Walking the Jura Höhenweg
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The Jura Höhenweg (or High Route) makes for a multi-day hiking tour through a region unlike any other in Switzerland, stretching 199km along the length of the Swiss Jura from Dielsdorf, 12km east of Baden, to Borex near Geneva. End to end it takes about fourteen days to complete. Small villages and isolated farms point to a scant population throughout the region, and you can often find yourself walking for long distances without signs of habitation. In this limestone country there’s a rich flora in summer, and long views across the Mittelland from open ridge crests show either the abrupt wall of the Bernese Alps or the snowy Mont Blanc range.

The notes below are meant as a guideline only: you shouldn’t set off without a good map (those covering the route are LS 5005, 5019, 5016, 241, 242, 5020 and 260 – all at 1:50,000). The essential accompaniment to any part of the walk is The Jura by Kev Reynolds and R. Brian Evans (see books), which gives details of accommodation to be had along the route in modest inns or mountain farms with outhouse dormitories, and also includes winter ski traverses. Local tourist offices can also supply information on hiking short stretches. See p.71 for the basics.

Reached by S-Bahn train from Zürich, Dielsdorf slumbers in a countryside of farms and market gardens, but within an hour of setting out the way goes through Regensburg which, with its thirteenth-century castle turret, stone-walled houses and cobbled square, is the finest village of the whole route. You’ll also pass through Baden and Brugg on the first day, but thereafter the true nature of the Jura becomes evident, with the well-marked trail undulating to the horizon through steep green hills and charming farmland basins. From Brugg the route takes to high ground north of the River Aare, and beyond Staffelegg it almost reaches 1000m on the wooded summit of the Geissflue with views between the trees to the Black Forest. Edging above Olten, on day four the route joins a track engineered by Swiss soldiers during World War I across the flank of the 1098m Belchenflue, adorned with large regimental insignia carved and painted on the steep rock walls. Later the same day hundreds of reinforced timber steps take the path up towards the Roggenflue to emerge on a prominent limestone cliff with more expansive views before descending to Balsthal. Day five ends on the Weissenstein (1284m), whose panorama was immortalized in The Path to Rome by Hilaire Belloc: “One saw the sky beyond the edge of the world getting purer as the vault rose. But right up … ran peak and field and needle of intense ice, remote from the world.”

On reaching Frinvillier on day six the Höhenweg passes suddenly from German-speaking to French-speaking Switzerland, to become known as the Chemin des Crêtes. Architectural styles change too, as though you’ve crossed an international frontier. Above Frinvillier you’ll gain the 1607m Chasseral; ribs of limestone project through the turf, and a hotel just below (032/751 24 51) gazes out to Lac de Neuchâtel with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau floating on the horizon. On day nine the trail edges a huge limestone cauldron, the Creux du Van, the most dramatic feature on the long walk. A farm nearby offers a mattress in an outhouse for the simplest of overnight lodgings, and next day the path leads down to Sainte-Croix, home of the Swiss musical-box industry.

A steady climb then gains an open plateau close to the French border with military defences in evidence, before a sharp pull culminates on the summit of Le Suchet at 1588m. Passing through Vallorbe on day twelve the route investigates the Source de l’Orbe in a woodland whose glades are soggy with newborn streams. Mont Tendre, crossed on the same day, marks the highest point of the Jura at 1679m. From it, you can absorb a panorama of Lake Geneva and the snowcapped Alps. The last two days are spent mostly along the ridge among flowers – from the final high point of La Dôle, walkers can share Rousseau’s pleasure: “The moment when from the very top of the Jura mountains I discovered Lake Geneva, was a moment of ecstasy and delight.” From there, 1200m of descent through woodland, meadows and an open plain of wheatfields, brings the wanderer at last to Borex above Lake Geneva itself.

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