As the 2012 presidential campaign finally came to an end this week, so concluded an election season that for two years had locked Americans into a fierce partisan divide. Thus, it’s little wonder that I find myself in desperate need of someplace tranquil. Someplace quiet. Someplace neutral, perhaps.
Welcome to the Berner Oberland, a picturesque pocket of the Swiss Alps known for its peaceful mountain hamlets, miles of secluded trails, and towering snowy peaks. With the legendary resort town of Interlaken as your gateway, your home base for the weekend is Mürren, a tiny, traffic-free alpine retreat teetering up above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Whether you’re a summertime hiker or an expert skier, Mürren offers endless outdoor opportunities for its visitors as well as a charming network of cog railways, cable cars, funiculars, and hiking trails on which to reach them.
So pack your hiking boots (or your skis). If you find yourself in the mountains southeast of Bern, here are some breathtaking ways to spend three days.
Bern, Baby, Bern
Begin your visit to the Berner Oberland in Interlaken, a bustling tourist hub with commanding views of the region’s most famous peaks—the Eiger, the Mönch, and the 13,642-foot Jungfrau. You’ll spend the morning acquainting yourself with the area by tracing the edge of Lake Brienz to Ringgenberg, the quiet town just two miles from the Interlaken Ost train station. Home to a beautiful 17th century church and the ruins of a 14th century castle, this quaint village offers sweeping views of the chalets scattered across the mountainside.
Mürren, Mürren On The Wall
With a picnic lunch packed from Interlaken’s Migros superstore (Rugenparkstrasse 1), head back to Interlaken Ost, where the true adventure is about to begin. A 20-minute train ride to Lauterbrunnen, a scenic cable car lift to Grütschalp, and a short train ride through Winteregg will lead you to Mürren, a traditional Walser town that has been a vacation destination since the first British tourists arrived in the early 20th century. Inaccessible to cars but seemingly designed for hikers and skiers, Mürren is the perfect place to hole up for the weekend—with a cozy room at Chalet Fontana and a view of the snow-capped mountains from your window.
Around The Horn
In 1969, the world was introduced to a new James Bond, as George Lazenby took a one-time turn at the role in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The film also gave many their first glimpse of Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant perched atop the 9,744-foot summit of the Schilthorn. Towering more than 4,000 feet above Mürren with panoramic views of the Berner Oberland, the Schilthorn observation deck is an unforgettable experience for visitors, hikers, and skiers alike. So if it’s a clear day, waste no time boarding the Schilthornbahn at Mürren’s cable car station. Whether you hike, ski, or ride the cable car back down is up to you.
The Hills Are Alive
Rise and shine to breakfast at Chalet Fontana and hit the local Co-Op for picnic supplies—you’ve got a full day of hiking ahead of you. From “downtown” Mürren, take the funicular up the mountainside to Allmendhubel, the starting point for the lovely, well-marked North Face Trail. Meander through local dairy farms and alpine meadows as you follow the trail to Schiltalp and Gimmeln, admiring stunning views along the way.
At Spielbodenalp, follow signs toward Gimmelwald, a postage stamp of a town spared from development thanks to its location in an avalanche zone. There’s little to keep you busy there—besides picnicking, view-gazing, and relaxing, that is—but the forested path into town provides a beautiful bonus stop, as it darts underneath the Sprutz Waterfall.
Diners, Drive-Ins, And Skydives
With Mürren only a quick cable car ride away, you’ll be back in town by early afternoon. Depending on the season, find a seat on the cliffhanging sun terrace or in the cozy dining room of the Hotel Edelweiss, an ideal spot for an afternoon drink with a view. In the summer months, keep your eyes and ears peeled for helicopters darting in and out of the clouds—it’s only a matter of minutes before a skydiver topples into view.
For an easy afternoon hike, make your way back to the Allmendhubel funicular station and follow the steady downhill path to Winteregg or Grütschalp. The good news? You’ll finish near the train station for a quick ride back to Mürren, admiring the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau along the way.
Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner
Summer or winter, Switzerland has the unfortunate—but deserved—reputation of being painfully expensive. Thus, as an enthusiastic advocate of both budgeting and picnicking, I find myself frequenting Mürren’s small Co-Op whenever possible. But at the end of a long day of hiking—when a picnic may not cut it—look no further than Stäger Stübli, a favorite among locals for fondue, rosti, and other Swiss classics. Lucky for you, it’s just a stone’s throw from Chalet Fontana’s front door.
In The Company Of Männlichen
If it’s a clear, sunny day, take advantage of the visibility and get an early start on your way to Männlichen, one of the most spectacular trailheads in the Berner Oberland. From Lauterbrunnen on the valley floor, take the zig-zagging train up the mountainside to Wengen, one of the region’s most popular winter destinations. A short and steep cable car ride will bring you to the 7,500-foot Männlichen lift station, where you’ll enjoy 360-degree views of the entire region.
From the Männlichen lift station, follow the well-marked downhill path to Kleine Scheidegg, stopping frequently to admire the north faces of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. In about an hour, you’ll reach the train station in Kleine Scheidegg, from which you can follow a beautiful path back into Wengen—or hop on a train heading further up.
Lions And Eigers And Bears, Oh My!
In the event that you have a few extra Swiss francs to burn, there’s no better way to spend them than by paying a visit to the highest train station in Europe. At 11,300 feet, the Jungfraujoch is an hour’s ride from Kleine Scheidegg, following a track that carves its way inside the treacherous north face of the Eiger. You’ll enjoy a commanding view of the 11-mile-long Aletsch Glacier from the roof of the Berner Oberland—an ideal place to mark the ending of another memorable long weekend.
A Few Notes
While most hiking opportunities are limited to spring, summer, and early autumn, skiers will rejoice in the Berner Oberland’s winter season (December through Easter). As in summer, Mürren is an unbeatable home base, especially for expert skiers with their sights set on the Schilthorn. But families and amateurs fear not—there are outstanding skiing and sledding opportunities in nearby Wengen, Kleine Scheidegg, and Männlichen.
Adrenaline junkies also take note: There are few more perfect places in the world for skydiving and paragliding than the vast mountain landscapes of the Berner Oberland. Whether your interest lies in the air, water, or on land, the highly trained professionals at Outdoor Interlaken are ready to cater to your extreme sports needs.
TITLE: The North Face Trail near Gimmeln | FRIDAY: A 17th century church in Ringgenberg; Mürren; the mountain view from Mürren | SATURDAY: Cows on the North Face Trail; the North Face Trail above Mürren | SUNDAY: Fog in Männlichen; the Jungfrau; the hike to Kleine Scheidegg.