In the hermitage of the great St Nicolas de Flüe
DIDIER HEUMANN, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS
We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live.
For this stage, here is the link:
It is obviously not the case for all pilgrims to be comfortable with reading GPS and routes on a laptop, and there are still many places without an Internet connection. Therefore, you can find a book on Amazon that deals with this course. Click on the title of the book to open Amazon.
If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.
We are in September. The weather is fine, and the school children are out, somewhere towards the Stanserhorn, above Stans. Today as in the past, you are going to walk in the footsteps of Brother Nicolas, where he lived, at the Ranft, to his tomb, in Sachseln. The hermit’s reputation for wisdom and piety was so great that many rulers of ancient Europe were eager for his advice. In 1470, Pope Paul II granted an indulgence to the Sanctuary of Ranft which quickly became a place of pilgrimage.
Despite his illiteracy and his isolation, but for his consummate art of peace, Bruder Klaus remains the main unifier of Switzerland. In 1481, at the Diet of Stans, where the rural cantons feared the entry of the towns of Fribourg and Solothurn into the nascent Swiss Confederation, he wrote a document, which has since disappeared, establishing the rules of a compromise which saved the peace in Switzerland. He was beatified in 1669. After his beatification, the municipality of Sachseln built a church in his honor where he was buried. It was not until 1947 that Pope Pius XII canonized the hermit. Since then, Nicolas de Flüe has been the world patron saint of peace, as much as he is the patron saint of the Pontifical Swiss Guard in the Vatican.
When you get to the Ranft, if it’s the first time for you, you will be stunned by the fervor and the unparalleled charm of this piece of paradise.
Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+623 meters/-611 meters) are not too unreasonable. You’ll slope down as much as you climb. This is not a very difficult stage. Let’s say it’s a fairly moderate stage, in this mountainous part of central Switzerland. But, there are also some slopes greater than 15% during the day, at the start of the stage, in the Ranft valley and at the end of the stage. The day is spent between Nidwalden and Obwalden, the two half-cantons of the canton of Unterwalden. In the first part, there are ups and downs until you reach the severe valley where the Grosse Melchaa flows, near the Ranft and Flüeli. Thereafter, the route descends gently at first, then more steeply towards Sachseln, on the edge of Sarnen Lake.
In this stage, the routes on the pathways are a little more numerous than those following the road:
- Paved roads: 8.5 km
- Dirt roads: 11.0 km
Sometimes, for reasons of logistics or housing possibilities, these stages mix routes operated on different days, having passed several times on Via Podiensis. From then on, the skies, the rain, or the seasons can vary. But, generally this is not the case, and in fact this does not change the description of the course.
It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.
For “real slopes”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.
We have divided the route into several sections, to facilitate visibility. For each section, the maps give the route, the slopes found on the route and the state of Via Jacobi.
Section 1: On the slopes of the Stanserhorn.
General overview of the difficulties of the route: undulating course, with very many steep sections, uphill and downhill.
|We are in September. The weather is fine, and the school children are out, somewhere towards the Stanserhorn, above Stans. Apparently, in this part of Switzerland, you often see schools in nature.|
|Via Jacobi leaves behind the church on a very sloping street.|
|It quickly finds the small chapel of Knirri by the side of the road. This chapel, called Maria zum Schnee was built, according to legend, at a place where an avalanche, descended here in the past, would have spared this corner of meadow.|
|In the distance, beyond Stans, you can see a part of 4 Cantons Lake on the side of Hergiswil and Stansstad, belonging to the canton of Nidwalden, and further on Horw, a stone’s throw from Lucerne.|
For lovers of geography, here is a map that summarizes the complex situation of this extraordinary high-altitude lake imprisoned by several cantons.
|The road then crosses the railway track, where a small train climbs towards the Stanserhorn.|
This is the Switzerland of postcards, where dozens of trains climb to the summits, especially in central Switzerland. In front of you stands the Stanserhorn mountain. The little wooden train does not go to the top of the mountain. A cable car takes over above. The view must be splendid from up there, considering the number of tourists who take the train to Stans in the morning.
|The small road slopes up in the meadows, now on a reasonable slope. Sometimes there is a beautiful house on the road.|
The road then gets to a place called Christenmatt. Here the Ranft ia announced at nearly 5 hours of walking.
|Sometimes the slopes are a little steeper. Here, there are no villages, not even small hamlets, only a few isolated farms in the middle of meadows and cattle. Beyond the hamlet, the road climbs again, narrow in the middle of deciduous trees and meadows…|
|…before finding a small pathway that runs through the undergrowth, then into the meadows.|
On your right, you see the Pilatus, the mountain dominating Lucerne on one side, the Rigi being located on the other side of the lake. Our track does not pass there, but a cogwheel train, the steepest on the planet, climbs the Pilatus with a gradient of up to 50%.
