Switzerland is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe—the Alps cover more than half of the country’s terrain. Safe to say, the Swiss know a thing or two about the benefits of high-altitude living—the feelings of well-being that come with days spent exploring both Alpine wilderness and the plants that thrive there. Backpacking through Switzerland should definitely be on your radar for both reasons. Not only will you experience the country’s wild landscapes and flora, but you’ll also get a look at the cultivation of these same plants. More than one hundred farmers grow alpine herbs that thrive naturally in the unique soil and climates throughout Switzerland. Here’s how to explore five of these fertile regions on foot.
Discover healthy living as seen in the Swiss Alps.
The Valais region is home to one of the most iconic peaks in all of Switzerland—the Matterhorn—as well as the tallest peak in the country—the 15,203-foot Dufourspitze. Peppermint (Mentha piperita) and its even more resilient cousin, horehound (Marrubium vulgare), both used in Ricola Max Nasal Care, thrive here, not least because Valais is far from heavy industry and traffic. In this location, growers know the herbs are safe from pollutants.
Find the herbs in the wild on the Tour du Mont Blanc, one of Europe’s most popular long-distance treks, which runs 105 miles through Valais and gives you the full regional experience. Tackle the stages day by day, or take a page out of the UTMB book (an ultra-race along the same route kicks off just over the border in Chamonix, France, every August) and run all or part of the trail in one go.
Looking for a day hike instead? Take the 10.8-mile round-trip trail to Gemmi Pass for some of the most breathtaking views of the Valais Alps. On a clear day, you can spot the Matterhorn and Dufourspitze—two must-sees in the region—from the top of the pass. To make the most of your time, a cable car can take you to the top of the pass.
2. Val Poschiavo
Take a train ride over Bernina Pass to Val Poschiavo, the southeasternmost region of Switzerland, bordering Italy. At over 7,390 feet, the Rhaetian Railway is famous for being the highest railway to traverse the Alps. The route passes by high-alpine glaciers before descending into the valley.
Explore the pass on foot on the Via Albula/Bernina, a hiking trail running semiparallel to the section of the Rhaetian Railway that’s designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 80-mile trail is broken into ten stages, so you can either hike the full distance, staying at inns along the way, or hop on the train at any of the stations along the route. The last few stages of the hike descend into Val Poschiavo and continue through the valley to the final stop in Tirano, Italy. From late spring to summer, keep an eye out for sage (Salvia officinalis), which thrives in Val Poschiavo’s warm, dry climate and light, stony soil. Sage is one of ten herbs used in Ricola’s products, including the Original Natural Herb drop. You can’t miss the plant’s refreshing aroma and delicate purple and white blooms. A balm for the senses, to be sure.
Then on the other side of the pass, plant lovers will enjoy a visit to the Ricola Herb Garden in nearby Pontresina, which is open to visitors year-round but is especially lovely from May to September, when the herbs are in bloom. From there, carry on to explore hikes below glaciated peaks in Val Roseg.
The Emmental region is straight out of a storybook. Think: rolling hills and idyllic farmland dotted with grazing cows and jagged snowy mountain backdrops. Its acidic soil and relatively high rainfall create ideal growing conditions for crops such as lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Just ask the local Schütz family, who have naturally cultivated the herb—which is named for its citrus scent and has recognizable jagged, mintlike leaves—for Ricola for 20 years.
One of the best ways to explore this special region is on two wheels. Because of the hilly terrain, e-bikes are popular; they’re allowed on nearly 280 miles of designated bike trails and can be easily rented at bike shops throughout the region.
Of course, there are also ways to explore on foot. For stunning views, hike up to the Lueg—one of the most famous viewpoints in Affoltern im Emmental. From the village center, the route is about four miles round-trip, but you can hop on the path from multiple points along the way to keep it short and sweet.
4. Central Switzerland
The peaks of central Switzerland have a storied past—from legends of dragons living atop Mount Pilatus to the origin of the nation itself. Central Switzerland is a great jumping-off point for healing adventures throughout the country and a terrific destination in its own right. The water-rich alpine foothills are home to bright green mountainsides in the summer and extensive lake basins fed by snowmelt. Elder trees (Sambucus nigra) thrive here, in wet forest clearings and on the banks of rivers and streams. Linden flowers (Tilia platyphyllos) appreciate the region’s chalky soil and humidity. You’ll find both of these herbs in Ricola’s proprietary ten-herb blend.
Experience this giving environment for yourself on one of Switzerland’s newest long-distance trails, the Tell Trail, which runs through the heart of central Switzerland. The 130-mile route, which links to six of the most prominent peaks in the region—Stoos, Rigi, Pilatus, Stanserhorn, Titlis, and Brienzer Rothorn—was completed at the end of 2020. Hike all eight stages or explore sections as day hikes. And don’t miss out on experiencing feats of Swiss mountain engineering, including the steepest cog railway in the world on Mount Pilatus and the oldest cog railway in Europe on Mount Rigi.
For a taste of central Swiss mountains without the multiday commitment, hike the popular and worthwhile Rigi Panorama Trail. On this five-mile trail, not only can you enjoy stunning views of Lake Lucerne below, but you can also see how the mountains created a natural shelter for the people who, in 1291, formed the mountain-guarded confederation of states that would become modern-day Switzerland in 1848.
5. Jura Mountains
The Swiss Alps garner a lot of attention from travelers. But the lesser known yet equally stunning Jura Mountains provide a completely different experience. The subalpine range tops out at just over 5,600 feet, which means the ecosystems here are lush compared to the rugged alpine landscapes in the southern part of the country. Mallow (Malva sylvestris)—sometimes called cheese weed because of the fruit’s cheeselike flavor—thrives in these lower elevations, and native hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) is a favorite herb among hikers because of its sweet aroma. Both have a place in Ricola’s line of herbal drops.
To experience the Jura Mountains for yourself, head out on the oldest long-distance trail in Switzerland—the Jura Crest Trail—established as early as 1905. This nearly 200-mile route begins in Zurich and traces the ridge to Geneva, with panoramic views, verdant meadows, and inviting inns to end each day along the way. Tackle the whole route in about two weeks or choose a shorter section of the trail.
A family company since 1930, Ricola is one of the world’s most innovative confectionery producers. The family company exports over 60 different specialist herb products to more than 45 countries in Europe, Asia, and America. All of the products are produced in Switzerland. Ricola uses the best Swiss herbs to contribute to the well-being of consumers across the world.