Swiss Alps – The Ultimate Guide

Switzerland is a highly mountainous country located in Central Europe. The Swiss Alps cover roughly 60% of the country’s area. In this article, we will answer the following questions – where are the Swiss Alps? What is it exactly, and how did it emerge? Lastly, we will enumerate and discuss the various Western and Eastern Alpine Regions.

Where are the Alps?

The Alps are the most extensive and highest mountain range in Europe covering 1,200 kilometers. There are eight countries in Europe that have mountains in this range – France, Switzerland, Monaco, Italy, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, and Slovenia. This stretches from Nice in France all the way to Vienna in Austria.

Image of the Swiss Alps by Viola ‘ from Pixabay

The Alps are further divided into two – the Eastern Alps and the Western Alps. You can think of the line dividing it along Lake Constance – Chur, Switzerland, Splügen, and Lake Como.

In Switzerland, this means that the Alps in Valais and Ticino are west and the ones in Grisons (Graubünden) are largely in the east.


Where are the Swiss Alps?

The Swiss Alps extend from both Valais in the West to Graubünden in the East. Of this, the most important blocks are the Alps in Valais, Bern, Appenzell, Glarus, Ticino, and Grisons (Graubünden). The Mont Blanc massif in Valais is shared with France and Italy. And the Bernina Range is shared with Northern Italy. The rest of the ranges, particularly in Bern, Appenzell, and Glarus are not shared with the neighboring countries.

The highest peaks in the entire Alpine region lie in the Swiss Alps, particularly in the Pennine Alps in Canton Valais. Here are the highest ten mountains. All mountains are in Valais, with the exception of Finsteraarhorn which Valais shares with Bern.

Top 10 Highest Mountains in Switzerland

Monte Rosa (Dufourspitze) 4,634 meters
Dom 4,545 meters
Lyskamm
4,533 meters
Weisshorn
4,506 meters
Matterhorn
4,478 meters
Dent Blanche 4,358 meters
Grand Combin 4,314 meters
Finsteraarhorn
4,274 meters
Zinalrothorn 4,221 meters
Alphubel 4,206 meters

Jungfrau and Mönch, two of the most well-known mountains in Switzerland, are the 16th and 17th highest mountains respectively. Piz Bernina, the highest peak in the Bernina Range in Grisons, ranks 20th on the list of the highest mountains.

Image of Lyskamm, the third-highest mountain in Switzerland. Credits: Murmel from Pixabay

How did the Alps emerge?

In a nutshell, the history of the Alps is not yet 100% clear. But we do know that in the course of the earth’s 4,500 million years, the earth has constantly changed based on various environmental factors. Mountains, flats, and seas form and disappear over the years. Continental plates move, drift apart or collide. We see this time and again through numerous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. We see glaciers recede, ice shelves break off, and more. The general assumption is that plate tectonics have contributed to the emergence of the Alps.

Plates drift a few centimeters per year. It can be measured with instruments, but normal people would hardly notice it. The Alps are actually considered a young mountainous range. By young, the definition would be 70 million years.

This is the rough timeline of how the Swiss Alps emerged:

  1. Triassic Period – 210 million years ago – The huge continent of Europe and Africa (Pangaea) does not have a lot of mountainous regions. It is mostly flat and keeps on getting flooded by the sea.
  2. Jurassic Period – 150 million years ago – The continent breaks into two – Europe and Africa. Between the two is an ocean called Tethys. Through the separation of the two continents, the plates slowly move and the flat regions slowly rise to the early Alps. This was referred to as Alpine Tethys.
  3. Cretaceous Period – 90 million years ago – The continents keep on coming closer together. The first continental collision took place.
  4. Paleocene and Eocene – The main collisional phase occurred in the formation of the Alps. It was when the Adriatic plate was thrust over the European crust.
  5. Present – the plate collision still occurs yearly but in a very minuscule range causing some areas to be uplifted.

As discussed earlier, the Swiss Alps can be divided into the western and eastern sides. Here we will have a look at the various alpine regions.


The Western Swiss Alps

The Western Swiss Alps covers much of the mountains in Valais and Bernese Oberland. These are high four- and three-thousand peaks and known worldwide. Here are the alpine regions in the Western Swiss Alps:

Aletsch Glacier

Great Aletsch Glacier. Image by Simon from Pixabay.

