Summer in Switzerland

Stuart Forster explores the Jungfrau Region in the Bernese Alps from Interlaken

As winter snow melts, hoteliers in the Bernese Alps ready themselves for the summer season. Walking, cycling and even paragliding are among the activities that draw visitors to the mountains of the Jungfrau Region after the skiers and snowboarders have departed.

I based myself in Interlaken. The municipality of less than 6,000 inhabitants lies on an alluvial plain, known as the Bödeli, wedged between the Harder Kulm and the snow-capped peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains.

To the east of the town lies Lake Brienz and the west Lake Thun. Logically, the Latin name Interlaken means ‘between lakes’.

Providing access to the nearby water, meadows and mountain passes ensures Interlaken is a popular holiday destination, drawing travellers from around the world.

As a fluent German speaker I thought communications would be exclusively in the local language. But the lilting local dialect is a markedly different version of German to that spoken in the likes of Hamburg or Hannover. Thankfully English is widely spoken and many locals favour switching to it rather than High German.

The region’s Alpine landscapes have been drawing international travellers for the past couple of centuries. The rail network, operated by Jungfrau Railways, makes accessing the surrounding area easy.

The clanking of cogs or clack of rack and pinion mechanisms accompanies travel on steeper sections of track. Developed by 19th century railway engineers, the systems allow trains to climb and descend inclines which would require motor vehicles to switch down into second gear. The scenery, en route, warrants keeping a camera handy at all times.

The snow-capped Jungfrau peaks at 4,158 metres (13,638 feet) above sea level, surmounting the altitude of the neighbouring Mönch (4,107 metres or 13,474 feet) and Eiger (3,970 metres or 13,024 feet) mountains.

At an altitude of 3,454 metres (11,333 feet) above sea, the Jungfraujoch is the highest railway station Europe. Fittingly, it styles itself the ‘Top of Europe’. It is a two-hour journey up from Interlaken. Along the way, the train pauses to allow travellers to step down to view the Aletsch Glacier. Despite the ravages of global warming it is largest body of ice in the Alps.

It makes sense to pack warm clothing for stepping outside at the Jungfraujoch. Attractions indoors include the Ice Palace, carved into glacial ice, plus the Alpine Sensation, a corridor which holds memorials to the Italian miners who died building the railway and the world’s largest snow globe. The Bollywood Restaurant hints at this region’s popularity among Indian travellers while the fine-dining Crystal Restaurant serves Swiss and Continental dishes. Dining in either allows you make puns about enjoying high cuisine.

Taking a train to Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen means the option of descending back into Interlaken on foot or bicycle. Flying Wheels, based in Interlaken, offers bicycles for hire plus a range of guided tours in the surrounding countryside.

For more of an adrenalin rush there’s paragliding. Anybody over six years old and weighing less than 100 kilos (220 pounds) can participate. Flights, accompanied by a professional pilot, are available from Beatenberg, which peaks at 1,200 metres (3,937 feet). It’s certainly one way of dropping into town.

From Grindelwald a gondola runs up to First. A flying fox, known as the First Flyer, zips 800 metres (2,626 feet) down to Schreckfeld at speeds of up to 84 kilometres an hour (52mph). That means dangling from a wire more than 50 metres (164 feet) above the mountainside but the view makes it worthwhile.

That’s also true of the mountainside First Cliff Walk by Tissot. A metal walkway snakes to an observation platform jutting below the First mountain restaurant, where you can grab a calming cup of hot chocolate. Perhaps something stronger if the experience jangles too many nerves? By comparison strolling to Lake Bachalpsee, where the Schreckhorn reflects in the surface, is calm.

Some of the best panoramas of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains are from the Schynige Platte Botanical Alpine Garden. Alphorn players perform throughout the summer at the Hotel Schynige Platte, which has a terrace restaurant serving food and refreshments.

I had no qualms about tucking into a schnitzel. Good food, after all, fuels walking in the Swiss Alps.

Getting to Interlaken

KLM flies from airports across the United Kingdom, via Amsterdam Schiphol, to Zurich and Geneva.

SwitzerlandTravelSystem passes and the Swiss Transfer Ticket provide access to a public network of buses, boats and trains for travelling around in Switzerland.

Where to stay in Interlaken

The Hotel Interlaken (Höheweg 74, CH-3800 Interlaken; tel. +41 (0)33 8266868) has been providing hospitality since 1491. Bedrooms are cosy and modern, placing guests less than 10 minutes’ walk from both Interlaken Ost railway station and the city centre.

A buffet breakfast is available in the ground floor restaurant. The hotel’s Restaurant Taverne serves Swiss cuisine and wines. Drinks are served in the Kloster Lounge and Bar.

When to go

Interlaken’s summer season is busiest between June and September. If you enjoy music you could plan your visit to coincide with one of the festivals held each year:

The Jungfrau Music Festival is a celebration of brass during January.

During springtime established orchestras and up-and-coming soloists perform together at the Interlaken Classics music festival.

An adaption of Friedrich Schiller’s William Tell, set to music by Balz Burch, is performed by a vast cast of locals from June until September, during the Open Air Tell Festival.

June also sees the International Trucker and Country Festival roll into Interlaken.

The summer Greenfield Festival sees dozens of international and Swizz bands performing outdoors at the local airfield.

Useful Information

Interlaken Tourism has information about the city of Interlaken and the surrounding area.

Jungfrau Railways operate the rail network that provides access to the surrounding mountains.

My Switzerland has practical information plus ideas on what to do and see in Switzerland.

Stuart Forster is an experienced travel writer and professional photographer. He runs the blog www.go-eat-do.com and you can see some of his images at www.whyeyephotography.com. He was named Journalist of the Year at the Holland Press Awards of 2015 and 2017 and picked up the British Annual Canada Travel Award of 2017 for Best Online Coverage.
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