I fell in love with Switzerland via the written word. As a child, I was a huge fan of the admittedly old-fashioned (they were dated even then) Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer, and Switzerland was a major character.
The school was located in all sorts of places, from the Austrian Alps to Guernsey. But in one stretch, the girls attended school in the Bernese Oberland and such exotic sounding places as Interlaken and Lake Thun became surprisingly familiar to me.
So, I was thrilled to be given the chance to visit these places, to see them in reality.
Interlaken is a resort town on the Aare River, and has an incredibly dramatic setting: between two very blue lakes, Thun and Brienz. This positioning is known as being on an alluvial plain and goes back thousands of years (once upon a time, the lakes were joined together). It is really beautiful – especially when you go up, via a funicular, as we did, and view it from high up in the mountains at Harder Kulm (which has a terrific glass walkway, for those, like me, who aren’t afraid of heights, as well as a charming restaurant where I sampled some traditional Swiss noodles with apple sauce).
Interlaken is also right in the heart of the Jungfrau mountain region and you can travel from here to see the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau (and go up the Jungfrau, the highest point you can reach by railway in Europe, too, but that’s another story).
I arrived there by boat, which was a lovely and extremely scenic form of transport, but there are trains with excellent connections too, and they go all over.
The city is a great location for an outdoors holiday, surrounded by railways, cable cars, the lakes and mountains, all ready to be explored, by bike, train or hiking. In the summer, the lakes are so mild, that you can swim in them too, or scuba dive, windsurf or canoe.
Interlaken is also easy to navigate, full of shops and restaurants, and with a field right in the centre which is used as a landing pad for the many paragliders. I know my son would absolutely love doing this, although it did sound very expensive (over £100 a go). To be honest, Switzerland, although gorgeous, is pricey, but it’s also clean and beautiful!
Interlaken is really lovely to get around, with a large promenade, the Höheweg, dissecting the city and with shops, cafes and more on either side. You can also go off the main thoroughfare, walking past the river and into the old town, where more restaurants and businesses await.
I enjoyed mooching around the shops (especially the chocolate ones) and was disappointed not to have time to take part in a chocolate making workshop which I saw in the window of the wonderfully named “Funky Chocolates Club Switzerland”. It has daily hour long workshops for those interested.
For those who like their chocolate, the Grand Restaurant Schuh puts on a daily “chocolate show” which I’m very sorry to have missed.
I would also recommend a visit to the Metropole Hotel, which may surprise you as, from the outside, it is pretty ugly! Inside, however, it’s a four star establishment and it has a terrific panoramic restaurant with beautiful views of the city. I very much enjoyed the drink and cake I sampled there, and was impressed that the price didn’t seem to have been bumped up too much for the view! (I paid around 8 Swiss Francs)
Interlaken is very well served with hotels, including some which look spectacular. One of the oldest is the Hotel Interlaken, located on Höheweg Street. The first Japanese garden in Switzerland, the “Garden of Friendship” which symbolises friendship between this city and Otsu in Japan, is right next to it.
Interlaken Castle is right in the heart of the city and is known for its collection of more than 100,000 tin figures. I’m afraid we didn’t make it to see these, but enjoyed walking nearby and hearing the story of the city’s monastery which apparently had a secret path connecting it to the convent!
The legend of the Harder Man is about a monk who is said to have attacked a young girl who jumped off the mountains to die. His punishment was to have to look down on the scene of his crime – and indeed it does seem as if there is a face carved into the mountainside.
There are festivals and events in the region all year round, including the Interlaken Classics music festival (Easter time) and the Open Air Festival from June to September. There’s also an International Trucker & Country Festival each summer, while the centre of Interlaken is transformed into an ice rink from December to February.
All in all Interlaken was a lovely place for a day out and I’d have very much liked to have stayed longer and enjoyed all it had to offer – beauty, fresh air, outdoor activities and that chocolate!
Disclosure: I was fortunate to visit Switzerland as part of a wonderful Great Railways Journey to the Jungfrau, which meant all my travel was free (including the use of the funicular up to Harder Kulm). However, none of the establishments had any input into this blog post.