Sunday, 14 July 2013

Switzerland: a Week in Wengen Hiking the Bernese Oberland





Hello, Blog Fans.  We have begrudgingly returned after a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable week in Switzerland.  At least we are returning to the first "proper" summer in the UK in 3 years (upper 70s/lower 80s for days at a time).

For those that may have forgotten, Switzerland is located between France, Germany, Austria and Italy.  It is known for its banks, efficiency, cheese, chocolate, cows and the Alps.  It's also quite expensive and I'd been putting off visiting here because of it.  However, it seemed liked our kind of place and I rationalized that it will only be more expensive and difficult to reach from the States.  So, we spent our first week of the summer holiday in the middle of the Bernese Oberland area in Wengen; a cute, nearly car-less village mid-way up the mountains.

Even from the UK, it took most of a day to reach our destination.  To save a few £££ we flew Air France through Paris to Zurich.  We then took 4 different trains (Zurich--Bern--Interlaken Ost--Lauterbrunnen--Wengen) with tight, but timely, connections to finally arrive at "our" chalet for a stress free week in the mountains.

It's all about the million dollar views and we spent the week walking/hiking/playing in them.  The public transport (trains, funiculars, gondolas, buses) are well run and easy to use (and boy did we).

Note:  for those going, but sure to investigate the various discount cards/passes that are available.  The public transportation is fantastic but not government subsidized so it is expensive.  We purchased Half Fare cards which more than paid for themselves.

Over our 6 days we hiked 35-40 miles and did so with lazy mornings and evenings (for the most part).  The weather cooperated and the views and ambiance were outstanding.

The bright sunlight made for some challenging photography (with my skill level) and it's hard to capture how awe-inspiring this place is.  Hopefully you'll get a feel for it with the photos included below.


Day 1 - Sunday:  Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg



I decided to start us off with a moderate challenge on the first day while we were fresh.  It involved walking from Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg (essentially route 43 until branching off for 42 near Wengernalp and 41 to KS).

The walk was 6.6 miles and pretty much climbing all the way (3000', 7.3% grade).  It took us 3:40 with 2:56 of that non-stationary (courtesy of my geeky GPS).  The last bit was rough and we probably should have taken the train for that final leg (but I didn't want to wimp out on the first day).

View from our chalet in the morning before the walk.  This is looking down the Lauterbrunnen valley.


Ready to go.  Each morning was similar for the most part.  Slight sleep in, breakfast, sunscreen application and pack preparation (food, water, etc.).  Temps were upper 60's to upper 70's though a touch cooler in the morning.


 This is the view about 100' from our chalet.  Incredible.


We walked through Wengen and started climbing.  Here's a look back at Wengen early on in the hike.


 some knobbly bits


Wengen getting smaller


a view across the valley


a slightly closer view of the snow-capped peaks


 me and the kids


a view of the Schilthorn and the rotating restaurant Piz Gloria (where an old James Bond movie, Her Majesty's Secret Service, was filmed)


on we climb


a different vantage point of the mountains at the end of the Lauterbrunnen valley








our first cows (and their bells) -- quaint but also with unfortunate byproducts (farm fumes and flies)


at our destination and a peak into the next valley (to Grindelwald)


mountains behind Kleine Scheidegg

It was great to be able to hop on a train to get down the mountain after an exerting hike (down is actually harder than up due to strain on knees and toes). 

Alex gave the slack balance "beam" a try in the center of Wengen (he didn't make it but had fun trying)


We had time for a quick pool visit since we "only" did one hike.  It was a nice reward.


Kuk joined in as well (I passed this time but tried it the other time we visited later in the week).

Day 2 - Monday:  Grutschalp to Murren (Mountain View Trail) & Almendhubel to Murren (North Face Trail)

Our second day was going to be two "easy" walks with a trip up the Schilthorn in between.  We took the train down to Lauterbrunnen and then the gondola up to Grutschalp to get on the other side of the valley.  From there, it was a fairly level walk to Murren (#52, 3.1 miles, 1:18).  This is called the Mountain View trail and gives a different perspective on the mountains from the other side of the valley.

