Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hiking in Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

We went for a 3 day hiking trip to the Bernese Oberland during an extended weekend in Sep 2013.

Hiking around Gelmersee

Bernese Oberland

Bernese Oberland is a rustic, absolutely scenic region, close to Bern. The good thing is that it is off the main tourist track, esp. for non-European tourists, so it does not get as crowded as some of the nearby places e.g. Interlaken. It also means that the region can be a bit difficult to navigate if you are not somewhat used to the local system / culture / language.

There are many places to visit, many alternatives where you can set up camp and continue exploring. A good starting point, esp. if you do not have a car, is to stay at a place which is well connected by trains. Fortunately, the public transport system in Switzerland is excellent and you can practically reach very remote places using a combination of trains / buses. The official Swiss railways site to look up train / bus itineraries: SBB.

For our trip, we stayed at a place called Meiringen. It is well connected by trains from Interlaken and falls on the GoldenPass line to Lucerne.

Scenic Switzerland

Aare Gorge

Once settled in Meiringen, our first port of call was the Aare Gorge. The gorge is a rock formation over the Aare river stretching 1400 meters and up to 200 meters long. 

Aare Gorge

The best way to visit the gorge is to take the MIB train from Meiringen station and get down at Aareschlucht Ost station.

You can then walk through the rock formation - visiting the gorge - reconnecting with the train at Aareschlucht West station. Expect to walk though some slopes, some slippery and dimly lit areas. It should be possible to complete the hike in an hour or so. Some formations along the way:

Reichenbach Falls (Reichenbachfall)

The 2nd place worth visiting, close to Meiringen, is the Reichenbach Falls. The falls is famous as the place of final confrontation between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty in the "Final Confrontation". It is clearly a tourist attraction here given the existence of a Sherlock Holmes Hotel, Museum and Statue in the city. The best and easy way to access the falls is to take the Reichenbach Funicular which takes you to a vantage point offering great views of the falls.


Gelmer lake (Gelmersee)

Gelmersee lake on a foggy morning

Lake Gelmer (Gelmersee) is a very beautiful turquoise colored lake at a height of around 2000 meters nestled among rocky mountains. The best way to reach the lake is to take a PostBus from Meiringen to the bus stop Handegg. From there, take the Gelmerbahn or Gelmer Funicular to the top. Note that the funicular is also one of the steepest in Europe and travels over gradient of maximum 106% to a height of 1800 meters - so it is definitely not for the faint hearted but at the same time recommended for those looking for a thrilling ride. To give an idea of the the slope:

Once at the top, you can hike around the lake. There are well marked trails. Some trails are clearly quite difficult but it is still worth it to walk around the lake as long as you are comfortable with the trail. At the funicular base station, do not forget to experience the rope suspension bridge.

Suspension bridge to Gelmerbahn Tunnel in the mountains

Gelmer Hospiz

Another place worth visiting - and that can also be reached easily by public transport - is the Grimsel Hospiz. The 4* Grimsel Hospiz Hotel nestled high among the mountains is an absolute wonder.

Grimsel Hospiz Hotel

The dam on the Räterichboden lake (Räterichsbodensee), and a little further the dam on the Grimsel lake, are absolutely stunning.The dam is at a height of almost 2500 meters above sea level.

Räterichsbodensee - Grmisel dam
Mountainous terrain - view from Grimsel Hospiz
Foggy Grimselsee surrounded by mountains