I decided to take a walkabout through the Bernese Oberland with only a backpack. This is the first time I have ever done something quite like this all by myself. It was empowering and quite peaceful. I was able to be alone with my thoughts, go see some amazing sights on my own time and do the things I only want to do. I was able to have some of the most amazing experiences in the Bernese Oberland which is considered one of the most beautiful places Switzerland right in the heart of the Swiss Alps.
Grindelwald is a charming little town at the very base of the Eiger Mountain and one of the two towns within the region that serves as almost a base barrier to the Swiss Alps. Just south east of Interlaken in the Bernese Oberland it truly is my personal favorite town within the Alps. Truly charming with the richest Swiss culture, classic restaurants, art shops, and well preserved parks all surrounded by the white cap mountains on all sides.
The name Grindelwald actually comes from two monks in the region in 1146 and was always quite the place to visit. It comes from Old High German grintil - which means wall or barrier - and walt - which means forrest. A war actually happened shortly thereafter it was founded and it was taken over by the nobles. Overtime the monks of the Monestary of Interlaken bought Grindelwald back. The nobles then moved on to found Bern, the country's current capital. In 1888, right after the golden age of alpinism, Grindelwald had a road built so that tourists could easily get to the town. It then became the first winter resort in Switzerland for skiing, snowboarding, sledding, curling and skating.
Fun Fact: Grindelwald's surrounding mountains were actually used for the filming of Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005). Some shots in the famous movie based on its novel "Golden Compass" or even James Bond (1969) was also filmed in Grindelwald.
I arrived in Grindelwald to hike Grindelwald First - One of the most famous hikes of the Bernese Oberland. The reason for "First" as it is suggested to be your first hike in this region to set the tone for your adventures. The overlook of Grindelwald first overlooks a great portion of the Swiss Alps as well as the three famous mountains; Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch. In the town, I had a nice German beer and admired the mountains for quite a while. Afterwards I had walked around looking at the Swiss souvenirs, chocolates and food selections. The town, even if you're not into hiking, is truly the most pleasant Swiss town to visit. Just be careful, you will find that Grindelwald 148 days per year has either quite a bit of snow or rain due to its location at the base of the mountains.
Interlaken is the main large town within the Bernese Oberland surrounded by beautiful mountains and is in between two beautiful and bright blue lakes; Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. Interlaken in German actually means between lakes. Between the two lakes, the river Aare flows which I have mentioned in a previous blog for flowing through Bern as well.
I happened to kayak on the beautiful Lake Brienz of Interlaken. It stretches about 8.1 miles across the north end of the Alps. I know from experience that because it is fed by the Aare River which is coming from the glaciers of the mountains above, the water is absolutely freezing even in the warmest of temperatures in the valley. I promised myself I would take a dip no matter how cold. Was I glad I did it? Yes. Would I do it again? No.
Believe it or not the lake is extremely poor in nutrients, hints why is is so blue. In essence the lake is too clean, even fishing is not a popular sport within these lakes.
I grabbed a kayak from Hightide Kayaking School ($40 for three hours; a real deal). They gave me a life vest and sent me on my way. I got my own kayak out and was the only one on the water that day. I paddled over to a nearby rock beach and took my icy dip in Brienz. After this I kayaked along the cliffs near the old structures and castles seeing old rope swings, many baby ducks and the most crystal clear blue water under those cliffs. An old time steam boat passed me by with many tourists. They waved and whistled at me and I waved enthusiastically back. This absolutely made my day.
Especially during a slower day when not many people are on the lake, the incredible peace that water can give you and the rejuvenating cold water is almost healing. I felt like a new person after this simple experience.
I will be writing an entirely different blog about Jungfrau. Although an extremely expensive excursion, if you are passionate about the mountains and snow just as I am, the trip to Jungfrau is definitely worth it. The trip up was long but incredibly beautiful. There were quite a few stops up the mountain so there were opportunities to jump off, hike up or even part of the way up then hop the next train. I promised myself I would get off and hike down the mountain when I was finished at the top.
Jungfraujoch is nicknamed "The Top of Europe" and is one of the most amazing sights in the Alps (hints the outrageous price). The name actually means "maiden saddle" in German and Jungfraujoch actually connects the two mountains of Jungfrau and Monch. It sits at 11,362ft above sea level. Since 1912 Jungfraujoch has been open to tourists by its historic and well preserved mountain railway which is the oldest and highest in Europe. The mountain itself has an extremely rich history that is too much to go into here but I will in my next blog about Jungfraujoch and its excursions.
When I first arrived up there, I cared not to see the restaurants, shops or historical walk through. I wanted to see the snow and the glorious peaks. I walked about quarter a mile through a long dark cave until I came to the white heavenly end. The glare from the crystal white snow was so incredibly bright I had to put my sunglasses on right away. I was above the clouds so of course the sun was shining as bright as ever. I had an alcoholic hot chocolate with schlag (unsweet whip cream) and a butter pretzel while I enjoyed the incredible view. I next decided to hike the, what was supposed to be 45 minutes turned into over 2 hours of hike, up to another one of their restaurants and an overlook to the other side of the mountain. It was uphill, I was exhausted and I was in Chacos but I told myself I would absolutely regret it if I didn't finish it. After the hike and seeing the restaurant I walked through their magnificent ice palace, had lunch and enjoyed the tallest chocolate shop in the world.
A great experience that I believe everyone should experience once in their lifetime.