The second walk was "for Kuk" as it promised to have plenty of wildflowers (and naturally, nice views).  It involved taking the funicular from Murren up to Almendhubel and taking the North Face Trail around the Schilthorn valley (?) back to Murren.
 


The second walk was more down than up.  4.1 miles in 2:42 (2:04 moving time).

I had had hints of some knee issues after my Snowdon and B-29 Peak District walks but didn't think too much of it.  It really started to be an issue on this second walk and I was actually the one slowing everyone down.  The downhill bits certainly didn't help.  I ended up buying a knee brace the next day which helped but not completely.  I should probably get it looked at but let's say I don't have much confidence in the system here (Take two leeches and call me in the morning, right Andrea?).


 


My good morning view again from the chalet.


I don't like giving my camera up but I know that I should be in some of the photos.  Here's case exhibit 1 of why not.  Nice photo except for the old guy's backside dominating the photo (thanks for that).  The cropped version of this is at the beginning of the post.  I got a good laugh at least.

 
a view of the mountains from across the valley -- we had a closer view during yesterday's walk.  It was nice to try walks in different areas to get the different perspectives.


and another


speaking of different views, this is the stream  (river?) that feeds Staubbach Falls which we would see from below later in the week


Alex enjoying the water (and rocks)


Wengen from the other side





 different mountain views


 arriving in Murren


 farther down the valley from Murren


nice one of the kids


Hmmm.  Despite the clear day, the Schilthorn was a wee bit fogged in.  We saved our time and money and did not go up.


Instead we had a nice picnic and watched the others going up and down.


up at Almendhubel ready to start walk #2


but first Alex reminding us that it's fun to be a kid


nice one of Nicole too


on we go, down into the smaller valley and in search of wildflowers


 and mountain views


 looks like we are headed straight to the mountains


first flower photo -- we liked the orange color of this one


great views -- this is from Allmendhubel to Blumental is what I've self-described as the Schilthorn valley


and more flowers


farther into the valley (and away from the mountains on other side)


 the kids heading down through the flowers


and walking towards different mountains


following the stream to the mountains


more cows too


and different (globe) flowers


Murren from above


the clouds over the Schilthorn look ominous (we only got a few drops fortunately)


 cows and mountains (with the one cow giving me the stink eye)


 further around the valley (now past Murren)


a small farm along the way


road going down . . . 











Alex plucked a flower for Kuk (and tried to pass it off as her birthday gift for next week)





paragliders over Murren








and our reward at the end of the day in Murren with a great view down into the valley



Day 3 - Tuesday:  Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg & "Extreme" Sports


Today was to be an easy day.  We did the arguably most popular walk due to its high views/effort ratio and left the afternoon free for some, um, Extreme (for us) Sports.

We took the gondola from Wengen up to Mannlichen and then took the easy, slightly downhill, stroll (#33) to Kleine Scheidegg (much easier than walking up from Wengen!).  From KS, we road down to Grindewald and then took the gondola up to First/Bort for some fun.



The walk was easy and the views as promised.  3.3 miles, downhill as shown above, in about 90 minutes with plenty of photo stops.

I'm an early riser and would often have an hour or two to myself in the morning.  I would sit on the sofa and "read" the computer and look out the window.  This, literally, was my view each day.


and zoomed in a bit -- this never gets old (and was, in fact, hard to leave)


 and again, the view 100' from our chalet as we walked into town


another bright and sunny morning as we look up at the gondola to Mannlichen


and looking back down to Wengen from the top


and another


required photo op with kids


and another of Wengen -- Lauterbrunnen is farther down (top left)


and looking down the Lauterbrunnen valley towards Murren


a little snow left on this walk -- more to come later in the week


across the Lauterbrunnen valley (this view would shortly be hidden as we walked around the the other side of the mountain)


 back-lit kids


 a peak into the Grindelwald valley and beyond


the kids in front of the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains (you can just make out the Jungfraujoch between the two on the flat bit -- this is the "Top of Europe" -- the highest point you can take a train)


a similar view sans kids


a different group of flowers on this trail


 Grindelwald valley from a view further along the trail

After lunch (food photos are at the end), we took the train down to Grindelwald, walked through town and then took the gondola up towards First.  Nicole and I went to the top while Kuk and Alex got off on the first (not First) stop at Bort.


