Switzerland: Alpine Adventures and Swiss Charm


Pink sunset over snowy Bernese Oberland. Bad Ragaz town building and snowy mountain background.

 

 

 

 

 

Swiss Alpine Enchantment: Where Dreams Become Reality


Spanning over half of Switzerland’s surface area, The Swiss Alps cover a land of varied geology and cultural influences, of which the result is a county extremely rich in some of the best food, wine, history, scenery and outdoor pursuits in the world.  

  Switzerland, where to begin? A storybook land riddled with castles, wooden chalets and the purest blue lakes and waterfalls imaginable. One only has to catch a glimpse of the soaring snowy peaks to conjure up the image of skipping through alpine meadows, carving through deep, fresh powder snow and the wondrous taste of the smoothest milky Swiss chocolate...



Some of the most visited locations are very justified in their popularity. Due to the altitude and extreme seasonal climates, many Swiss destinations are focussed around outdoor pursuits such as Alpine skiing, abseiling and hiking. This guide covers Summer and Winter, and is split up into destinations. For hotel contact information and websites see the end of each section.  



Interlaken, Bern


Interlaken is a town well geared up for the constant stream of tourism which comes its way. From sky-diving to rock-climbing you can do it all here, or nearby. Interlaken is a great place from which to explore the beautiful surrounding area. There are excellent train and bus links to Alpine regions such as the Jungfrau region, the Kandersteg national park, the towns of Thun and Lucerne, and the fantastic Valais region. The latter being accessed easily (though somewhat expensively) by car-carrying train through the Lötschberg tunnel.

 

Hotels



Avoid bland hotels with no character. It is fairly rare to come across a lack of character in Switzerland but if anywhere, Interlaken is the most likely place as it is geared up for hoards of tourists.

The traditional and quaint Hotel Alpina is a rustic delight for those looking for midrange to budget hotels. The rooms were large with wood-panelled walls and beams. There was also a balcony with a view of the main street and some beautiful alpine peaks beyond. Breakfast provided. Address: Hauptstrasse 44, Interlaken, BE 3800.

Not far from Interlaken, and directly on a bus route, are the Caves of St Beatus. A prehistoric settlement, this 1km warren of mysterious caves full of stalactites and stalagmites is a must-see for anyone into natural history. The location of the caves affords fantastic views over the beautiful blue Lake Thun. They are located just off the main road which hugs the rocks above Lake Thun.

Another nearby natural gem is the area of Lauterbrunnen (follow signs to Wilderswil – five minute drive). This divine spot features a lush green valley in summer, with over five long waterfalls gliding down the vertical rock either side of the valley. Trummelbach falls - a stunning and powerful waterfall writhing and frothing inside the rock is a feature well worth seeing, for a small fee. Walkways and a lift take you up into the crevasse where the waterfall can be seen, and of course heard. Bring waterproof clothes. 



Thun, Bern

 


A vibrant little town with lovely shops and restaurants, Thun is ideally situated at the edge of the velvety blue Lake Thun. The wonderfully blue river running through the town centre, and the prominent ancient castle, which houses a museum, adds to the aesthetics of this evocative town. 


Hotels

Hotel Emmental is a great hotel with reasonable prices. It has much Swiss charm and if you’re lucky you’ll get a room with a fantastic view of the castle.



Address: Bernstrasse 2, 3600 Thun, Switzerland

 

Gruyeres, Fribourg




Home to the Gruyeres cheese factory and although stinky, this is well worth a visit! The surrounding area is also of interest, especially for those chocolate lovers out there…

You won’t find Cailler chocolate on the shelves at Tesco! This gem is something Switzerland doesn’t internationally export, so to experience the true velvety smooth texture of the many varieties of Cailler chocolate visit the Cailler factory at Broc, Near Gruyeres. Part of Nestle, this brand of Swiss chocolate is even more refined and of higher quality which is probably the reason the Swiss keep it to themselves. The museum visit includes a chocolate tasting experience!