At 23 kilometers, Aletsch Glacier is the largest in the Swiss Alps. Since 2001, it has been part of the UNESCO World Heritage. It is located in the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region. Riederalp and Bettmeralp lie on a sunny terrace 2,000 meters above sea level.

In winter, four ski resorts lie in the Aletsch region: Fiescheralp, Bettmeralp, Riederalp, and Belalp. They are all accessible with cable cars.

Hasli Valley

Image of Rosenlaui Valley by TouringSwitzerland.com

The Hasli Valley is a family-friendly resort with fantastic views of the Engelhörner, Wellhorn, and Wetterhorn. There are numerous gorgeous spots in and near this valley – the Aare gorge, Rosenlaui, and Reichenbach Falls. In winter, it has 60 kilometers of ski slopes, 25 kilometers of hiking trails, and many more.

Crans-Montana

Crans-Montana is located on a high sunny terrace around 1,495 meters above sea level. The region consists of five sections: Randogne, Montana, Chermignon, Lens, and Icogne. They have tons of spa hotels and good infrastructure (Congress and Culture Centers, Golf Areas). It is one of the biggest tourist areas in Valais.

The winter ski resort of Crans-Montana has easy slopes in the lower sections. The upper section towards Plaine More glacier is more difficult.

Emmen Valley

Emmen Valley. Image by Martin Abegglen from flickr

The Emmen Valley with the Emme river, 170 valleys, and hills is quite idyllic. The region is also famous due to its cheese. Due to the riches the locals obtained from their cheese exports, they built beautiful, traditional houses. Worth visiting aside from the mountains is the old city of Burgdorf and its castle.

Entlebuch

Image of Escholzmatt in Entlebuch Biosphere by Benedikt Meier from flickr

Entlebuch has endless moorlands and forests all seemingly wild and forgotten. In 2002, it received the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve label. It is now called the “UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch” – Switzerland’s first biosphere reserve – spanning an area of over 400 square kilometers.

Frutigen Niedersimmental

Image of Lake Oeschinen by TeeFarm from Pixabay

The Frutigen-Niedersimmental administrative district covers several mountainous regions in Bernese Oberland. Although the areas are largely developed for tourists, most visitors are the Swiss themselves. Foreign tourists tend to skip this region, even though they have lots of awesome spots and a charming Chalet village. Popular to visit are Adelboden (a traditional Swiss mountain village 1,353 meters above sea level), Blausee in the Kander Valley, and the town of Spiez.

The ski resort of Adelboden-Lenk encompasses 170 kilometers of prepared slopes, 3 fun parks, 15 kilometers of cross-country skiing slopes, 40 kilometers of winter trails, and 3 sledding routes.

Less popular but still beautiful is the Diemtig Valley. It is a quiet valley with just a few ski lifts and cable cars. It is a place to visit if you want peace and quiet.

Goms

Image of Gluringen, Goms by Abd Eraouf Bentaleb from Pixabay

Goms is in the uppermost region of the Rhône valley. It has been inhabited since the Stone Age. During the Roman period, it was also part of the province Rhaetia. The Walser folk who have lived here started migrating in the 13th and 14 centuries to other valleys in Switzerland, neighboring countries of France, Italy, and Austria.

The Church of St. Maria is a Swiss heritage site of national significance. Furthermore, several villages in Goms are part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites – Biel, Ritzingen, Selkingen, Niederwald, Gluringen, and Reckingen.

Gstaad and Saanenland

Gstaad, similar to St. Moritz, is also a luxury spa resort in the Swiss Alps. It has lots of prominent luxury hotels, boutiques, and restaurants. The village is car-free and visitors from all over the world love strolling here and discovering the boutiques. The region also hosts numerous world events such as the Swiss Open (tennis), Hublot Polo Gold Cup, the Snowbike Festival, International Week – Hot Air Ballooning, and many more.

Jungfrau Region

Image from Jungfraujoch by aranha from Pixabay

The Jungfrau Region is world-known mostly due to Jungfraujoch. Labeled as “Top of Europe” at 3,463 above sea level, Jungfraujoch is actually a saddle between Jungfrau (at 4,158 m above sea level) and Mönch (at 4,110 m above sea level). This place is located in the Bernese Oberland.

