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The Bernese Alps on foot

The Bernese Alps on foot    

By Steve Jack

A beer with a view is one of life’s luxuries, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few good ones – a Kingfisher while contemplating the Lake Palace Hotel in Rajasthan, India; a New Zealand ‘Steinie’ while gazing out over Aitutaki Lagoon on the Cook Islands; a chilled San Miguel from the minibar as I contemplated the magnificent Sierra de Ronda from my hotel balcony. However, this one, I told myself, as I sat on the terrace of the Hotel Bellevue-Crystal in Mürren, had to be the best ever!

I had arrived in Switzerland earlier that day with my brother Tom to begin our week’s walking in the Bernese Alps. Having been whisked from Geneva to Mürren on a range of different transport systems (13 short journeys by train, bus and cable car – all inter-connected and unfailingly on time), we were now sitting on the hotel’s terrace, gazing across at the sheer majesty of the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau – their respective snow-capped peaks bathed in late-afternoon sunlight. They towered over spectacular glaciers and lush, green valleys far below, while the cooling air echoed with the distant clanging of cow-bells. The local Rugenbräu beer was going down a treat!

Mürren itself is a ‘chocolate box’ village where, as in many parts of this enchanting region, you imagine yourself on the set of Heidi, or metaphorically rub your eyes, unable to believe that the clichéd images of Swiss mountain landscapes are somehow surpassed by their reality. Mürren also finds itself mid-way along Inntravel’s High Route walk, and this was where we had been asked to begin in order to complete some of the regular route-finding and checking for Inntravel customers. After an evening meal of king prawns in garlic butter, pork fillets in a creamy, peppercorn sauce, and a delicious slice of apple tart and ice cream, my brother and I slept like babies and were ready for the off.

We opted for a relatively gentle opener, eschewing the high-level route over the Sefinenfurke to instead take a train and a relaxing boat transfer along Thunersee to the small town of Reichenbach. After a steep opening section of zigzag paths, the route then led us down into the Kiental Valley before winding up a tree-clad slope to the wonderfully secluded mountain guesthouse at Golderli. Run with great panache and efficiency by Georges Jost and his team (which includes several Nepalese sherpas experiencing the Alpine way of life and work), this is a simple and welcoming place where it pays to arrive early to beat the queue for the (shared) shower, and where you need to arrive for dinner on time – bang on 6.30pm! After our double helping of braised beef in a red wine sauce, we were serenaded by a visiting yodelling ensemble – a memorable and unique experience, high up in the mountains, while the storms broke outside and the rain lashed down.

Still opting for lower level walking, our next two days took us through the beautiful grazing pastures of the Kiental Valley, where herds of impossibly healthy-looking Swiss cows jangled their bells at us while we admired the snow-capped peaks all around. Another walk took us via Blausee (‘Blue Lake’) along more well-marked trails past quiet hamlets of wooden chalets into the small town of Frutigen. Our next base, the Hotel Victoria in Kandersteg, was a short train ride from here and is a venerable institution in the Inntravel walking programme. After being warmly greeted by Casi Platzer and his family, we were free to enjoy the hotel’s excellent cuisine, its sauna and swimming pool facilities (perfect after a long day’s walking), and the superlative views its magical location provides.

From Kandersteg, a cable-car whisked us up the mountainside for a memorable walk around the cliffs bordering the mesmerising Lake Oeschinensee. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect view than the vista of glaciated peaks reflected in the lake’s still, turquoise waters. This, we felt, was well worth the extra climb, especially as we enjoyed a typical ‘beer and bratwurst combo’ at the refuge-style café near the far end of the lake – closely monitored by a docile family of goats. Having already decided to head over the pass to Adelboden the following day, we upgraded to the Victoria’s à la carte menu for the evening, and feasted on Châteaubriand steak and a smooth bottle of Haut-Médoc from Bordeaux. Dessert, after this, was out of the question!

After Tom had patched up his feet with the necessary blister plasters the following morning, we began the long haul up to the Bunderchrinde Pass, a narrow gap in the craggy ridge at 2,385 metres. Rewarded as we were with near-perfect weather conditions and great visibility, this was quite simply the best walk of my life – quite an effort on the unremitting ascent, but with the most jaw-dropping views in every direction. After a memorable beer at an eccentrically managed refuge just below the ‘final push’, we enjoyed a panoramic picnic at the top before a long and exhilarating descent to the valley floor and our destination, the Hotel Adler in Adelboden. Again boasting creature comforts like an indoor/outdoor pool and spa area, this impressive chalet-style hotel was a great place to relax (and relaxation was very much on the agenda!) before a fine dinner, a schnapps nightcap and a very deep night’s sleep.

The next day’s scenery on the way to Lenk was virtually as impressive as what had gone before, although it did involve a well-marked – but arduous – detour around some rather inconvenient tree-felling operations. Once past the exceptional viewpoint at the top of the Sillerenbühl cable car (we got there on foot, I hasten to add), it was a glorious high-level yomp across wildflower meadows to the Hanhenmoos Pass, where we feasted on a generous platter of cold meats and cheeses before taking the downward path towards Lenk and the welcoming Hotel Krone. Again, I had time to admire the spectacular mountain scenery surrounding this pretty village before indulging in another spa bath to ease my aching limbs before dinner.

Our final day’s walking chalked up another 16 kilometres, initially heading steeply up the Wallbach Gorge past a dramatic waterfall and then through a lovely woodland section. Once over the Trüttlisberg Pass at 2,038 metres, we descended (fairly rapidly by now) through pastureland to the pretty Lauenental Valley and the village of Lauenen. Despite all the gorgeous places we had come across during our week away, this was perhaps my favourite, nestling below steep, bright green meadows, a spectacular glacier and dense pine forests. The Hotel Alpenland, only a few kilometres up the road from fashionable Gstaad, felt like a genuinely unspoiled retreat – its timber-framed rooms, welcoming bar full of locals and homely restaurant made for a fittingly memorable finale to the holiday.

After dinner, there was time for one more Rugenbräu beer – the darkness outside meant there was no view this time, but we could reflect on our week’s walking through some of the most marvellous scenery on earth, and look forward to the efficient Swiss transport system whisking us safely homeward the next morning – bang on time, of course!

 

Note: Steve was updating the walking notes for routes that had changed slightly and therefore walked the last couple of legs of the High Route before completing an abridged version of the Bernese Oberland walk (the normal itinerary includes an extra night at both Kandersteg and Lauenen).