the view from First


Nicole and I were going to be following those folks down the zipline.  All four of us were going to do it but we found out Alex was too light.


another view from First


Nicole waiting her turn (she's next)


here come our seats -- looks a long way down, doesn't it?

Needless to say, I didn't get any photos on the way down as I didn't trust myself to hold onto the camera.  It was a quick ride down with an abrupt stop at the end.  I got the jump on Nicole with my lb advantage but she quickly caught up.  It was fast enough to cause tears and we enjoyed it but it wasn't the coolest thing ever or anything.


We then road the gondola from Schrekfeld to Bort to find the other two.  This was on the way.


Alex quickly got over the under-weight disappointment by biding his time away on the cool playground at Bort.


From Bort, we were to take Trottibikes (big scooters) for a few miles (down, down, down) to Grindelwald.  This wouldn't qualify as an extreme sport for most, but it did for us (as we soon found out).


Great views on the way down, but not too many photo ops when you are coasting downhill!


It took Kuk a little while to get the hang of it, but she eventually caught up.


 and passed us at one point

we would eventually learn that some decent spacing is in order (for us) -- here's Alex in the lead with Nicole behind

and Nicole with me (and my knee brace) trailing

The Trottibikes were loads of fun and the views/experience were great.  Unfortunately, 75% of the group had a minor wipe out at some point.  The first occurred when Nicole started to overtake Alex which caused him to speed up.  He lost control and crashed.  Nicole was able to stop.  However, when Kuk came around the bend she got distracted by the crash (well) ahead of her and also wrecked (quite painfully, but no real damage other than pride).

We later came out of this path/track and started riding on some small city streets.  Nicole was hugging the curb and lost control by hitting it and crashed.  Great cries and screams to get me to stop since I was leading at the time.  Again, a few scrapes to take home.

Extreme sports -- fail.  I guess we are too tame.  The kids agreed with me that it was fun though and we would certainly do better a second time.  Not sure Kuk would concur (nor did she seem interested to even be contemplating it!).

We had a little rain on this evening.  This is the shot from our dinner restaurant with the low clouds settling in.  Fortunately, this was a rare occurence for us during the week and the weather really didn't alter our plans at all.


Day 4 - Wednesday:  Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg & Trummbach Falls

Today was going to be another "easy" day with a relatively flat walk down the Lauterbrunnen valley to view the numerous falls including the outstanding (paid attraction) Trummelbach Falls.  (About 4 miles in total.)  Knowing that the valley can get a little warm, I was happy to see that the weather was going to be cooler than it had been according to the predictions.  (I also learned that the predictions aren't consistent among the numerous sites nor very accurate.  It started cool but warmed up by the end).


 my breakfast view once again


 in Lauterbrunnen with a view of Staubbach Falls (remember Alex's earlier shot by the feeder stream?)


 and a peek down the valley


 closer to the Staubbach Falls (apologies for the crooked photographer)


 back down the valley


 down the valley (zoomed in)


 all the falls appear to feed the river down the middle of the valley (Weisse Lutschine)


Half way down the walk, we branched off to see the Trummelbach Falls (link).  These are 10 glacier fed waterfalls -- the largest subterranean falls in Europe (apparently).  You start by taking an elevator up half way and then walk to the top and then all the way down.  The falls are powerful and awe-inspiring.  My photos don't do it justice.  This was a big hit with the family.














 Kuk, me and my gut.  Oye.





 After the falls, we chose a nice spot by the river for our picnic.


