Switzerland Travel Diary
Updated: Apr 12, 2021
The trip to Switzerland was unique in many ways – after spending almost 6 months at home during the first half of 2020; this was our first escape across borders! Another special reason was that we were also staying with our friends who had recently moved from UK to Switzerland. We did some good hiking and mountain climbing with a 1 year old, a 7 year old and a very well-mannered canine! So indeed the mountains of Switzerland have been made accessible with extremely well mapped out hiking trails for all abilities.
Arriving in Zug
After a short 1 hour 40 minutes flight from London Heathrow, we arrived at Zurich in the evening and travelled to Zug by road.
Hiking to Lake Oeschinen (Oeschinensee in German) in Kandersteg and camping under open sky in Frutigen
Kandersteg is a quintessentially Swiss picturesque alpine village in the Bern Canton, located along the valley of the River Kander, west of the Jungfrau mountain. It is ideal place for summer with a number of hiking trails and is good for winter skiing as well. Oeschinensee part of the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn UNESCO World Heritage site since 2007.
We drove from Zug to Frutigen where we had reserved our camping site for the night. After receiving our site spot (Grassi Camping), we headed towards Lake Oeschinen. It was raining non-stop since morning and we were just hoping for some clear skies when we start to hike. Indeed the rain Gods had pity on us and the sky cleared off as soon as we reached Kandersteg.
The breath taking view of Kandersteg from hiking trail to Lake Oeschinen
We parked and chose the route to hike to Lake Oeschinen. You can choose the route you want to take based on your hiking abilities. Alternatively, you can head to the Oeschinensee cable car station from the large parking area. If you have arrived in Kandersteg by train, a 15 minutes walk will take you from the station to the cable car station. The cable car takes you to the top station in around 10 minutes. From the top station, it then takes around 30 minutes to walk to the lake. There is also the option to take an electric shuttle bus from the top station to the lake during summer only. However, if you can, opt to hike as the journey to the lake adds to the charm of witnessing the lake for the first time!
As it had rained all morning, the temperatures were extremely pleasant for the hike. We went at a reasonable pace taking breaks in between to rest, snack and soak in the breath-taking views!
Breath taking view of Lake Oeschinen
Lake Oeschinen is at an elevation of over 1,500 meters, and is one of the most stunning lakes we have ever seen. So definitely worth the effort to hike! Hugged by the peaks of Bluemlisalp and Doldernhorn mountain peaks, when you first get the view of the clear turquoise water leaves you at a loss of words! The clouds float as if to hide this surreal beauty.
What was even more mind-blowing was to come to the beauty of the lake with the beautiful sounds of the alphorn (or alpenhorn or alpine horn). It is a very long straight wooden natural horn with a wooden cup-shaped mouthpiece – they almost look like supersized smoking pipes! These were traditionally used by Swiss shepherds to call the cows from the pastures and into the barn. The alphorn made its revival in the recent times.
Alphorn players by shore of lake Oeschinen
This was a lucky co-incidence to witness the stunning lake, the peaks, the clouds and hear the beautiful natural sounds of the alphorn – sometimes things just stack up to give you the most memorable moments ever! We spent some time sitting by the lake and just enjoying the alpine beauty. There were barbeque stations along the way; the Swiss just know how to make the best of everything! We hiked a bit more and then decided to make a return – this time through the cable car – hearing the sounds of the cowbells along the way!
Our tent at Grassi Camping
Simple and hearty sausages stew at camping
At Frutigen we set up our tents and prepared a hearty dinner of sausages stew and bread. Under the cover of the night, the stars shone bright – like little kids we poked our heads out of the camp and gazed at the night sky. We had remembered to pack a bottle of wine so it was a good way to end the day! All the hiking had made us tired enough to not notice the hardness beneath of our sleeping blankets.
Lauterbrunnen, Gimmelwald, Murren and Schilthorn
Village of Gimmelwald
From our camping site at Frutigen, we drove to Stechelberg (further ahead of Lauterbrunnen) and took the cable car to the sleepy Alpine village of Gimmelwald in the Bernese Oberland (highliand). It is over 1,300 meters above sea level. Perched high on the on the edge of a cliff it overlooks the UNESCO world heritage area Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn. The village is car-free and is astonishingly quiet and less touristy. With the chalets adorned with vibrant flowers, the sprawling lush green landscape with cows, beautiful streams, it almost feels like stepping into an illustrated fairy tale book!
