We recently just spent a long weekend in Switzerland. Ok, I need a moment already, just from typing those words. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would utter that sentence. Never.
Ok, shock over. We recently spent a long weekend in Switzerland, and it was glorious. Where do I even begin? My husband’s only requirements for the trip was to be able to see/be at the top of the Alps, so we picked a spot right near Interlaken, in the heart of the mountains and lakes. With COVID-19 restrictions we were restricted from traveling to some of the major cities, and we wanted to be a bit…off the way. When a local friend posted about a hotel she stayed at right on Lake Brienz, I knew that was where we needed to be.
One little, teensy, note to make about Switzerland before we get into the meat of this post. If you know anything or have heard anything about Switzerland it is that it is an expensive place to visit. This is not an exaggeration. You will need to plan accordingly for this visit and budget if you need. There are certainly ways to make it a “cheaper” trip, but it will never be inexpensive. For us, I knew that this was going to up towards the more expensive trips we took on our time here and I was 100% ok with that. It was more important to me that we did what we wanted to do and enjoyed our time without worrying about the cost necessarily. With that being said, there were a couple of things that we DID NOT do, which I will get into later.
Before we got to Switzerland though, we made a stop at KZ-Lager Kaufering VII. This is a European Holocaust Memorial in Landsberg Germany and is the largest remote area (sub camp) of Dachau Concentration Camp. There was a total of 11 of these sub camps of Dachau and this one has the actual remains of the tube style barracks. In total these camps saw 30,000 prisoners, with at least 14,500 prisoners dying over the time the camp was open. Exact numbers are not known as the records do not match up (one study found upwards of 44,000+). The camps were intended to put prisoners to work on an armament project, without any consideration by the guards for the health and safety of the prisoners. During the war crimes investigation, it was discovered that these sub camps were the worst in Bavaria and the prisoners came to refer to them as “cold crematorias”.
We were not able to walk inside the camp and see the buildings and cemetery up close, but you could still get a feel from outside the fence. This is the second concentration camp we’ve been to (Dachau Concentration Camp being the first and hopefully a visit to Auschwitz soon) and I will never be able to fully verbalize the experience. So, once again, I will let pictures say what I cannot.
After that, we headed off on our Switzerland Adventure. We stayed at the Hotel Seiler au Lac. Not only is the hotel itself incredible (you can request a lake front room, all of which have balconies looking right out to the water- swoon), but the staff were incredibly helpful and went above and beyond our needs. We opted to have breakfast at the hotel (included), which was handled excellently with COVID restrictions. We did also opt to have dinner at the hotel restaurants (one night at each- two restaurants attached to the hotel), and both meals were delicious. This particular hotel is located in Bonigen, Switzerland, a quick distance away from Interlaken (you can walk or take a bus- passes were offered by the hotel), and only a 20-30 minute drive to either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald (Berne is about 45 minutes away if you want to go there as well).
Our first evening was mostly spent wandering around Lake Brienz before settling into our hotel and grabbing dinner at the Pizzeria attached to the hotel.
We set off late the next morning to head into Interlaken.
Here is where I am going to clarify some of our choices in activities. There are a couple of things that I base “what we do” on, the biggest factor being the weather. It was a wet and rainy morning in our area of Switzerland, so we knew going to Jungfraujoch (the top of Europe- aka the highest point of Europe) was going to be hit or miss. The second factor, less so than weather, is cost. This is really only specific to Switzerland as things are, generally, more expensive in the country. We made the decision to pass on heading up to Jungfraujoch as the potential for bad weather combined with the cost was not worth it for us. Instead we chose to top some of the smaller peaks, and this was just as incredible as anywhere else we could have stopped.
So, back to our day. Chances are, if you’ve tried to take a train or summit one (read: many) of the Swiss Alp peaks, then you’ve gone through Interlaken. Not only is Interlaken the central city between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, but it is also a main transport gateway to the Alps in the region. You’ve got the two lakes, then the River Aare which flows between them (and therefore between the city). There has been a city in this location since the 12th century, but it was originally known as Aarmuhle (changed to Interlaken in 1891). It started out as the home of a convent and monastery, but as it continued to grow, it became a large city. It started to become known as a resort town in the early 19th century, with a railway opening in the 1870’s (and more following in the next 20-30 years).
We spent most of the rainy morning walking throughout the town seeing all the beauty that is offered in the valley. I think one of the best things to do sometimes is to just walk around the streets. We didn’t have any “set ideas” of spots to see until the weather cleared, so we just walked. We stopped in for a light lunch and during that, the weather started to clear out. Faced with breathtaking blue skies, snowcapped peaks, and a new look at Interlaken, we decided to head up to Harder Kulm.
Harder Kulm is the top of Interlaken. Rising 1,322 meters above Sea Level you are able to get an incredible view of Interlaken, the peaks around the city (opposite), as well as the two lakes, Brienz and Thun. There is a viewing platform that you can stand on for a truly breathtaking experience. You don’t even have to worry about hiking up if you don’t want to (though you certainly can), there is a funicular that takes you to the top in just under 10 minutes. You are also able to go up top in the evening, and I believe there is a hotel located right above the restaurant if you would like to stay.