 . . . and then it was back on the trail.   By this time it had gotten quite warm.  We agreed that the second half of the walk wasn't as enjoyable as the first.





 another waterfall along the way


Alex always likes to stop to look at the stacked stones (and envy the good skipping ones)








One of the better falls was towards the end on the opposite side.  It was a cascade rather than a straight shot.

We had a couple of options at the end.  Since we'd been to Murren we decided to simply take the bus back to Lauterbrunnen and then the train to Wengen and then back to the pool!



Day 5 - Thursday:  Schynige Platte to First


Stretch goal time.  I had placed this long walk towards the end of the week to see how we were all doing.  I knew it would be tough but I thought we could do it (and we did).   Multiple sources had said this was one of the best walks around so I really wanted to try it.

The walk is from Schynige Platte to First (lower right to upper left in map above).  Unlike most other walks, there really aren't any off-ramps so you are committed to the long haul.  It's walk #62 above.

We needed an early start since it takes about 2 hours just to get to Schynige Platte (train to Wilderswil via Lauterbrunnen and then the long ride up, up, up on a 100 year old cog train line) and the gondola in First stops at 6:30 pm (and there is no way I would want to walk down 3000' from there to Grindelwald).

So, to play it safe and not feel rushed we got the 7:03 train out of Wengen and started the walk about 9:15 after toilet breaks and general looking around.

I'd call this a big boy walk.  Definitely the toughest one we did.  10.3 miles in total.  3500' up (and 2900' down) with a max of 8600' (we didn't climb the peak at Faulhorn due to fog and exhaustion).  7.5 hrs of which 5.5 hrs was moving (and some of that rather slowly as you'll see).

If felt good to complete the walk -- definitely a sense of accomplishment.  It wasn't perfect.  I didn't realize that we missed most of the views down to the Brienzersee with the route we chose and the late cloud hampered our views in the second half of the walk. 

The worst bit was the remaining snow on the trail.  I actually slipped twice, fortunately in safe locations.  I'm sure my knee didn't help.  There were places where we had to cross the snow/ice and a slip would have been serious if not fatal.  It was stressful for all of us (except Alex who was somewhat oblivious and enjoyed the snowy bits that were safer -- he did really well though).

Perhaps the loop around Schynige Platte is a better option for most, especially early in the summer season.  There were plenty of others doing this walk (and some considerably older than us, but that doesn't mean much).  Not too many families -- none with kids Alex age or younger that I noticed.

On to the photos:

 First, my good morning photo of the day.


the train we took up returning back to Wilderswil


family photo before the start (it was a little cooler this early morning)


a quick see-saw before we start -- check out that background


and we are off to First -- 6 hrs estimated time (obviously we, and the snow, are below average)


a smidge of downhill at the start


we had a few slugs along the way but no photos -- the infant caterpillars were the new gross-out for the kids


and yet another unique flower


the big mountains (looking back)


more flowers





more cows along the way -- I decided to say hello this time


these guys were blocking the path though -- up and over


the views were amazing as ever





 big, pale snail





Here's an example of some of the treachery  -- the little path is flat but is quickly slopes off.  Nicole did a great job in the lead and without poles (I used my 2 and Alex and Kuk shared hers).  We saw others coming and going so we knew it was passable with care.


a small pond in the valley -- [Lake] Brienzersee is on the opposite side


 a different look back at the snow dotted landscape



 a welcomed break (and a hope that we were through the snow -- not to be)


some sheep/goats at the half way point


3 hours to go (half way)


more snow


and unfortunately the low clouds -- that's Faulhorn behind the clouds


a nice view down to the pond and lake on the other side though the clouds are starting to encroach


 (nearly) walking in the clouds


more snow -- at least no drop offs with this one (Alex loved this bit; I found it rather tedious in my state!)




[Lake] Balchapsee in the distance (and more snow)


 we knew we were getting closer but still a little ways to go








And finally the view from First.

In hindsight, perhaps not the best hike for us to try given the remaining snow (and my knee to a certain degree).  It was unfortunate about the cloudy views as well but there's no planning for that as it was a clear day at the start.  It did feel good to accomplish this tough 10 miler and the views we did have were impressive.   Perhaps still doubting my judgment a little . . .