For more detailed information regarding the Jungfrau region and Jungfraujoch, check out our article Jungfraujoch – When is the Best Time to Visit?

Les Portes du Soleil

Image of Champéry from Wikipedia

South of Lake Geneva is the Swiss and French region of Les Portes du Soleil. In this region, they have hot springs and one of the largest ski regions in the world. With 209 lifts and 650 kilometers, Les Portes du Soleil is huge. The village of Champéry is also charming.

Leukerbad

Leukerbad is a thermal spa town 1,402 meters above sea level. 65 warm springs can be found in various baths throughout this town. The village is car-free as well.

Lötschental Valley

Image of Lötschental by Jan from flickr

Lötschental is the largest valley on the northern side of the Rhône valley, in the canton Valais. It extends around 27 kilometers and is quite remote. In fact, it was cut off from the outside world until the beginning of the twentieth century. Occasionally, it still gets cut off from the rest of the country in winter due to too much snow. It is also a Walser village where women sometimes still wear their traditional costumes.

The ski area is Lauchernalp from 1,419 until 3,119 meters with intermediate to difficult slopes.

Verbier

Image of Verbier by berntsonlars from Pixabay

Verbier used to be a farming village in the municipality of Bagnes, Valais. After the connecting road to Verbier was built, it started to change dramatically. In 1949, the first ski lift was added. Afterward, around 90 more followed.

Nowadays, Verbier is a premier backcountry ski resort, not only in Switzerland but also worldwide. Verbier is known for steep slopes, varied conditions, and resort culture. The place also has welcomed prominent visitors. The British, Swedish, and Belgian Royal families have already holidayed in this place.

Val d’Anniviers

Image of Zinal by Christophe Schindler from Pixabay

Val d’Anniviers is a Swiss valley in Canton Valais. It lies south of the Rhône Valley. It is home to six municipalities, Ayer, Chandolin, Grimentz, Saint-Jean, Saint-Luc, Vissoie, Vercorin, and Zinal.

The villages are remote and reachable via winding roads. But the area is so peaceful and gorgeous.

Val d’Hérens

Val d’Hérens is a valley formed by the Hérens glacier. This valley is home to a couple of high mountains – Dent Blanche (4,358 meters), Dent d’Herens (4,174 meters), Mont Collon (3,637 meters), and Mont Blanc de Cheilon (3,870 meters).

Saas Fee

Image of Mattmark Lake by Fernando Bilgischer from Pixabay

The “Swiss Greenland”, inhabited for over 4,000 years, Saas-Fee is surrounded by tall mountains and glaciers. The train brings guests to Alallin 3,000 meters above sea level.

The ski area has 13 mountains that are at least 4,000 meters high, 140 kilometers of prepared slopes, 1 snow park, 6 kilometers of slopes, 1 sledding, and 52 kilometers of winter trails.

Simmen Valley

Sibe Brünne. Image by TouringSwitzerland.com

Simmen Valley near Lake Thun until Lenk is not as touristy as other Swiss Alpine regions. Nevertheless, some places are well-known such as Stockhorn, Mittagfluh, and Rinderberg. Lenk is also a popular spa town with a modern Wellness center.

Sibe Brünne, as shown above, is a magical waterfall and the source of the River Simme.

Uri

Image of Andermatt by Kecko from flickr

In the last few years, the Canton of Uri has started to gain popularity due to the recent developments in Andermatt. Real Estate businessman Samih Sawiris and the Orascom Projects decided to invest in Andermatt. The place itself is quite special in that it is the historical center cross of the north-south and east-west traverses of Switzerland.

In winter, the area boasts over 100 kilometers of prepared slopes in Skiarena Andermatt-Sedrun. This Andermatt Swiss Alps ski area covers Andermatt, Sedrun, and Oberalp.

Zermatt

Image of Matterhorn by Photos from Pixabay

Zermatt offers a postcard view of the southwest Matterhorn from the steps of the Church of Saint Mauritius or the Kirchbrücke Bridge. Around the village are larch forests, 38 4,000-meter mountain peaks, and the most beautiful mountain in the world – Matterhorn. To name two of the most important mountains, we have the Monte Rosa at 4,634 meters (the highest mountain in Switzerland) and Dom in the Mischabel group at 4,545 meters.


