The Hidden Switzerland – a Saas-Fee Adventure

In the weeks before my visit to Saas-Fee I asked friends and acquaintances if they had ever been there before and if they had any recommendations on what to see or do. Almost universally I received a ‘no’ with most folks never even having heard of the Swiss mountain resort, which is only a few hours from Luzern. In many ways I am grateful that we have an undiscovered gem to share with our Living in Luzern readers. I recently spent 3 days in Saas-Fee (and the surrounding villages) and found it to be a wonderful retreat with a wide variety of things to offer for single travellers, couples, or families. I know I only scratched the surface of what’s available but I wanted to give you a taste in the hopes that you will someday find your own way there, as I did.

Let’s start at the beginning. Saas-Fee is the largest of several villages in the Saas valley in south-west Switzerland, with a population of 1,600. It inhabits the valley to the east of Zermatt and the village sits at over 1800 meters. The village is about a 3 hour drive from Luzern (much more about logistics below). It is home to 13 different 4000 metre peaks and gets over 300 days of sun per year. It has an amazing amount to offer in both summer and winter, but for this article we’re going to focus on the summer offerings.

saas-fee-logoI mentioned it is in the neighborhood of Zermatt and that’s something I want to talk a bit more about. Everyone knows Zermatt, most people have been to Zermatt. It’s world famous, the subject of movie plots, celebrity sightings, and the majesty of the Matterhorn. Yet, if given a choice I will return to Saas-Fee before I go back to Zermatt. Because of its more famous neighbor there is a sense in Saas-Fee that it needed to differentiate itself and maintain its traditional alpine village feel (which it has in spades), whilst finding ways to make visitors more comfortable and focus on the overall experience, and simply aim for a different vibe than one finds in Zermatt. Saas-Fee is quieter, less crowded and less commercialized than Zermatt. It is an experience more than a destination. Because of its distance from Luzern it is best suited for a long weekend or extended visit. I plan to make it part of my rotation of alpine resorts, that I return to every year or two. As I mentioned, I didn’t even scratch the surface during my time there but I wanted to share with you some of the highlights I came across.

Things to do and see

Citizens Pass
Included in the cost of your hotel (as part of the tourist tax) is a Citizens Pass which provides free and unlimited use of the 8 local cable cars and the PostAuto buses if you want to explore the other villages in the Saas valley. It also gives you a discount on parking and some offers from local partners. In short, it just makes it easy because you don’t have to worry about having to buy tickets constantly as you explore the area and gives you the incentive to try everything! One note: the Pass is valid during your entire stay and either the day you arrive or the day you depart but not both, so be strategic in how you plan your use of the cable cars.

Summer Skiing
Saas-Fee is one of the few places in Switzerland that offers summer skiing. There are 3 lifts and 20km of slopes available. There is also a freestyle ski area at 3500m.

Adventure Forest
Just on the edge of the village is a beautiful forest that houses an adventure rope park for kids and adults. The first thing you will notice is that the forest is well shielded and much cooler than the village. It has a constant gentle breeze, birds chirping and I lost count of all the butterflies I saw. It also has a suone, a swiss-style aqueduct that carries water to farmlands in the area, running through the spine of the forest. The sound of the stream is a welcome addition to a remarkably peaceful forest interspersed with two different challenge courses (one for a adults and one for children).

Adjacent to the forest is Europe’s longest zip line at 280m in length which takes you through the Fee gorge. There is also a 900 meter toboggan run called Feeblitz which propels you down the slope and through the forest at 40kph.


Hiking, Biking and Climbing
There are 350km of hiking trails and 70km of biking trails in and around Saas-Fee itself. Many of the hikes you can do on your own but its also an option to hire a local guide to help you find the most beautiful spots. There are also themed trails which take you to the various glaciers in the area as well as ones focused on the wild flowers which grow along the paths.

Saas-Fee also attracts mountaineers, for its 13 different peaks over 4000m, including Dom, the highest peak (4545m) completely inside of Switzerland. The folks at Saas Fee Guides can help you with a guide and planning your itinerary if you wish to do some mountain climbing.


Before visiting I was most looking forward to the hiking and the magnificent views. Those exceeded expectations but my most endearing memories will be feeding the Marmots of Saas-Fee. The alpine marmot is in the squirrel family and live in burrows and hibernates during the winter. Marmots are a protected species in Saas-Fee and thus have no natural predators. The result of this is that they are extremely friendly to the point where you can feed them and even scratch them behind the ears (they seem to like that). Marmots can be found in many places in the valley outside the village. When you go ask your hotel for the best spots to find them. Here’s a short video I took of Bruno and I feeding a marmot some peanuts. You will notice that there is no reaction, no flinching, when he pets the marmot. This is a great activity to do with the kids; buy some nuts or carrots and go searching for marmots to feed. It was one of the highlights of my trip.

