Alpine getaway

Exploring Interlaken, Switzerland

Noelia de la Cruz
January 28, 2010

Just about anyone visiting Europe, be it the first time or the tenth, is eager to explore all of its many different cities. Yet time is limited. For those in study abroad programs, a semester or even a year may sound like a long stretch, but it's not enough time to thoroughly explore all that Europe has to offer. One must make choices.

 

During a long but limited stay, the student or tourist based in Florence, aside from spending time in Tuscany and the many, unique regions of Italy, may make visiting some other countries a priority. England, Spain, France and Germany are among the most popular destinations. Switzerland, however, is often overlooked. Yet after a weekend in Interlaken, Switzerland in early December, I'm happy to inform that it's not just a haven for skiing and snowboarding aficionados. There are so many things to do there that it's impossible to get bored.

 

The Swiss Alps are ideal in the wintertime. Aside from sliding down the beautiful snow-covered mountains, daredevils can also skydive, canyon jump and paraglide. Those who still want to engage in action, but want to pump less adrenaline, can go ice-skating or snow tubing. Several local organizations in Interlaken (among them Outdoor Interlaken) specialize in booking appointments and providing the necessary equipment for sports and activities.

 

I decided to do something a little different. I rented an ATV (mountain bikes were also available) and cruised for approximately an hour until I reached the nearby village of Lauterbrunnen. The journey was just as visually pleasant as the destination. Fresh-fallen snow covered the trees, houses and streams that line the road. Lauterbrunnen is also accessible by public transportation (bus or railway) and worth the short trip. It's best known for the Lauterbrunnen Valley, which has 72 waterfalls and an incredible view of the mountains.

 

From Interlaken, many people go to Kleine Scheidegg, a mountain pass location, with a snowboard or ski poles in hand. Visitors can also rent sleds for 10 euro. Or head to the teepee tent next to the railway station: it has a fun vibe as a result of the friendly people, cool music and good eats. Chow down on a Tipiburger (delicious bacon cheeseburger) or German sausage while drinking a Rugenbräu beer or hot chocolate and talking to people from all over Europe. 

 

Kleine Scheidegg also happens to be the last stop before the connecting train to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. The 3,545 meter (11,333 foot) destination, nicknamed the Top of Europe is popular for its breathtaking view of the Alps as well as its unique features such as the Ice Palace, the Sphinx observation hall, and husky-drawn sleds. To reach the Top, you ride through the inside of a glacier.

 

However, reaching the Top of Europe is not cheap: the ride alone can cost as much as 120 euro. For the traveler on a tighter budget, the following options are just as satisfying (believe me). Aside from the Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald, known as the glacier village because of the two glacier mountains surrounding it, is pretty nice, too. There are several souvenir and chocolate shops, but it's also the perfect place to go with a friend if you just want to pass a few hours at a café without making a long trip. Gimmelwald and Wengen are two other mountain villages easily accessible by railway and ideal for hiking and biking during the spring and summer.  

 

Speaking of which, although Switzerland's visitor count peaks during the winter season, it doesn't empty out during the warm months. In fact, it is quite the contrary. The flowers bloom, the grass is green and the tips of the mountains are still frosted with snow, providing a beautiful picturesque landscape. Popular activities to keep in mind during this time of the year are rafting, horseback riding and swimming.

 

Seen enough mountains? Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is only an hour away. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city attracts visitors for its medieval charm, historic buildings and museums.

 

In following up on these suggestions for day trips, don't forget to explore Interlaken itself. Visit Lake Brienz (to Interlaken's east) and Lake Thun (to its west). Take a walk into town. And on the last night, be sure to have a Swiss cheese and chocolate fondue dinner! You can never go wrong with that.

 

 

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