Text and Photos: Travelita
From Erstfeld, we start to look impatiently out of the train window. Outside, the mountain landscape that we will be experiencing from a new perspective for once in less than an hour rushes past. We’re going down into the valley, to the foot of the Gotthard railway through Uri’s Reuss valley. But first our train has to manage the climb to Göschenen. «Look, the Wassen church», I cry excitedly, as we disappear back into a helical tunnel. I don’t mind admitting that the many changes of direction between Erstfeld and Göschenen are confusing and I am excited to see how we will experience the railway infrastructure from a walker’s perspective.
24 minutes and a little over 20 kilometres or so later, we reach Göschenen station. We disembark, lace up our walking boots and begin by looking for a signpost to guide us. Exactly 23.4 kilometres of hiking trail lie before us. It sounds like a lot, so we leave it open for now as to whether we’ll manage the entire trail on foot or whether we’ll take the bus back to Erstfeld. We’ll see how it goes and set our sights on our first destination: Wassen.
The path leads us over the River Reuss and we catch a brief glimpse of the centre of Göschenen village. We then follow a signposted route, which runs parallel to the railway line for the first 1.5 kilometres. The fact that this hiking route is a railway enthusiasts’ paradise becomes clear after just a few minutes. We are walking down into the valley just a hair’s breadth from the railway line and there are information boards at regular intervals with detailed explanations of historical events and outstanding feats of engineering that were carried out during the construction of the Gotthard route.
Every time a train approaches, we pause, guess whether it is a goods or passenger train and wait until it has rattled past. Just before we reach Schöni, the trail bends sharply to the left. Here, the railway line disappears into a tunnel and we march along, sandwiched between the motorway and the river Reuss, over green meadows towards Wassen. Seen from here, I realise for the first time just how much of a bottleneck Uri’s Reuss valley is for through traffic. On the narrow valley floor, the Reuss meanders towards Lake Lucerne, while on the steep mountain slopes, the transport infrastructure and supply lines are guided acrobatically past each other over bridges and through tunnels.
A mix of wide gravel roads and narrow country paths provide variety and, after just under an hour, Wassen’s church appears before us. We leave the signposted turn-off to the photo spot to our left and take a quick breather at the Antonini quarry open-air museum right next to Wassen station: a checkpoint on the Gottardo hiking trail. This is where exciting tales are told about the heyday of the Uri quarries during the construction of the Gotthard railway.
The trail leads us onward, straight through the centre of Wassen village, past the church, to the other side of the valley. You can see the church from completely different perspectives – not just as a train passenger but as a hiker too.
Just past Gurtnellen-Wiler, we reach a beautiful campfire spot where we take a break. You certainly don’t get bored on the Gottardo hiking trail. The view of Uri’s Reuss valley changes with every step and there is so much information by the side of the path that we can’t read it all. Over hill and dale, we continue to follow the River Reuss down into the valley. Suddenly, after crossing the suspension bridge at Felliboden, a little more puff is required. The trail winds steeply uphill through the forest. At the top we enjoy a stunning view over the valley, as we did on the first leg between Göschenen and Wassen.
We march swiftly on and reach the hill in front of Amsteg faster than we thought. Do we carry on walking or board the bus? The decision is quickly made. We don’t want to miss the second half of the route. Excitement drives us on. However, I soon experience my first dip in motivation. Shortly after leaving Amsteg behind, the trail climbs steeply once more. But it was well worth gritting my teeth and continuing the walk. Amsteg is followed by Silenen, with its imposing Tower of the Noble Knights, which catches your eye from afar. The trail leads onto the cobbled street through the picturesque heart of the village. The village is my personal highlight of the hike. I would never have discovered this gem from the train. The tower is open to the public daily from 1 May to 31 October. Anyone with enough energy left to climb the steps can enjoy the same view from the top as the «noble barons of Silenen» did in the 12th century.
In contrast to the first part of the trail from Göschenen to Amsteg, where the rugged mountain slopes and railway infrastructure dominate the landscape, between Amsteg and Erstfeld it’s the hamlets and farms that stand out. The path leads us constantly up and down, rising from the hamlets up into the fields and then dropping back down into more hamlets. Perseverence is required here and I can’t hold back a frustrated groan as we climb for the upteenth time. «Do we have to?»
But there are a lot of cultural sights on this part of the trail. In addition to the tower in Silenen, we pass the ruined castle of Zwing Uri, which also stands directly above the Swiss Federal Council’s former bunker, and wander past the oldest inhabited stone house in the canton of Uri. Once we’ve made the final climb and the path leads us the last few metres straight on towards Erstfeld station, I’m glad that we decided to carry on walking when we got to Amsteg. It would’ve been a real shame if we’d missed these pretty villages.
23.4 entertaining kilometres later, my legs are beginning to feel tired and my head is buzzing from all the information that I have absorbed along the way. A journey that took the train less than half an hour lasted nearly seven hours on foot. But now I know what a cable hut is and I have discovered Silenen, my new favourite place in Uri’s Reuss valley.
Travelita went exploring on the Gottardo north hiking trail for the SBB blog. In her travel blog, Travelita, you can share in other ideas for trips in Swizterland and all over the world.
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