We finished out the day at an indoor playground for the kids. Most of our travel is not necessarily based on our kids in terms of places we visit (maybe I’ll talk about different traveling styles in a blog post?), but we saw that there was a neat kids play park and we had a bit of time to kill between finishing up in the center of Interlaken and heading to dinner. So, we let the kids go a little wild and run off all the pent-up energy for a little while. They really enjoyed it and it was nice to be able to do something just for them on our trip.
Our second day we decided to go over to Lauterbrunnen. It was a tough call as to whether we wanted to go to Grindelwald of Lauterbrunnen, you can’t really go wrong with either option, but I wanted to be able to see the waterfalls that Lauterbrunnen is known for. Honestly, I don’t think you could really go wrong with anywhere in this particular region, so explore it all if you can!
Lauterbrunnen as an area is first mentioned in the 13th century, with the name Lauterbrunnen being mentioned in the beginning of the 14th century. It has an early history of battles and rebellion between the villages and the Interlaken Monastery, ending in the 16th century. The villages that make up Lauterbrunnen were actually very poor. The area started out as a mining area, but all of the profits went to the noble families, and the working-class people remained below the poverty line. It got so bad at one point, that most villagers moved away, joining regiments and emigrating to the United States of America (settling in the Carolinas). At the end of the 18th century, Lauterbrunnen started to gain more traction when mount climbers would start expeditions in the town, and once the road was built from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, tourism exploded. Lauterbrunnen has inspired many a writer and film maker (with Goethe and Tolkien both referencing it in their own works, and the 1969 On Her Majesties Secret Service being filmed in the city).
Lauterbrunnen is really known for its waterfalls and mountain peaks. It is one of the largest nature conservation areas in Switzerland and easily one of the prettiest spots we’ve ever visited. The valley is home to 72 waterfalls, the largest being Staubbach Falls which are one of the highest free-falling waterfalls. Another set that you can visit up close are Trummelbach Falls, which are a natural waterfall phenomena situation behind the rock face.
We started the morning off hiking through the valley to get to Trummelbach Falls. You are able to park right at the waterfalls if you’d like. HOWEVER, I would highly recommend parking in one of the bigger “in town” parking lots and then walking through the valley to the falls. It was an incredible semi sunrise hike (it definitely wasn’t sunrise, but the light still hadn’t reached in to the valley when we started walking) and you see so many more of the waterfalls this way, as well as get the chance to see some of the local cattle life and ranchers (we got to see a minutes old baby cow on our way back from the falls as well as buy local cheese from a little self-service booth). It’s all flat ground and we really loved being able to soak in all of the natural beauty.
So, we started at our furthest out point, Trummelbach Falls.
Trummelbach Falls are the largest subterranean water falls in Europe and can carry up to 20,000 tons of meltwater from the glaciers of Jungfrau. They are incredibly loud (thundering loud), cause the mountain to almost tremble at the power, and are the most incredible thing mother nature does. If you’ve read my Garmisch-Partenkirchen post, you’ll recognize a pattern of water going through rocks makes me just swoon and feel overwhelmed with amazement, and Trummelbach Falls was no different. We were lucky with our timing as we were able to see all 10 chutes of the falls (at a total height of 200 meters), whereas during certain times of year you are only able to see the top chutes. They do not recommend this activity for younger children (in fact they don’t typically allow children under the age of 4 in) and I would be careful walking through the paths- it can get very slippery.
From there, we walked back towards town with a stop at Staubbach Falls.
Staubbach Falls has a height of almost 300 meters (297 to be exact) and , in addition to being the highest in Europe, are the most famous of the waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen. The waterfall inspired Goethe’s poem, Song of the Spirits over the Waters and disperses water as if it were dust. You are able to climb a portion of the rockface to be “under” the waterfall; HOWEVER, I would not recommend this for young kids. I was the only one who went up the rockface and, once I reached the end, was glad my boys did not head up. It is a really cool experience though, and if you can, I would recommend it for adults.
The entire valley is one for the nature lovers and reminded us just how incredible the world around us really is. So much beauty and a place I’m glad we spent a whole day in.
From the falls, we decided to head up the mountain towards Murren. From the base of Lauterbrunnen you are able to take a gondola up the mountain to Schilthorn, then either hike or board a train towards Murren. We chose the train (much to the boy’s excitement) and were treated to a narrow-gauge railway and breathtaking views.
Murren is a traditional mountain village at 1,638 meters above sea level. From Murren you are able to see Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountains around you. I think this is a great alternative, if you just want to get up in the mountains, but don’t necessarily want to do the Jungfraujoch. There is an element of “off the beaten path” and an actual look at what life is like up in the alps, even though during the summer this is one of the more popular alps spots.
We finished out our day in Lauterbrunnen with a hot chocolate made in a local coffee shop before heading back to our hotel and our dinner reservation.
And that wraps up our long weekend in Switzerland! Easily one of the most incredible places we’ve visited, and it definitely makes my top 4 places we’ve traveled. I’ve used a lot of words in this post (2319 at this point to be exact), but none really can come close to what this region was like.