Day 1
After a spectacular train ride to the top of the world, dine at the luxurious Grand Hotel & Spa Victoria-Jungfrau (shown).


Day 2
Visit Lauterbrunnen Valley and ride up the Schilthorn to explore Gimmelwald and Murren (shown).


Day 3
Enjoy a relaxing boat ride, the train to Lucerne or Bern (shown), hiking, or exploring Lake Brienz or Lake Thun.

Alpine Adventure

Incredible sights await visitors
to the Interlaken area in
the heart of the Swiss Alps

On the Map

[ 3 Days In... ]

By Dennis Collan

Some of the world's most spectacular mountain scenery awaits just outside Interlaken in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Here is nature at its best, and you don't need to be an athlete to enjoy it because the Swiss make it easy to get up the highest peaks via an efficient network of trains and cable cars.

They have civilized the wilderness with restaurants and observation platforms from which to enjoy eye-popping views of giant mountains, vast glaciers and splendid valleys.

If you like to hike, you will be able to get that much more out of the experience, for the region has everything from simple paths to vertical ascents for avid mountain climbers.

Among the many astounding sights you will find in this region are:

>> Europe's longest glacier.
>> Four famous peaks: the Mönch, Eiger, Jungfrau and Schilthorn.
>> Beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley.
>> Europe's highest railroad station.
>> Delightful mountain villages of Grindelwald, Wengen and Murren.
>> Two large lakes with tour boat service.
>> Fascinating cities.

The town of Interlaken makes a perfect base from which to explore the region, with nearly 100 hotels and guest houses in all price ranges. While Interlaken is attractive, with an excellent supply of shops and restaurants and a pretty central park, it is not one of Switzerland's quaint, traditional villages. Instead, it is a practical tourist center with fine support services, excellent rail and boat connections, and a compactness that makes for great accessibility. There is also a large casino for evening amusement. Surrounding peaks and valleys are the main attractions, so time spent in Interlaken is mostly for eating, sleeping and gearing up for mountain explorations.

Weather is always a major factor for determining your schedule because you do not want to spend time and money going to the top on a cloudy day when views are limited. This is another good reason for spending a few days here -- to increase the chances for good weather. Fortunately, most hotel room televisions include a weather channel with live reports from the top of the various peaks. If yours doesn't, ask the hotel staff to check the morning weather report, or go to the train station and look at their live TV broadcasts. Of course, weather can change suddenly in the mountains, so what you see in the morning may not be what you get at the top a few hours later, but you have to take a calculated risk. If the reports from the Jungfrau summit look good the first morning, go for it, because this is the main event of your visit to Interlaken, and it might cloud over tomorrow. If it is very cloudy, move the third day's itinerary up to day one, with a boat ride and a train trip to Lucerne or Bern. Temperatures in Interlaken are mild from April through September, but the winters are cold and home to dozens of excellent ski slopes.

This is what the Aletsch Glacier looks like from the Jungfrau observation station. The station and snowfield are at the 11,350-foot elevation.

Day 1

Jungfrau and Grindelwald

Europe's highest railroad line will bring you up to a spectacular world of perpetual winter, with massive, snow-covered peaks towering more than 13,000 feet high and surrounding the continent's longest glacier. Many consider the train ride one of the finest, most picturesque in the world, where getting to the top is half the fun.

Begin your journey immediately after breakfast because it takes 2 1/2 hours to reach the Jungfrau summit, where the weather is generally clearer in the morning. It takes longer to get down via an alternative route, and with various stops along the way, it adds up to a full day.

There is train service every half-hour departing from the Interlaken Ost rail station, on the town's east edge. The latest you want to leave is 9:35 a.m., which would get you to the summit station at 11:53 a.m. At this time of day, the sun should be in a position to illuminate the best views of the mountains and valleys.

