Review: Bernese Oberland (Swiss Alps)
Escorted Tour - Rail
Lost for ...
172 people found this review helpful
If you like world class scenery, a wonderful hotel, great food and superb day trips, all at an exceptional price, book this trip immediately! It will leave you lost for …
Rolling around Switzerland on another Riviera Travel trip after landing at Geneva airport, the travel rep had already ensured a smooth transfer to the waiting coach and we were soon rolling along.
This was not a coach trip holiday. In fact, travel throughout the week was mostly by train, cog-railway, cable-car or lake steamer. The only time we saw a coach was on the two and a half hour journey to and from the airport.
Included in the holiday is a six day Berner Oberland Regional pass which gives unlimited use of the vast majority of transport forms throughout our stay.
It is worth well over £300.
You could not book this holiday independently with all it entailed, for anything approaching the same price we paid.
The cost of living in Switzerland is high so expect to pay around 4 to 5 Swiss Francs for a coffee, an ice cream cone or a small beer. Eating out and transport are also expensive, so the half board deal and travel pass are very beneficial.
The railway is in fact the easiest way to get around this wonderful country. Like me, you do not need to be a railway enthusiast to enjoy this trip. All you need is a taste for superlative scenery, great food and some of the freshest air in Europe.
Once you have travelled by Swiss railways, with friendly, smiling staff, trains always leaving on schedule, never cancelled, very rarely late, scrupulously clean, and with fantastic deli-style catering in some of the immaculate stations, you will wonder how UK standards have been allowed to fall so far.
Our first port of call and our home for the full week, was the four star MGallery Royal St. Georges Hotel at Interlaken. The hotel was built in 1908 and has a tastefully renovated Art Nouveau lobby and public rooms. This grand old lady of a hotel is an elegant, mansion style building with a Spa and is one of a handful of similar hotels in this part of town. Centrally, it has a sweeping marble staircase with a red carpet and side pillars.
Other features of the hotel are beautifully crafted modern bar and lounge areas. There is an awesome dining room with chandeliers, plaster friezes and classical fresco paintings on the walls and ceilings, in which we took our evening meals. Very grand indeed. There is also a separate, stylish breakfast restaurant.
Note that due to the age of the building there is no air conditioning. This will be installed over the winters of 2019/20 and 2020/21, so if it is very hot, it is open windows and fans.
The large terrace and lawned garden to the rear are at the foot of the Harder Kulm mountain. There is a small terrace with a water feature and a small, lawned garden to the front of the hotel too.
The hotel is visually impressive, let alone the surrounding mountains. It is in a quiet location, yet minutes away from the centre of town.
The hotel’s position is just a short stroll from the town’s lovely centre with green spaces, cafes, restaurants and shops. This can get busy in popular months.
A ten minute walk from the hotel sees you at either of the town’s two railway stations and both lake ferry terminals.
The old town, next to the picturesque river, is much quieter than the main tourist street and has a lovely square with an old church, and a small number of quieter restaurants and cafes. This is also a ten minute walk from the hotel.
Interlaken is aptly named and lies on a narrow strip of land between two lakes, the Brienzersee and the Thunersee, making it very handily placed for trips to the surrounding countryside and mountains in either direction. The snow capped Jungfrau mountain dominates the skyline of the town.
Sports activities of all kinds are available here for the more adventurous, from tandem paragliding (170SF), white water rafting, canyoning, jet boating, mountain biking and many more. Bike hire and 2-wheel electric scooter hire are also easily obtained nearby.
Our room was in the main hotel facing the rear and had dual aspect windows to the mountains. It was large in size and was well maintained, decorated in traditional Swiss style. It had a huge, comfortable bed. There was a large modern bathroom with twin showers over the bath. Slippers and fluffy bathrobes were provided. A large, flat screen tv in the room had multiple channels including ones usually found in the UK. Teas and coffees, with a kettle, were available in the room.
All of the rooms in the main hotel are in the traditional Swiss style, whilst some others are in a modern annexe to the side of the hotel and these are all modern in style. Our seven night, half board stay here was simply superb.
Breakfast is continental buffet style, with hot choices, and was one of the better ones I have encountered anywhere. Chilled Prosecco anyone? Evening meals were three courses with a bowl of fresh fruit to follow. There were choices of starters and main courses in advance, daily. Each course and every meal was truly excellent. The quality and presentation were very impressive.
All of the numerous staff were smart, very efficient and eager to please throughout our stay. Full marks, they left a lasting impact.
Our first trip out, the following day was to those very mountains, starting with a short railway trip to the village of Lauterbrunnen, which is dwarfed by the impressively steep sided valley it sits in. From here we took the mountain cog-railway, climbing through the ski-resort of Wengen before reaching one of Europe’s highest railway junctions, at Kleine Scheidegg (6762ft). From here on a clear day you will see close up, the mighty Eiger (Ogre -13.015ft), the Monch (Monk – 13,474ft) and the Jungfrau (Young Maiden – 13,642ft) amongst many others, a truly inspiring sight. These mountains form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The descent to the village of Grindelwald was no less pretty.
