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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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.
The activities are limitless, but here are a few I would recommend:
Options abound both on-and off-piste, but Adelboden Lenk is a good start as Switzerland’s third largest skiing area.
Europe’s highest railway station at 3,454 m above sea level.
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.
A breathtaking suspension bridge connecting two peaks on Glacier 3000.
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).
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.
Europe’s longest toboggan run covering a distance of 15 km at a vertical drop of 1,631 m.
If paragliding is on your bucket list, Interlaken is the place to do it. Multiple outfitters in town offer trips.
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:
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.
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.
Located in Gimmelwald, this quaint favorite is perfect for those seeking a true backpacker experience or more cost-effective accommodations in the region.
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.
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.
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.
A good spot for delicious Swiss cuisine and a cozy atmosphere.
This popular Grindelwald spot offers a good selection, with fare ranging from pizza to vegan.
A cozy Thai option in Interlaken worth a visit if you have a hankering for something non-fondue.
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.
Feature image: Interlaken at night. Photo credit: swiss-image.ch/Max Schmid
Last updated on Oct 11, 2019
Rad's top 10 action sports, adventure events and music festivals in 2019 and 2020