By Howard Lestrud
ECM Online Managing Editor
When we hear of the Swiss Alps, we immediately think of tall mountains and skiing. Judy and I recently had the opportunity to view the Swiss Alps from our bedroom window as we enjoyed holiday (vacation) with some dear friends introduced to us by our daughter.
Prior to taking our trip of a lifetime in October, I did considerable studying about the country of Switzerland. I used my DK Eyewitness Travel book on Switzerland. Look at all the books available on countries around the world: http://tinyurl.com/bypyk9a
Claudia and Thomas and Andrea and Christian and their families were our hosts in the Swiss Alps for one week. We were actually located in the Riederalps, about 6300 feet above sea level.
Riederalp is a municipality in the district of Raron in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. It was created in 2003 through the merger of Goppisberg, Greich and Ried-Mörel.
Riederalp has an area, as of 2011, of 21 square kilometers (8.1 sq mi). Of this area, 27.7 percent is used for agricultural purposes, while 42.0 percent is forested. Of the rest of the land, 3.0 percent is settled (buildings or roads) and 27.3 percent is unproductive land.
In the small village where we stayed, many live there permanently but other housing is made available to vacationers and tourists.
The mid-mountain resort area of Riederalp sits on a south-facing terrace, south of the 23 km (14 mi) long Aletsch Glacier—Europe’s largest, in the Bernese Alps. The altitude of the village (1,930 m [6,330 ft]) allows good view of the Pennine Alps with some of its highest summits such as the Fletschhorn, Dom and Matterhorn.
Reading from the Wikipedia website on Riederalp, we learn:
“Riederalp has a population (as of December 2011) of 529. As of 2008, 10.6 percent of the population is comprised of resident foreign nationals. Over the last 10 years (2000–2010) the population has changed at a rate of -3.9 percent. It has changed at a rate of -3.9 percent due to migration and at a rate of 3.6 percent due to births and deaths.
Our apartment was located about two blocks from Claudia and Thomas and Andrea and Christian. Each morning, we would trek to breakfast at Claudia and Thomas’ flat. On our way, we were amazed at the beautiful countryside. Wandering cattle, adorned with loud-clanging bells, could be seen in the landscape below. A local church was also located in the middle of our small village and provided us with time checks on the hour.
En route to the Riederalps, we noticed narrow roads and the need to pull over to the side to let oncoming traffic pass. We also noticed mirrors strategically placed on the roadways to see what might be coming around the corner. Tunnels also provided challenges and the best way to navigate these tunnels was to step on the gas pedal when noticing the tunnel vacant on the other end.
From the Riederalps, we trekked higher and higher in the mountains, able to see the Matterhorn and other large mountains in the distance. The first day we attempted to go toward the Aletsch Glacier, we were turned back due to threatening weather. Two days later, we successfully made the trip to the glacier.
According to online information, the Aletsch Glacier (German: Aletschgletscher) or Great Aletsch Glacier (German: Grosser Aletschgletscher) is the largest glacier in the Alps. It has a length of about 23 km (14 mi) and covers more than 120 square kilometres (46 sq mi) in the eastern Bernese Alps in the Swiss canton of Valais. The Aletsch Glacier is composed of three smaller glaciers converging at Concordia, where its thickness is estimated to be near 1 km (3,300 ft). It then continues towards the Rhone valley before giving birth to the Massa River.
On the day we arrived at the Aletsch Glacier, temperatures were cool and clouds at times covered the scenic beauty of the glacier. With the help of my Nikon camera’s long lens, I was able to more clearly see the crevasses created by the glacier. We actually enjoyed a noon lunch in a small restaurant at he top of the glacier site.