Bernese Oberland Alps, Switzerland
Switzerland: possibly one of the most beautiful places on Earth! Photos of the stunning scenery do not do the country justice. We spent five days in total during summer and in hindsight should have spent a lot more! One of the most memorable things we did during our trip was the train ride from Lyon, France to Interlaken, Switzerland. The scenery once we hit Geneva was absolutely stunning: beautiful turquoise lake vistas; Swiss farmhouses; and verdant fields all framed by snow capped mountain ranges.
There are many different trains that traverse the Swiss countryside and the alps. A few of these journey are also renowned as top scenic train routes. As a tourist this is one of the most easiest and beautiful ways to see the country. The trains are clean and extremely efficient, arriving and departing like clockwork. They also have food service areas, to help make your trip as comfortable as possible. Be aware though that food and drink on board is very expensive – we paid 12 AUD for a cup of coffee!
Once up in the mountains there are a whole host of different ways the Swiss have developed to travel. Funicular railways are common as are cable cars in certain locations. All the different transport options provide you with stunning 360 degree views. You can purchase day passes that allow you to access a range of different transportation options to ascend the Bernese Oberland Alps.
During our visit we based ourselves in Interlaken and headed up into the Bernese Alps for short trips. The township of Interlaken is tourist friendly with beautiful old world hotels, big name stores and a host of creature comforts. If you’re staying near the centre of town it can be a little too touristy! Although the town centre boasts a spectacular view of the 3rd tallest mountain of the Bernese Alps: Jungfrau, which certainly makes up for the clichéd vibe!
Interlaken is actually situated in the plains of the valley between Lake Thun to the West and Lake Brienz to the East and is on the edge of the Jungfrau region of the Bernese Alps. The lakes are connected by the Aare river that flows through the township. Interlaken is an ideal place to stay if you are keen to do water activities and want to have ready access to restaurants, supermarkets and shops. The Bernese Alps are also a short train trip away.
We stayed in an AirBnB in Wilderswil which is just outside of the main township of Interlaken. The apartment was situated on the banks of the River Aare, and was a 10 minute walk to the Interlaken West train station and local supermarket. The main part of town was a little further afield being a 20 minute walk. Our AirBnB also provided bikes for our stay which we made full use of.
The apartment was very cozy (read small) with a balcony and a tiny bathroom, however the seclusion and stunning scenery definitely made up for this and allowed us to forget our tiny living quarters!
There are a range of different restaurants in the centre of Interlaken township. These include take away options like kebabs to mid price and even fine dining options. There is also a large supermarket located near the Interlaken West train station where you can stock up on range of food items for your time in Switzerland.
The Panorama restaurant at Harder Kulm is well renowned for its traditional Swiss food and stunning scenery. The restaurant serves food in a beautiful Swiss setting high up on the summit of the local Interlaken mountain of Harder Kulm. The restaurant also hosts live music nights. We had an afternoon snack of Raclette cheese with potatoes and a hot chocolate here after our trek up the mountain.
Hausi Bierhaus Restaurant:
We were completely rained out for a day and half and made a late evening trek to the Hausi Bierhaus restaurant. Thankfully, we arrived just before the kitchen closed! This restaurant is highly rated on foursquare and is located in the centre of Interlaken town in one of the side streets. Its a bustling place with people dropping in throughout the evening for a beer or a bite to eat.
We ended up visiting this restaurant twice as it was well priced and served fantastic German style food. Oh and a selection of great beers! I ordered the German sausage and B had a burger. I have never been to Germany so this was some of the best German sausage I have eaten to date!
In the centre of Interlaken town, the Chocolate Schuh cafe is housed in an old world building serving all things chocolate, dessert and afternoon. We visited the cafe to try one of their famous hot chocolates. These were served with Swiss steamed milk and melted chocolate. As they arrived to our table, the waiter encouraged us to swirl the milk to mix in the chocolate. It was a truly decadent experience!
Day Trips/Things To Do:
Harder Kulm is the local mountain of Interlaken. It is possible to hike to the summit as there is a well marked trail which uses cairns and painted arrow signs. Unfortunately the day we decided to do this trek, we were rained out. We ended up taking the furnicular railway to the summit instead.
The view from the top of Harder Kulm allows you to see the Interlaken township and surrounds including the two lakes the town is nestled between. It is definitely worth a visit whilst in the area.
The rain cleared up the day after and B had somehow managed to convince me to go paragliding with him. Full disclosure here – I am terrified of heights! We booked the trip with AlpinAir Paragliding, they picked us up in the centre of town and drove us to a small mountain side about 30mins from Interlaken. This was where we were going to be launching off from!
We were all introduced to our paragliding instructors and were strapped into the gear. As I am quiet short and my paragliding instructor was tall, the run to launch ourselves off the mountain was tricky. I had actually started to become airborne whilst he was still running on the ground! Once we had left the safety of the mountainside we were suspended in the the open air just above the clouds giving the surrounding scenery a misty quality.
As we descended to the low lying cloud cover, we came across two eagles who were majestically soaring in the high alpine altitude. It was a surreal experience seeing these large birds of prey effortlessly glide through the air next to us!
