The view down the Aletsch glacier is spectacular, the great tongue of ice weaving its way downhill; at 21.6km (13½ miles) it is Europe’s longest glacier, stretching south towards the Rhône valley close to the Brig–Andermatt railway. From the end of June until early October, a two-day hike over the glacier is offered to those who are fit and have a head for heights, overnighting in the Konkordia hut.
The glacier is best accessed when travelling on one of Switzerland’s many railway routes.
Geneva – Martiny – Brig
This fast stretch of line along the Rhône valley serves some of Switzerland’s most popular skiing resorts, reflected by the through TGV service to/from Paris on winter Saturdays. The broad valley itself alternates between fruit growing and industry, while every parcel of land on the slopes seems to be planted with vines.
On the outskirts of Brig, the bus stops at Ried bei Brig, where a gondola ascends to Rosswald, a car-free village with a fine view west along the Rhône Valley. Another bus route serves the region at the foot of the Aletsch glacier, starting from beneath the Jungfrau, as it curves southwest towards Belalp. The bus goes from Brig station through the historic villages of Naters and Geimen to Blatten bei Naters.
From here a cable car ascends to Belalp for a fine view of the glacier. The first non-Swiss known to have visited Belalp was Ruskin, in 1844. Belalp is the start of the UNESCO Panoramaweg walk to Riederfurka, a 16km (10-mile) hike which packs in wildflower pasture, glacier views and magnificent mountain vistas, plus a spectacular suspension bridge.
Brig – Andermatt
This section of the Glacier Express continues up the Rhône Valley into the eastern part of the Upper Valais known as the Goms, with the first spiral tunnel of the journey. Along the ridge to the north of the railway is the lovely Arolla pine forest of Aletsch, which offers fine walking. Some of the villages are also small ski resorts.
Until December 2007, trains had to reverse at Brig, but a new alignment along the south side of the River Rotten/Rhône created a through station. The much-rebuilt medieval Catholic church at Mörel has 16th- and 17th-century wall paintings, and a walk of 1 or 3 minutes from the station are two cable cars to the car-free resort of Riederalp.
With Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp, Riederalp forms the largest car-free area in Europe with the World Heritage Site of the Aletsch Arena and Europe’s longest glacier behind the 8km shelf of rock. A chairlift continues to Moosfluh, which is at one end of the Aletsch Panoramaweg, the 12.4km path to Fiescheralp that provides some of the best views over the glacier.
Five minutes’ walk from Fiesch station is the two-section cable car to Eggishorn from which there are outstanding views along the great Aletsch Glacier, Europe’s longest at about 24km (15 miles). In contrast to the view of the glacier from places such as Jungfraujoch, from here you get a much better idea of its immense size.