Our planning started in May 2006, when we learned that most SAS Eurobonus points were about to expire. So we had three days to decide about the European destination – that’s how many bonus points were available for two people. Scotland and Switzerland were the favorites, and finally, we chose Switzerland for five days.
Now it was a question of where to go in Switzerland. We wanted to see the beauty of the Alps, so after some reading and consulting with friends, we planned to rent a car, stay somewhere in the Jungfrau region in the Bernese Oberland, and do some mountain trekking there. In addition to that, we wanted to visit Zermatt (to see the Matterhorn) and go to Lac Léman near Montreux.
I have been reading and posting on the Lonely Planet travel forum.
I thought it would be a good idea to ask for advice there because there are about 340 thousand members worldwide and somebody has had similar trips. After some feedback, one forum member wrote to us:
“Unless you really want to travel around a lot, you won’t need to rent a car. Public transport in Switzerland works like a dream. If your interest is in nature, I would also recommend that you stay in the Berner Oberland area. There’s plenty to see and do for five days.”
Today I would say this was just excellent advice!
We were skeptical about traveling by train, as we also had a nine-month-old baby. But it turned out to be very easy, and yes, Swiss public transportation is the best in the world. You can also get information about prices and schedules quickly from the Swiss Rail website.
In addition to transportation, another question was where to stay. I did several searches on the Switzerland Bed&Breakfast web page. Our experience showed that the second half of June is already quite late for finding B&Bs in August. The best options were already fully booked. We decided that if we went by train, we should stay in one of the car-free villages. Again, our final decision was supported by the Lonely Planet Switzerland guidebook (June 2006) and opinions from a travel forum – we found a room in Hotel Bären in Wengen.
So, on Wednesday, August 16, we were packed and ready for adventure. At first, I had to take two flights – from Tallinn to Copenhagen and then from Copenhagen to Zurich. Everything went swimmingly–our baby was born to travel, and he behaved admirably on the plane until the baggage claim. We got the trolley, but our suitcase was just not there. From Lost and Found, we got the promise that, hopefully, our bag would arrive in Wengen the next day. An overnight kit and cash compensation were also given to buy necessary goods for that night.
We went to the rail travel office and bought the half-fare cards (99 SFR per person) and a train ticket to Wengen (with a half-fare card of 38.80 SFR per person). The railway is just one floor below the airport—you can go there five minutes from the airport baggage claim. We had two connections – in Interlaken and Lauterbrunnen. That is the minimum distance from Zurich Airport to go to Wengen.
We arrived in Wengen at 9 p.m. We saw snowy mountains on the way, but in Wengen, it was dark already. So we had to wait for the scenery until the following day.
Männlichen-Kleine Scheidegg. A mountain walk at 2200 meters
We woke up at 9 a.m. and, after opening the curtains, we were really in a good mood — the weather was good (despite the forecast which promised rain during the stay), and the view from our window was magnificent. The Jungfrau peak was just there.
We had an excellent breakfast in our Hotel Bären and then asked for advice from Theresa, the hotel’s owner, on where to go. She suggested taking a nice walk from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. She was also accommodating and borrowed fleeces to wear, as our suitcase had still not arrived and we had only t-shirts.
In the center of Wengen is an aerial cableway between Wengen and Männlichen. Wengen is at 1350 m, and the cableway takes up to 80 passengers to Männlichen summit station at 2222 meters in five minutes. The single ticket cost 23 SFR, but as we planned to walk to Kleine Scheidegg and return to Wengen by train, it cost 38 SFR (for two people with a half-fare card).
The weather was just excellent for the walk in the mountains; the sun was out, and the temperature was around 20˚C. An almost flat and excellently prepared hiking trail goes from Männlichen (2222m) to Kleine Scheidegg (2061m), with endless views of the impressive Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. That is a straightforward walk. Everybody can do it. We did it with the trolley.
On the walk, we saw several cows with cowbells. This sound in the mountains is fantastic. It is impossible to describe. Everybody should experience it. The trail was easy, and the weather was good, so it was pretty crowded on the course. There are several possibilities for a picnic at this Wanderweg – the benches and green grass; there are also two restaurants to have lunch or a drink. It is advisable to buy snacks and water before going to the highs because you pay more than triple the price for everything there. On the first day, we were not so clever yet.