No visit to Saas-Fee is complete without travelling up to the Mittelallalin at an elevation of 3500m. You take the cable car to Felskinn and then the Metro Alpin (the highest underground train in the world) up the rest of the way. Once you get there you’ll have an amazing 360 degree view which is best served by the world’s highest revolving restaurant. Unlike other such restaurants this actually adds to the experience as there is so much to see in every direction. I can also recommend ordering the fresh ravioli which are made with local Valais cheese.

_marshmallowThe Mittelallalin has snow year-round and offers sledging and tubing slopes; an extensive Ice Pavillion (which is undergoing an expansion and will be open later this summer) as well as the opportunity to scale your first 4000m peak, Allalin, with a mountain guide. It’s reputed to be the easier 4000m peak to summit anywhere in the Alps (since you are starting your ascent at 3500m.)

Cultural Events & Experiences_concert

There is an extensive calendar of concerts & festivals going on during the summer season, with the local yodelling club (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year) a particular highlight. There are also opportunities to learn how to make rye bread, brew your own beer, and attend a cheese-making demonstration. The Saas-Fee website or your hotel can help you find out what’s going on during your visit. I was lucky enough to be there for the first of their weekly (Thursday) summer concerts where I enjoyed the children’s traditional dance performances as well as the local group of alphorn aficionados.

Logistics for a Visit

Where: Saas-Fee is located in the canton Valais very close to the Italian border. It sits at the end of the long Saas valley which includes several other villages (Saas-Grund, Saas-Almagell, and Saas-Balen).

Getting There: If you drive you have a few routes to choose from: 1) via the Furka pass; 2) via the Grimselpass; and 3) via Interlaken to the Lötschberg Tunnel train. Whatever way you choose, I would suggest taking your time on the way back to drive the Furka pass with frequent stops to gawk at the amazing site of both the Furka and Grimsel switchback roads snaking their way up the mountainsides. As always, Google Maps or your car’s GPS is going to provide you the best route options. As with many destinations in Switzerland, the drive there is half the fun.

If you want to get there by train it is also a 3 hour journey via Bern & Visp. It leaves you at the bus terminal in Saas-Fee (next to the parking garage) right on the edge of the small village. A halbtax round trip ticket from Luzern costs CHF96 which makes the journey by car more economical, especially if you have lots of gear (or are coming with children).

When to Go: The summer season starts in June but because of the high elevation it is best to wait until mid-July for a visit. The summer season goes through to early October.

Parking: Saas-Fee is car-free with a large covered parking garage right at the entrance to the village. You cannot miss it. Since the garage is right on the edge of the village it is easy to go back to your car if you forgot something or don’t want to take all of your gear to your hotel. Parking is CHF14/day but you get a discount with the Citizens Pass (the kassa machine asks if you have a Citizens Pass when pay. I saved CHF20 by having the Citizens Pass).

Accommodations: For a village of 1,600 Saas-Fee has almost 10,000 bed available in a wide variety of lodgings (hotels, guest houses, BnBs, hostels). Here are a few resources to get you started.

AirBnB in Saas-Fee in Saas-Fee

Recommendation: Beau-site Boutique Hotel
I would not hesitate to recommend the hotel I stayed at, the Beau-site Boutique Hotel, a beautiful alpine-style hotel with an incredibly friendly staff, a wellness spa, and variety of room sizes including larger rooms to accommodate families with children. It’s just a few minutes walk from the parking garage and is right in the centre of the village. The rooms are rustic and the breakfast spread is generous and delicious. There are half-board options which include dinner in an adjoining restaurant but I would suggest just including breakfast so you can explore the other culinary options in the village. This hotel will give you a genuine alpine experience and you might find yourself wandering the halls looking at all of the old tourist posters and other displays showing the cultural history of the area. I know I did.

Author’s Note: My trip was sponsored by Saas-Fee Tourism and I was hosted by Bruno Schaub and Fabienne Jeanneret of Saas-Fee Tourism. They both were extremely generous with their time in showing me all Saas-Fee has to offer.  Saas-Fee Tourism had no editorial role in this article. All opinions are my own.
All photos & videos by Luke Bragg


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