Day 6 - Friday:  First to Grosse Platte

I had mapped out the first 5 days pretty well.  With my goals achieved, I left it to the troops to decide what to do on our last day.  We had many options:

a) return to Schynige Platte and do the loop walk for the lake views and wild flowers
b) travel to the Ballenberg Folk Museum (across Lake Brienz)
c) putter around the lakes for a day
d) other

We'll, after listening to the input I suggested "other".  There was a "Marmot Trail" walk that I knew would be a long shot but might get us some animal sightings (which had been disappointingly few) and then we could also do the toboggan runs out of Pfingstegg for the kids.

Since it was our last day we wanted to leave a little time for shopping  and packing and most of the other options (at least the lake ones) were all day affairs.


The Marmot Trail involved going back to First (train to Grindelwald, gondola to First) and then walking to Gross Scheidegg via Schilt (trails 6 & 17) -- chopped off on the left side unfortunately.

 The walk was easy/medium -- 4.4 miles in 2:50 (2 hrs moving time -- we had a picnic) with 1157' up and 1751' down.

back to First


Now, I did spot a single marmot.  After alerting the troops (who confirmed the sighting) I got out the camera and . . . whiffed.  I didn't get him.  It was hard to spot him through the zoom.  Oh well, at least we saw one (you'll have to trust me).


 near Schilt and our lunch spot


 as I said, Alex couldn't get enough of the snow -- he decided to have a little climb


 okay not so little


quite high actually -- he came down much quicker, but to his credit he stayed vertical, albeit a little helter-skelter (sorry, no photo as I was a little concerned)


climbing over -- now the walk down to Gross Scheidigg


 over varied terrain


the kids ran down ahead to get on this big rock (a little easier to access from the rear)


 and a closer shot


 more flowers


 a look further down the valley than we had seen before


azaleas


 a nice look back in the direction of Grindelwald


and another, with wildflowers thrown in


and looking again in the opposite direction


 gorgeous


 a final wildflower shot near Gross Scheidegg

We waited about 15 minutes and caught the bus back to Grindelwald.  We were all set to ride up to Pfingstegg when I had my first (and only), wait a minute, it costs how much moment?  The cost of the tobogganing was managable.  Each kid would get a half dozen runs for about 15 CHF ($16) each.  However, the cost to get up to Pfingstegg would have been about $50 for all of us since it's a separate company and our Half Fare and Family Cards were not accepted.  Too much (in part in principal) so we baled.  The kids took it well.


The walk from the Pfingstegg gondola took us by some quintessential Swiss buildings.   Check out the row of cow bells on this one.


  . . . and the flowers on this one

And when we made it back to Wengen they had a little concert going.  All drummers -- just for you Andrea!

Glacier Revisited

We've never been to the Alps before nor have we seen all that is available in America.  However, we did take the kids to Glacier National Park in 2008.  I thought it might be similar to the Bernese Oberland area so I had a flick through the photos.  A few are shown below (mainly to look at how cute the kids were).

It's true there are some similarities but it's hard to make a direct comparison.  Both are fine options (and Glacier certainly would save you a transatlantic flight).  Glad we could experience both.

 Aww (Nicole was 9 and Alex 6).  Surprisingly, we did about 35 miles that week as well.


I think this was our Christmas card photo that year.  The Swiss peaks seem higher and snowier in comparison.


this was at a Swiss like hotel with a glacier in the background

A few more:








Food

We made good use of the chalet and actually ate in more than I expected.  Some of that was to save costs but it was more out of laziness!  After a long day, we would come back and get cleaned up and not want to go out again.  I cooked simple meals our first 3 nights and then we had a meat, cheese and bread meal later in the week (with multiple cheeses from the local cheese shop -- yum).

We ate out lunch twice at the wonderful train station restaurant at Kleine Scheidegg and had 3 dinner meals out (two of which are shown below).