This is something I unfortunately missed out on but Interlaken is famous for this. Looking up into the sky above Interlaken every day you will always see 5-15 paragliders in the sky. Many people, including Americans, in my hostel did this and said it was incredible. They start on high mountains then slowly drift down to the city center. You are able to see many of the famous mountains as well as a birds eye view of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
My last day the weather was awful. Raining, cold and cloudy almost the entire day. I needed to figure out something to do other than hiking. I did a little bit of research and decided to go just on the edge of the Bernese Oberland above lake Lucerne just on the other side of the mountain. There is a beautiful resort hotel on top of the mountain above the lake. If you arriving by foot you must take a ship and a cable car to get there.
The Burgenstock resort is beautiful but be prepared for about 1500 francs per night. I went up and went straight to the spa. I'm not sure why I picked this one as there are many amazing spas in the Bernese Oberland. I walked in and was immediately greeted and treated like royalty despite looking like a dirty backpacker. I asked if there were any massages available and low and behold their was. I got a full body Paris massage for fifty minutes and access to the entire spa for the rest of the day.
After my amazing full body massage I decided to wear my robe and explore the spa. The spa had three levels, the top level with a spa garden and restaurants, the second with a heated indoor-outdoor infinity pool, and the first level the actual spa. Each floor overlooking the glorious Swiss Alps and Lake Lucerne below. I spent most of my time in the spa section that had a full hot tea and fresh fruit bar, a quiet solitude room with comfy beds that overlooked the mountains, a dark room salt water pool for floating and a green tea sauna. The nude section also had a relaxation room, two dry saunas, two wet aroma therapy saunas, showers, ice baths, hot tubs, an ice room and a freezing infinity nature pool with algae.
As soon as I walked in a woman stopped me. She said "come, come!" She grabbed my hand and pulled me to the dry hot sauna (200 degrees F). She explained in some broken english that we would be doing a breathing treatment. I sat on special blankets in the sauna and immidiately started to sweat. She put big balls of ice on the hot coals, one with lemon oil and one with peppermint oil. This was supposed to help our breathing and relaxation. She then took a big blanket and waved it around to I guess increase the intensity of the air? Then she gave us ice to rub over ourselves then used a feather to cool us off. I'll be honest this actually burned because the feather would provide a little bit of cold but then the heat would come back to my skin full force. Lastly a man came in and passed out long sticks of frozen grapes to cool us off. How awesome is that.
The lady asked me to come back in one hour. So I enjoyed the rest of the spa as much as I could. My favorite part was sitting in the extremely hot dry sauna then jumping in the freezing cold outdoor nature pool. I did this quite a few times to give my body a great shock. I came back in an hour and the lady was standing outside of one of the very hot and wet aroma saunas. We all went in and sat down. She first gave us a bowl of milk. What? Everyone started pouring it over their heads so I did the same. She then gave us all handfuls of honey and told us to use it in our hair and on our face. So I did it; crazy but I did it. Did I just get a milk and honey bath? Then she gave us big handfuls of salt. We began to scrub ourselves all over intensely. It was a full body scrub, I get it now. Afterwards we all showered.
This was one of the most luxurious experiences of my life and it was not at all that expensive. I highly recommend this one for your next trip.
If you expecting a great big blue lake, please reset the expectations. The Blausee, although beautiful, is only about a third, if that big, of a football field. The Blausee, which literally translates to the "blue sea" or "blue lake". It is at the base of the Alps and was formed 15,000 years ago due to a massive rock fall from Fisistock Mountain.
After a short and beautiful nature walk through rich forrest you come to the Blausee which is almost a little special haven away from the outside world, like a mountain oasis. It is something you would imagine the Neverland fairy forest would look like. The water all year round is crystal blue where you can always see the bottom although I have found from some angles it looks quite green. I hiked around the lake which only took about 15 minutes. I admired the river and mountains around as I walked, taking pictures on a timer of course due to being solo.
The Legend: "Long, long ago, the charming little lake in the upper Kander valley looked different to what it does today. Its water was very much the same as all the other little mountain lakes. But near its shores lived a maid whose heart beat for a young herdsman. On bright moonlit nights, the two would make their way to the alpine lake surrounded by ancient fir trees and sit on a raft the young man had made to pass the time. Afloat on the silvery water, they passed many a happy hour dreaming their youthful dreams. Then one day the herdsman tumbled over a cliff as he was gathering hay prior to bringing it down the mountain - and was killed. The maid was inconsolable from that moment on. In the middle of the night, she would go the little hidden lake and mourn her lost love. Little by little, she began to lose her mind. She paid her parents no heed when they begged her to cease her nightly visits: their unfortunate daughter kept being drawn to the lake by a mysterious force. One morning, the maid and the raft were found at the bottom of the lake - and its water has taken on a deep-blue hue ever since. People say it’s due to the tears of her unhappy love - the water is as blue as the eyes of the unfortunate maid."
Eiger is one of the three most famous mountains in the region. Although it is the second highest peak in the Bernese Oberland is it still the most dangerous to climb. Eiger has a 90 degree black wall of stone that leads to the peak of the mountain. Many climbers all over the world every year come to attempt this intense climb. This wall is actually nicknamed "Mordwand" which literally means murderous wall. As I would not suggest climbing or going up Eiger for anyone, there is a beautiful hike that leads you up close and personal to this Northface wall.
The food is obviously one of the best parts, cheese and chocolate fondue, alpine macaroni, delicious cuts of meat with hollandaise sauce, then of course the rosti! Rosti is like hash browns usually loaded down with some delicious meats, cheese and veggies. Restaurants will usually have a pretty great selection.
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