Travel review: Switzerland
The magic of the alpine scenery, lakes, snowy peaks and waterfalls of Bern and the Jungfrau region
Opening the balcony doors of my hotel room in Wengen was like stepping into the kind of impossibly beautiful scene you’d find on a box of Swiss chocolates.
Sunshine doused the steep, undulating alpine meadows dotted with pine groves and wooden chalets, while the imposing snowy peak of the Jungfrau glowed against the pristine blue sky. On this warm autumn day I could have easily spent hours sitting admiring the stunning views and inhaling the pure mountain air.
Our stop at this village in the Jungfrau region formed the second day of a trip that had begun in the capital of Switzerland, Bern. We took a direct flight with Swiss carrier Skywork Airlines from London City Airport. Departing from London City was a treat in itself due to the ease of getting there, incredibly smooth check in process and the small and executive feel of the airport, and the comfortable flight had us touching down in Bern within an hour-and-a-half.
On arrival, we headed straight up to the Rose Garden to enjoy a delicious meal at its restaurant high up on a hill overlooking the Medieval architecture of the historic city centre, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. Set in a mountainous valley 600m above sea level, the Cathedral Munster with its gothic architecture is Bern’s tallest building and stands proud over its cobbled streets and charming shopping arcades.
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Inside the old town, other highlights include the Clock Tower – a 15th century astronomical timepiece – and at the Bear Park, located on the bank of the Aare, you can observe a family of these magnificent animals which have a historic relationship with the city.
From Bern the following day, we headed to the Jungfrau region. Travelling by public transport is often a chore, but in Switzerland is anything but. Not only does the whole system run like clockwork, but the trains cut through some of the most breathtaking scenery in Europe – from pure azure-coloured lakes to deep green valleys.
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Our first stop of the day was Lauterbrunnen from which we took a short bus ride to the Tr�mmelbach Falls – 10 glacier waterfalls inside the mountain accessible by tunnel lift or a steep hike up hundreds of steps.
Loud thundering and roaring greets you inside the mountain as the falls carry up to 20,000 litres of gushing meltwater from the surrounding glaciers of the Eiger, M�nch and Jungfrau – and the views on the walk back down were stunning.
The heritage cog railway system then took us up the steep climb to our final destination of the day, Wengen. This car-free pretty green village-cum-ski resort in winter, set on a plateau looking up at the Jungrfrau, is one of the most peaceful and charming villages I’ve visited. No better view could be had than at the traditional family-run Hotel Regina, where the remainder of the afternoon was whiled away admiring the incredible setting with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. And it had an equally exceptional gourmet restaurant which provided the best meal of the trip.
Sadly, the clouds had descended on the region the following morning and our trip up to the Jungfraujoch peak – the top of Europe – wasn’t met with the spectacular sunny views afforded by the previous day’s weather. Once at the top and out onto the viewing platform – 3,571m above sea level – we could barely see more than a few metres in front of us. However, I had been lucky enough to visit as a teenager and recalled the stunning views of the Aletsch Glacier below and the blindingly white mountains which stretch as far as France, Germany and Italy on a clear day.
The Ice Palace there is also a must-see attraction. Like walking through a giant igloo, long iridescent passageways open out into icy halls showcasing magnificent frozen sculptures.
Our next stop was the town of Interlaken, a skier’s paradise in winter but a haven for ramblers and cyclists come summer. We were given a guided tour of the town and its surroundings lakes on electric bikes with the aptly-named Flying Wheels company, which provide cycles with electric assistance up to 25mph, meaning you can climb steep hills exerting zero effort – my favourite kind of exercise.
On what was probably the most relaxing two hours of the trip, we rode through meadows shadowed by snowy peaks, along river paths, through tiny, pretty villages and along the shores of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz with their stunning turquoise waters and mountainous backdrops.
Lake Brienz was to also form the focus of the following day – we travelled across the glistening waters from Interlaken to the Giessbach falls where, after a short cable car journey, we hiked up the rocky path alongside the cascading water heading for the lake below.
Sitting majestically on a cliff overlooking the lake beside the waterfall and on the edge of a deep forest, is the Grand Hotel Giessbach. This monolithic castle-like architectural masterpiece boasts a sweeping terrace overlooking the lake, which was to form the location of our final meal in Switzerland. What better way to end the trip than basking in the sunshine, sipping wine and admiring one of the many breath-taking sights this incredible country has to offer.