In true tourist fashion, my husband and I tried to cram as much as possible into our grand European expedition, topping off Milan, the Amalfi Coast, and Austria with a hot second in Switzerland. Alps! We wanted to be among the Swiss Alps! So we headed to the Bernese Highlands (Berner Oberland in German), a high-elevation area in west-central Switzerland near the city of Bern. Though we only had one full day to explore the area on foot and via cable car, that day did not disappoint! The area was ridiculously beautiful.
We stayed in Wengen, a car-free ski town, at the Hotel Bernerhof, which was nothing fancy but got the job done. Its vintage 1970's lodge feel somewhat made up for its teeny closet-turned-bathrooms. We soon realized that dining in the area was spendy! One night we enjoyed a delicious pasta dinner out on the town, and the next we made ramen noodles in our room.
We started our day hike by walking from our hotel towards the center of Wengen, passing blooming window boxes and neat piles of firewood, all while admiring the imposing mountain landscape just beyond the town.
Leaving Wengen we hiked down towards the valley in which the town of Lauterbrunnen is nestled. Several waterfalls make their way from the mountains to the valley, causing this view to be an impressive and famous one! J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of The Rings, visited the Lauterbrunnen Valley and modeled his fictional elvish village of Rivendell after it.
We hiked upwards from Lauterbrunnen into the mountains, and at this point I began to feel a bit like Heidi.
Soon our focus turned towards the mountains peeking through the trees.
Three well-known peaks were in view--the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau. The Eiger has the biggest north face in the Alps, so it is an ominous but sought-after challenge for climbers. The Jungfrau (pictured at right) is the third-highest mountain in the Bernese Alps.
After a few hours we arrived in the cheery town of Murren, which was hoppin' because this was the day of the Inferno Triathlon, a feat of athleticism I can't even conceive of, which has a height gain of 3.4 miles! Can you imagine?
Having decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, we took the pricey cable car from Murren to the Schilthorn, the highest mountain in the area and the location of Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant which served as a filming location for the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. We enjoyed our "007" cappuccino...
...and the fantastic view! It had gotten a bit cloudy by this time, proving that no day this side of heaven is absolutely perfect, but we were still able to peer down into the valley below and to enjoy a bird's-eye look at the surrounding peaks.
The Inferno Triathlon I told you about was completed at the base of Piz Gloria, so we really enjoyed watching runners cross the finish line--when the restaurant had revolved to let us see that location, of course! The runners were spread out quite a ways from each other, to the point that I don't think most could see another person while they ran the final steep ascent. It was very moving to me to watch them because they arrived in our line of sight obviously spent. They ran slowly and looked down at the trail...until their family members came into view! Their faces broke into big smiles at the sight of their spouses, children, and friends, and the cheering of their people seemed to give them new energy to speed to the finish line with heads held high. They ended triumphantly and were met with big hugs from their proud people. The power of our people encouraging and supporting us cannot be overstated!
We had some tomato soup (I know, very exciting.) and rode the cable car back down into Murren, where we took a train back to our home base of Wengen. What a celebration of natural beauty and the human spirit! Well done, Switzerland!