Saas-Fee: Why you should visit Switzerland in summer

Winter may draw the crowds, but a visit to this Swiss village in summer offers countless other ways to get active (and higher) in the mountains...

6 mins

“Woo! Girl power!” a fellow hiker cheered, pumping a fist in the air. Our all-female group – a rare sight even these days in the Swiss Alps – had just started the ascent of Saas-Fee’s 4,027m Allalinhorn. It’s one of 45 peaks in the Valais region that’s over 4,000m, 18 of which are in the Saas Valley. A purple rope threaded between us all, leading to Elsie Trichot at the front, our female guide. In front of her sloped the almost spherical dome of the Allalinhorn, glistening white against the contrasting blue sky.

“Around 90% of mountaineers are men,” Elsie told me before our ascent, while we waited among the summer skiiers at the bottom of the Alpine Metro – the longest funicular in the world – in Saas-Fee village. Small, softly spoken yet strong and assertive, Elsie is one of just 42 female mountain guides in Switzerland: the other 1,556 are male.

“This is what my husband gave me instead of an engagement ring,” she said once we’d exited the station at Mittelallalin (3,457m), slicing through a rope with her Swiss army knife.

“Much more practical.”

I turned around, shading my eyes with my hand to make out the peak of the Allalinhorn. Even the sun seemingly struggled to get above its summit. I cast my eyes across the unbroken sea of snow, trying and failing to seek out the route that we’d take up.

“Are you warm enough?” Elsie asked.

“Yes, really warm,” I replied.

“Trick question!” She grinned. “If you’re warm now, you’ll be too hot once we start walking. Listen to your body. If you’re hot, take off a layer, if you’re hungry, eat; and if you’re thirsty, drink.”

Admiring the reflection of the Dom – Switzerland’s second-highest peak at 4,445m – in the glacial lake near Längfluh (Jemma Maryniak)

Admiring the reflection of the Dom – Switzerland’s second-highest peak at 4,445m – in the glacial lake near Längfluh (Jemma Maryniak)

I took off my layers while Elsie laced up my crampons with expert efficiency. She checked all four of us were ready and then led us on what would be a steady two-hour climb to the top. We paused around half-way to rest at a spot with views of the surrounding peaks, including Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn. The latter, as vertical as a skyscraper, was a stark reminder that not all 4,000m peaks are equal and I was grateful that I was climbing the gentle dome of the Allalinhorn, arguably the easiest of them all.

I thought of Lucy Walker, a British climber who became the first ever woman to climb the Matterhorn in 1871. I wondered how she would feel if she knew that groups of women were now following in her footsteps. Pleased I am sure, but perhaps also disappointed that even 150 years after her historic climb, mountaineering is still so male dominated.

This is something women are fighting to change. The 100% Women Peak Challenge started on International Women’s Day 2021 and called on women from all over the world to take on one of Switzerland’s 4,000m peaks in Lucy Walker’s honour, encouraging more women onto the mountains. Following my time in Valais, the challenge has since been completed, with over 400 females climbing all 48 of Switzerland’s 4,000m peaks.

Continuing our own climb, we zigzagged higher, the snow underfoot seemingly changing from sand to sugar to shards of glass, and I had to stamp my crampons in with force to avoid slipping. Ahead was another climbing group, looking as small as toy soldiers on the side of the imperious peak.

As we got closer to the top, the terrain changed again, and I found myself on all fours, scrambling up the scree, which slipped away from my feet, Elsie’s voice giving calm instructions from ahead. Then it was just one long narrow path to the cross that marks the top. It was like walking the plank, nothing but craggy drops on either side, giving way to a skyline of undulating mountains.

The author standing above the clouds on Allalinhorn’s 4,027m peak (Jemma Maryniak)

The author standing above the clouds on Allalinhorn’s 4,027m peak (Jemma Maryniak)

Reaching the cross and placing a hand on it, I felt euphoric. From the top of the Allalinhorn everything is clear: the empty sky, the blanket of snow, the views of the Matterhorn and your mind. It was hard to tell where the snowy peaks ended and the puffs of clouds suspended next to them started. The only sound was the distant rumble of avalanches that unfolded around us like thunder. Standing 4,027m above the ground, looking down at the mountain tops and clouds that I had to crane my neck to see from its base, was an empowering feeling.

Soon Elsie started rounding us up for the descent. “Don’t lose concentration now ladies,” she said, warning us that being on the mountains too late in the day, when the snow starts melting, is dangerous. Indeed, by the time we were nearing the station again, the sun was warm on my face and the ground had already started turning to slush.

