The fall colors in Switzerland’s Loetschental valley are spectacular. We first discovered this secret paradise during Chris’s birthday trip exactly a year ago, waking up to mountains aflame with brilliant orange larchwoods. This was the scene we were anticipating when we returned on the same weekend a year later, but instead, we watched from our little yellow bus as we wound through the valley floor amidst an entirely green forest.
Reaching Fafleralp, the last stop, we stepped off the bus and walked the short path through the trees to Hotel Fafleralp, an old but handsome building made entirely of wood, with bright green shutters framing the windows like eyelashes. The interior was equally classy, with a cozy wooden dining room, library, and creaking wooden floors, and we instantly felt at home.
Soon it was time for dinner, featuring a set menu showcasing local specialties. After a liesurely candlelit meal of dried game meats, salad made from locals greens, three different types of raclette from the area melted over potatoes, and a finale of Valais apricot sorbet for dessert, we were ready to call it a night and crawl into our wonderful memory foam bed.
The morning greeted us with clouds and crisp air, feeling fully like fall. We set off on the three-hour ridge trail towards the Annenhutte, barely visible, perched on a ledge over a glacier in the distance. The hut has been voted “Switzerland’s most luxurious” mountain hut, and we had a room reserved for the night as a birthday treat.
Switchbacking our way up to the ridge above the valley, the appearance of fall colors caught us by surprise – instead of the trees, this time the ground was on fire as the wild blueberry bushes blazed a brilliant red, covering the mountainside in a festive holiday carpet. The mottled landscape only intensified in its beauty as we climbed higher up the mountain. As we puffed our way up the final steep ascent, we were rewarded by a huge glacier pouring down the end of the valley towards the hut, its jagged teeth threatening to swallow it up.
Opposite the glacier, we could finally see the Annenhutte peering out at us from behind a small hill, as if playing a game of peek-a-boo. Unlike Hotel Fafleralp, the hut was constructed with modern architecture, made of aluminum and resembling a square metal box; yet, it somehow managed to blend in perfectly with the surrounding nature. We crossed the patio and entered into a dining room full of boisterous hikers finishing lunch, eagerly joining them for a bowl of hot soup and apple cider.
Our room was bare but beautiful, made entirely of wood, with a view out to the glacier and a bed beckoning us for a mid-afternoon nap. When we awoke the sun was beginning to sink, so we quickly headed out for a better look at the massive glacier before dark. Based on old photographs hanging in the hut, the glacier had receded significantly and thanks to global warming, there is no sign of its recession slowing down in the near future. From up close it was even more impressive, causing us to contemplate its immense power to have shaped the gorgeous landscape surrounding us, and the difficult reality that the next generation of hikers might never know it was there.
As the sun set, we returned to the hut and joined the crowd in the dining room for a four-course family style dinner. Bowls of soup, salad, rice and curry were passed around the tables, washed down with large glasses of wine. When it was time for dessert, the generous staff brought Chris a homemade heart-shaped chocolate cake alongside the regular dessert of apple tiramisu next to an ibex stenciled in cocoa powder. After a round of “happy birthdays” the combination of the food, altitude, and hiking lured us to bed.
Breakfast, another group affair, was served at 7:30am sharp, and we were out the door soon after. We took a different route back, along the glacier on the valley floor, which was a welcome reprieve from the steep climb up. Hiking along the bottom of the ravine gave us an entirely new, but equally beautiful, perspective of the landscape, and took about half the time. With a couple extra hours, we decided to squeeze in a hike to Schwarzee lake, known for its beautiful reflections of the mountains. We arrived at noon, at exactly the same moment the sun made its long-awaited appearance over the ridge of the mountains to light up the valley. Gazing at the perfect mirror images of the mountains and green trees in the water, we resolved to see the trees change color and come back again in two weeks for another autumn weekend in Fafleralp.
Getting there: Three hour train ride from Geneva (Geneva-Brig-Goppenstein) then 30 minute busride to Fafleralp (busses run once an hour from Goppenstein, until 6:45pm)
Where to stay: Hotel Fafleralp ($130-$250 for a double) is a beautiful hotel at the end of the valley with great food and nice views. Hotel Nest Und Bietschhorn is another excellent choice with a Gault&Millau noted restaurant and cozy rooms ($100-$180 for a double). However, all of the towns in the valley are beautiful, and connected by bus and hiking trails, and it would be hard to go wrong.