Saturday morning, Julian and I set off bright and early for a weekend of exploring the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps. During my time in Switzerland, we’ve tried to take full advantage of Basel’s location in the heart of central Europe. We have traveled both near and far– from across the border to Alsace to Milan and Beirut. But in the process we inadvertently neglected Switzerland! For my last weekend in the country, I wanted to remedy this by going somewhere to revel in the natural beauty of Switzerland. The famously picturesque Interlaken seemed like the perfect place to start.
After hearing wonderful things, Interlaken has been top on my list of places to visit while in Switzerland. Our only fear was that it would be packed with tourists this time of year. In anticipation of this, we decided to spend just half a day there and then head to the nearby Alpine village of Adelboden.
From Basel, the drive to Interlaken is just a little under two hours. You can also take the train for just a tad bit longer. But if you want to explore anywhere outside of Interlaken, a car is essential. After an extremely scenic drive, we arrived to Interlaken just after noon. The first thing we did was walk around the town. Before long, we stopped at an open field to admire the snow-capped Alps and watch the many paragliders descend from the sky. Someday I would love to try paragliding in a place like Interlaken! Their view of the mountains, lakes, and town in between them (hence the name Inter-laken, meaning “in between the lakes”) must be unparalleled.
Interlaken has been a popular tourist destination since the early 1800s when people would come for the mountain air and spas. The completion of the Bernese Oberland Railway in 1890 and the Jungfrau Railway in 1912 caused the town to really take off. Today, luxurious 19th century hotels like the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa and the Lindner Grandhotel Beau Rivage still offer guests the best of Swiss luxury.
Harder Kulm Mountain
After grabbing a bite to eat on the terrace of the Restaurant Taverne at the Hotel Interlaken, we set off for Harder Kulm mountain. We knew we didn’t have nearly enough time to do everything in Interlaken, so we settled on one of the highlights– riding the panorama funicular up to Harder Kulm for the best view of Interlaken. The ride costs 32 francs and takes only 10 minutes to the top. Otherwise, it’s about a two and a half hour hike. We would’ve liked to have done the hike but since we were on a tight time frame we opted for the easy way up.
Upon exiting the funicular, I was immediately struck by the brilliant blue color of the lakes. The turquoise and emerald hues of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz are so vivid they almost don’t look natural. I had never seen that exact shade of blue before, not even in the tropics. I later learned the color results from glacial particles that reflect the blue-green sector of the light spectrum. Unfortunately, it was a bit cloudy when we were there but luckily the sun came out briefly, illuminating the icy blue water.
The suspended lookout boasts the best view. From it, you can see both lakes, all of Interlaken, and the Alpine triumvirate of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains. This is the place to take your selfies, panoramas, and tourist photos. Surprisingly enough, Harder Klum was not packed with tourists and we were able to get all of the shots we wanted. Perhaps the predicted thunderstorms scared people away but we were glad we didn’t let the forecasted weather deter us!
After taking loads of photos, we sat for a drink at the Harder Kulm Panoramic Restaurant. Although it’s a tourist trap, we really enjoyed sipping on our drinks with such an incredible view.
After about an hour at the top, it started to rain and so we headed back down the mountain. The rain was almost a blessing because it forced us to abandon the gorgeous vista and forge onto our next destination, Adelboden.
The Cambrian Hotel
It was actually The Cambrian Hotel & Spa that led us to the Alpine village of Adelboden. We had been having some difficulty finding a decent place to stay in Interlaken (the grand hotels were all booked) so we expanded our search to the surrounding area. As soon as we saw The Cambrian, we knew we’d found our hotel. The Cambrian is one of the only design hotels in the Swiss Alps and it was built to showcase the natural beauty surrounding it. We later learned Adelboden has much to offer and were so glad The Cambrian led us to this stunning village.
While Adelboden does not have any lakes, it does have some amazing waterfalls. We were determined to see the Engstligen Falls, the second highest waterfalls in Switzerland, before nightfall. After quickly checking into our hotel, we set off for the falls. A ten minute drive and short hike later, we had arrived.
From a long way off, you can see the 600 meter (1969 feet) falls. But it’s not until you’re right underneath them that you truly grasp their immense size and force. Next to the thunderous falls and towering rocks, I felt very small. For a long while I stood on the bridge over the base of the falls, feeling the fall’s spray on my face and standing in awe of their power.
Unfortunately, we were too late to take the cable car to the top of the falls but with Julian’s drone we were able to get the same perspective. Seeing the falls from the sky allows you to better grasp their enormity. A drone also gives you an unparalleled view of the wide meadowlands and dense pine forest below.
We would’ve liked to stay for longer but as the sun began to set, we knew it was time to head back to the hotel. One thing I underestimated was the temperature difference in the mountains. In Interlaken it was over 90 degrees but once we got high into the Bernese Oberlands, the temperature dropped dramatically. Luckily, I had brought one sweater for the weekend.
After a delicious, fresh dinner at The Cambrian’s restaurant, we retired to our room. We were exhausted after our busy day but went to bed excited for what the next day would bring. We were going to visit our college friend Linda at her home in the mountains outside of Gstaad. Her family owns a dairy farm there and they had promised to show us the wonders of mountain life– from making cheese, to tending to cows, and hiking in their breathtaking backyard. We couldn’t wait!
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Discovering the Swiss Alps series about our day spent with Linda making cheese, hiking, and exploring the glam resort town of Gstaad!