Quintessential Switzerland: In the Bernese Oberland region of the Alps

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When I returned home from a trip to Europe, I was eager to show friends and family hundreds of pictures I had snapped throughout one area in particular – the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps. Without fail, nearly every person who humored me by sitting through my impromptu slideshow had the same reaction: “There’s no way that’s real…has to be ‘Photoshopped.’”

Why the skepticism? Because this slice of Switzerland – where breathtaking mountains jut out of the ground – is just that beautiful.

In this article, we’ll explore the Bernese Oberland region – located in the southern end of the Canton of Bern in west-central Switzerland – and the towns and natural beauty that surrounds it. Already packing? Good. Read on and I’ll help you decide what to bring.

Where to Go In Bernese Oberland

Lauterbrunnen

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland is a picturesque village situated in “one of the most impressive trough valleys in the Alps.” The valley is home to 72 towering waterfalls and is one of the largest nature conservation areas in Switzerland.

The Lauterbrunnen valley in the Bernese Oberland with the 300 m high Staubbach Falls. Photo credit: Switzerland Tourism/swiss-image.ch

Gimmelwald

Not to be confused with the previously mentioned, more famous resort in the next valley (Grindelwald), Gimmelwald is a true gem in the region. This quintessential Swiss community –where hay is still harvested by scythe – feels as though it is stuck in time, plucked from a Ricola commercial. Hiking options abound in this car-free hamlet and most of the town’s farms offer fresh cheese and yogurt for purchase (highly recommended).

Grindelwald

Known as the glacier village, Grindelwald is a popular gateway for the Jungfrau Region, offering skiing in the winter and hiking in the summer. To take in all of Grindelwald’s beauty, catch a ride on the First Flyer – a zip wire ride in which the “flyer” is seated with up to four people side-by-side.

Bachalpsee lake (2265 m) and Schreckhorn (4078 m) above Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland.
Photo credit: Switzerland Tourism: swiss-image.ch/Max Schmid

Interlaken

Considered by many to be the extreme sports capital of Europe, if it gets your adrenaline pumping, chances are you can do it in Interlaken. Paragliding is especially big in this popular resort town, and after you take the leap, you’ll quickly understand why…the views aren’t too shabby!

Wengen

This small mountain village has few residents and many tourists. In winter, it provides the ideal launching pad for alpine adventures in the ski region of Kleine Scheidegg-Männlichen and the neighboring ski areas of the Jungfrau region, Grindelwald-First and Mürren-Schilthorn.

What to do

The activities are limitless, but here are a few I would recommend:

Skiing

Options abound both on-and off-piste, but Adelboden Lenk is a good start as Switzerland’s third largest skiing area.

Jungfraujoch

Europe’s highest railway station at 3,454 m above sea level.

Hiking

The region is a hiker’s paradise, with a vast network of trails and routes for every skill and fitness level. Check out a hiking community website like Wikiloc for some beta on good hikes in the area.

Peak Walk

A breathtaking suspension bridge connecting two peaks on Glacier 3000.

Mountain Biking

The Bernese Oberland region offers great mountain biking, and Lauterbrunnen in particular is a favorite among fat tire enthusiasts. While all skill levels will find something enjoyable to ride, much of the terrain is on the steep side so be sure to plan accordingly and do a little research to ensure you don’t end up over your head (or over the bars).

Waterfalls

With so many waterfalls to see, you could practically fill your time simply trekking from one to the next. Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen – Europe’s highest free-falling waterfall – is a good waterfall to start with, as it is easily accessible and the pathway to it is well-marked. Adventurers can also get a closer look by walking behind the falls.

Big Pintenfritz

Europe’s longest toboggan run covering a distance of 15 km at a vertical drop of 1,631 m.

Paragliding

If paragliding is on your bucket list, Interlaken is the place to do it. Multiple outfitters in town offer trips.

Where to stay

The Bernese Oberland is filled with breathtaking, idyllic Swiss villages, which makes it a great destination for day trips between towns. It is also very accessible by train, which means that regardless of where you choose to stay, you’re never far from adventure.

While the area offers a variety of great lodging options, here are a few to consider:

Walter’s Hotel Mittaghorn

This rustic inn in picturesque Gimmelwald should be at the top of your list. From a traditional Swiss breakfast provided by the proprietor to its stunning views, a stay at Walter’s Hotel is sure to be memorable.

Hotel Eiger

For those looking for comfortable accommodations, this charming hotel in the village of Mürren is hard to beat. From fine dining to breathtaking views of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, this is a lodging option that will not disappoint.

Mountain Hostel

Located in Gimmelwald, this quaint favorite is perfect for those seeking a true backpacker experience or more cost-effective accommodations in the region.

Balmers

While it’s classified as a hostel, Interlaken’s famous Balmers is more of an experience. From Swiss chalet rooms to “glamping” options and its own nightclub, Balmers has achieved a legendary status among backpackers and is easily one of Europe’s most well-known hostels.

Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof Grindelwald

If spendier digs or a more “romantic” experience is what you’re after, this elegant resort is for you. Plush chalets, a spa and fine dining are just a few amenities you’ll find at this 5-star hotel.

Where to eat

With over 1,455 Gault & Millau points in the Bern-Bernese Oberland region, it’s safe to say the food is pretty good. Here are a couple of options to start with:

When in Switzerland, fondue is a must at some point, and when in the Bernese Oberland, a walk up to the village of Mürren is a worthwhile trek for the cheesy goodness. Practically any restaurant or hotel in the area is a safe bet for tasty, authentic fondue.

Restaurant Weidstübli Lauterbrunnen

A good spot for delicious Swiss cuisine and a cozy atmosphere.

Onkel Tom’s Hutte

This popular Grindelwald spot offers a good selection, with fare ranging from pizza to vegan.

Little Thai

A cozy Thai option in Interlaken worth a visit if you have a hankering for something non-fondue.

The bottom line

The Bernese Oberland region is well worth the trip in both summer and winter, with numerous options for the active and adventurous traveler. If you’re looking for a quintessential Swiss experience away from the concrete and bustle of the country’s major cities and a healthy dose of adrenaline-filled fun, book your trip to this gem in in west-central Switzerland today. Your friends may doubt the authenticity of your pictures, but you’ll be glad you went.

Related Articles:

The Extreme Sports Destination Dossier: Switzerland

Ski Touring In Zermatt, Switzerland

Feature image: Interlaken at night. Photo credit: swiss-image.ch/Max Schmid

 

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Tyler Neese

Tyler enjoys writing about the outdoors almost as much as he enjoys being in it…almost. A communications and government affairs professional by day, his writing on topics like mountain biking and skiing ranges from print to podcasts. He and his family call Bend, Oregon home. If you’re in town, you’ll likely find him grinning on the local trails or chasing powder up on Mt. Bachelor.

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