Kandersteg, Bern




This wonderful national park is home to a whole wealth of outdoor possibilities, including skiing and sledging in winter, and tin tobogganing in summer! Also the small but beautiful Blausee lake is a beautiful deep blue/aqua colour and famous for its trout. 
 

Grindelwald, Bern




The name says it all really. Doesn’t it just sound magical? Hiking paradise in summer and winter sports mecca in winter, this beautiful and perfect little town is a great base for outdoor pursuits of any magnitude.

A great walk to catch wondrous sights of the beautiful blue-toned Oberer Gletscher (glacier) can be done if you catch the bus from Grindelwald to Oberer Gletscher. From the bus terminal follow signs to the glacier and there is a small tourist area with a pay toll. After paying a small fee, you start the climb up the mountainside on the wonky log stairs which add to the sense of achievement upon arrival at the top (don’t worry there is a good handrail either side). The climb takes around 30 to 40 minutes and once you reach the glacier viewpoint there is a rocky area and a swinging bridge over a ravine. The views are fantastic down into the frothy water (summer/spring) and the views of the glacier and surrounding scenery are breath-taking.


Zermatt, Valais


Zermatt is famed for its year-round skiing, lively après ski scene, and, of course the Matterhorn. The only vehicles you will see in this car-free resort are the tiny electric ski mobiles which transport skiers and their equipment. Zermatt has some excellent shops for buying all things Swiss, from cuckoo clocks and Swiss army knives to slabs of chocolate, there is a wealth of choice for gifts and souvenirs.

For excellent veal or beef bratwurst with a slice of ciabatta bread (the correct meat-bread ratio for the perfect hot dog) head down the main high street, and somewhere on the left (about 50 yards from the station) there is a little outdoors stand - bratwursts sizzling, hot drinks brewing…  

Due to its altitude, the skiing at Zermatt can be year-round. Skiing in Zermatt is excellent for experts and intermediates. Summer skiing takes place on glaciers at usually more than 3000m of altitude. At this heady height make sure you wear sun cream when skiing as the sun’s rays penetrate through the air far more fiercely.




The Matterhorn is visible at the end of the town by the river. This is at the opposite end of the town to the station and therefore an excellent excuse to wander through the shop-lined streets. There is excellent hiking in this area which also affords sublime views of the Matterhorn. If you can, stick around for sunset as the light casts eerie glows over the summit and transforms the fantastic mountain, highlighting it in a different way each day. 



Saas Fee, Valais




Saas Fee is simply Dwarfed by the colossal peaks of the Dom….. It is a beautiful and charming little place and an excellent base in which to explore the Alpine wilds beyond. Skiing, although expensive, is diverse and also very suitable for beginners. Like Zermat, summer skiing is often possible here due to the altitude.



Accommodation

 


An excellent and recently re-furbished hotel is the All In Hotel Saas Fee. Rooms are extremely clean, spacious and modern.

Address: Unter den Bodmen, 3906 Saas-Fee


Feisch, Valais


Off the E62 after Visp, the 19 snakes around the Alps of the Italian border and comes across various pretty Alpine towns and villages, eventually reaching a small town named Fiesch. In the sunlight under the gigantic Eggishorn, walks around Fiesch are simply divine and the stunning alpine scenery offers a diverse range of breath-taking views. Skiing in Fiesch is often possible well into April due to the altitude. The cable-car runs from the station in Fiesch all the way to the top of the Eggishorn where , on a clear day you can enjoy sublime  views of the vast Aletsch glacier below. The cable-car stops half way up the mountain for the ski resort which has a great range of pistes for intermediates, a great children’s area and beginners’ skiing also.


Accommodation




Although there are hotels up at the ski resort, staying in Fiesch town can make for more of a cultural experience and it is easier to access to the town amenities and restaurants. Also there is a large temperature difference to Fiesch town and the ski resort - during spring it is commonplace to enjoy temperatures of around 20 degrees in the town.   
 
Text and Images Copyright © Lise Griffiths, 2012
All Rights Reserved

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