The round-trip fare is $125. There are various travel options and discount rail passes available, depending on how many days you will be in Switzerland, but the best value is the Swiss Pass which covers most trains and cable cars and offers discounts on the summit lines, such as those between Wengen and the Jungfrau. Early birds can save another 20 percent on the summit fare by starting at 6:35 a.m. There is also a special guided tour offered by the Jungfraubahn rail company each morning in the summer, with an escort all the way to the top and back down through Grindelwald.

The rail journey's first leg is a 20-minute ride from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, and already the scenery is nice, especially if you sit on the left side of the train and carefully stick your head out the window to look forward as the train leaves the residential neighborhood and enters the narrow mouth of Lauterbrunnen Valley, with the river rushing alongside and the steep mountains framing your view.

Lauterbrunnen -- Change trains in Lauterbrunnen for the second leg of the journey, up the longest cog railway in Switzerland. The ride begins with a dramatic 14-minute ascent featuring astonishing panoramic valley views as you travel up to the village of Wengen, perched on the side of a steep mountain. As the train climbs up the mountainside, you can see the majestic vista of Lauterbrunnen Valley, framed by steep hillsides dotted with farms, as massive snow-covered peaks rise in the distance.

Choosing a seat is tricky because the best view is from the left side looking into the valley during the first 10 minutes, but the tracks then curve around in a switchback and the most incredible view of the entire valley shows up on the train's right side. If the train is not crowded, you might be able to sit on the left for the initial view, then move over to the right after the curve. However, if it looks like the train will be crowded, grab a seat on the right for the best view of all 10 minutes into the ride, just after the curve as the train approaches Wengen. This most amazing vista, when the valley is laid out before you in all its splendor, is only visible for one minute -- so you have to be ready for it.

Lauterbrunnen Valley has 72 waterfalls, including one with an elevator and a series of tunnels and bridges inside.

Wengen -- Today's suggested route is circular, with a return via Grindelwald, making this your only chance to see Wengen, one of the few Alpine villages with no cars. It is on such a steep hill that the only way to get here is by train, so the village is quiet and quaint, with wonderful views looking up to the Jungfrau and into Lauterbrunnen Valley. There are 14 miles of walking trails around the village, with even more hiking opportunities extending beyond into beautiful alpine meadows with breathtaking views. If you love it enough, there are numerous small hotels here where you can spend the night.

From Wengen you can get to your next destination, Kleine Scheidegg, in two ways: Continue on the scenic train route for 30 more minutes or take a 5-minute cable car uphill to Mannlichen and then walk downhill for 90 minutes through mountains meadows to enjoy stunning views of the three dominant mountains: the Mönch, Eiger and Jungfrau. Either way, you will have a lovely journey to the rail junction at Kleine Scheidegg, where you catch the third and final train that brings you to the top, rising from 6,762 to 11,333 feet -- Europe's highest train station.

Jungfrau -- This 100-year-old rail line from Kleine Scheidegg to the Jungfraujoch is one of Europe's great engineering wonders, the world's highest subway climbing through four miles of tunnels inside the rock. The beginning of this 50-minute journey is not underground, and momentarily offers a great view. Sit on the right side of the train.

At the end of the rail line, you walk through a tunnel decorated with ice carvings and then approach a sight too amazing for description or film. You really must experience firsthand the exhilaration of standing at the top of the world, surrounded by Alpine giants of snow.

The observation deck and snowfield are at the 11,350-foot elevation, flanked by the peaks of the Jungfrau (13,642 feet) and the Mönch (13,449 feet), which form a valley that cradles the Aletsch Glacier, a field of snow that stretches 13 miles to the horizon.

After walking around on the snowfield, it's nice to go indoors and have a meal and do a little souvenir shopping in the very civilized visitor center. There is also a gentle ski slope open year-round, complete with a school for beginners.

But you still haven't reached the top until you ride the elevator another 356 feet up to The Sphinx, the Jungfrau's highest platform (11,700 feet) offering unobstructed views in all directions. This modern building opened in 1996 and functions as a scientific research center as well as a public lookout.

