BEST PLACES YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF
Scouting Report: Binn, Switzerland
Eleven people lucky enough to travel for a living reveal their favorite recent discoveries—places they happened upon and still can't stop thinking about. Here are their stories.
THE TRAVELER Greg Witt, operator of a hiking guide service, Alpenwild. He first tackled the Alps as an 18-year-old backpacker and continues to spend two months in Switzerland every summer.
THE PLACE After decades of canvassing the Swiss countryside (he started leading hikes in 1986), Witt still gets excited about returning to Binn, in a small, secluded Alpine valley at the base of zigzagging peaks sporting countless shades of green. Local residents uphold a pact made more than 50 years ago to resist the kind of overdevelopment that's added posh ski resorts and multilane highways to much of southwestern Switzerland. "Even today, the 16th-century stone bridge leading into the village of Binn bears the load of goats and hikers, not cars and buses," says Witt.
Binn's gravel lanes pick their way among sun-burnished timber houses, small farming plots, and the tiny parish church of St.-Michel. The valley's lone hotel, the Ofenhorn, looms large over Binn. Restored in 2002, the rooms' original strip flooring, period furniture, and floral art nouveau wallpaper hearken back to the late 19th century, when a young Winston Churchill slept there.
Beyond the hotel doors are epic mountain trails. One of Witt's favorites leads to the hamlet of Imfeld and the Restaurant Imfeld, a timber chalet at 4,983 feet with a terrace overlooking a stream and the Alps. Hikers can break for fresh trout and Valais air-dried beef—a regional specialty prepared by rubbing salt and herbs into raw beef and then drying it in a barn for at least six weeks. The trail continues on to the Binntal Hut near the Italian border. "Without ever having to show your passport, you can loop beautiful Alpine lakes and still return to Binn for dinner," says Witt.
THE DETAILS Swiss National Railways and the Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn provide train service to Valais and the upper Rhône Valley town of Fiesch; from there, PostBus Switzerland serves the village of Binn. Hotel Ofenhorn, ofenhorn.ch, doubles from $108, includes breakfast; Restaurant Imfeld, 011-41/27-971-4596, entrées from $9; Binntal Hut, sac-cas.ch, nonmember lodging from $25.
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