Our guides told us that it is very rare to see eagles whilst paragliding and slightly dangerous as they could get caught in the ropes! Yeah that really was not the thing I wanted to hear whilst I was airborne! Luckily our group did not encounter any mishaps.
The view of Interlaken and surrounding countryside from high above was terrifying however absolutely stunning. We paraglided for around 20 minutes and slowly meandered our way back down to the Interlaken township.
During the flight I was offered the opportunity to do some mid-air acrobatics, which I promptly refused. The thought of doing tricks in the air was making me feel quite nauseous! a few people from our group did opt for the high adrenaline experience though.
I was actually afraid of how bumpy the landing was going to be, however because I was shorter it wasn’t a huge deal I landed after my guide. There were no crazy tumbles on the grass! Once we landed, I did have a split second urge to kiss the ground although I managed to control it! We landed on the green in the centre of Interlaken township and spent a few shaky moments catching our breath whilst taking in the spectacular view of Jungrau in the distance!
The most terrifying aspect of paragliding for me was looking down and seeing exactly how high up we were, with only a parachute to protect us. However it was an incredible experience and I would definitely jump at the chance to do it again! Guess I have become a paragliding convert….
We took a daytrip up into the Jungfrau region and disembarked the train at Lauterbrunnen. The township of Lauterbrunnen is perched in a mountainous valley and is a stark contrast to the lakeside vistas of Interlaken. The town is ruggedly beautiful in its own right with gorgeous views of snow capped mountains in the distance and its valley of waterfalls. The Lauterbrunnen Valley is actually the inspiration for the Elven kingdom of Rivendell in JRR Tolkein’s books.
We took a leisurely walk through the valley of the waterfalls, which is comprised of 72 different waterfalls, including the Trümmelbach falls. Our walk through the valley allowed us to explore the surrounding farmland, admire the traditional Swiss farm houses and appreciate the stunning alpine views. During our walk through the valley we happened across the Weisse Lütschine river which is a white coloured river formed by glacial run off from high up in the mountains. The water in this river is considered to be a very pure and clean water source.
The end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley walk is in the township of Stechelberg, we arrived here after about an hour and half of walking on flat terrain. We had taken lots of frequent stops to take photos and immerse ourselves in the surrounding scenery!
Once we arrived at Stechelberg we had a decision to make: we could either take a bus back to Lauterbrunnen or keep heading up the mountain via cable car. We decided to go up and explore the small alpine township of Gimmelwald.
Gimmelwald is a sleepy alpine village halfway up the mountain. The scenery is stunning, with Lauterbrunnen valley beneath you and the imposing, icy facade of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau directly in front of you. At sunset (or sunrise) the light reflects eerily off the ice covered mountain, bathing it in an orange and blood red glow. The photos of this just don’t do it justice.
Life in the town of Gimmelwald is slow and carefree, the epitome of a rural alpine lifestyle. The alpine village is one of the few that has no cars and access to the village is either via foot or cable car. Gimmelwald is famous in the winter time for its skiing slopes that you can access from your front door, and for all the hiking options available in the summer time. Its the perfect, secluded location for an adventure seeker!
After having a look around the township we arrived hungry to the local Pensione. Luckily they were able to fit us in for a quick dinner before we needed to catch the cable car back down the mountain. We had some fantastic home style pumpkin soup and spaghetti bolognese here. The food was delicious in its rustic simplicity.
Gimmelwald is the type of place where you want to stay during a Swiss alpine holiday to take in the laidback lifestyle and stunning scenery. The hardest part though is getting to this small town from one of the larger cities as you really do need to take multiple transport options including a cable car to get to the village. The best option would be to break your trip and spend a night (or two) in Interlaken before ascending the Bernese Alps.
From the Gimmelwald cable car station you can continue upwards to Schilthorn mountain via Murren. The 360 degree revolving restaurant on the summit of Schilthorn called Piz Gloria was made famous by the 1969 James Bond movie: ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.’ From the summit you can see views of the mountains: Titlis; Eiger; Monch; Jungfrau; and Mont Blanc. You can reserve a table and have a meal here or alternatively just visit for the day.
Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe:
This is one of those famed day trips every tourist knows about and should do. We unfortunately were not able to as visibility on the first couple of days of our trip was poor due to rain. You can access live weather and webcam images online to make an educated decision about a trip to the top before you depart. Interlaken West train station to the top of Jungfraujoch takes 2 hours in total, once at the top there are a range of activities available.
- Whilst in the Bernese Oberland, plan out your days, the railways, cable cars and ropeways all have different hours of operations. Many of the main tourist sites also close early, by 5 pm.
- People are really friendly and speak English so don’t be afraid to ask questions
- Everything in Switzerland is expensive! Be prepared to pay through your nose for meals and beverages on trains! But where else can you leisurely sip your morning coffee overlooking stunning lakeside and mountain vistas?
- Going off the tourist track is an incredibly enjoyable experience in Switzerland. The views are stunning and you can get a taste of Swiss lifestyle. Also getting to these locales is relatively easy, although may take some time. The alpine villages of Murren, Gimmelwald and Wengen will give you a vehicle-free alpine town experience
- Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, as such they have their own currency and most frustratingly a different power point to everywhere else in Europe! Most accomodation places supply an European power point option though