|The pathway will oscillate in the meadows. Everywhere you look is cattle galore, from farms to the top of the hills, and the lake below.|
|On the way, school children have taken the lead. You only see smiles on their faces. Nature is magical again here.|
|Then, Via Jacobi joins a wide dirt road.|
|Further on, it runs above the Murmatt farms to take a tarmac road.|
|The road climbs a little more in the countryside towards some farms, under the wooded cliffs of Stanserhorn.|
Higher up, a pathway runs through the meadows towards the undergrowth. Here, the landscape will radically change.
|You’ll arrive at a place called Brunnisboden and a bad pathway will then undulate, between hollows and bumps, generally downhill, with sometimes substantial slopes, between hardwoods and spruces. Here, the undergrowth is distressingly banal, in the bushes, the ugly and stunted beech shoots and the wild grasses. And in the early morning, the sun hardly penetrates.|
|You just have one desire, to get out of it as soon as possible.|
Section 2: Between the half-cantons of Unterwalden.
General overview of the difficulties of the route: undulating course, not very demanding, with descent in the plain, then climb on the other side on the hills.
|Until now, we were used to traveling through often magical places on the Swiss way. But here you must become disillusioned. This sometimes happens on all the Compostela routes. The pilgrim does not have the right to the exceptional all the time. He’s just passing through. So here, the small pathway that winds through the undergrowth finds a wide dirt road, which runs a long way into the undergrowth. The forest is not beautiful here and neither is the light.|
|Further on appears a wide plain and a wide path, a road for foresters in a way, which skirts the forest.|
|At the end of the undergrowth, the pathway arrives at a place called Halten, in what looks like a small, undeveloped industrial area.|
|A small road then crosses the industrial zone, before joining the cantonal road.|
|Via Jacobi then follows the road, direction St Jakob. From here, for us today, mood is gradually returning.|
|Further afield, the road runs through St Jakob, which is part of the municipality of Ennetmoos, which includes the hamlets of the region, with a population of almost 2,000 inhabitants. You are here at the end of the half-canton of Nidwalden. Shortly after crossing the Melbach River, you will be in the half-canton of Obwalden. In the village, you can eat or stay. At the end of the village, you’ll cross the Rübibach brook.|
|A small dirt road then follows the stream for a while, before sloping up into the undergrowth with its tall beech trees standing guard at the edge of the road.|
|Further on, it emerges in the meadows, from which granite blocks emerge, until you reach the beautiful and large farmhouse of Infängi, all made of dark wood.|
|Immediately after, the pathway will cross the Mehlbach brook in an undergrowth. The river should only have water during periods of flooding. Looks like glacial moraine. Central Switzerland is full of these kinds of dry canyons. You’ll see plenty of them over Lake Brienz in two days.
A canyon, isn’t it the dreamed and natural border to separate two cantons? They could just as well have built an anti-tank barrier to separate the two half-cantons! For the quarrel died out here only at the beginning of this century. But yes. In fact, Unterwalden, one of the three original cantons at the origin of the Swiss Confederation, has never been a single legal unit. From the outset, it had two regions, that of Unterwalden ob dem Wald (above the forest) and that of Unterwalden nid dem Wald (below the forest). But what forest? By the way, this is the Kernwald Forest, a large beech forest near Kerns, the birthplace of Nicolas de Flüe. In fact, all this is an old story of the distribution of property between peasants and powerful clergy. When you’ll walk here, you’ll see how difficult it is to know if you are walking above or below the forest.
But from the outset, the votes of the two cantons have always been collected as half-votes in the Federal Diet. It was not until the Federal Constitution of 1999 which abandoned the notion of half-canton. At the same time it made Obwalden and Nidwalden cantons in their own right. However, each one still counts for a half-vote in the consultations submitted to the vote of the cantons. Why? We will tell you that it is historic. Ah, beautiful Switzerland! In the country, it is said today that the quarrels have ceased and that collaborations are being established. We rejoice.
|A small road will then alternate between countryside and undergrowth. Apparently, you are walking in the beeches of Kernwald.|
Section 3: Over hill and dale in the Oberwalden countryside.
