Do it the Euro way, and stay in huts when possible. Wild (backcountry) camping is not allowed in Switzerland, though bivouacking is (translation: no tents in the daylight). Get rescue insurance, English-language hut information, and hut discounts by joining the U.K. section of the Austrian Alpine Club (www.aacuk.org.uk). Expect to pay up to $30 per night for a bunk bed and an optional $30 for meals. Hut contacts vary regionally: Use the Swiss Alpine Club (sac-cas.ch), German Alpine Club (alpenverein.de), Italian Alpine Club (cai.it), and French Alpine Club (ffcam.fr).
St. Gingolph to Vionnaz, via Haut Sex I saw almost as many ibex and chamois here in the “Pres Alps” as I did on the rest of the borders combined. They probably like the absence of cows and hunters in these protected meadows. You’ll hike perhaps 7,000 vertical feet uphill if you start on Lake Geneva, but you can cut the descent by three quarters if you catch a bus at the ski lift northeast of the peaklet labeled “Haut Sex” (it’s an old Celtic word). Trails run close to the border most of the way. Though I bivouacked, rooms are available in Tenay on the Swiss side or Chalets de Bise on the French. 2 long days
Theodulpass to the Hörnli Hut You’ll need gear for a couple pitches of 5.6-ish rotten-rock climbing, ice tools for a short bit of steep glacier, and a helmet for dashing beneath crumbling seracs. The reward is the spectacular Furgg ridge, where the crowds of Zermatt might as well be on another planet. Sleep in Italy at Theodulpass if you’d like to make it to the Hörnli Hut in time to eat (don’t be late for dinner or you won’t get served). Tip: There’s free, legal camping near the Hörnli Hut if you carry a tent. 3 days
Lago Maggiore to Giessee This diverse landscape spans palm trees and glaciers, forests and alps, villages and solitude. Most of this distance lies in a newly designated national-park-in-training, Parco Nazionale del Locarnese, which seeks to preserve old towns and their cultures as much as the wilderness. You can stick to standard trails the whole way, though a couple of optional “blue trails” teeter across boulders as big as minivans. Bivouac or stay in huts and hotels. 7 days: Link Brissago, Bordei, Comologno, Bosco-Gurin, Basódino, and Passo San Giacomo.