Bernese Oberland Tour – The full Swiss experience
Midway through my train journey to meet my Run the Alps trip guests, the Swiss meteo weather app on my phone beeped an alert for a heat wave… I was glad to be heading up into the mountains and some cooler temps. Having sought out some shade while waiting for the Swiss Postbus in the Berner Oberland town of Meiringen, guests Brian and Dorcas spotted my Run the Alps T-shirt and came over to say hi. We shared the exciting ride up to Schwarzwaldalp while the Postbus driver expertly squeezed past cars coming back down the narrow valley road. The driver didn’t hold back on sounding the loud, classic Swiss Postbus melodic horn, making the journey even more entertaining. The other three members of the group, Susan, Suesette and Suzie (and no, I’m not making that up – three versions of the same name in this group of five!) were already settled in at the inn when we arrived. They had already indulged in the local cuisine, too, having purchased local cheese bought at the roadside stand next to our inn. That night, we all got to know each other over a delicious dinner at Schwarzwaldalp Inn – and sampled the first of many local Swiss wines.Monday started with a steady climb through the meadows up to Grosse Scheidegg, for our first views of the classic North Face of the Eiger, and the Monch and Jungfrau. We enjoyed plenty of stops for photos and blueberry (known locally as heidelbeere) picking. We all agreed that the first exciting scenes from yesterday’s journey now paled in comparison to the stunning views as we climbed higher. The flow-y traverse around to the high mountain ski stop of First continued the great vistas, with the bonus of a smooth trail so we could afford to look up as we ran. Over drinks on the terrace at First, we discussed the rest of the route, including the many adventurous descent options to Grindelwald. Susan leapt at the chance to ride the ‘First Flyer’ – a long zip-line – down the start of the descent. Others went up to Lake Bachsee, a clear mountain lake where extracurricular activities included Dorcas taking a quick swim. We arrived in town a few hours later, ending the afternoon with a bit of shopping and more swimming, this time in the excellent municipal pool. The Hotel Gletschergarten provided us with a brilliant four-course meal, friendly service – and, we confess – a chance for more wine sampling.Our second day started with a beautiful ascent on the cog railway up to Schynige Platte, with views over the turquoise lakes of Thunersee and Brientzersee, on either side of the small Swiss city of Interlaken – more than a thousand meters below us. Arriving at the top, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau aligned beautifully for photos. In time, we set off trail running through the limestone spires of the first few kilometers from Schynige Platte.After the climb up to the Berghaus Männdlenen hut, we stopped for cakes and classic mountain fare of bread and cheese, served with gherkins. The route over the ridge presented some exposed sections and Suesette confronted her fear of heights with the kind support of the group. The two mountain goats of the group, Suzie and Dorcas, took the chance for a brief bonus excursion up the pointy peak of the Faulhorn, while the rest of the group skirted around its side. Everyone chose to take the lift down to Grindelwald to save our legs and give plenty of time for a rest before dinner. Suesette, Dorcas, Suzie and I were excited to return to the pool, though in the end we spent much of our whole time repeating the “Black Hole” – a water slide that I am convinced is the world’s scariest water slide. (As evidence: the slide starts in the dark with a few disco lights flashing…. then you are plunged into pitch darkness!)It was the night before the annual August 1st Swiss National Day. Workers put the final touches in place, including hanging flags and buntings throughout Grindelwald. There had been talk of a firework ban due to the extended bout of hot and dry weather, but serendipitously it rained for half an hour, and fireworks soon appeared against the still-visible silhouette of the Eiger.On Wednesday, August 1st, we came down to our breakfast table decorated with Swiss flags and received greetings from the staff, who were all in traditional Swiss dress. The group had been coping well with the hot weather, but nonetheless were happy to hear about a forecast that included afternoon thunderstorms. Making use again of Switzerland’s famous mountain transport, we took a quiet train up out of the valley to a small hamlet under the Eiger known as Alpiglen. Here, we split the group, with some trail runners taking the gentle, direct path up to Kleine Scheidegg. Others opted for the steeper and more exposed Eiger Trail, which runs along the base of the Eiger’s north face. At the height of land called Kleine Scheidegg, we enjoyed Chai lattes, coffees and cake while the predicted thunderstorm came and went. With clear skies back, we stretched out our legs along the smooth, flowing Panoramaweg up to the summit of nearby Mannlichen. Europe’s longest cable-car took us down to the car-free mountain village of Wengen, where traditional dancers and Alphorn players were in the swing of Swiss National Day. We didn’t have to go far to be part of the festivities: Alphorn players and their flag-thrower came right into our hotel garden. After dinner, cowbell ringers passed us as part of the lively parade in the street. And then, as if on cue, it was time for more fireworks.Thursday started with yet another expansive and delicious breakfast, with Swiss bircher muesli, fresh fruits, several types of tasty bread and a range of local meats and cheeses amongst the offerings. Then, it was time to trail run down to the steep-walled valley village of Lauterbrunnen, which seems to be Switzerland’s answer to Yosemite – only with a lot more cows! Thanks to blue skies and plenty of sun, and we enjoyed running several easy kilometers along the shady riverside in the Lauterbrunnen valley. Arriving at the mountain inn at Trachsellauenen, we enjoyed drinks and cakes underneath the towering Breithorn, watching the water pour over the huge mountainside falls. Next, it was onto shady trails, passing under yet more waterfalls in the Sefinental Gorge, to the tiny village of Gimmelwald, perched on the steep hillside. We welcomed the chance to drink some cold mountain water and peruse the “Honesty shop,” a gift shop without a clerk, where customers were trusted to pay! (Impressively, Brian squeezed a mug into his running-vest – for which he paid, I must note!) We arrived in Mürren, another car-free town perched above the cliffs of Lauterbrunnen, and enjoyed a laidback afternoon.Our last day of trail running in this beautiful region of the Swiss Alps brought yet more sunny skies and lots of gently undulating terrain on a loop through the mountain pastures of Mürren. We followed some of the “North Face Trail,” which features informational panels on the impressive technical climbing routes up the mountains across the valley, including the Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau, and Breithorn at the head of the Lauterbrunnen valley. Getting into the routine, our group knew now that each day had several cafes en route. They carefully calculated which one was optimally positioned – that is, far enough that we had to work for our cake, but not so far that energy and moral levels became dangerously low! Today’s mid-run stop proved to be Allmendhubel mountain restaurant for cake and French fries. We also took a quick tour around the botanical garden here and learnt more about the beautiful mountain flowers we were passing every day.By early afternoon we were back for beers in the sun and another chill Mürren afternoon. Committed swimmers Susan, Suzie and Dorcas got to try out a third pool! Later, at our celebratory dinner, we reminisced over the week, struggling to pick a favorite day; each day had been good in its own way. Over more local Pinot Noir – and after some deviations into other wine – we could agree on one thing: Swiss Pinot Noir was the group’s favorite red wine!
Cows dutifully posing on the run from Schynige Platte.
Dorcas and Suzy running the Eiger Trail before the storm arrived
Running alongside Lake Bachsee, the Schreckhorn ahead in the distance.
Dorcas taking a quick refreshing dip in Lake Bachsee.
Brian showing off both his purchase and his honesty!
The group on the way up to coffee and cake at the Trachsellauenen inn