Walking in the land of the Eiger
Grindelwald may well be literally overshadowed by its famous neighbour, the Eiger mountain, but this retreat is not just for hardened mountaineers. For centuries visitors have enjoyed the natural beauty and fresh mountain air; in fact so stunning is this area that it has become a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. With superb transport links thanks to Swiss engineering, over 500km of marked footpaths, an abundance of alpine meadows, gorges forged through thousands of years of glacial action, lakes reflecting the blue skies like a mirror, and dramatic snow-capped peaks, the Bernese Oberland is a real paradise for walkers and photographers alike. This is one place you certainly won’t forget in a hurry.
The climate here is ideal for outdoor activities during the summer months; usually the skies are filled with sunshine permeating that deep blue glow that you only see in the mountains. The temperature is pleasant too, with highs during the day of up to 25°C. Of course, the weather can change quickly in the mountains, so make sure you check the local weather forecast and travel prepared. There may be snow still on the ground in the early summer months, and thunderstorms can crop up during July.
With walking to suit all abilities around the Grindelwald area, where do you start with so much choice? For starters, get up close and personal to the North Face of the Eiger on the Eiger Trail between Kleine Scheidegg and Alpignen. Access is straightforward using the train up to Kleine Scheidegg. Traversing along the base of the awesome face, gaze below to the meadows to spot brightly coloured alpine flowers below (Gentians) and brightly coloured mountaineers above (Humans). Though a relatively straight forward walk, a sturdy pair of walking shoes is advisable.
From First on the other side of the valley there are a number of choices available. Beyond the shrieks of the zip-liners, you’ll be in the peaceful countryside as you follow the signs to Bachalpsee. The walk begins with a gentle climb before dropping down to the lake. This is one of the many superbly photogenic spots around Grindelwald; you’ll see the mountains beyond mirrored perfectly in the still waters of the lake.
For a walk amongst glacial fields, begin by taking the Pfingstegg cable car, which will gain you 400m in altitude in a little under 10 minutes. You ascend up and around the Mettenberg, on which the mighty Schreckhorn sits and up a narrow valley taking you behind the Eiger. You’ll be travelling along a cliff-like path, so take a head for heights – you’ll be looking down a sheer drop to Lower Glacier’s gorge! The high point of the walk is at Stieregg where there’s a mountain hut for refreshments. Returning to Pfingstegg, continue down following signs to the Chalet Milchbach. Through the open patches in the forest there are lovely views over Grindelwald. And if you’re feeling daring and want to get on to the upper section of the glacier, you can take a ladder trail from Chalet Milchbach. 5 minutes downhill and you’ll be at the entrance to the ice caves, from where you can follow the path back to the valley below.
The walk down from the Kleine Scheidegg to Wengen is another great walk for stunning views over the neighbouring valley. Trek through alpine scented meadows, towards the Lauterbrunnen valley to the pretty mountain town. Don’t miss the Tummelbach falls in this valley – a stunning sight for their sheer power.
Thomson Lakes & Mountains holidays have walking escort on hand in Grindelwald to give guidance on the best routes to take. And if you want to team up, then join them one of their accompanied walks which operate twice a week.
As well as the abundance of walking opportunities, there’s a whole host of other activities to enjoy, including Europe’s only ‘First Flyer’ zipline down the mountain, and the mutant ‘Trotti’ bikes – a cross between a scooter and a mountain bike, on which you can journey down mountain lanes at a speed suited to your own adrenaline levels.
Some more traditional ways of getting about and seeing the sights include a trip up the Jungfrau railway, which tunnels through the Eiger to Europe’s highest railway station at 3454m altitude. The Jungfrau railway has been in operation for 99 years this summer and has transported millions of visitors to the Top of Europe. As well as an array of eateries, you can combine a winter and summer holiday into one with a session making snowmen and flying down the slopes in snow tubes in the land of eternal snow on the Jungfraujoch.
Hospitality in Grindelwald is exceptional, with a friendly atmosphere, accommodation of an excellent standard, and delicious food and drink to sample. A member of the exclusive ‘Best of the Alps’ group, Grindelwald sits alongside the likes of Zermatt, Chamonix Mont-Blanc and St Anton am Arlberg as the most prestigious of European winter and summer mountain destinations, so you know you’ll be well looked after here. If you’re a fan of Swiss mountain cuisine try the Fondue at Café Mary mountain restaurant one day. A great lunchtime snack that is typical of the area is the Bernese Lentil soup, not only delicious, but full of energy for an afternoon’s walking.
Known for its efficiency, travelling by public transport is Switzerland is a pleasure unknown to many who battle on Britain’s pressurised public transport network. Grindelwald is on the Swiss Rail network, and also served by mountain railways and cable cars. Visitors’ use of these is made simpler and cheaper with several passes available giving free and discounted travel. The best bet for walkers is to pick up the Jungfraubahnen Pass, which cost just over £100 for 6 days, giving unlimited free travel on all trains to and from Grindelwald, Wengen, Interlaken Ost and Murren, as well as most cableways and trains around the area, with a supplement to pay for travel on the Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn mountain railways.
When people think of Switzerland, many fear a serious dent in the wallet. But a good value package holiday can mean that a week of walking in the stunning mountains can be yours for less than you think. Travelling to Grindelwald is straightforward as it conveniently located for both Geneva and Zurich airports. And if you don’t have a week to spare, then take advantage of the frequent scheduled flights to Switzerland, and enjoy a 3 or 4 night stay.
Thomson Lakes & Mountains are a specialist tour operator providing holidays to Grindelwald and other destinations throughout Europe. And this month, Thomson are offering Blue Dome readers a chance to win a 7 night holiday to Grindelwald, including return scheduled flights, rail transfers and a stay at the Hotel Eiger with breakfast and evening meals included.