ridge for a while the path dropped down through forested hillside to the little village of Meltingen which looks like a very pleasant place to live, but doesn’t offer much to the passing hiker. All the fountains had signs saying no drinking water (but did at least give a history of water in the area) and the only option for provisions was a little farm shop which didn’t really sell anything that hikers would want other than a cup of coffee (though the chilli sauces they sell were impressively spicy for Switzerland).

    Leaving Meltingen there was a brief section on the (very quiet) road. Which was a bit dull other than the military bunker looming over a bus stop bench. This only lasted a few minutes then it was back into fields and farms before entering the valley.

    The Chaltbrunnental ranges from a gentle stream through a fairly wide valley, to cascade down a narrow gorge, and back again multiple times. It is nowhere near as impressive as the Areuse Gorge or the Tüfelsschlucht elsewhere in the Jura, but it was still a beautiful valley to walk down. Especially with all the leaves almost glowing green. Apart from one tiny back road which crosses it towards the end the entire valley is just forest and meadows with no sign or sound of humanity other than the path.

    There are a number of caves scattered around. There is a signed Karstlehrpfad Kaltbrunnental hike from Zwingen to Grellingen with information boards (in German) pointing out the caves and providing details about them. Some are big enough to walk in, others are for the sort of people who like to squeeze themselves into cramped dark places.

    Via Surprise 4. Chaltbrunnental
    Chaltbrunnental.
    Via Surprise 4. Chaltbrunnental
    Chaltbrunnental.
    Via Surprise 4. Chaltbrunnental
    Chaltbrunnental.

    I turned right at the end of the valley towards the station at Grellingen rather than following the Via Surprise all the way to Zwingen. This saved 2 km of walking up the main valley by the railway tracks, and both towns are on the train line with regional trains to Basel every 30 minutes. Zwingen has a castle which looks nice but didn’t strike me as being with the extra effort when there are plenty enough of them in the Jura.

    Heading towards Grellingen also took me by the Wappenfelsanlage Chessiloch which is one of the icons of the area. A bit of cliff face which Swiss soldiers painted flags and icons for all the cantons and various other Swiss images on whilst stationed there during WW1.

    The last kilometre or two into Grellingen by the train track wasn’t bad, but was rather forgettable.

    Via Surprise 4. Wappenfelsanlage Chessiloch
    Wappenfelsanlage Chessiloch. WW1 graffiti by soldiers posted to guard the nearby bridge.

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