Although the trail was easy, we were pretty tired after this trek, probably due to the walking, fresh air, and scenery we enjoyed. It is so beautiful!
In Kleine Scheidegg, we took a train and went back to Wengen. We had lunch at Café Gruebi – cheese ravioli and goulash soup. The service was quick, and the food was tasty. On returning to our hotel, we stopped at the train station and happily found our suitcase waiting for us there.
As it was still relatively early — around 4 p.m. — we decided we had enough time to see something more. We thought it would be a good idea to go to Lauterbrunnen and visit Trümmelbach falls (Trümmelbachfälle), the only glacier waterfall in Europe inside the mountain but still accessible. Our train arrived in Lauterbrunnen just after 5 p.m. When we asked the travel office how we could find Trümmelbach, we, unfortunately, got the answer that we were already too late. The falls are open until 6 p.m. and take about an hour to see. And the falls are not near the train station; it is about 10 minutes by bus, which goes every 20 and 50 minutes past the hour.
So we had to find something else to do, and, of course, we did. We walked on the Falls Trail; there were several other falls in the area. We walked only up to Staubbach Falls. Staubbachfälle captivated many writers, including Goethe, with their threads of spray floating down the cliffside. Just next to the Staubbach falls is Camping Jungfrau, called by Lonely Planet “the Rolls Royce of the camping grounds.” We did not try, but we can assure you that the views are magnificent.
Back in Wengen, we decided to try the dinner our hotel serves to half-board guests for 20SFR per person. The Lonely Planet guidebook recommends visiting the restaurant at Hotel Bären. Today, we can say that this Swiss cuisine is excellent. Our menu included maiscremesuppe, quiche Lorraine, duck with potato croquettes, and ice cream. The whole dinner served was beautiful and extra delicious.
Grindelwald-First. Much more challenging trail
The second morning in Wengen was a positive surprise — clear skies and sun. We were anxious to go for a mountain walk to enjoy the beauty again. After breakfast, where we again enjoyed delicious Swiss cheese with oven-fresh croissants, we were ready for an adventure. We asked again for advice from Theresa and decided that today’s destination would be First near Grindelwald. At the chosen trail, Lake Bachalpsee was promised to be a genuine pearl in the mountains at 2200 meters.
We took a cable car from Wengen to Männlichen, and to start the day, we climbed with the trolley to the Männlichen peak, which is just 20 minutes from the cable car station. The first part of the trail is quite nice and easy, but then the route starts to climb. It was quite a good exercise to go there. The trolley made it even better. But the view was also true beauty.
Next, we took another aerial cableway from Männlichen to Grindelwald. The ride was about 25 minutes long; we even fed our baby during the trip. Those cableways are very comfortable, and there is much to see during the rides. We also dreamed during the ride how perfect it would be in the winter to ski here.
Then down in the Grund (the cable car station), we were a bit confused because moving around has been very easy, following yellow signs. But now, no one was directing the next cable car from Grindelwald to First. It appeared that it was quite a long walk and climbing up (although on the road). We also walked through downtown Grindelwald. It was nice but crowded.
The Grindelwald-First lift, or Firstbahnen Grindelwald, took us to an elevation of 2168 meters. This three-stage lift was once the longest chairlift in Europe, carrying passengers for a distance of more than 5 kilometers. There are comfortable cabins that take you to the top in 25 minutes.
After reaching the station, we went to the 360° panorama restaurant. Thanks to the excellent weather, we enjoyed spectacular views of the Grindelwald Basin and several famous mountains like the Wetterhorn, Eiger, and Schreckhorn.
It was time to walk because we wanted to find a beautiful picnic spot on the road. After climbing with the trolley on the stony road for half an hour, we decided that we would not go to the lake because otherwise, we would not get back with the last cable car. In the future, we know that a big-wheel stroller or baby carriage is needed for hiking in Grindelwald-First, but a city stroller is not good enough. We found a picnic place near the cafeteria, which is only used in the winter, and enjoyed the salads we brought.
On the way back, we stopped at one of the middle stations on the cableway to enjoy the view of Oberer Gletscher. Hiring a scooter and riding down to Grindelwald was also possible. We did not try it, but it seemed like great fun.
