Lägern ridgeway: Going alpine in the Swiss midlands
The demanding but rewarding ridge walk on Baden’s doorstep takes hikers to new heights and puts their mountaineering skills to test. Katalin Fekete shares her Swiss mountain adventure.
The trail is part of the 300-km-long Jura ridgeway leading from Zurich to Geneva. It has rich biodiversity and some rare species growing there, like pale St John's wort or alpine pennycress, can be found in only a few other places in Switzerland. The hike is said to be enjoyable in summer and autumn too.
One sunny Saturday morning I strapped on my walking boots, packed some lunch and prepared the kids, aged 8 and 11, mentally for the challenge ahead -- no easy task as the suggestion met with fierce opposition. But the prospect of a delicious lunch finally won them over.
So we set off in Baden, a medieval city nestled in the Limmat river valley. About 450 steps took us past the remains of the 1899 rock fall, and up to Schartenfels Castle.
The castle was built in 1894 and turned into a restaurant a few years later. It now offers Mediterranean cuisine in a friendly atmosphere. The delicious smell of dishes being prepared with fresh herbs wafted from the kitchen, tempting us to sit down and enjoy lunch in the lush garden overlooking Baden and the ruins of the Stein fortress.
But we resisted the temptation and took a bite of our packed lunch instead. The refreshment revived our spirits and gave us energy and courage to start tackling the Lägern ridgeway.
The narrow trail with steep drops to the sides seemed daunting to us and must look intimidating to those afraid of heights. It was reassuring to see that there were steel cables securing the most precarious sections of the trail and to know that you could grab them anytime.
I held my breath while watching the children clamber over the polished and smooth limestone surface, knowing full well that a fall would end our outing. It is not advisable to attempt yhe wet and slippery ridge in bad weather or winter conditions.
The stretch along the ridge was a hard scramble and took longer than expected: letting hikers pass while preventing the kids from having an involuntary sit-down and getting a fast ride down the steep, slippery slope on the northern side was quite a challenge.
I had been told the ridge path was busy mainly on Sundays, but there was a large number of people who apparently preferred grappling their way up the hill and along the ridge to fighting the crowds in the shopping malls. Hikers in Switzerland, even in the 21st century, greet each other with ‘Grüezi' when their paths cross, which often leads to some friendly chit-chat.
After a two-hour walk along the ridge, we were relieved to reach ‘Wettinger Horn' where the path became wider and the vegetation richer. The trail continued through a lush forest with unfurling, translucent green leaves and a sea of spring flowers to the 859-metre-high Burghorn, the second highest point on the route.
About halfway to Burghorn, we came across the remains of a ‘stately home'. Rectangular, two-metre-high stone walls were neatly layered and seemed to have been built just recently -- it took some imagination to visualise what it might have looked like.
According to a plaque on the wall, those were the ruins of a 13th century castle that had belonged to Knight Arnold von Lägern, a vassal to the founder of the medieval city of Regensberg -- the final destination of our trip.
As we reached Burghorn after scrambling up yet another steep slope, we were rewarded with a magnificent view of bright yellow, green and brown patches, Lake Zurich in the east, the Black Forest in the north, and the snow-capped Alps in the distance.
View from Burghorn: yellow rapeseed fields interspersed with brown and green patches
Half an hour later a sign to the Hochwacht restaurant, a popular stop-off for hikers, beckoned us for lunch. We enjoyed our well-earned rest before going on to Regensberg, a town that has kept much of its medieval charm.
On the train back to Baden, we got quite a shock when a prisoner accompanied by six policemen came to our compartment. We prepared ourselves for the worst and had a good laugh when we learnt that the guys were only dressed up and sold raffle tickets to raise money for the prisoner's stag night. To our great surprise, we won just what we needed: a ‘wellness holiday' in the form of a bottle of shampoo.
Hike time: 4 hours (longer if you take children along)
Distance: 10.7 km
Start: Baden station (follow the yellow signs with red flashers through the picturesque Baden streets and down to the covered wooden bridge, across the river and 450 steps up to Castle Schartenfels where the hike begins)
Finish: Regensberg (take Bus 593 to Dielsdorf train station, then train S6 to Baden)
Profile: Between 385m and 859m, up 460m, down 240m
Difficulty: Long hike but physically not too demanding -- except for the long and tricky narrow ridge trail; rather wide paths apart from the ridgetop foothpath.
Notes: Solid footwear is required and hikers should be reasonably fit. Trail is not suitable for children under 8 years, or for dogs.
- Restaurant Hochwacht (+41 (0)44 853 11 48)
- Restaurant Schloss Schartenfels (+41 (0)56 426 19 27)
Points of interest:
- Ruins of the Stein fortress above Baden. The fortress was built in the 11th century by the Kyburg family. It was later transferred to the house of Habsburg, and served as a stronghold before it was destroyed in 1415. After being partly rebuilt in 1656, it was destroyed again during the religious wars in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1837 the Stein fortress was renovated and turned into a tourist attraction.
- Ruins of Alt-Lägeren (see feature text)
- Regensberg: a medieval city in the canton of Zurich was founded in 1244 by the influential baron Lütold V of Regensberg. In 1302 he was forced to sell it to the house of Habsburg.
Katalin Fekete / Expatica
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