Our heritage

Manuela Vigilante

My 'Unisco UNESCO' discovery trek (part 1)

My name is Manuela, I am qualified as a psychologist and I work as a support teacher in primary and nursery schools. I am very fond of nature and mountains. For the past two years, I have been involved in a personal project to (re)discover the UNESCO World Heritage in Switzerland.

How did the 'unisco UNESCO' project come about and how did you prepare for this adventure?
I decided to design this project for two reasons. It was the autumn of 2019 and I had just finished another discovery project in Switzerland, which I had been engaged in for a year and a half, and I was feeling a bit empty. I felt a great desire inside me to undertake something else similar. The project that had just been completed was called 'From A to Z in 44 days' and I had discovered hidden corners of Switzerland that were far from the usual tourist destinations. The aim of the project was to walk the route in each canton from the first municipality in alphabetical order to the last, using only the Swiss hiking trail network (with the help of the SwitzerlandMobility app) and, with a couple of exceptions, using public transport. So I was keen to embark on a similar project. It occurred to me that I hadn't yet visited all the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Switzerland, so I thought I could combine the two and devise a circular walking route that would allow me to visit them all. And so "Unisco UNESCO" was born. My partner Moreno came up with the idea for the name while we were discussing this project on a trip to Chur. Travel always brings inspiration.

I was physically fit enough, but before I actually set off, I spent some time studying a map of Switzerland to find a circular route that would allow me to visit all the sites, of which there were 12 at the time the project was conceived and which have since grown to 13. I then tried to divide the entire route into sections of 25-30 km each. In addition to the route to be covered on foot (always following the Swiss trekking network), I had to calculate to arrive at the end of the route at a place where there was a bus or train stop, so that I could return home once the walk was over.

So this is the order of the wonders to (re)discover along my route, which I mapped out when there were still 12:
- Monte San Giorgio
- Castles of Bellinzona
- Tectonic Area Sardona
- The Rhaetian Railway
- Convent of Müstair
- Abbey and Library of St. Gallen
- Old city of Bern
- La Chaux de Fonds and Le Locle
- Geneva (home to one of Le Corbusier's works)
- Lavaux
- Corseaux (home of Le Corbusier's Villa Le Lac)
- Aletsch Glacier .

As far as the pile-dwellings were concerned, since I had discovered in the meantime that there were more than 50 in Switzerland, I did not plan to visit any one in particular, but to stop and visit those that I would find along this more than 2000 km long path.

The initial idea was to be able to walk the different sections one after the other, but I soon realised that this would not be feasible. First of all, because I carry out my project mainly during my Wednesdays off, so I have to calculate the time between the outward journey, the actual walk and the return journey and make sure that everything can be done in a day. Thinking about the areas furthest away from Ticino, it is immediately clear that not all the routes are feasible in one day. I thought I would be able to finish the project in just over two years, but instead, due to the lock-down, the unfavourable weather in summer 2021 and other factors, I find myself in January 2022 with not even half of the project completed.

After the preparation period, when did you start your journey?
The first milestone took place on 15 January 2020: I travelled by public transport to Brusino Arsizio, climbed up to Monte San Giorgio, where I could admire one of the World Heritage Sites, and then descended towards Melide, returning home by train. On my days off and in good weather, I then did the following stages.

On the fifth stage, on 3 July, I arrived at Ghirone (at the top of the Blenio valley) and there I was to cross the Greina plateau and descend into the Surselva on my way to the Sardona tectonic area. This included an overnight stay at the Terri Hut. When it came to booking sleeping accommodation, I had to deal with the occupancy of the hut, which, like all huts, was overcrowded due to the travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic emergency, and like all Alpine huts, the Terrihütte only had half the beds available. I therefore continued to make single stages scattered around Switzerland and travelled several days during my holidays or at times when I was already in the area for other reasons. Every now and then I was a bit surprised because, although the Swiss network of paths is very extensive, twice now I have come across or even walked the other way round a section of the 'A to Z' project and I was very excited.