Swiss Summer Adventures

Mountain climbing isn’t the only summer activity in Saas-Fee. At 1,800m, the village is in easy reach of further Alpine adventures. Here, 350km of hiking trails, around-150km of bike paths and summer ski slopes can keep active travellers busy all season. Human visitors aren’t the only ones basking in the sunshine though, as a cable car ride to the Spielboden viewpoint (2,448m) revealed.

The marmot spotting started before we even left the cable car and we watched the rodents from the window squabbling for food. Once on the ground, we walked the Marmot Trail, a 45-minute loop that weaved between the burrows offering almost guaranteed sightings of the giant rodents. By the time I was there in August, they had been out of hibernation for four months and had grown fat from the many monkey nuts and carrots fed to them by visitors to lure them out of their burrows. When the snow comes, they disappear back into their underground homes to hibernate for six to eight months until mid-April, when they will emerge slimmed down and hungry once more.

But climate change means that the snow is coming later and melting earlier, so the marmots are spending less time hibernating. One of the starkest physical markers of how global warming is changing the landscape here is the Fee Glacier, which you can see from the trail. 40 years ago, the glacier covered all the green land of the Marmot Trail, hard to believe on the sunny and warm August day that I was there.

10 bucket-list adventures to have in Saas-Fee

Saas-Fee’s cutest and friendliest residents, the marmots (Jemma Maryniak)

Saas-Fee’s cutest and friendliest residents, the marmots (Jemma Maryniak)

To get an even better view of the Fee Glacier, we headed to the 2,869m lookout point on Längfluh. Its grey, scarred body started from the snowy cap of the Allalinhorn, melting into the surrounding greenery lower down. Four decades earlier, it had reached the bottom of the forest in the village and was 70m taller, blocking the view to the Felskinn station, which we could now see clearly.

Sights like this make it almost impossible to ignore the effects of climate change, and the Valais region takes sustainability seriously with numerous green initiatives. Saas-Fee village, for example, is completely car-free and the Mattmark dam, the largest natural dam in Europe, produces enough hydro electricity to power the entire village. Despite these efforts, locals and visitors alike have had to adapt to the growing summer season, with a rise in activities such as wild swimming – it’s predicted there will be 50 new glacial lakes in the area in the next 20 years.

Another seasonal favourite is the via ferratas, with four in the area to choose from. Back in the safe hands of Elsie, we headed to the Gorge Alpine to take the adventurous route from Saas-Fee to Saas-Grund. For three hours, we climbed pegs in the cliff faces, walked across suspension bridges and swung Tarzan-like across the Fee Ravine. The route gave a unique perspective on the pin-striped rock faces, the vein-like waterfalls and the pastel blue water drumming through the bottom of the gorge, leaving white lines on the side of the rocks like chalk paintings. Beyond were the ever-present mountains, some the colour of army camouflage. The highest ones were an icy white, a sight that seemed impossible under a summer sky empty except for the sun.

Taking on the Gorge Alpine with the help of experienced guide Elsie Tricho (Jemma Maryniak)

Taking on the Gorge Alpine with the help of experienced guide Elsie Tricho (Jemma Maryniak)

I was then lowered on a rope from a suspension bridge into a mossy forest. Almost the minute the adrenaline stopped, the calmness seeped in. The sun filtered through the trees, turning the leaves that trapped its light a glowing emerald.

I returned to Saas-Fee elated. Despite the excitement of the via ferrata, my eyes kept being drawn to the ever-present Allalinhorn. The thought that I had stood right at the top, rising to its challenge, was a thrilling one. The greater test will be encouraging more women to do the same while ensuring the climate stays cold enough for future generations. Staring up at that peak, it was a challenge I was optimistic Valais would meet.

Essential travel information for Saas-Fee

Getting there

The nearest airports to Saas-Fee are Zurich and Geneva, both of which can be reached from London City and London Heathrow airports with Swiss International Airlines in under two hours (from £69). From Zurich, it’s around a two-hour train to Visp followed by a 45-minute bus to Saas-Fee village. A train from Geneva to Visp takes around two-and-a-half hours. Buy a Swiss Travel Pass for unlimited access to over 90 cities by train, bus and boat as well as free entry to over 500 museums; from £186.

Getting around

Electric taxis operate in car-free Saas-Fee but the easiest way to travel is through the network of buses and cableways.

A Saastal Card (included with your hotel stay once you have paid the visitor tax) gives you free use of nine cableways and unlimited use of the PostBus.


There are a range of places to stay in Saas Fee to suit all styles and ranging in price, including hotels, bed and breakfasts, traditional chalets and group accommodation options.

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