I will never forget the color of the glacier water that makes up the rivers and lakes surrounding Interlaken.
I've been to my family's ancestral home in Unterseen, Switzerland, many times over the years, but never in autumn. Last year I spent several weeks there from late September to late October. One morning towards the end of my stay, as I gazed out over the scenery from our dining room balcony, the view of the Niesen with fresh snow was breath-taking. There were even some paragliders already enjoying the day. What a treat!
It may sound strange that one of the highlights of my trip was cleaning out the barn that's attached to our Swiss home! Over the years people didn't know what to do with stuff that broke or they thought someone might need someday so they tossed it all in the barn or one of the storage closets. My dad, aunt and uncle, and I spent a week or so just clearing it all out, at times figuring out what something was and if it was worth salvaging, repairing, or selling. Besides selling furniture and other chattel to a local second-hand shop that filled a small moving van and a passenger van, we filled two of these 7-cubic-meter containers!
Doesn't it look like we're photoshopped onto a postcard? What you can't see are the tiny people in the sky, because everywhere you look, there are any number of paragliders at a time! We had just finished canyoning in the mountains, and then ate traditional rosti and wienerschniztel, before heading back to our hostel. We were studying abroad in Innsbruck, Austria for the summer and Interlaken was our favorite vacation we took. It's the outdoor adventure capital of Europe, and I absolutely can't wait to go back. Canyoning, hiking, backpacking, skiing, kayaking, bungee jumping, base jumping, and more!
There isn't anything quite like experiencing a place from a bird’s eye view of 4,500 feet high in the sky. Switzerland, particularly Interlaken, has become a place known for being adventurous and fun. I couldn't imagine any other place to take my first leap off the side of a mountain to breathe in the life changing views of Thun and Brienz lakes and the town center of Interlaken. For nearly fifteen minutes I breathed in the crisp, clean Swiss air as I gazed at picture worthy mountain views.
Our friends were supposed to fly home to the States on a Thursday last October but due to increased security threats, their flights were overbooked. We took advantage of the clear day and the extra time with them to drive up to Waldegg and Beatenberg for a picnic lunch and to watch the paragliders taking off. As we walked up the slope to the launch site, this is what we witnessed! The Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau in full splendor, the air unusually free of haziness.
Taking a break while hiking down the steep steep trail from the Schilthorn to the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland... The soundtrack to this summer day: the tinkling of distant cowbells below...Above treeline, the only way I could think of to convey the verticality of the terrain to friends and family back home was to take a snapshot looking down 'through my feet' to the villages and meadows beneath me; this valley is one of the most beautiful spots on Earth.
While many walked through the streets of the small town, I decided to head along the river and came across this beautiful view of Lake Brienz.
Gimmelwald is a tiny farm community in the mountains above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Hiking from here begins on nearly vertical trails along grassy pastureland. I've never hiked in a more beautiful place than this, where the view across the narrow valley offers the Jungfrau, Munch, and Eiger summits in one amazing vista. If you prefer a ride, you can take the series of white-knuckle gondola trips to the summit of Schilthorn, a popular viewpoint for 360-degree views of the Alps.
One warning you'd assume would not be necessary: Please don't wear high heels on the rocky, icy trails of the Swiss Alps. But at the nearly 10,000-foot summit of Schilthorn, at the Piz Gloria restaurant and viewpoint, that's exactly what I found. In the summer, you can hike down from the summit all the way to Murren. But it's quite a trek. I prefer the gondola that descends slowly to the Lauterbrunnen valley, with three stops along the way. However you make the trek, the views from the top are worth it! Just remember to wear comfortable shoes.