The Eastern Swiss Alps

The Eastern Swiss Alps cover the mountain resorts in Grisons (Graubünden), Appenzell, Glarus, and St. Gallen. Most prominent among the resorts are St. Moritz in Engadine and Davos. Some regions are quieter and laid-back. Others are world-known, chic, and expensive.

Here are the alpine regions in the Eastern Swiss Alps:

Appenzell

Image of Alpstein by Markus Baumeler from Pixabay

Appenzell is a region known for its somewhat “rocky” mountains, hills, and lakes. The Alpstein region and the 2,502-meter-high Säntis are both worth checking out. On Säntis, you can enjoy the views of six countries, Lake Constance (Bodensee in German), and the Alps. Appenzell is also known for its tasty Appenzeller Cheese. You can even drop by the Cheese Factory which is open daily to visitors.

Check out our articles covering some interesting places in Appenzell:

Arosa

Image by Iso Tuor from Pixabay

Arosa is located at the end of the Schanfigg Valley. It has a lake in the center of the city and is surrounded by forests. Arosa rescued three bears and these now live in the 2.8-hectare Arosa Bear Sanctuary. Furthermore, they have alongside the visitor platform also a playground, a minigolf, and an Experience Trail.

Since 2013, Arosa has been connected to the ski area of Lenzerheide. The Arosa-Lenzerheide ski area has a total of 225 kilometers of ski slopes with 43 cable cars between them. It is the largest contiguous ski area in Graubünden.

Bergell / Val Bregaglia

Val Bregaglia is a valley in Graubünden quite near the Italian border and the Italian town Chiavenna. It can be reached via Maloja Pass. The valley is absolutely gorgeous with the Sciora mountain range as a backdrop. The village of Soglio was once named the most beautiful village in Switzerland. Countless artists have come here for inspiration – Alberto Giacometti, Giovanni Segantini, and Clara Porges.

Davos

Image of Sertig Dörfli from flickr

Davos is a town in Canton Graubünden. It is a popular ski resort, hosts the World Economic Forum, and has one of the best tourist infrastructures in the Alps. They can accommodate up to 24,000 guests. The five ski areas in Davos include Jakobshorn, Pischa, Schatzalp – Strela, Rinerhorn, and Klosters Parsenn.

Schatzalp is 300 meters above Davos. It is a slow ski resort with all-natural snow, a luxury hotel, a botanic garden with over 5,000 summer plants, and summer toboggan. Parsenn is the largest and most modern of Davos’ five mountains. You can get from Klosters to Gotschna/Parsenn with a large cable car. Madrisa and Rinerhorn are child-friendly.

Sertig Dörfli is a Walser Village at 1,861 meters above sea level surrounded by beautiful forests and mountain peaks.

Engadine

Engadine is one of the most beautiful regions in Graubünden. Or possibly even in Switzerland. It has a mixture of natural and historical wonders. You can have unforgettable holidays here and the list of things to do is quite long. This region has locals who can speak Romansh, German, and Italian.

In Upper Engadine, you will find from Maloja until S-chanf soft mountains and the river Inn. Four lakes emerged in Engadine upon the Bernina Glacier receding. In no other place in Switzerland, you will see a series of lakes near each other surrounded by mountains between 3,000 and 4,000 meters high. The following places are in Upper Engadine: Maloja, Sils, Silvaplana, Surlej, Champfèr, St. Moritz, Celerina, Pontresina, Samedan, Bever, and the Plaiv villages (La Punt, Zuoz, Madulain, S-chanf, Chapella, Susauna, Cinuos-chel). Locals speak a dialect called Putèr.

The Punt Ota bridge is used as the demarcation line to separate the Lower Engadine from Upper Engadine.

In Lower Engadine, they speak another dialect called Vallader. The houses also tend to have a harmonic image with a small water well in the middle of the village. The valley has a mild climate and most houses are decorated with pretty flowers. Plants and vegetation would be similar to the neighboring South Tyrol, Donau, and the Mediterranean. The grounds are rich in mineral water, which led to the development of thermal and wellness baths. The following places are in Lower Engadine: Zernez, Brail, Susch, Lavin, Scuol, Guarda, Bos-cha, Ardez, Ftan, Tarasp, Sent, Vnà, Ramosch, Seraplana, Raschvella, Tschlin, Strada, and Martina.

