What an amazing destination Switzerland is, and one of our favorite places we have ever visited! For Randy actually, probably #1. It’s known for chocolate, cheese, and clocks, but the focus of our trip was on the hiking and scenery. We visited in fall, which turned out to be a wonderful choice, no crowds but still beautiful weather and the classic window boxes of Swiss cottages still tumbling with blooms.
Our first stop was Lauterbrunnen, a charming destination village in the valley of the Bernese Oberland. With a stunning view of Staubbach waterfall, we were in heaven listening to the village church bells as they rang out every half hour. We could reach out and touch the goats in the pasture along the street every time we went for a walk.
Village goat on the way to supper
What’s good to know about this area is that it is famous for its three mountain peaks, the Eiger, the Monch and the Yungfrau. The area is also well-known as a World Cup downhill ski area, which of course was not in season when we were there, but could definitely merit a trip back! I also noticed signs for what I think would be a gruelling event – the Jungfrau Marathon, where the last 15 or so km goes UP the mountain.
Three mountain peaks
Probably a bit of bias when waking up in this beautiful region, but breakfast at the lovely little Airtime Café had the best cappuccino I've ever tried. We took a short train from Lauterbrunnen up to Wengen then hiked in the direction of the Kleine Scheidegg. Most people take the train to the top of the mountain and hike down but NOT Randy MacKinnon! Nope – gotta hike UP the mountain. We took a steep 2-hour hike on gravel paths, passed by cows and farms, meadows, forest, and found beautiful views of the snowy mountain peaks of Jungfrau Monch and Eiger when clouds lifted briefly. What was most amazing was the sound – everywhere was the sound of bells ringing constantly, like a musical backdrop to the hike. These were cowbells – in actual use by farmers to track the cows that they put to pasture in the alps for the season.
After lunch at a hotel/restaurant high on the mountain, we kept on our upward trek for an hour to Mannlichen, less steep and more barren due to the high altitude. Such a challenging day but we sure earned the wonderful authentic cheese fondue for supper. This was one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had, probably because I was starving from the day’s hiking – I’ve tried hard at home to replicate it but haven’t come close for flavour and heartiness.
The next day we rented bikes from the shop in Lauterbrunnen, then biked 5 km or so to stuff the bikes onto the gondola, up to the mountainside village of Murren to get to a mountain bike trail as it is inaccessible by car – talk about quiet charm! The trail in the direction of Winteregg was relatively easy although gravelly with some long up hills, but mostly downhill.
When we made it back to Lauterbrunnen we were surprised to see a cow being led up the Main Street! Little did we know we were in for an even bigger surprise when a whole herd met us after that - many with brightly decorated trees on their heads. It turned out this is a special event called Alpabzug, when the cows are taken down from the alps to the villages for winter. It's like a parade and is advertised locally on short notice. How lucky we were to stumble into the middle of it!
Parade of cows in Alpabzug event
We then took a bit slower day by visiting to Trummelbachfalls, a corkscrew tunnelled waterfall inside a mountain. After that is a quick visit to the town of Grindelwald, a well-known ski resort area. I thought this was an “off” day for activity – little did I expect that we would head out in late afternoon to hike a tough uphill trail to Wengen, 1 hour, for dinner at a lovely local top-rated restauraunt, Baren. We tried local specialties spätzle, which is like bits of pasta very plain but delicious, and chamois stew which is a wild game.
We moved up to Hotel Edelweiss in Murren after that. It's beautiful, perched on a cliff with the most amazing views of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains across the valley. Only accessible by gondola, which was crowded with base jumpers and their gear. Today we took a hike to Gimmelwald, the perfect Swiss hamlet where we had a picnic lunch on the trail. There is the cutest little spot there called the Honesty Store – no staff person, you just leave your money for what you buy. Also, lots of cowbells, quaint houses, and people on the side of the mountain harvesting hay.
The Honesty Store
On the next day, we headed up another cable car to Birg (2700m altitude) and then the Schilthorn (2970m). It’s terrifyingly high and barren – I actually couldn't look out of the gondola at times. An entirely different weather system up there, very chilly but luckily, no snow at the time.
Above the clouds on the Schilthorn
After cabling back to Birg, we then headed out on a trail to hike back to Murren. Mostly ok terrain but rocky, scary, and narrow in places – the landscape changed from rocks to grassy meadow but steep downhill all the way. One section required holding onto a metal cable so as not to fall down the mountain - I admit to being very afraid! It took us about 2 hours to make our way to Rotshuttehutte which some hikers told us about, a little hut on the mountainside in a very isolated location but with excellent food – we had a lovely lunch there of corn coconut curry soup and plum tart, then headed off for another 2 and a half hours downhill hike to Murren. Very sore feet and knees after almost 5 hours down a mountainside to get back to Murren but so worth it. Dinner that evening was at Hotel Blumenthal up the street. Randy now says this was his best meal so far – the meals really do just keep getting better and better!
After these lovely and active days, we set off for the next part of our trip – Venice and then the Amalfi Coast! More on that another time.