Whatever the season, when thinking of a Swiss Alpine destination, most people would settle for Zermatt, with its world-famous reputation, five-star hotels and iconic mountain. But Interlaken, somehow still under the radar, has everything Switzerland’s most famous resort offers – and more importantly, a fraction of the number of visitors. Never more so than in autumn as the valley changes colour and before the Alps overflows with skiers and their cumbersome equipment.
At any given moment, paragliders swoop through the sky, making a spiralling descent into the town’s central park and, while Zermatt fills a steep valley-end bowl in the shadow associated with the Matterhorn, Interlaken is flat plus open, along with unobstructed views towards the particular famous trio of peaks: the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger. Three majestic mountains for the price of one.
At 4, 158m, the Jungfrau is the little shorter than the crooked cousin (4, 478m), but its slopes stay snow-covered year round, unlike Zermatt’s hooked peak. Yes, Interlaken is void of novelty Toblerone ice cream and hundreds of electric buggy cars, zipping between glamorous resorts, but neither are sorely missed.
The particular town sits in an ancient glacial valley, built on alluvial land formed by river-carried sediment that amassed to separate the two lakes since the last ice age. The lakes create a crossroads, along with Interlaken in the centre: the river Lombach flows from the north; the particular Lütschine from the south; and the Aare flows east in order to west through both lakes and city.
This natural intersection provides many options for easily exploring further afield before the particular winter weather sets in. The particular Lauterbrunnen area cradles pastureland and traditional wooden chalets, while Grindelwald nestles in the shadow of the Eiger. To the west, on the shores associated with Lake Thun, sit medieval castles, turreted like a fairytale. And east of Lake Brienz, the Reichenbach Falls cascade into the Aare, where Sherlock Holmes plus Moriarty fell into the booming spray.
Here be dragons
Interlaken and its surrounding villages have numerous layers associated with history, from the days of land-swapping and monasteries to modern tourism. Wandering via the town, every building is different, with its own conical turret, gabled dormers, decorative iron balconies or intricately painted gold patterned soffits. Höhematte park offers abundant benches amongst bright flowers and is the best place to watch paragliders swooping gracefully in to land. Just over the River Aare, the old town is a good oasis associated with calm, with wood-built houses and quiet cafes.
Traditional Swiss food will be hearty, based on cheese, potato plus warmth. As autumn brings cooler temperatures, crispy rösti and dripping fondu are firm favourites – as is the surprising älplermagronen: macaroni cheese along with apple sauce. All are usually served at the castle-like restaurant around the pine-forested peak of Harder Kulm (1, 322m) that will looms above Interlaken. A steep hike or the ride within the funicular, first built in 1908, will take you there and back.
It feels like every part of the particular landscape has a story here. Local folklore says the spirit of More difficult Kulm is not a benevolent one: a wicked man turned in order to stone, whose face can be seen within the chiselled lines of the crags below the summit. Nearby St Beatus’ Caves were once home to their eponymous monk, and a dragon. According to legend, when St Beatus successfully evicted the particular dragon to make the caves his home, it fell in to Lake Thun, making the particular waters writhe and boil. Large depths from the cave are unexplored, but there is the section open to the public, with colourful grottos plus underground waterfalls.
Take to the water
The two ponds of Interlaken have distinct personalities. On the east of city, Lake Brienz is the smaller associated with the two, with intense turquoise waters. The distinctive colour is usually formed by suspended particles, carried down from glaciers high over. On the particular other side of the town, the long arc of Lake Thun curves north-west, filling the valley and making it the particular largest lake in the Swiss Bernese Oberland. Its waters are bluer, filled by many lower rivers that dilute the particular glacial sediment. But it is no less beautiful: clear plus still under the autumn light.
The best way in order to explore the lakes are usually, undoubtedly, through the waters themselves. Guided kayaking trips on River Brienz run from May to October. In fall months, visitors may paddle out onto the particular lake with regard to sunset, casting golden rays of light through the clouds, as it drops behind the mountains. The castle ruins and church from the shoreside village of Ringgenberg make a convenient picnic spot. Although it has been rebuilt time and again, the fortress foundations date back to the particular Bronze Age.
Whatever the weather and whatever the time of year, hiking is a year-round pastime in Swiss. Hills plus mountains, forested ridges and rocky highs surround Interlaken from all directions. The Swiss hiking trail network is extensive, with friendly yellow signposts marking nearly every junction.
Schynige Platte, the mountain plateau directly south associated with Interlaken, provides a full day’s hiking at all levels plus Alpine panoramas. Accessed only by the rack-and-pinion railway, with arched wood-panelled ceilings and benches, the high plateau looks southerly towards distant snow and glaciers. Hikes along the north edge take in three small rocky peaks, each providing a panoramic view all the way across Interlaken, its two wetlands and beyond.
A quick train journey south-east, down the Lütschine valley, takes you to Grindelwald and the foot of the three hills that draw all eyes south from Interlaken. The particular cable car to Grindelwald-First (2, 166m) delivers site visitors eye in order to eye with the famous Eiger and the infamous northern face.
Despite multiple efforts, simply no climbers effectively scaled the north face (or came back alive) until 1938 when it was completed simply by four brave souls; Heinrich Harrer, Anderl Heckmair, Ludwig Vörg plus Fritz Kasparek. For an adventurous descent back to Grindlewald of your own there are a series of challenges, every ending in the next cable vehicle station: airy zip lines, mountain carts and scooters.
In the Lauterbrunnen valley, due south from Interlaken, Mürren via ferrata is definitely a 2 . 5km mountain route that can be completed independently, or even with a guide. A sequence associated with metal wires, ladders and rungs creates an ‘iron way’ that will traverses by means of the forest and more than cliff edges to the particular village of Gimmelwald, along with a final swaying suspension bridge over a 400m gorge. The instant of dizzying exposure can be worth this for an uninterrupted see from your area to the snow-topped peak.
Where to stay
The Carlton-Europe Hotel is full of charm, conveniently located close to Interlaken Ost train station. The quiet rooms overlook the water and English Garden ( carltoneurope. ch ).
How in order to get there
Swiss airlines fly through Manchester plus London to Zurich. To reach Interlaken, make use of Switzerland’s fantastically synced public transport system, catching the Lucerne-Interlaken Express for the scenic journey direct in order to Interlaken.
For general public transport, use a Switzerland Travel Pass that gives you unlimited travel throughout the bus and teach network, plus free access to over 500 museums. Or, if you’ll be staying several days within the particular Interlaken area, consider a Jungfrau Pass that gives you unlimited entry to public transport in the Jungfrau region, including the Schynige Platte train, Harder Kulm funicular, Grindelwald-First cable car and much more ( sbb. ch ). More information can be found here: jungfrau. ch .
Do you have a favourite underrated European town? Please let us know inside the comments below