Swiss are proud people, they have a lot of “the most”, for example, the steepest cable car or the highest railroad station in Europe.
This pride, amplified by the desire to attract tourists, is very present in one of the most popular regions of Switzerland – in the area of the Interlaken town.
The city is located right in the middle of the country, inside the Bernese Alps. Not far from it one will find three famous Swiss mountain peaks: Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, and the highest train station of Europe – Jungfraujoch. The station is modestly referred to as “the top of Europe” despite the fact that none of the three mountains surrounding it is even in the top 10 highest Swiss peaks, let alone the entire Europe.
This concerns the tourists little, and they keep coming to Interlaken in large numbers all year round. The infrastructure and touristic attractions are really well developed here, and you will find yourself occupied in any case, whether you are interested in skiing, sledging, paragliding or just mountain watching.
I am not a great fan of Interlaken due to its overly touristic atmosphere, although I have to admit that it is one of the best starting points to get to know Switzerland for the first time.
There is not much to see in Interlaken itself (Swiss watch shops do not count). In the spring though it becomes very cute when the cherry trees blossom and the “glacier milk” fills up the channel connecting the two lakes that gave the city its name:
To my taste, if you can book a hotel with a mountain view, you should definitely go for it. I believe that a small increase in price is worth waking up to this:
All the interesting stuff is actually scattered around the city and there is a lot to do: we come there from time to time for a couple of days and still have so much to check out. See below for some examples of activities to try out =)
“The Top of Europe” etc etc. A LOT of tourists and watch shops. The views from the top look really nice with all the glaciers, but all this is offset a bit by the crowds of people. There are places in Switzerland as beautiful but far less popular, where you will mostly meet skiers (see my post about Zermatt and Matterhorn, for example).
On the other hand, here you will get an opportunity to brag about being at the highest railroad station in Europe.
Finding a frame with no people in it is quite a challenge.
If you are just in for a day and do not want to spend 4 hours to get here from Zurich, there is always an option to come by helicopter in just 40 minutes. Provided you are not counting money, of course.
After walking around in the alpine air such a plate is nothing even for a small girl like myself. Here we have a traditional Swiss dish called Röschti – roasted potatos with ham, cheese, and egg.
Crowds are not the only disadvantage of Jungfraujoch. You also cannot really see the three iconic mountains from there. Harder Kulm, a hill on the other side from Interlaken, does not have this problem. From here you can view all three just fine:
And both lakes, too:
There is a restaurant conveniently built on top of the hill, so you can combine the pleasure of the mountain views with a tasty and surprisingly inexpensive meal:
The easiest way to get here is to take a funicular, but I bet there is also a hiking trail up.
This is something different =) Some hermit used to live in these caves, and now there are stairs and pathways everywhere, and one can just walk there. A visit to those added some nice diversity to the trip.
The articifial lighting made it possible for moss and fern to live here:
Where is my black dragon? Though I would even settle for a red one…
Here is one =) Thought I would never find it anymore:
Waterfalls in Lauterbrunnental
Interlaken is located in the beginning of a few smaller valleys which cut deeper into the mountain range. One of them is called by the name of a small village inside it, Lauterbrunnen.
Some travel guides will call it a perfect Swiss village. This is debatable because the popularity and the tourist industry have definitely left their footprints here. But you can be sure as hell to hear a lot of cow bells and waterfall noise in these meadows =)
A better time to see the waterfalls is April, when the snow is melting on the mountain tops. Here is a typical view around the end of the month:
Some waterfalls find their way down not on the outside of the mountains, but inside them, through crevasses and caves. Some, like Trümmelbachfall, are accessible for visit. The picture cannot really transmit the feeling from the colossal amounts of water falling down with thundering noise:
Sun, mountains, sledging
The showing off with “the top of Europe” does not stop at Jungfraujoch. The hidden valleys around Interlaken also proudly present tourists with “the longest sledging track in Europe” (and possibly the world). Different estimates assign to it a length of 12-15 kilometers, and the change of altitude of about 1000 meters.
You know that it is a real deal when you enter such a bus:
And especially when the road becomes more narrow than the bus itself, and it has to honk and play the sounds of a postal horn to let the oncoming traffic know of itself. The thrill is combined with a fairy tale beauty of nature along the path:
Finally you arrive to the Bussalp station where you can rent the sledges.
Those with a weak spirit can sledge already from here, but the track below Bussalp is really sad and has more concrete and mud than snow. At least in the beginning of March, when I was there.
And to do that would be missing the whole point, to be honest. The track actually starts at Faulhorn, 700 meters of altitude above Bussalp. To get there, one would have to hike along the piste for about 2.5 hours, all while pulling your sledge up. Some stretches are really steep so just imagine sledging down them for some psychological relief =)
On the way you will of course see THE VIEWS, and the higher you climb, the more of THE VIEWS you will see.
Still have a waaaay to go, there, to the pass.
You will also encounter some true Swiss chalets:
The climb is quite demanding! But the reward is more than fair – the ride down to Bussalp takes 20 minutes of sledging:
There is also an opportunity to try “summer sledging” nearby, with some special wheeled sledge and on a concrete “piste” =)
Interlaken is certainly not a “hidden gem” of “real Switzerland”, but it exists for tourists. There you will find anything you have heard of Switzerland, and more. Even despite my dislike for touristy places I come here again and again, because there are just so many fun things to do here.
I claim it is the perfect base for your first trip to Switzerland, because you are not seriously considering to spend all of it in Zurich, do you?