Temperatures here are generally below freezing, but on a sunny summer day it is quite comfortable for humans.

Plan on spending an hour or two at the top. If you feel chilly, there is always hot chocolate waiting in the café.

When you're ready, catch a convenient train back down the route you came, heading for Kleine Scheidegg, where you can change trains for a return through Grindelwald.

Grindelwald -- The route down to Grindelwald and back to Interlaken is another beautiful ride through stunning mountain scenery. Grindelwald is another small, quaint mountain village known as a home base for mountain trekkers. There are nearly 200 miles of hiking trails radiating out from here. One popular route is a 20-minute cable-car ride to the First Station, where you can pick from three excellent mountain trails of varying difficulty. There is also an imposing glacier gorge and the mysterious Blue Ice Grotto to explore.

If you don't feel like hiking, just find a terrace café with a view of the mountains and relax with a drink and some local snacks. It is easy to find charming outdoor restaurants with stunning views.

It only takes 35 minutes for the train to reach Interlaken after an day that should leave barely enough time for dinner before turning in to rest for tomorrow's adventures. One outstanding option for a memorable meal outdoors with a view of the mountains you have just conquered, is the Grand Hotel & Spa Victoria-Jungfrau, a renowned resort, with reasonable prices. If money is no object, this is also the place for you to stay.

At Mannlichen, if you are not going to up to the Jungfrau, you can take a scenic cable car ride down to Grindelwald over farms with mountain views.

Day 2

Lauterbrunnen Valley and up the Schilthorn

Get an early start for another big day in the mountains, traveling to the back of Lauterbrunnen Valley and taking Europe's longest cable car ride up to the Schilthorn mountain. It starts with the same 20-minute train ride as yesterday, but you have a choice of two ways to get from the Lauterbrunnen station to further into the valley, where you will catch the cable car to the Schilthorn: Take the public bus on 20-minute ride to Stechelback where the cable car begins, or ride a funicular up the hill to Grutschalp and continue from there for another 2 1/2 miles by train or by walking on a splendid trail.

You can have it both ways by going into the valley by bus and returning on the other route at day's end.

Weather on the mountaintop is generally less cloudy in the morning, so it is better to start out early on bus and save the hike for your return. Another advantage of hiking out is you will be walking downhill. Moreover, you enjoy a better view of the mountain when walking uphill, plus you get more exercise. Walking is the national passion of the Swiss, and you will see locals of all ages passing you on the trails.

The bus from the train station to Stechelback winds through Lauterbrunnen Valley, where high vertical walls and a flat floor were carved by glaciers eons ago to resemble a deep, U-shaped canyon. You could get off the bus halfway and pay a small fee to visit the powerful Trummelbach waterfall, which comes roaring down from the Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch high above. There is an elevator inside the waterfall (those Swiss engineers!) along with a series of tunnels and bridges to bring you right up to the face of this raging vertical river.

The valley has 72 waterfalls, but Trummelbach is by far the most spectacular. This is an easy visit, and you walk back to the road and catch the next bus coming through, which will bring you in a few minutes to Stechelback, where a long cable car ascent begins.

Schilthorn -- Four different cable cars are needed for this climb -- the highest cable run in Europe -- from an elevation of 2,844 feet to 9,748 feet on top of the Schilthorn mountain.

You change cable cars in the villages of Gimmelwald and Murren along the way. You might stop for a quick look at the tiny hamlet of Gimmelwald, with its few scattered chalets for 140 residents. Now is the time to do it because the suggested return trip will only come back down as far as Murren. Then resume your journey, saving other stops for the return to make the most of clear morning weather.

To maximize the likelihood of clear conditions, take the first train out of Interlaken at 6:35 a.m., which will enable you to reach the top by 8:30 a.m.

