A long weekend hiking in the Pays d’Enhaut over Easter.
The traditional Easter break is for everyone to crowd down to Ticino (as I did last year). I wanted to get away, but ideally somewhere not too far away and not too busy. I went in with no expectations and was rather blown away (somewhat helped by the weather and hiking conditions).
When – 07-10 April 2023
This is a bit of an awkward time of year in terms of figuring out what to do.. It is the time when you get onto the train in the morning with hikers, mountain bikers, and skiers. You can never really tell what the snow is like until you are on the ground. Luckily the conditions were ideal for hiking in the Pre-Alps and the weather lined up so that most of the weekend was glorious
The meadows were turning green and the first flowers were out. But this was a bit too early for the full glory; a month later the meadows will be full of lush grass, tall flowers, and cows.
It was very quiet. I hardly saw anyone whilst out hiking, and even in the villages there were not many people around. Presumably most people had headed to Ticino or stayed in lower altitudes.
Where – Château-d’Oex
A largeish village on the Montreux-Zweisimmen train line (part of the GoldenPass line route).
The most striking and memorable feature is the white church sat on a prominent hilltop (something that many people have likely tried with frustration to take a good photo of from the train). Otherwise there is a historic core with some attractive buildings, but it isn’t anything exceptional in itself.
The village is most famous for the International (hot air) Balloon Festival which takes place every winter. There is also a museum about this in the village (not that I have visited either so can’t comment on them).
- The d’Oex is pronounced like ‘dae’.
- It has all the shops and services you need as a visitor. Including a good sized COOP supermarket which is open long hours even seemingly out of season.
- It has transport connections on the Montreux-Zweisimmen line, and buses over the Mosses pass to Leysin. The trains towards Zweisimmen leave at exactly the hour and the Montreux train and bus leave a few minutes later which makes it easy to remember the timetable.
- Pays-D’Enhaut guest card which offered a number of discounts (but only slightly reduced transport).
- There were also some Easter events for those who want to do something social/cultural rather than just stalk lonely mountain paths.
Accommodation – Hotel Roc et Neige
My reason for picking this is that I wanted to make use of my recently acquired HotelCard (a subscription which offers up to 50% off hotel rooms, mostly aimed at low demand times and places). Through an offer at work I got a 16 months subscription for 79 CHF, it saved me 150 CHF here so even if I don’t use it again I am 71 CHF up.
The hotel wasn’t anything to rave about but it did the job. It was in a quiet location just a few minutes away from the train station and shops. The room was basic, but given that it was clean, everything worked, and I paid 50 CHF per night I can’t complain (you can pay as much or more for a bed in hostel dorm in Switzerland).
They offer a 39 CHF evening dinner menu which was fairly good value.
- Accommodation: 150 CHF
- Food: 100 CHF
- Transport: (local 13.2 CHF, long distance to and from 56 CHF)
- Total: 320 CHF
Transport and accommodation were 50% off thanks to the Half-Fare and HotelCard.
My plans were somewhat open ended depending on the weather and how the snow line looked.
Amongst other ideas:
- Gruyère and the Gorges de la Jogne (closed for the winter still).
- Take the bus over the Mosser pass towards Leysin.
- Take the train to Gstaad and then the bus to Lauenensee or Glacier 3000.
- If nothing else walking along the valley floor (or from the Saanenmoser pass)
In the end I pushed for new sights/areas closer to Château-d’Oex.
Day 1: Arrival
Ideally I would have taken the train most of the way and then done a few hours of walking down the valley to reach the end point (say from Saanen or Rougemont), but as it happens it was cold and rainy so I didn’t even bother leaving home until midday.
The weather turned out nicer than expected so I walked the last few stops in from Les Granges to Château-d’Oex.
I checked in, grabbed some food from Coop and set out to find a viewpoint to sit above the village and eat dinner.
Day 2: A scenic walk back from Rougemont
I had various ideas, but decided on an option that would offer a look into a valley that I hadn’t seen before.
Route: Rougemont – Les Rayes – Les Siernes Picaz – Les Granges – Pont Turrian – Château-d’Oex.
Length: 21km, + 1170m, -1200m
This is rather long but could be easily be made much shorter or done as one of three smaller hikes.
There is very little in the way of supplies along the route. There was a farm with a fridge selling cheese and drinks on the way to Les Rayes but that was it until Les Granges.
Train to Rougemont. The village is much smaller than Château-d’Oex and very pretty. Almost all the buildings are wooden chalets that have had care put into keeping them looking nice. There are a few small shops so this would also be a workable base.
Up and into the next valley heading towards Les Rayes. This was as beautiful and idyllic as any image of the cliche Alpine, and other than a few farmers airing out their huts I had the valley to myself.
Up towards Les Rayes and just climbing above the snowline. Sitting on a bench outside a chalet at the highest point with a fantastic panorama of the valleys and rocky peaks was well worth the climb.
From there I descended along the smooth and still snowy ridge down to Belle Combe, followed by a steep path then road down to the valley floor.
The path up to the pass towards Château-d’Oex is mostly on a paved road. It was very scenic, but would be more fun on a bike.
I headed for Les Granges rather than directly back to Château-d’Oex to join the Sarine. This traversed across the hillside so I stayed high and enjoyed the views for longer than I would have on the direct route. There isn’t anything of interest at Les Granges other than the first restaurant since Rougemont and a stop on the train line.