General overview of the difficulties of the route: almost constant uphill, but reasonable slopes.
|A small road then passes between meadows and forest, undulating a little. Here, the piles of hay are pear-shaped, and they are probably protected from the rain by a roof of branches. We have never seen this ploy anywhere else on the trails.|
High above your heads sits the Stanserhorn mountain.
|Shortly after, the road comes out of the woods and in front of you, you can see the steeple of Kerns, the big village of the region here, the birthplace of Nicolas de Flüe.|
|Further, the road still flattens in front of the small chapel of Maichäppli, at the edge of the road.|
|Via Jacobi then heads towards the sprawling village of Wisserlen, mostly in the middle of farms.|
Here, farmers pay tribute to the Braunvieh, which deserves it.
|Before arriving in the center of the village, Via Jacobi changes axis and a small road rises above the village, which mixes modern constructions and old wooden houses.|
|The slope increases on the road, and soon the dirt replaces the tar, near Lätten hamlet.|
|Higher up, the pathway narrows to cross the little Chemattbach brook, through beeches and chestnut trees.|
|Here is the marked green of the Swiss meadows back. The pathway gently undulates on the hill, along a few wooden farms scattered all around.|
|Then, higher up, here is the paved road again. Nicolas de Flüe is already waving to us at the side of the road.|
|Just a little higher, at a place called Lauibach, a welcome stopover, very well stocked, is available to pilgrims. Let’s say here that there is never a crowd of pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago in Switzerland, a route where you meet Germans, Austrians, people from the East, and of course Swiss Germans.|
|There, the small road crosses the Rüfibach brook, which cascades gently over the stones.|
|Via Jacobi then joins the road to St Antoni, near a small picnic spot, in the middle of beeches and maples.|
|It heads to the recently renovated XVIIth century baroque chapel of St Antoni, then slopes up the road along the Foribach brook. In the region, the old houses are only rarely covered with shingles as in eastern Switzerland. The dark and majestic wood is apparently the guideline, in these residences of incomparable beauty.|
|At the exit of the village of St Antoni a small pathway climbs in the meadows.|
|At the top of the climb, the pathway smoothens on a magnificent ridge. On your left, the mountain range passes by. There are still peaks of almost 3,000 meters in the region, between the Uranian Alps and the Bernese Alps. Below, you see the large village of Kerns.|
|Nature is radiant again here. Further below, you see Sarnen Lake, and Sarnen, the capital of the half-canton of Obwalden, at the end of the lake.|
|Shortly after, the pathway arrives at a place known as Schärpfli.|
|Via Jacobi then runs over a small stretch of tarmac near Unteregg.|
Section 4: On the way to the hermitage of the good Saint Nicolas of Flüe.
General overview of the difficulties of the route: leg-breaking course, especially in the Ranft dale, with very steep slopes.
|Via Jacobi then crosses the rare farms of Unterregg.|
|Shortly after, it then returns to the meadows.|
|At the end of the small plateau, the pathway undulates a little more in the meadows. The view of Lake Sarnen below is both splendid and relaxing.|
When you turn around, you can still see the Stanserhorn above Stans.
|Further afield, the pathway crosses a small stream at the entrance to Bethany, where stands a convent of Dominican sisters, a house of formation and reception.
At the end of the XIXth century, a Dominican, Father Lataste, preaches spiritual retreats in prisons in France. He will found a religious community to offer former prisoners the possibility of living in community with other women and sharing a life of prayer and apostolate. They will be the Sisters of Saint Mary Magdalene of Bethany. These sisters are about a hundred, present in three convents, in France, Switzerland and Italy. You can find accommodation and food here.
|Shortly after, the road leads to the village of St Niklausen.|
|Watch out here! The road signs are quite wacky and you don’t know which direction to take. You have to climb to the chapel of St Niklausen above. So, take the small road that passes above the village towards the chapel. On you way up, towards the chapel, you can see the large Flüeli hotel, on the other side of the valley. It looks like a big candy sitting above the lake.|
|The site of the chapel of St Niklausen is magnificent. The chapel, dedicated to St Nicolas de Myre, was built around 1350. It therefore has no connection with the local Nicolas, Nicolas de Flüe. It contains Gothic murals in the chancel, repeatedly plastered over and recently excavated. The chapel was renovated in the XVIIth century, giving it a distinctly Baroque touch, before being restored again at the end of the last century.|
As we said, the directions here are poorly marked and confusing. We will help you. You must arrive below near a small cross by the side of the road. To do this, you have to slope down the small steep pathway in the undergrowth or in the meadows.
|When you arrive near the cross, you find by magic and happiness the signpost of Via Jacobi 4. Phew!|
|Beyond the cross, a small pathway descends towards an undergrowth, then into the meadows in a deep dale. The slopes are steep in the valley, often more than 25%.|
|The dale is magical as was the life of Brother Nicolas who haunted these exceptional places. Through meadows, the pathway arrives at the bottom of the hill, near a small chapel.|
|This is the St Ulrich chapel, a Romanesque chapel from the XIIth century. According to legend, it would have been erected where St Ulrich would have caused a source to gush out to quench his thirst. The frescoes depicting the Old Testament and the Last Judgment are faded, but remarkable.|
|A small pathway, often on logs, then plunges to the bottom of the dale. And the word diving is not too strong…|
|…to cross the Grosse Melchaa, a severe-looking river, a stone’s throw from the world of Nicolas de Flüe.|
Section 5: Nicolas de Flüe, from life to death.