The Schilthorn is worth the effort, for you will be in the middle of a massive range of snow-covered peaks, offering what some feel is Europe's best mountain view. On a clear day, a vast panorama of more than 200 peaks surrounds you, reaching from Titlis to Mont Blanc and all through the Bernese Oberland. Superb facilities at the observation center, all run by solar power, include a rotating restaurant and escalators to bring you to the different levels. Have a gourmet meal at Piz Gloria or a simple lunch in the self-service cafeteria while soaking in the view.

A large outdoor terrace provides an excellent vantage to look back across the valley at the three great peaks you visited yesterday: the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger. Walk out into the snowfield following the guided rope trail along the crest of the ridge to immerse yourself in the environment. Then cap it off with a drink in the Crystal Lounge and imagine watching James Bond in the frantic chase scene from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," filmed here in 1969.

Afterward, head down in the cable car to Murren.

After a cable car ride up to the summit of the Schilthorn, you can take a trail from the observation deck through the snow and enjoy what some feel is Europe's best mountain view.

Murren --This is one of the few automobile-free villages in Switzerland, so it makes for a lovely stroll. Murren has several small hotels and some traditional guesthouses. However, there is not much to do here except hike, relax, admire the views and have something to eat. It only takes 10 minutes to walk from one end of Murren to the other. Then decide which way you want to continue: the quicker route, down to Stechelback, or along the hillside from Murren to Grutschalp.

Plan A -- Return to the Stechelback bus depot, choosing from a variety of return trips. If you decide on a quick exit, follow the same route you took to get up, by cable car to Gimmelwald, then down to Stechelback on the valley bottom, where you catch the bus. Or take your time on this route with a beautiful half-hour stroll from Murren down to Gimmelwald and catch the cable car from there. If the stroll entices you, you could continue on an easy hike from Gimmelwald to Chilchbalm toward the end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Once at the valley bottom, you can catch the bus from Stechelback back to Lauterbrunnen, for transfer to the Interlaken train. Or, instead of getting right on the bus, you could opt to walk two miles along the river, then catch the bus along the main road.

Plan B -- Instead of going to Grindelwald and down to Stechelback, you could stay up on the side of the mountain and travel 2 1/2 miles from Murren to Grutschalp, where you can take the funicular down to the train station in Lauterbrunnen. You could do this either by walking for 90 minutes along the smooth path or by riding the little narrow-gauge train.

Back in town, turn in to rest up for your final day or you may make a quick trip to the top of yet another mountain via an 8-minute funicular ride from the Interlaken Ost rail station to Harder Kulm.

Maybe you would enjoy an evening boat ride on Lake Brienz, a three-hour cruise that leaves the dock next to the east rail station at 7:30 p.m. The sun sets at about 10 p.m. in the summer, so there will likely be golden lighting for much of the way.

Day 2

Boat ride, train to Lucerne or Bern and other options

There are many exciting activities to occupy you on this third day -- so many that you might decide to stay three days longer!

Plan A: Hiking -- Dozens of splendid hiking trails in this region could keep you strolling on different paths for weeks. The most scenic network can be found in the Grindelwald area, just 35 minutes from Interlaken by train, as described in the first day's schedule. One of the most popular hikes there involves taking a cable car from Grindelwald to Pfingstegg, then walking for 90 minutes to Stieregg at the 5,583-foot elevation.

Plan B: Lake Brienz -- Two large lakes, Brienz and Thun, flank Interlaken. Lake Brienz can be explored with a combination of boats, trains and hiking. It takes 70 minutes to ride the boat from Interlaken to the town of Brienz, noted as a center of woodcarving and as a gateway to the Rothurn Kulm, a mountain 7,433 feet high, reached by a steam locomotive cog-railway.

