Thursday, September 13, 2018

Best places to enjoy the Swiss Alps

Sure, Americans know about the majestic Swiss Alps and the many glittering lakes that weave around snowy mountain peaks and settle into fertile valleys. But they don’t go there very much. Only a small percentage of visitors to the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland, which encompasses the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains, are from the United States.
Swiss scenery is a collage of ountains and lakes.
And yet, my husband Larry and I discovered that the Jungfrau Region provides some of the best opportunities to appreciate these stunning landscapes.  Interlaken is one of the most visited towns because it can be a hub from which to explore nearby attractions. Take a train--Switzerland’s train system is efficient and extensive throughout the country.
Staubbachfalls, the signature
waterfall of Lauterbrunnen.

If you prefer serenity to sociability, travel beyond Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen or the nearby car-free villages of Muren or Wengen. It doesn’t take long to understand why the Swiss themselves choose to vacation in this gorgeous, less crowded area.

Whether you travel via rail, cable car, gondola, bicycle, on foot—or a combination of methods-- spring and summer are ideal times to wander through this splendid natural playground. Fresh mountain air keeps you cool when hiking, wildflowers bloom in bright hues, and waterfalls flow freely from high ridges into clear rivers and lakes.

One of the highlights of our late spring trip to Switzerland was a train ride to Europe’s highest railway station, the Jungfraujoch. Running every day of the year, the railway leaves Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen for Kleine Scheidegg, the railway station at the foot of the famous Eiger Mountain’s north face. 
Ice carvings at Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe
On the two-and-a-half-hour journey, we traveled through the Eiger and Monch mountains to the station, which is called Top of Europe because it’s located at an altitude of more than 13,000 feet. Ice sculptures, mountain climbing exhibits, snow sledding, and a grand view of the pristine white landscape made this a spectacular experience.

Approaching Schlithorn by
cable car
Another day we rode a cable car to Schlithorn, a mountain peak almost 10,000 feet tall, for breakfast at Piz Gloria, the first revolving restaurant in the mountains. This setting gained fame in a ski chase scene during filming of the 1960s James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The restaurant was built, blown up for the movie, and rebuilt as a tourist attraction.

Today visitors enjoy a delicious buffet as the restaurant rotates 360 degrees. On a clear day you’ll have a panoramic view from the outdoor terrace of more than 200 alpine peaks.

The Lauterbrunnen Valley, called Valley of 72 Waterfalls for good reason, offers an impressive landscape of steep rock walls carved by flowing glacial water. Just down the road from our hotel in Lauterbrunnen was Staubbachfalls, the town’s signature waterfall. Wander the trails, and you'll see many more waterfalls, especially flowing well in early spring.

Hundreds of miles of designated footpaths offer outdoor enthusiasts a variety of options, from paths suitable for strollers and wheelchairs to challenging overnight hikes and the incredible experience of Via Ferrata (walking along a narrow mountain cliff).  We sampled one well-maintained path on a trek from Murren to Gundswait before catching the train back to Lauterbrunnen.
Take the train or bike to car-free Muren, a beautiful,
intimate towns in the Swiss Alps.
If the valley waterfalls aren’t enough, drive or walk a few miles outside Lauterbrunnen to Trummelbach Mountain, the only place to see snowmelt crashing down into 10 interior waterfalls.  Corkscrew Falls is one of the most unusual, as it winds through a convoluted rock formation deep in the cavern. The waterfalls carry away up to 20,000 liters of glacial melt per second from the three regional mountains.
Corkscrew Falls in Trummelbach Mtn.

Another good way to see the countryside is on a boat ride on Breinz Lake. The passenger boat functions like a ferry, criss-crossing the lake and stopping at tiny villages along the way.

We got off at Giesbach and stopped briefly to admire the sumptuous hilltop Grand Hotel before walking up to Giesbach Falls.  Water plows down the mountainside eventually splashing in a wide cascade into Brienz Lake.

Hanging clouds over a mountain as seen on Breinz River cruise
The promise of fresh air and beautiful scenery prompted us to hike on a wooded path, then along the road into the town of Breinz where we ate a hamburger and fries (the Swiss love their fritas papas!) before reboarding the boat back to Interlaken.

Hiking trails can take you to small towns like car-free Wengen.
Mountain bike trails extend over the Jungfrau Region with tours suitable for all ability levels, including families.  Experienced guides can lead you to remote, yet beautiful, spots in the region. For an easy ride around town, rent an electric bike, and take off on your own.

If you’re truly adventurous, try paragliding—sailing off the side of a mountain, then floating along as your parachute catches wind drifts (It’s on my bucket list!).

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier





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