Honesty Shop of Gimmelwald village
Gimmelwald is also home to the ‘Honesty Shop’, Europe’s first village store built around the local values of trust and honesty. There are no shop assistants, no cameras and no supervisors – shoppers can browse through the collection of local crafts, souvenirs, food and drinks, pick what they need, put the correct money in an envelope and pop it in the honesty box provided!
View of Murren on the way to Schilthorn
After strolling around this beautiful unpretentious village, we took the cable car to Murren – which lies at the foot of the Schilthorn. The village is at an elevation of over 1,600 meters above sea level and boasts of beautiful views of the world-renowned Alpine triumvirate- Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains. Murren gets lot more human traffic than Gimmelwald as it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in summer as well as winter. There are a lot of facilities and activities for tourists all year round including wellness spas, yoga, etc.
We sat down for a well-deserved hearty alpine lunch and feasted on fondue, Raclette, and took the cable car up to Schilthorn.
View of mountain range from Schilthorn
The scenes involving the imaginary ‘Piz Gloria’ in the sixth James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service starring George Lazenby in 1969 were shot in Schilthorn, as the makers were fascinated by the ‘futuristic’ revolving restaurant on the Schilthorn. The famous ski-run scenes were filmed with the help of local skiing instructors and the world’s best skiers were used as doubles for Lazenby, Telly Savalas and Diana Rigg. Even a man-made avalanche had to be created for the shooting!
The magnificent 360° panorama from the summit can reveal the world-renowned Alpine triumvirate of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, but as is likely during high altitude ventures, nature makes the final call on whether you get to see her wonders or not. We could only catch glimpse of the peaks for split seconds when the clouds moved.
Hiking trail from Murren to Gimmelwald
From Schilthorn we descended to Murren and walked to Gimmelwald and from there we took the cable car back to Stechelberg. The stunning scenic view of Alpine mountains and the valley on the hiking trail from Murren to Gimmelwald makes the walk enjoyable and creates beautiful memories to cherish for life. We stopped at Lauterbrunnen briefly to take in the views.
The village of Lauterbrunnen
Meiringen and hiking to Bidmi from Reuti
Sherlock Holmes museum at Meiringen
Reichenbach Falls near Meiringen (P.C. - Anirban Ghosh)
Meiringen is situated just along the Hasli Valley from Brienz, and offers a large range of hiking trails to suit all levels, with wonderful views of the Engelhorn, Wetterhorn, Eiger and Mönch mountains. Arthur Conan Doyle – the author of Sherlock Holmes chose the impressive Reichenbach Falls for the setting of the final struggle between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriaty. There is a Sherlock Holmes museum that you can visit.
The village of Reuti
We hiked from Reuti to Bidmi and also had a baby in a stroller along with a 7 year old. The views were stunning and we stopped at the benches to rest and admire the landscape. We bought cheese along the way from a little selling point with no one around – something like the Honesty shop.
View of mountain and valleys on the hiking trail from Reuti to Bidmi
Like other trails, there were water points along the way to keep you hydrated on fresh mountain water. When we reached Bidmi, we settled down at the most scenic restaurant- with panoramic view of the mountains and fresh mountain air! As we sipped coffee and tasted Älplermagronen (Swiss Alpine pasta) we tried to ‘lock-in’ these wonderful moments in our travel hungry souls!
The village of Meiringen
Meiringen is also thought to be the birthplace of the light fluffy and sugary ‘Meringue’ prepared by stiffly beaten egg whites, sugar, found on pies, and tarts, or just as themselves! We always thought Meringue originated in France but looks like it is not the case! It is believed that a Swiss pastry chef called Gasparini, invented the dessert in Meiringen.
Horsemen from Sbrinz Route
Anyway, while we stood on the sidewalks discussing the history of Meringue, we were suddenly greeted by a long procession of men and women in traditional attires with mules! We were taken by surprise and thrilled at this unexpected treat! After looking up on the internet later we realized that the Sbrinz Route is in fact a historical 150 km long route that runs from the town of Lucerne, along the old mule tracks and through breathtaking landscapes, all the way to Domodossola – these were used once upon a time by the Walser people, as a trading route. Today, the Sbrinz Route is commemorated every August and highlights the identity, association with nature and just celebrating your peculiarities. We therefore witnessed the Mule hiking week which was from 23 - 30 August 2020 travelling from Giswil- Meiringen- Guttannen- Obergesteln- Riale- Premia and finally to Domodossola. The final stop along this route celebrates the friendship between the Alpine people of Italy and Switzerland; with culinary specialities and enchanting mountain music. If you want to get more information, please visit www.sbrinz-route.ch
Maienfeld to Malan – walking though vineyards
Day 5 was our tribute to Swiss wine, and we walked from Maienfeld to Malan via the village of Jenins through vineyards
Village of Jenins
Maienfeld is located in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, known both for its wine and because it was the setting of the story Heidi written by Johanna Spyri to write her novel Heidi. The Heidi Village in Maienfeld is a nice option for lovers of this classic, and the Heidi Trail leads visitors through the idyllic landscape to the Heidi House (where a small living museum has been opened) and the Heidi Alp and takes approximately half a day.
