This was Chris and my first time visit to the Bernese Oberland/ Jungfrau area.It included a few spectacular drives over high mountain passes to Zermatt where we did an amazing walk close to the Matterhorn. And finally, we had the unexpected add on of pretty Lucerne and not so pretty Montreux – this after a last minute change of plan saw us make a dash for better weather into Italy and gorgeous Lake Maggiore!
DAY 1: To Grindelwald from Edinburgh
I must admit to a bit of trepidation as our flight from Edinburgh soared above the Forth Road and Rail Bridges and headed south east for Geneva.10 days without a holiday by the sea somewhere – unheard of ! But as a lover also of mountains, regular hill walkers here in Scotland and myself being an avid reader and watcher of anything about the big mountains of Europe or the Himalaya, this trip seemed long overdue.The Swiss and French Alps’ time had come (France’s Mont Blanc area and Annecy written up separately.)
The final deciding factor came with an excellent drama documentary by Joe Simpson (of Touching the Void fame) covering the tragic story of Tony Kurtz’s group’s ill-fated attempt on the terrifying North Face of the Eiger. Reading about the visitors watching the drama unfold from the Hotel Bellevue des Alpes, peering through telescopes as the four young, brilliant climbers fought for their lives and glory…I felt drawn to seeing this mountain for myself.And why not the Matterhorn also plus of course that other famous range with its great history – the Mont Blanc Massif?
Lots of advice pre-trip about using the superb Swiss train service but despite totalling up the comparable costs between public transport (plus the substantial discounts it offered on various expensive cable cars ) I just couldn’t make the figures add up. The car still proved cheaper overall. Thankfully, we are both fans of a good road trip with all the flexibility that brings. Expensive parking? Ok…we’d thole that too (it turned out to be not so bad in many places.) Booking self- catering accommodation which had private parking worked well too and allowed us to reduce the costs of eating out in Switzerland.
Arriving in Geneva at 11.15am with only cabin baggage, we made straight for Alamo Car Hire where we had a small car booked. No queue – we were first in line. We always book cars in Europe and the USA through the third party Zest (they used to be Economy Car Hire) as we find they negotiate a deal that suits us from the car hire firms.) That said, we knew post Covid that car hire would be pricey and it was – just under CHF600 for 10 days including the CHF40 pass that’s required for driving Switzerland’s motorways. We were upgraded at no extra cost to a Nissan Qashqai Automatic which proved to be a really comfortable car to drive.
Off we set around 12.30pm heading for our 3 night stop in Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland, a journey which (after a minor detour due to a road accident ) took us about 3 hours. The route headed north up the A1 towards Lausanne then around Bern, then the A6 to Thun and Interlaken and finally, headed up the scenic Lutschental valley to the famous mountain village itself . I can’t honestly say the scenery on this route was anything remarkable until we started to approach Wilderswil but then it really took off.
A glimpse of a huge snow- clad rocky face at the head of the valley was the promise of things to come. Now the valley itself narrowed with steep forested hillsides on either side of us. Beautiful dark wooden chalets festooned with geraniums and begonias, created a riot of colour and immersed us immediately in the sense of being in the Switzerland of countless images. The chalets were dotted amongst emerald green , neat grass slopes; the mountains rose so steeply above them that it was impossible to see their summits though the snowy giants ahead were clear.
It was an easy 30 min drive up the valley to Grindelwald, beside a rushing glacial river of milky white. How I love these! Very different to our clear or whisky coloured rivers – they look so powerful and so cold! We were staying in Heidi’s House, a beautiful traditional old chalet two miles outside the village centre. Very easy to find given we had SatNav ( not something we usually pay extra for but this came with the car deal.)
I was a bit shocked at first because the house sat right on the main road into Grindelwald albeit in a raised position. Something I hate is road noise but in fact, we had very little of this given we were out all day and by evening , the traffic had all but died away. So, no disturbance thankfully.
The house was so characterful and charming inside and the balcony view – wow!! A stunner of a balcony overlooking the Eiger (3970m), Wetterhorn(3,692m) and Mettenberg ( 3104m).We never tired of this view and it was a dream to come back to at the end of each day – admiring it all, as we sat with a glass of wine. Being out of the bustle of the village it gave a sense of being away from it all yet within easy reach of everything.
In subsequent days we visited the other mountain villages of Lauterbrunnen and Murren, though only had views of Wengenacross the valley .I was really glad we’d chosen the Grindelwald area as I preferred the mountain views from there and the big open valley; I’m not really a fan of steep sided valleys bordered by cliffs plus having to use a cable car and train to get to and from Murren each day would have been a bit of a pain. With the car, Grindelwald was perfect for us, even if the village itself wasn’t as small or traditional as Murren.
That said, my first experience of Grindelwald when we drove in to get food supplies in the Co-op was a bit of a shock – it was so big, busy and built up! It’s a touristy place with a high street that goes on for about a mile, lots of shops, outdoor stores, chocolate shops, hotels and constant traffic going through it. It would have been too busy to stay in but it also had a great buzz about it and I finally liked it overall. Tourist central though.
I arranged to hire walking poles for tomorrow’s hike (from the Intersport shop and reasonable at CHF 9 per day) then we stocked up on wine, pasta, cold meat and cheese, bread, butter…chocolate for me…the usual suspects albeit we paid about twice the price each item usually costs at home. Actually that’s not true entirely – wine and chocolate was about the same as at home – Chris was delighted about that and given I’m a chocoholic, I was too!