Hiking down the Schilthorn may be hard on your toes, but it's a high-altitude feast for the rest of your senses...From the Lauterbrunnen valley south of Interlaken, you can take a cable-car up to the summit and then hike down to Mürren, across from the Jungfrau massif. A big block of chocolate (Swiss, of course) makes for a great hiking companion on a summer day in the Alps... It's hard not to sound like tourist-brochure-jargon when describing this area--it truly is one of the most beautiful places on the planet... For more info: http://www.schilthorn.ch/en/schilthorn/
Sledging (what we'd call sledding here in the US) in the Swiss Alps is truly amazing fun. The sledging runs in Switzerland include some sort of transport (gondola, tram, train, etc.) to the top of a very large mountain and then can be up to several kilometers long in length. Let me clarify here: I mean that one single RUN can be several kilometers long. You ride either the traditional wooden sled, or a modern plastic version. You simply hold onto your lead rope no matter what (or else your sled might be headed downhill without you), reach behind you with your other hand and hold onto the rear of the seat deck, give a little shove, quickly place your feet atop the curved portion of the runners, and down you go, learning how to steer best along the way. I found sledging to be particularly fun at night, especially during a full moon. Sliding along a moonlit run, slipping across the contrasting packed white snow and black moonshadows of towering trees, is simply amazing. After a day of strenuous skiing, climbing, or some other activity, sledging was a great way to round out an outstanding day - and even more so if, with typical Swiss efficiency, your run just happens to end at a warm little chalet restaurant that has bottles of red wine and warm fondue on the table waiting for you.
My best friend came to visit me in Switzerland, and I decided to take her to a place I hadn't visited yet and was at the top of my list: Mürren. Mürren is a tiny town situated above Lauterbrunnen Valley 15 minutes by train from Interlaken. We were staying in a beautiful hostel in Lauterbrunnen, which is in the valley, and not until we got up to Mürren did we realize we surrounded by mountains. We ate lunch with our legs dangling over the valley observing sheep and cows, it was a great day.
From the Lauterbrunnen Valley south of Interlaken, you can take a series of cable cars up to the peak of the Schilthorn, across from the Jungfrau massif in the Bernese Alps. Silent, effortless, costly, and worth every Swiss Franc, you float up past cliffs, villages, chalets, tinkling-bell-clad cows, and finally, up into the clouds. At the 2,970 m (9,744 ft) summit, a revolving restaurant commands views of the Berner Oberland. Instead of taking the cable car back down, I hiked—from being on top of the world back down into grass, back down to the cows, descending to tree line, and finally, into the cluster of chalets that make up the village of Mürren.
Facing the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau in the central Alps: no better place to be for mid-summer hiking...Stock up on bread and cheese (Swiss, of course) in Mürren, and head out on the trails above the Lauterbrunnen Valley; cowbells will be your soundtrack and wildflowers the foreground...
A deep valley in eastern Switzerland, the Lower Engadine region is a lesser-known alternative to the more developed Upper Engadine (think St. Moritz). Full of remote villages that sit along a gorge carved by the Inn River, the area draws hikers to its meadow trails in the summer and skiers to its slopes in the winter. The cultural scene is another highlight, with hotels offering excellent restaurants, concerts, and art shows. —Kimberly Bradley Photo by Katrin-Anne Bischoff. This appeared in the January/February 2011 issue.
The North Face, one of the most famous mountains in the world is located near the picturesque village of Wengen, Switzerland. It is one of the climbing world's Shangri La's with heroic and tragic stories of men and women climbing to glory or to death. I'm just a normal human so climbing any of it was far out of my reach, but what I could do, with the help of a local friend, was climb, in a somewhat tourist friendly way, a small little section of the North Face. You start by taking the Jungfrau train from Wengen. It weaves up the mountain at the most amazing angle and will go all the way to the top of the Jungfrau and into the permasnow. We get off a few stops early to join a path that takes you around the base of the North Face and too a sheer rock face with old metal laders and metal ropes drilled into place. These are the things that will help you to scale up this section. Even with a harness, a helmet and a lot of help from the ladders and ropes, this is still a pretty exhilarating climb for a beginner. Once you reach the top and take pictures overlooking a beautiful swiss valley in full bloom of summer, and take a moment to just feel awesome, you clamber down the scree under the glacier back to the train station. Beautiful, picturesque, fun, exhilarating. A wonderful way to experience the adventure and beauty of Switzerland.
This is the longest gondola cable car ride up to the mountains in Grindelwald. The ride took about 30 minutes to the top and it was the most beautiful site I have ever seen. As you go up, you hear the cowbells in the distance along the mountainside and smelling the fresh crisp mountain air., it was beautiful. I arrived at the top and took this photo, I was laying in the grass on a perfect summer sunny day and felt completely at peace. I was surrounded by absolute beauty and nature, what more could I ask for?