For an easy hike en route to Brienz, get off the boat after 40 minutes at the village of Iseltwald and walk along the lake's south shore for two hours to the village of Giessbach, then resume your boat journey to Brienz. While in Giessbach you might ride up the short funicular to have lunch or tea at the Grand Hotel, on the terrace overlooking the lake, forest and a 1,500-foot-high waterfall.

The popular Swiss Open Air Museum in Ballenberg can be reached by a 3-mile express bus ride from the Brienz train station. This historic park features almost 100 original century-old buildings brought in from throughout Switzerland, with farm gardens, demonstrations of typical crafts, special events and 250 animals, creating a vivid impression of rural life in bygone days. The outdoor museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is $12; an optional guided tour is $4.

Plan C: Lucerne -- Consider taking a train ride to Lucerne, one of the country's prettiest cities. It takes 90 minutes by rail line through mountain landscapes from Brienz, so you could still do the morning boat ride and the walking excursion, then continue to Lucerne, arriving there by afternoon.

The direct train from Lucerne back to Interlaken takes two hours.

Plan D: Lake Thun and Bern -- Lake Thun is the other lake flanking Interlaken. Here, too, are peaceful boat rides to quaint villages along the shore, followed by a train ride to a fascinating city, the national capital of Bern. A ship leaves Interlaken at 9:40 a.m. and arrives at the lakeshore town of Thun two hours later, after stopping at eight little villages along the way. Be sure to get a good look at the Romanesque castle at Spiez. It is open as a museum, so you might be tempted to disembark there for a visit.

If the boat ride does not appeal to you, you could take a 30-minute direct train from Interlaken West station to Thun, and stop for a brief visit en route to Bern. Thun has a well-preserved Old Town, with cobbled lanes, a wonderful old main square, rows of shops two levels high and many buildings dating back to the Middle Ages.

Bern -- It only takes 20 minutes for the train to reach Bern from Thun, with several departures every hour. The Bern train station is next to the Old Town, so your walk through the historic zone begins the moment you arrive. Just in front of the station is one of Bern's important churches, the Church of the Holy Ghost, considered the most elaborate Protestant baroque church in the country.

Among all the pretty towns of Switzerland, Bern is unique because most of the sidewalks in the historic section are covered by old arcades. The main street proceeds directly from the train station through the historic center, changing names five times in its five blocks,. Two covered arches at both ends of the Marketgasse block include the famous Clock Tower, the oldest building in town, whose astronomical clock still works after 500 years. Einstein lived on this main street for eight years while developing the general theory of relativity; his house is now open as a museum.

There is a very impressive fine art museum, with the world's largest collection of paintings by Paul Klee, who lived nearby, as well as the work of many important European masters, including a nice sample of Impressionists. Another important building is the gothic Cathedral, with the nation's highest church tower, at 328 feet, which you may climb for a birds-eye view of the town. This divine height is a perfect place to end our tour.

Dennis Callan is the president of the Hawaii Geographic Society and produces the "World Traveler" television series, airing 6 p.m. Mondays on 'Olelo, channel 52. He frequently leads tours through Europe, Canada and the U.S., and writes "Three Days in ..." for the Star-Bulletin the first Sunday each month, explaining how to get the most out of three days in the world's great places.


If you go ...

Here is a list of places to stay while in Interlaken, along with a list of Web sites for more research. To call, use the prefix 011-41-33.


>> Hotel Du Nord: My favorite, at Höheweg 70, 3800 Interlaken. Call 827-5050; fax 827-5055.
>> Grand Hotel & Spa Victoria-Jungfrau: Höheweg 41, 3800 Interlaken. Call 828-2828; fax 828-2880.
>> Hotel Du Lac: Höheweg 225, 3800 Interlaken. Call 822-2922; fax 822-2915.
>> Hotel Interlaken: Höheweg 74, 3800 Interlaken. Call 826-6868; fax 826-6869.
>> Hotel Metropole: The only high-rise in town, at Höheweg 37, 3800 Interlaken. Call 828-6666; fax 828-6633.

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