I never cease to be amazed at the cleanliness, lack of litter and scrupulously well kept public areas throughout Switzerland, and this was no exception. And that was just the morning!
That afternoon we took a scheduled PostBus over the dramatic Grosse Scheidegg Pass to Meiringen and the nearby Reichenbach Falls, made famous by the Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) novel, ‘The Final Problem’.
It is forbidden for any other motorised traffic to pass along this route, with it’s twisting, hair-pin bends, as it winds it’s way through outstanding countryside. Snow capped mountains, high waterfalls, snow cornices, glaciers, alpine flowers and typical Swiss cottages are just some of the sights to be seen. This has to be one of the most scenic drives in the world.
A train ride alongside a glacial river and then the shores of the Brienzersee lake completed one amazing day out. If the first day was meant to impress, it did much more than that.
Our next excursion started with a short rail trip to nearby Brienz and a transfer to the occasionally steam driven Brienz Rothorn Rack-Railway, which commenced operations in 1892. Our propulsion was by steam engine on this particular day as it happens.
The ride to the 7710ft. summit of the Rothorn was a spectacular way to arrive and even had distant views of the Matterhorn, which at 14692ft makes it one of the highest peaks in the Alps and in Europe.
Lunch at the mountain-top café had indescribably panoramic views to the other ‘big three’ mountains. Words failed …
We descended reluctantly and took a lake steamer serenely back to our hotel.
On one of our two free days in Interlaken, we exercised the option to visit the summit of the Schilthorn (9744ft) via a train to Lauterbrunnen and then a cable-car trip to Grutschalp, followed by a train trip to beautiful Murren. A fifteen minute walk through this lovely village took us to the cable-car station for a further two stage cable-car ride to the summit.(The only additional charge). This again is an unmissable trip.
Here we took lunch in the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant. This completes a revolution every 45 minutes, taking in the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau trio as well as more than 200 other snow-topped Alpine peaks. What an unbeatable and unforgettable vista.
The very impressive building here, clinging to the peak-top, was made popular by the seventh James Bond film, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, which was made in 1969.
This building served as the awesome lair of baddie Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the free, interactive James Bond Experience here describes all the action.
On the way up or down, alight at Birg cable station to undertake the free ‘Thrill
Walk’. This is an open metal-latticed walkway bolted to the cliff face. It features glass walkways, cable walks and an open mesh tunnel to scramble through, all with quite a long drop below. Not for the fainthearted. It took away my power of …
From the base station at Murren, take the amazing cliff-top railway to Grutshalp and descend again by cable-car to Lauterbrunnen, and the short train hop back to Interlaken. There is even time to ascend the funicular (normally 38SF per person), at the rear of the hotel to the top of Harder Klum and stand on the twin-lake viewing platform before returning for evening dinner, and almost all the day’s travel done free with the Berner Oberland Regional pass.
Our next train experience took us along the lakeside to the lovely town of Spiez,
before switching to the Bern-Lotschberg-Simplon train up the beautiful valley to Kandersteg and another cable-car to Lake Oeschinen high above the valley floor. This high altitude Alpine plateau has a number of woodland and meadow footpaths which lead to a cliff-backed, melt-water lake. This impossibly turquoise coloured lake is closely surrounded by high mountains and fed by waterfalls, making it a stunningly beautiful sight. The walk back to the cable car station through rich, floral grasslands and woods to the sound of tinkling cow-bells is soporific.
This relaxed feeling was soon dissipated as I took a ride on the wheeled-sled toboggan ride at the cable car station (6SF). This is a 750 metre long, fast and winding, exhilarating ride down a metal chute track. And I do mean FAST. Wow! Returning to Spiez, we took the chance to explore the town and harbour on foot before a long and leisurely lake-steamer cruise back to Interlaken.
On our final organised day we boarded the train yet again, this time over the Brunig Pass to central Switzerland and the city of Lucerne. Chapel Bridge, built in 1333, is the oldest, covered wooden truss bridge in the world and makes such a pretty photograph with it’s adjacent, octagonally shaped water tower. The Old Town is completely traffic free, making it such a pleasure to explore on foot, or by land-train, and discover it’s rich history.
Our last day was our second free day. We took the excellent advice of our travel rep and using the travel pass again, made the short train ride to Wilderswil where we changed to the historic mountain train for a ride up seemingly impossibly steep mountain sides to Schynige Platte. At the mountain-top terminus there is a cafe, endless walks, colourful Alpine flower gardens, numerous viewpoints and often, Alpine Horn players. The views from up here defy description and again left me lost for …
A mid-afternoon departure time for the airport on the very last day left us with ample time to stroll by the river, have a picnic, watch the para-gliders and relax in the old town.
The journey back to Geneva airport was made with a heavy heart, for it marked the end of a remarkable and wonderful holiday. it will last long in the memory and the photographs we took will keep those memories fond over the years. The sights, sounds and experiences we had will last a lifetime.
Our travel rep, the irrepressible Mark, was a font of all knowledge on the area and he kept us fully up to date with all timetables, choices and was superbly well informed.
By the way, how do you make a Swiss roll? Trip him up (and it’s not even Christmas cracker time yet).
Once again, words fail …
172 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.