Alpine Travel: Saas Valley, Switzerland

Looking into the Saas Valley during the ascent to Heidbodme

Alpine flowers

On arrival in the Saas Valley, I was completely blown away.  In contrast to the Arolla Valley, it is very rugged and Alpine, and completely awash with colour.  It’s also a lot more populated, with much more going on and loads more people about – all of which very much look like they have a purpose, and that being to get into the hills.  There are lots of serious looking mountaineers – most of them male.  Being female seemed to draw a lot of attention no matter what the occasion, as such I felt a bit uncomfortable when I was alone, but this was pretty much my only gripe with Saas.  Aside from that, I absolutely loved the place!

Looking up to Gletschergrotte from the trails just above Saas Fee

The Saas Valley is made up of four small Alpine, German-speaking towns – the lowest is Saas Balen (1483m), then Saas Grund (1559m), followed by Saas Alamgell (1673m) – these three towns are all on the same road, Saas Fee sits above them at 1800m – it’s the largest of all four, with great facilities and most of the uplift runs from here – it’s such a lovely town with a great feeling about it, being car free probably helps with this!

The really great thing about Saas is the complimentary transport – if you are staying in the valley for a length of time you will get issues with a ‘BurgerCard’ – seems to translate as Citizens Card – depending on the length of trip you get different things – we were there for a week, so got free bus transport, free uplift on most of the lifts and lots of discounts in restaurants and bars.  The deal is the same even if camping, so it’s not just an offer limited to those staying in more expensive accommodation.  As a result, we barely used the car – in contrast we used the car pretty much every fay in Arolla.  So, even if travelling to Saas without a car, you will have no problems getting around.

Looking down into the Saas Valley from the Mattmark Dam

Looking down into the Saas Valley from the Mattmark Dam

Options for camping are a bit limited – we looked at all three in Saas Grund and opted for the Kapellenweg – it’s very clean and the staff are lovely, the pitches aren’t very private and internet has to be paid for by the hour or day, but otherwise I was happy enough with it.  There are lots of hotels, B&Bs and apartments available to rent by the week, if that would be more your preference.

Although we were only in Saas for a week, I felt like I did so much more here, every day was a big day so to speak and the week disappeared – Neil was in huts for the majority of the week, so really it should have gone a lot slower!  I spent most of the time running – I did do one walking day, but it turned out to be like a day on Snowdon – Saas is so busy with tourists and some of them are just there as ‘tourists’ not there as mountain people – which is, of course, perfectly fine, but something to bear in mind if you’re going with the aim of experiencing an Alpine environment!

The panaromic restaurant at Heidbodme - views to the Mattmark on the right, and into the Furggtal towards Antronapss to the left, views behind go back into the Saas Valley

The panaromic restaurant at Heidbodme – views to the Mattmark on the right, and into the Furggtal towards Antronapss to the left, views behind go back into the Saas Valley

My first run was from Kapellenweg up the near vertical steps alongside the Gorge Alpin to Saas Fee – in perhaps just over a km the path rises from 1559m to 1800m – it felt great!  The views into the Gorge are just amazing, I spied a bridge across that made my tummy churn, a little further up kids were flying across via a zip wire, again my tummy flipped!  The little path is hard going, especially in the sun, but worth the hike up – there are little huts with models of the life of the baby Jesus, and close to the top there is the most gorgeous little church – a nice dose of culture!  I also found some great looking bolted sport climbing – I was desperate to have a go, but the opportunity never came round.

From Saas Fee, I ran up to the Gletschergrotte, down to the lake, up the ridge and across the verge towards Hannig – descending via the steep hairpin Trift trail back to Saas Fee.  This route was spectacular, even thought it was busy – it was everything my trail running dreams are made of, and I easily clocked up the miles.

Technical trail running in the Saas Valley

Most of my week was spent running, but there is absolutely loads to do in Saas – 4000m alpine peaks, glaciers, mountaineering and mountain huts are in abundance, there is a via feratta that goes up to the Jagihorn (3206m), it’s possible to ski on one of the glaciers above Saas Fee, there is lots of rock climbing, trail running, Alpine walking, adventures to be had in the Gorge Alpin, loads of sightseeing and photos opportunities, museums, galleries, lovely place to eat and drink, a bakery selling treats on every corner – you can even go on a lama safari if the notion takes you!

One of the best things about Saas is the uplift – this allows practically anyone to experience high altitude and the panoramic views without actually having to walk up there.  The facilities are really great, but it is very touristy – so expect it to be busy, especially in high season!

My picks of the places not to miss:

  • Gorge Alpin walk from Kapellenweg to Saas Fee
  • The Gletschergotte, Spielboden and the Langfluh
  • The Mattmark Dam
  • Heidbodme and the Furggtal
  • The Lama Farm in Saas Grund
  • Via Ferrata to the Jagihorn
  • Crossing the Alpine bridges above Saas Almagell on the Almagellerhorn Trail
  • The Eispavillon
  • Mountain huts – Weismieshutte, Almagellerhutte, Britanniahutte, Mischabelhutte
  • Summer skiing from Allalin

Mattmark Dam right behind my good self