Wilderswil-Schynige Platte. A memorable day trip to the 1970m plateau
On the third day of hiking, we decided to go to the Schynige Platte, as a tourist center recommended. Getting there takes time, so we started even a bit earlier today. We had three train rides: Wengen – Lauterbrunnen, Lauterbrunnen – Wilderswil, and then a 50-minute trundle uphill train on the historical (i.e., old and slow) rack railway from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte. The ride-up offered several stunning views of the mountains and valley. Many people on the train stood up and took pictures. “Wows” were quite loud to hear. When we stepped off the train, we realized that Schynige Platte was the best place to admire the three famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks.
Schynige Platte sits at 1970m on a ridge between the lakes of Interlaken and the valleys of Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. You can visit Alpengarten (Alpine garden) at the train station for 4 SFR per adult.
If you went there for hiking and still do not have hiking boots, there is a Lowa hiking boot center where you can test boots for free. Definitely worth the experience. We did it, and hiking a stony route was more comfortable.
We went hiking at Schynige Platte Panoramaweg. The route is an attractive one between Lake Brienz and the Grindelwald Valley. The trail is marked in red. The red course means that it is not the easy one. Along the route, there are several up and down climbs. We realized before the start that this was not for hiking with a baby stroller, so we left it in the Teddyland, and our nine-month-old son enjoyed walking on his father’s shoulders.
From the Teddyland, we followed the signs to “Panoramaweg” and climbed uphill through rocky switchbacks towards Daube and Oberberghorn. In places, the ridge becomes pretty narrow, and the Panoramaweg is aptly named, from the lakes far below to the peaks of Wilderswil above. The Panoramaweg has breathtaking views of the snowy mountains; the route is fringed with a wealth of beautiful Alpine flowers and colonies of mountain marmots. We had a picnic with scenic views again, and our son enjoyed playing with Alpine flowers.
After hiking three days in Jungfrau, we could not agree more with the Lonely Planet book, which says: “If the Bernese Oberland is Switzerland’s Alpine heartland, the Jungfrau Region within it is the holiest of the holy.” It really is.
But our trip did not end there. We had a delicious dinner waiting for us. We wanted to have fondue. Following the recommendation from our hotel, we had fondue in the restaurant Eiger in Wengen. It tasted excellent, and also the service was excellent. We also tasted Swiss white wine there, which was just a perfect accompaniment to Swiss fondue. We would recommend it to everybody.
Tips based on our experience in Switzerland in August
Where to stay in the Jungfrau region?
- Lauterbrunnen – As Lonely Planet says, an ideal base camp and a good starting point for hiking trips. There is also beautiful Staubbach falls, but the town is quite crowded. All the famous hikes can be reached easily from Grindelwald, a beautiful touristy city in a valley. The scenery is magnificent – Oberer Gletscher, Eiger, Mönch.
- Wengen – we stayed here and were pleased. This car-free village (which means quiet) is 1420 meters high, on the sunny side of the mountain. Jungfraujoch and Männlichen peak are as close as they can be to the accommodation place.
- Mürren is another car-free village, although it is not close to all the hiking routes. We think staying in Interlaken would waste time and money—too far from the main attractions.
With a car or by train?
- Our original plan was to go by car. But now we are delighted that we chose a train. Because you can’t see much in the mountains by car, you need to walk, and getting there is much more accessible by train.
Which train ticket?
- The worst option (most expensive) would be to buy a regular ticket every time you step onto the train. Careful planning can save you a considerable amount of franks. When going to the Jungfrau region, consider buying a Jungfrau region pass (Jungfraubahnen Pass) for six days for 190 SFR, with which all trains will be free and cable cars for half price. Regular prices can be seen at www.jungfrau.ch.
Cash or credit card?
- Mostly, it is possible to pay with a credit card. Although, when going uphill, take some cash with you because, in some places, the minimum amount to pay with a card is 20 SFR.
Clothes and shoes?
- The mountain temperature is lower, so it is good to have fleece available. For hiking, boots would be best. In many places, there was an option to test Lowa hiking boots for free; this is an experience worth trying.
Food and drink?
- Don’t miss an opportunity to taste a fine Swiss white wine with a Swiss fondue. We had the most pleasant experience with fondue in the restaurant Eiger in Wengen. Contrary to popular belief that Switzerland does not produce wine, white Swiss wine appears world-class.