The question begged to be asked. Here we were, walking through the Lauterbrunnen Valley, passing a trailer campground, and seeing a trailer with . . . a New Mexico license plate in its window. I'm fairly certain the guy outside it didn't drive that airstream across the Pond. So I do something unusual for me but increasingly common in travel. I ask him. “Oh, we got that on our trip to the American West! We were so happy to be there!” The jovial older French man ushers us over to his “home,” the trailer he and his wife spend their summers in. Between his straggling English and my struggling French, we swap travel stories over his photo album of America. He hops around on one foot, imitating the war whoop and dance he says he had seen “your Indians” do in New Mexico. Never mind that they aren't my Indians, nor that politically correct Americans would never say such a thing. His enthusiasm matters more than his phraseology. An unplanned walk, an unexpected encounter, a completely entertaining evening. Plus, a moonlit walk back to our Lauterbrunnen hostel. A good way to end a day in the Alps.
All the restaurants in Gimmelwald were closed. We were too early for lunch so my husband and I stopped by and picked up some snacks (Goldfish crackers, an apple and toasted almonds) from local shop owner Ole. We told Ole that we were hiking to the top of the Schilthorn and he gave us a tip: Hike past the Rotstock Hutte, over a hill and you will come across a lake. It is a "little slice of paradise," he said. So my husband and I had our mission, should we accept it. After five hours or so of hiking we found ourselves at the hut. They were all booked up for dinner and lodging, but offered to let us put our tent up in the barn. Instead, we grabbed a Toblerone and forged on to paradise. Dusk started to set in through the Swiss Alps and we began to think this lake was just a myth. Suddenly, we came over one more knoll and there it was. We put our sad little two-person tent up and watched a lonely goat teeter on the edge of a hillside across the valley. That night we lived off of Goldfish and almonds, but we had found our lake. That's all that mattered. In the morning we pressed on to the top of the Schilthorn and rewarded ourselves with a couple beers and a heaping plate of pasta goodness.
We can't say we weren't warned that the weather might turn. Still, when the hike through Switzerland changed from a Sound of Music stroll into a muddy wet tramp, my daughters and I felt the of appearance of a lace-curtained farm/restaurant serendipitous, to say the least. As the rain began to get serious about our already-too-close relationship on the restaurant terrace, the owner ushered us inside. Happily, the other hikers who had stopped for refuge opted for the lone restaurant table in the big room, leaving us to share the kitchen with the owners and three friends from “down in town.” “Ever seen cheese made?” The shy man of the farm asked, one of the few conversational offerings he made. Growing up as close to Wisconsin as made no difference, I should have been able to say yes. But, another serendipitous moment, I could not. We watched the big rounds from their storage room got pressed in the blue metal vices that matched his sons' blue overalls and eyes. It takes a lot of pressure to make a good cheese, apparently. And I, for one, appreciate a good cheese. Storm over, cheese consumed, one of our new friends offered us a ride to town to catch one of the last cable cars back to the valley and our hostel. As pressed for time as that cheese, we took him up on it. Looking at the cliff edge beneath his tires, I told myself that the man driving didn't get to be his age for nothing. He'd get us safely to the cable. And he did. Cheese and all.
One of the most amazing days of my entire life was spent on the edge of a cliff 2,400 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. I have hiked all of my life but never anything requiring ropes or mountain climbing experience. On the Via Ferrata, which translates to "way of iron", I was able to literally hike on the edge of a cliff using rebar steps that were drilled into the side of the cliff. We rented the necessary equipment in nearby Murren to take advantage of the safety cable also drilled into the rock. It was definitely the most thrilling adventure I have ever done. With only one piece of rebar between your hiking boots and the valley below, it is not for the faint-of- heart! Not only was the scenery unbelievable, but it was an amazing experience.
Switzerland has in its midst the longest sled run in Europe. Fifteen kilometers of immaculate slope from the Faulhorn summit, 2,680m, down to the resort of Grindelwald has given the “Big Pintenfritz” legendary status in the Alps. Grindelwald also offers night sledding on selected runs, with packages including dinner and a gondola ride. St. Moritz’s “kamikaze” remains a popular steep, winding slope, while even Zürich has its own brand of sledding—urban sledding down the tree-laden slopes of the Üetliberg Mountain. Accessible by train, this bumpy 3.1km run weaves down to Triemli station, but watch out, you could come face to face with brave walkers ascending the hill in the opposite direction. Image courtesy of Switzerland Tourism.
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