By 5.30pm we were sitting out on the balcony with a glass of Prosecco and bowls of pistachios and crisps to nibble on.Bliss.
Made Salmon and Crème Fraiche Pasta for dinner then we sat out to admire the clouds billowing around the Eiger’s summit. What a view! The actual North Face routes were just out of sight though I imagined I could just see the White Spider and the notorious area called the Hinterstoisser Traverse. And was that the little doorway part way up the face created when the train line inside the mountain was built? It was quite a feeling to realise that the great mountain itself was now slap bang in front of us.
And that was not to ignore the equally if not more beautiful sight of the Wetterhorn and Mettenberg which dominate the village; these really do create a stunning mountain backdrop and very much swung me onto Grindelwald as the place to be.
The cloud cleared very late on and below the stars, an eerie, very bright light shone clearly from the ridge itself – the Mittellegi Hut used by serious climbers to overnight in.Fantastic.
DAY 2: The Panorama Trail from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg
The forecast for Friday was for cloud and the next few days were not looking too great either! That was one reason I’d planned 3 nights here, as mountain weather can be fickle to say the least.
Sure enough, the cloud was down next morning but we headed out to the Mannlichen station quite early, keen to get up there. We actually drove there as we’d had to go to the village first to pick up the poles so parking for the day cost CHF 12 – hefty but not unexpected.We could have walked to be honest but got a bit panicky in case the cable cars got really busy (they didn’t.)
The cable car had a complex pricing system to say the least.There were substantial 20- 30% discounts for over 60s or if staying in Grindelwald (accommodation providers give you a slip confirming this.)But these only applied to return journeys using the same cable car. We planned to walk the Panorama Trail between Mannlichen and Kleine Scheideggso that was no use. The very nice guy serving didn’t really understand what we were saying (our fault probably) but finally we got what we thought were the right tickets, letting us go up one way and down another for CHF 55 each.
The cable car swished us up silently to Mannlichen, where a few people were out and about. Fabulous vistas from the various viewpoints though the Eiger and Jungfrau were cloudy but atmospheric. We did the short Royal Walk up to the higher viewpoint and spent about 90 mins up there, loving the mountain air and hoping things would clear.
Finally however, we had to give up and walked back downhill, then followed a signposted path, wide and almost flat, which contoured steepish ground at the base of a small hill.
This was the Panorama Trail, an easy walk for which in hindsight I really didn’t need my hiking boots (which I’d worn on the planeto save space) nor the poles. The time suggested for the walk was 90 mins but even with many photo stops we were at Kleine Scheidegg(KS) in under an hour.The walk was pretty quiet until the final section nearer KS.
Some good views of Jungfrau but Monch and The Eiger had more cloud if anything. Nevertheless, what a really enjoyable walk amidst grand scenery.
We stopped well before Kleine Scheidegg and had a picnic on a high point above the path, with our own sandwiches of cold ham, Emmental and raw onion, as grand a spot for lunch as you could wish. It was warm too – about 20C – despite how high we were.
There’s a lovely café/bistro just before KS so we stopped off for a beer for Chris (it was lunchtime by now) and ice cream and coffee for me.
Coffee and Iced Coffee Ice cream at Grindelwaldblick cafe…
I must say that I thought that KS was THE best place for views, better again than Mannlichen because we were so close to the 3 giants but still had enough distance to admire them properly. Fabulous spot all in.
Checked out the historic and beautiful Hotel Bellevue des Alpes – what a place! But we were politely told in the lobby that it was for residents only. Clearly, they weren’t wanting a couple of scruffs wandering about at will! Lots of photos of famous climbers and men associated with the area. What a spot this would be to stay overnight.The sunsets in good weather must be amazing and the busyness of it all – the trains to Wengen and Grindelwald, the Jungfraujoch train and lots of people milling about – would all disappear by early evening.
As we meandered around the railway station at KS itself, we realised that the tickets we had were for a return from Mannlichen – just what we hadn’t wanted! So it looked like it was going to be another CHF40 each to get back down via the train. I’d been keen to get up to the Eiger Glacier station so we carried on walking uphill for 2km or so.
The cloud had really dropped low now but there were impressive views down to the steep sided Lauterbrunnen Valley. Up close, I can’t say the mountains were beautiful – savagely grand in scale but a bit quarry like with broken, rubbly glaciers flowing down from Monch and Jungfrau. Quite a sight though. Intimidating – especially since I suffer a bit from vertigo in certain situations and which has got worse with age. I can only admire those with the motivation, skills and nerve to climb here.
We were very lucky at the Eiger station because when we explained that we had the wrong return tickets, the lady simply waved us through the barrier and allowed us to descend for free back to Grindelwald! Amazing and really kind of her.This general helpfulness and kindness was a feature of our time in Switzerland.
We had thought to do the Eiger Glacier trail back down to Alpiglen but the weather was coming in and it didn’t look that appealing.
The path is clearly visible in the photo I took from the cable car – it actually starts off crossing what looks like pretty steep ground but it’s probably deceptive and the path no doubt is reasonably wide; overall it didn’t look to give as good views of the whole range as the trail we did given you would be very tucked up against the Eiger’s lower slopes. Nevetheless, a good hike in better weather.
Picked up a couple of other things at the shops, returned the poles and headed back to the chalet for a glass of fizz and a snack.
Another night spent mostly admiring the clouds coming and going over the Eiger. We were so taken by the whole experience that we vowed to head up again if a window in the weather allowed.
Next day : Pretty lake-side Brienz , the mountain village of Murren…and a final morning at Kleine Scheidegg for photos.