Overview of the difficulties of the route: demanding route at the bottom of the Ranft dale, then a break in Flüeli, before the descent to Sachseln, with sometimes also steep slopes, especially towards the end.
|Nicolas de Flüe was born in 1417, in Kerns. He became a peasant and built himself a house in Flüeli, where he married. Five boys and five girls will be born of this marriage. Nicolas became a member of the municipal council and a judge. He had a special talent as a mediator. He felt connected to his family, but the desire to renounce all earthly possessions grew within him. After years of doubts, his wife let him go. Dressed as a pilgrim, in 1467 Nicolas left his home, his land and his family. He took the direction of Basle, wanted to go abroad, but changed his mind. He then decided to settle on his own land, not far from his house, at the bottom of a deep ravine. Without eating or drinking, he spent the winter there in poverty and cold. The following year, the locals built him a small house and a chapel. The peasant Nicolas de Flüe had become Bruder Klaus, the brother Nicolas, a hermit.
He thus lived as Brother Nicolas, according to tradition without food or drink (it is attested by the Vatican guards, who carried out the investigation), abandoned to God and to men. In 1481, a dispute arose between the city cantons and the country cantons about the admission of Fribourg and Solothurn into the nascent Confederation. The wise advice of Nicolas helped to save peace within the Swiss Confederation, during the diet of Stans. For once, the story of Nicolas is a historical fact, which the myths surrounding the birth of the country in the Rütli are perhaps not. Nicholas was beatified in 1649.
Immediately after crossing the Grosse Melchaa River, the pathway reaches the lower chapel, called Untere Ranftkapelle, the lower chapel, a Gothic building dating from 1501. The interior of the chapel is painted with frescoes from the XVIth century. The Ranft site is truly remarkable, almost divine, full of religiosity.
The hermitage itself is a stone’s throw away, above a chalet where souvenirs are sold.
|Here you find another chapel, the so-called Obere Ranftkapelle, the upper chapel, with the attached living cell of the hermit. The chapel was rebuilt towards the end of the XVIIth century and contains a cycle of paintings on the life of Brother Nicolas. On the other hand, the dwelling house is largely original, although the stone pillow, stolen by admirers of the saint, is sometimes replaced.|
|A narrow, tarred, landscaped path slopes up beyond the Ranft in the meadows towards the Flüeli plateau. Visitors here often stride down the demanding slope.|
Moreover, for visitors who arrive here by car, walking time is offered. Downhill, not uphill! For you who have been there, you can still see St Nicholas Chapel in the woods at the top of the hill.
|Flüeli presents a hotel that looks a bit like the castle of Sleeping Beauty. Many Swiss and foreign tourists come to the Ranft. The church is perched on a promontory dominating the village.|
|Tourists also come for the house originally built by Nicolas. You can easily imagine that it can hardly be original. This house remained the property of the Flüe family for centuries, then became a kind of museum. It was extensively restored in 1946. Everything is there, the furniture, the crockery, even the creaking wood.|
|Via Jacobi comes out of Flüeli under the church.|
It crosses a house which could well be the twin sister of that of Nicolas. The house is just incredible in beauty and serenity under its burnt wood.
|Then, it runs through a small undergrowth before beginning the descent towards Sachseln.|
|Quickly, the descent accelerates between grass and dirt along the farms.|
|Further down, at a place called Ingang, Sachseln is announced at a big half-hour walk.|
|The descent is largely on small pathways in the meadows, in the middle of beeches, chestnuts and maples. At the beginning, the descent is quite gentle, in the middle of isolated farms. Quite quickly, you see Sachseln below, at the edge of Sarnen Lake.|
|Nature is beautiful here again, the meadows as clean as in the beautiful books. Everywhere, you breathe the good grass.|
|Further down, the slope steepens as the pathway approaches the isolated farms of Endi. But Via Jacobi does not go there. It quickly turns left.|
|Then, the pathway meanders between countryside and undergrowth until it joins a small road above Sachseln.|
|The road then runs along some old houses carefully restored, which seem to be second homes. It must be good to live here.|
|Here you are above Sachseln. Sarnen, the capital of the half-canton of Obwalden, can be seen in the distance, at the end of the lake.|
|Shortly after, Via Jacobi leaves the road to reach an undergrowth.|
|A small pathway descends very steeply to the entrance to Sachseln.|
There are even stairs in the steepest places.