In my research, which I carry out when planning the individual routes, I have discovered several things. One of these is that a special path has been created in the Sardona area, number 73 on SwitzerlandMobility. The path is divided into 6 stages and starts in Filzbach and ends in Flims. Along the way there are information boards and viewpoints with various explanations. I had therefore planned to walk this trail in two 4-day treks because I wanted to take advantage of this trip to the Glarus Alps, which are unknown to me, to do other things not included in the official route, such as climbing up to Piz Sardona, climbing up to Martinsloch or visiting some of the side valleys. Unfortunately, the summer of 2021 did not offer us favourable weather conditions, and on the very days in which I had planned the two treks and booked the various huts for myself and my travelling companions, there were heavy storms with various weather warnings. So both treks were cancelled. We only managed to do the stretch from Flims to Elm, which allowed us to see the Martinsloch up close.

At present, I have therefore already visited or revisited Monte San Giorgio, the castles of Bellinzona, revisited the tectonic area of Sardona with its Martinsloch, visited the monastery in Müstair and the Abbey of St Gallen and the island of Werd, where there are some pile-dwelling sites.

In July 2021 a new asset was added to the list: the beech forests of Lodano in Ticino and Bettlachstock in canton Solothurn: I waited until autumn to visit both, so I could admire them in a blaze of colour.

In August 2021 I did the section of the Blue-White Trail between the Bettmerhorn and Eggishorn, which offers a breathtaking view of the Aletschgletscher. So I made a small exception to the 'rules' of my project: I walked an alpine trail (white-blue-white) instead of a red-and-white trail. But I was not alone in this: my partner Moreno is always with me on the slightly 'riskier' or more technical stages. In the mountains, you should never go alone.

I still have to do the stretch along the Rhaetian Railway, I have to complete the stretch to Bern, Le Locle, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Geneva, Lavaux (all of which I have already seen on other occasions or even on the other project) and several other stretches in the Engadin.

What is your favourite place? Do you have any secrets to share?
All of these places are special to me, but perhaps the Martinsloch and the Aletsch Glacier struck me most. The Martinsloch Glacier because I've wanted to see it for years. I had already been to the area several times, but had never been up there to admire it up close. And I have another dream: to go to Elm on one of the two days of the spring or autumn solstice to see the phenomenon of the sun rays hitting the church tower through the hole in the mountain. 

The Aletscharena, on the other hand, impressed me a lot because the glaciers impress and fascinate me, but I am also very saddened by the idea that they are retreating and will disappear. I am very sensitive to environmental issues and I feel very sorry for this situation. In my free time I also do mountaineering, and on my wish list I have the Jungfrau and the Aletschhorn as my next destinations, which fit in well with my "Unisco UNESCO" project. Every time I do these little ventures, I ask myself how many more years it will be possible to do mountaineering. The terrain is becoming very unstable and therefore more dangerous. The glaciers are melting, and certain routes that until recently could be climbed without any particular difficulty are now becoming more challenging and dangerous. In the last two years I have also reduced this activity a little, because I felt a little unsafe going to the high mountain huts with their large communal dormitories.

I don't remember a significant experience in particular, but I like on my travels to be able to talk to the people I meet on the train or along the trails and share some thoughts with them. I have noticed that my project always arouses interest and admiration. I have a FB page where I keep a diary of my journeys, post photos and tell anecdotes that happen to me during my walks. I would like to do a blog or a small guidebook, but these are all ideas that require time, which I lack at the moment because, in addition to my work, I am busy with various other projects. For example, I helped with the renovation of the Piansecco hut in Val Bedretto, and together with three friends I created an educational mountain trail between All'Acqua and the Piansecco hut, and I am still very active in helping to run the hut.

I have a lot of other dreams in my drawer, but I suffer from the evil of them all: I lack the time to realise them. So I am thinking of reducing my workload so that I can devote more time to them. I am also very envious of those people who manage to make their passions their profession. I am still very happy with my profession, but after 23 years I am starting to feel the strain of working in the social field and I feel the call of nature more and more strongly. The best thing for me would therefore be to reduce the time of my current job by one day and during that day devote myself to a job that integrates some of my passions and allows me to be a little more in touch with nature. I would really like to work in the field of tourism promotion of the beauties of Switzerland, its natural parks and also its UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

My two projects ("From A to Z in 44 days" and "Unisco UNESCO") are not epic experiences and there are many people doing similar or much more difficult things. But I like the idea of thinking that I have done and am doing something that no one has ever done before.

I don't have any advice for people who want to visit UNESCO WOrld Heritage Sites, except to look at these heritages with eyes full of wonder, but also to be able to savour the little things that, although not on the UNESCO World Heritage List, are just as beautiful and make our journeys wonderful and unique.

January 2022