St. Moritz, Pontresina, Guarda, and Scuol are among the more popular destinations in Engadine.

Check out our articles covering some interesting places in Engadine:

Flims, Laax, Falera

Image of Caumasee by TouringSwitzerland.com

Flims Laax Falera is marketed such that Flims is the summer region and Laax is the winter region. Flims, as seen in the image above, is a well-known summer destination owing to the beautiful Caumasee. Laax, on the other hand, is a huge ski region with 235 kilometers of prepared slopes with 5 snow-secure valley runs, 29 facilities, 4 snowparks, and the largest half-pipe for snowboarders.

Glarus

Glarus has narrow, winding roads leading to unspoiled natural landscapes. Some important side valleys include Sernftal and Klöntal. Some places to visit in Glarus include Elm and Braunwald.

Check out our articles covering some interesting places in Glarus:

Heidiland

Image of Maienfeld, Vineyards, and Brandis Castle from wikipedia

Heidiland is an important tourist area in Switzerland, popular with Asian tourists due to the cartoon Heidi. Maienfeld is the center of this tourist spot, but it also covers other areas such as Pizol, Lake Walen, Bad Ragaz, Flumserberg, and more.

Check out our articles covering Heidiland:

Lenzerheide-Valbella

Image of Lenzerheide by Jörg Vieli from Pixabay

Lenzerheide is a mountain resort in Canton Grisons (Graubünden) at the foot of Parpaner Rothorn. It lies between Chur and Tiefencastel.

Since 2013, Lenzerheide has been connected to the ski area of Arosa. Check out the short video of freeride skiing in Lenzerheide from MySwitzerland and see how beautiful it is:

Video credits: MySwitzerland.com

The Arosa-Lenzerheide ski area has a total of 225 kilometers of ski slopes with 43 cable cars between them. It is the largest contiguous ski area in Graubünden.

You can also check out our article covering Heidsee in Lenzerheide:

Samnaun

Image by Jürg Lohri from Pixabay

Samnaun is located in the eastern end of Switzerland right beside Austria. It is a municipality located in Engadine. It shares its ski region with Ischgl in Austria.

Surselva

Image of Vals from wikipedia

Surselva, meaning above the forest, is the name of the valley of the Anterior Rhine. The Surselva region covers the villages of Brigels, Ilanz, Disentis/Mustér, Lumnezia, Obersaxen, Vals, Safiental, Medel, Tujetsch, Sumvitg, Trun, Laax, Falera, and Sagogn. The villages of Obsersaxen and Vals can trace their roots to the Walser people.

Laax and Falera are also part of the Flims, Laax, Falera ski region.

Toggenburg

Image of Toggenburg by Viola ‘ from Pixabay

Toggenburg in Canton St. Gallen is a region that corresponds to the upper valley of the river Thur. It is surrounded by the mountains of Säntis, Churfirsten, and Speer. The highest village is Wildhaus. Other villages are Lichtensteig, Kirchberg, and Wattwil.

Val Surses

Val Surses (Oberhalbstein in German) lies between Tiefencastel and Julierpass. The river Julia flows through it. The Surses community is the second-biggest area in Canton Graubünden after Scuol and after Glarus Süd the third-biggest in Switzerland. Its locals speak the dialect Surmeiran. It covers the following places: Salouf, Riom-Parsonz, Cunter, Savognin, Marmorera, and Bivio.

In Winter, Savognin and Bivio together have 120 kilometers of prepared slopes. Check out our article Savognin – Family Ski Destination in Graubünden if you want to head over to Savognin with your little ones.

Summary

Switzerland is quite a mountainous country. And visiting the Swiss Alps is not as easy as it looks due to the sheer number of choices. But each region will have its own character. Some tourists might want to visit well-known choices like Jungfraujoch, Zermatt, Verbier, or St. Moritz. Whereas other tourists might want to visit lesser-known but nonetheless beautiful destinations like Goms or Brigels.

In any case, I hope this list of various mountains in the Swiss Alps has helped you to plan your visit to Switzerland.

Resources:

  • Burri, Klaus. “Schweiz Suisse Svizzera Svizra. Geografische Betrachtungen.”
  • Veser, Thomas, Urs Fitze, and Martin Arnold. Merian Schweiz.