|Beautiful and old houses are present on the heights of the village. Some facades are covered with shingles. The slope remains steep down to the center of the borough (4,850 inhabitants). .|
|To understand what is happening here, you have to do a bit of history. The parish church of Saint-Théodule also serves as a pilgrimage church for Nicolas de Flüe. It is a building classified as cultural property of national importance. The original church dates back to the XIIIth century. Brother Klaus was buried in this church after his death on March 21, 1487, which was absolutely unusual for a layman in the countryside.
The canonization of the saint in the middle of the XVIIth century created an increasing flow of pilgrims to Sachseln. So, the little church became too small, and it was decided to build a new one. The locals actively participated through their personal labor and their taxes in the construction of the new church. The first stone was laid in 1672 and it then functioned using the two churches, built at right angles. Thus, the services could continue to be celebrated in the old church during the construction of the new building. In 1679 the nave was completed, so the oak coffin with the bones of Brother Klaus were transferred to the new church. In the same year, the demolition of the old church was undertaken, but the Marienkapelle was retained, so that the environment around the initial tomb of the saint survived the demolition. Around 1703 an ossuary was built on this chapel and in 1878 the two buildings were merged to form today’s funeral chapel (Grabkapelle). The total construction of the church lasted 12 years from 1672 to 1684. Thereafter, the transformations were minor, except that the tomb of brother Klaus is now located in the high altar since 1976, in a cavity closed at the front with a window. You may see a statue created in 1934 by a local goldsmith. The relics of Brother Klaus are kept in a chrome steel container.
Thus, the tower is from the XIIIth century, raised in the XVIIth century by a baroque cupola, which still remains the base of the Mortuary Chapel (Grabkapelle). Even if the bones of the saint have traveled a lot, there is still a trace in poor condition in the mortuary chapel.
|The church of Sachseln, with its dark and black marbles is a very beautiful baroque building.|
|Since 1610, the bure worn by the hermit has been kept in the parish church. Its authenticity is proven. In 1975, the badly damaged homespun was restored to the National Museum in Zurich.|
|Beautiful paneled houses occupy the square near the church, where there is also a museum dedicated to the saint. You can spend the night here, but to treat yourself, you can also push on to Zollhaus, 5 kilometers further, to stay there. The hostel there is worth a visit.|
Logements sur la Via Jacobi
|Guestroom, dinner, breakfast||B&B Wallimann-Sasaki, Rohrmatte 6||041 610 99 65/079 337 99 65|
|Guestroom, breakfast||Werner & Béatrice Barmettler, Oberhofstatt||041 610 99 65|
|Guestroom, dinner, breakfast||Kloster Béthanie, Bethanienstrasse||041 666 02 00|
|Youth hostel, cuisine||Jugendunterkundt, Dossen 2||041 660 85 50|
|Guestroom||Marianne Von Ah, Chilweg 24||041 660 69 41|
|Hotel***, dinner, breakfast||Hotel PaxMontana, Dossen 1||041 662 24 00|
|Hotel***, dinner, breakfast||Hotel Klausenhof, Melchtalerstrasse 25||041 666 37 77|
|Hotel***, dinner, breakfast||Hotel FlüeMatte||041 660 12 84|
|Guestroom, breakfast||B&B Geisser & Joller, Hansenmatti 3||041 610 74 06/079 278 98 74|
|Guestroom breakfast||Franziska Santana, Seestrasse 24||041 660 45 09|
|Guestroom, breakfast||Vreni Baumgartner, Hansenmatti 4||079 235 84 13|
|Hotel, dinner, breakfast||Gasthaus Engel, Brünigstrasse 100||041 660 36 46|
|Hotel, dinner, breakfast||Gasthaus Löwen, Brünigstrasse 109||041 660 14 48|
|Hotel, dinner, breakfast||Hotel Restaurant Bahnhof, Bahnhofstrasse 15||041 660 14 08|
|Hotel****, dinner, breakfast||Hotel Kreuz, Bruder Klausenweg 1||041 660 53 00|
|There is no difficulty of finding accommodation on this stage. Book anyway for security.|
Feel free to add comments. This is often how you move up the Google hierarchy, and how more pilgrims will have access to the site.
|Back to the menu|