I followed the Sarine through a mix of riverfront and woodland path until the suspension bridge Pont Turrian after which a gentle little climb brought me back to Château-d’Oex.
Day 3: Lac de l’Hongrin and the Col de Sonlomont
Route: Le Lécherette – Lac de l’Hongrin – Col de Sonlomont – Les Moulins – Pont Turrian – Château-d’Oex.
Length: 17km, +430m, -850m.
Again a fairly long hike. There is the option of taking the more direct route to the pass from Le Lécherette which would have saved 4km and a bit of height gain. There is also a very infrequent bus from Les Moulins to Château-d’Oex.
Bus to ‘La Lécherette, village’. It is the only bus that runs from Château-d’Oex so you can’t go wrong. It is rather infrequent and only runs every 2 hours for most of the day. Awkwardly this meant either a 8am or 10am ride. I wake up early and hate waiting around, so 8am it was.
The bus ride was stunning. First a slight detour to Les Moulins which offered plenty of time to admire the valley, then suddenly the road turns a corner and is in a deep gorge in a surprisingly wild and rugged area. I need to come back and do the whole ride.
The village of La Lécherette is more a loose cluster of holiday chalets around a car park and chairlift. The landscape around it is impressive, but the settlement didn’t seem to be worth noticing.
Heading down to Lac de l’Hongrin initially didn’t seem very promising with the first section going past a military barracks and then a car park (it is a big military training area with access to the bike path limited during summer). The path entered the woods and became much more enjoyable.
The Lac de l’Hongrin is an artificial lake. I am not a big fan of dam lakes because of the ugly dead zone (and ugly dam of course), but this was a pleasant spot with a number of farmhouses dotting the area.
I followed the path most of the way along the lake towards the Barrage de l’Hongrin then turned up towards the Col de Sonlomont. This meant a very steep initial (and poorly marked) climb up a meadow, then a gentler climb along a road with sweeping views.
I could also have carried on to the dam and then down the road to the station at Les Cases which would have made for a long but easy hike (16km, +250m, -516m). That valley is beautiful and I have only seen it from the train, but it seemed a shame to waste a day with such clear views on a valley floor so I headed up.
I had just picked the Col de Sonlomont (1501m) because it looked like it would be a way to get over the ridge without worrying about much snow, but it quickly became one of my favourite points in Switzerland. The views over the Hongrin valley, towards Château-d’Oex, and of various peaks popping up were fantastic. Again I felt like I had the entire place to myself.
Starting the descent I came across a man trying to dig his 4WD camper out of a patch of snow. The bad luck of the one bit of snow remaining on the road being just soft enough on top and hard enough below him to beach his car on it. I gave him a hand but in the end we gave up and he called for professional help – something that was much quicker and easier than when I needed help on the Scottish Islands last year…
Down a rough ‘road’ to Les Moulins where the village bakery/cafe was the first source of supplies since La Lécherette.
From Les Moulins I followed the footpath along the river up to the suspension bridge at Pont Turrian and to Château-d’Oex.
After Pont de Pierre the official footpath veers away from the river and over the fields to avoid a section of riverside path which is a construction yard of some kind, it seems you are free to stick to the river if you accept responsibility for anything that might happen to you (certainly the Strava heat map shows that is what almost everyone does).
Day 4: Jor to Montreux and home
I decided to round off the trip by carrying on along the MOB train line to Montreux with some sort of walk mixed in.
I had thought to take the Gorge du Chauderon from Les Avants down to Montreux but it has been closed for safety reasons. Another idea was over the Col de Jaman from the Les Cases station to Les Avants(7.5km, +450m, -580m) and then down to Montreux by foot or train, this probably would have been a better option but having been there before I wanted to pass through some new places instead.
Route: Jor – Les Gresaleys – Crêt-d’y-Bau – Caux – Glion – Montreux.
Length: 11km, +400m, -1085m.
Jor is a curious spot. The stop on demand stations are often basic, but this didn’t even have a platform or raised section to cross the tracks on. I stepped off the train onto grass and crossing over the tracks literally was a case of picking any spot and stepping over the rails.
From Jor the route was a rollercoaster of (often steep and narrow) up and down through the forest, through some meadows with the first lake view of the day at Les Gresaleys.
Up a steep gravel road then a traverse on a narrow footpath across the forested mountainside. Despite being signed as a yellow footpath this was often very narrow and uneven with a very steep hillside to roll down should you trip (I have said how meaningless this rating system can be before). This was made more interesting by a fallen tree blocking the path at one point which required some careful climbing to get through.
Emerging out of the forest onto the ridge I again crossed a train track (this time the cogwheel going up to Rochers de Naye). From here it was constantly downhill.
I had chosen to cross over to Caux and then down with the hope that there would be more views. On the map it looks quite open but in reality there were houses in the way. All I wanted from Caux was a bench with a panoramic view for lunch. What I got was a charmless cluster of rich people’s houses with innumerable private/no entry signs. I did find the bench I wanted at the very bottom of the village at least.
A short (but steep) bit of descent down the hillside was Glion.This left a better impression than Cuax, especially on reaching the station where a fantastic view of the Château de Chillon opened up and stayed for the next segment of the walk.
Down down down to Montreux. Mostly in what felt like suburbs, usually with bits of lake and mountain in the background.
Through Les Planches (the actually old and pretty part of Montreux) and then finally to the station.
From Montreux I jumped on a series of trains back to Solothurn via Lausanne. It is always a pleasure to ride that route passing by lake after lake.