Drinks were quite expensive (some places even charge for tap water -- criminal in my book).  That's about 20 CHF in drinks.  My beer was good but very light as you can see.  I tried quite a few different ones from the grocery store preferring the local wheat beers to the straight lagers (no dark options).


rosti (think hash browns) with egg, bacon, and sides of cheese and slaw at Kleine Scheidegg.  This was absolutely awesome.  It was big enough that got 2 for the 4 of us.  It was so good, that we ate here the next time we were in KS as well.


the local apple pie/cake with cream (1 for all of us) -- pretty good


Hotel Baren (Wengen)
 Kuk's mixed plate starter


 my mixed salad


 Kuk's steak (and a funky plate)


 my lamb

Hotel Schoenegg (Wengen)

complimentary (unknown) tartare w/ avocado


 another salad for me


a unique lemongrass soup (more Indian style, i.e. curry than the thin Thai style we are used to)


 Nicole's rosti main (good, but not as good as KS)


 Kuk's mushroom pasta -- anybody know what type of mushrooms these are?  must be local


and finally my veal rump steak (a first) with mushrooms -- outstanding

It was a great week.  Thanks for reading.



13 comments:

  1. Hi Steve,

    (I'm dgassa on Fodors). Thanks for posting all these great photos. I read your blog from time to time and especially intrested in some of your UK hikes, Snowdon is on our radar for our upcoming trip in September. I too have been avoiding Switzerland because of the cost. But like you we will be visiting on our trip in September/October. We will be traveling that portion of our trip with German friends who have taken over all planning for Switzerland. Hope I don't have to take out a loan. Unfortunitly we won't be arriving in Switzerland until after the 20th of October, so I don't think high altitude hiking with be in the cards. Keep up the blog, it's giving me ideas.

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  2. I think the mushrooms are chanterelles...I live in Switzerland and they have made frequent appearances on the company cafeteria menu. Nice photos!

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  3. Loved the photos, I imagine the actual views were 10X better... Sounds like you had a great time, we enjoyed the views and food on our quick stay also... Alex must have had a great time as he is smiling in much more photos than usual... I liked the GNP comparison photos but one question - is that the same Colts shirt you are wearing? And what's with your gimp knee? Trying for the UK retirement package? Enjoy your last few months, it will go by fast and then you'll be sitting home reading ex-pat blogs and missing the European vacations.

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  4. @Jay -- I've got 2 Colts Superbowl XLI shirts (one short sleeve, one long sleeve). Both pictured in Glacier but neither in Wengen!

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  5. Wengen looks like the ideal spot to stay in for all those hikes. I want to go back some day and spend more time. Your walks were pretty epic. If we had more time, it would have been nice to some longer ones. All the cow pictures are great.

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  6. Thanks so much for your blog. We will be in Wengen next month.
    Do you recall the name of the great restaurant in KS that you ate at twice?
    Thanks.

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  7. Hi there

    The restaurant in KS was Restaurant Bahnhof right by the train station. The outdoor seating is on the side for the train that goes to Jungfraujoch.

    http://www.bahnhof-scheidegg.ch/default.asp?itemid=119&lang=e

    There are other restaurants further up but this is one right by the train station.

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  8. I loved your photos - I only know Wengen in the winter, I skied there a couple of times as a kid with my family, then again some 20 years ago as an adult. It is fascinating to see an area that you know at a different time of year. Your mushrooms are chanterelles - called Pfifferling in Germany, Eierschwammerl in Austria, chanterelle in France and the UK. Delicious.

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  9. Love your blogs...from an Australian fan!

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  10. Hi Steve, Great pictures! Walk while you can. We are getting too old for such hikes so I am envious.

    I see you didn't try the Swiss national dish which is tripe in cream sauce, at least in the Zurich area. I tried it but much prefer Raclette.
    Ray B

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  11. Great pictures!Steve, would you happen to know the name of the chalet you stayed at?

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  12. The chalet was Steingartli / I. We would happily stay there again.

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  13. Just happened upon your blog through comments on Fodor's site. Thanks for sharing your travels!

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