Having grown up midway between two of Britain’s national parks – the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors – and regularly holidayed on the fringes of three more, it’s always struck me as odd that Switzerland, a country with scenery of such epic proportions, should have only one national park.
It’s not where you might expect, either. Given that Britain’s loftiest peaks are all within national parks, by that logic you’d expect the Swiss National Park to encompass mountains such as the Eiger or Matterhorn, but no. Instead, it is in the east of the country, around the Ofen Pass in the Engadine.
No permit is needed to visit, but you do need to adhere to a long list of rules. Besides the obvious ones such as no littering or lighting fires, the many don’ts include not paddling or bathing in the lakes and streams, not deviating from the paths (if you want to stop, wait until you reach a rest area, rather than sitting at the side of the trail), and not picking or removing any natural object, not even a fallen stick.
The rationale behind this? To let nature run its course. The park’s founders were concerned about the progression of development in the mountains, so minimal human intervention has always been key concept since the park’s inception in 1914. While it’s true that bearded vultures were deliberately re-introduced, the appearance of the odd brown bear, wolf and lynx is because the animals migrated to the park of their own accord.
All this, and the fact that the forest has returned to a primeval state, has meant that, 65 years after it was established, part of the park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1979.
Which Inntravel holiday? Villages of the Engadine (hotel-to-hotel walking)
Trivia: The emblem of the Swiss National Park is the nutcracker, a rather apt symbol of natural cycles and regeneration. This small, speckled bird feeds on the seeds of the cembra pine and squirrels plenty away each autumn, in readiness for winter. Those seeds it doesn’t manage to find later grow into new trees.