In one of the many vineyards of Maienfeld
We did not have time to cover both so chose to explore the vinyards instead, as Switzerland is usually not known as a wine producing country and in fact, it almost seems like wine making is a sort of secret. Although they make around 100 million litres of wine every year, they also manage to consume it all barring the meagre 1% that is exported to Germany!
The soil in this region is permeable, the location above the Rhine plains gets good amount of sun and frequent warm winds which provide excellent conditions for grapes to thrive and ripen. Wine making has done here for centuries and Blauburgunder wine is internationally acclaimed.
On the walking trail through the vineyards from Maienfeld to Malan
The 450 odd vineyard patches belong to around 120 cultivators. The winemakers among them bottle their wine on their own property. There are weekend wine tasting sessions between April and November, in their cellars or Torkels and local specialities are served with the wine. We walked through the vineyards all morning and afternoon and even managed to get lost as we missed a diversion – but the views made up for the detour!
The old town of Zug and Lake Zug at sunset
In the evening, we walked through the Zug old town area – consisting of beautifully renovated buildings, the lake Zug which is also full of life and surrounded by buzzing restaurants. We witnessed the sunset from the top of a small hill next to the Zug old town. Seeing the sunset was a treat as you see lovely hues in the sky as well the lake …. And as the sun went down we settled down for some hearty dinner at a restaurant in the company of good friends! The portions were huge but so was our appetite after the day long walking!!
Engelberg, Mount Titlis, Lake Trübsee, Hiking from Trübsee to Unter Trüebsee, Scooter biking from Unter Trüebsee to Engelberg
The cathedral of Engelberg monastery
On our last full day at Switzerland, we took the train to Engelberg, a beautiful alpine village. At the centre of Engelberg is Kloster Engelberg, the 900-year old Benedictine monastery. The Baroque style architecture is quite beautiful.
Cheese making at Engelberg show cheese
Within the grounds of the abbey is the Engelberg show cheese – the only cheese making factory of Switzerland which is located inside a monastery and showcase the century old traditional art of artisan cheesemaking. The Engelberg show cheese is the starting point of the Engelberg Alpine cheese trail which takes you to beautiful hiking routes to all the alpine cheese dairies within the valley. There are around 700 different cheese varieties in Switzerland. Even today, every piece of cheese comes from a local village cheese dairy.
After buying some cheese and ice-cream from the café we targeted Titlis and got return tickets to Mount Titlis and back. With the cable cars taking us high above the mountains, looking down we were able to witness the beautiful Lake Trübsee – the view from the cable car really put into perspective the height at which this stunning lake sits!
View of Lake Trübsee from Titlis Rotair gondola
Then embarking on the revolving Titlis Rotair gondola (the first fully rotating gondola in the world) our journey end at the summit. We had decided to come all the way up as it was mid-day and the sky was clear. The visibility was excellent and it was amazing to see and appreciate the scale of the mountains and to be reminded how inconspicuous we all are!!
At the top – you get panoramic views and snow. There is also the 100-metre-long and only 1 metre wide bridge on Mount Titlis- the ‘Titlis Cliffwalk’. At almost 3000 meters high, this is the highest suspension bridge in Europe, and though it looks intimidating, as it sways gently with the moving mountain winds but was felt quite safe and even fun!
As you go across the bridge you can also choose to hop on the cliff chairs or just walk through the glacier cave with 150 metres of walkways.
View of surrounding mountains from top of Mount Titlis
You can spend some time taking in all the views from the top – we were really lucky with the weather as the sun shone brightly on the sparkling ice and lush meadows downhill.
Relaxing afternoon by the shore of lake Trübsee
As we got down, we got off at lake Trübsee at an elevation of over 1,700 meters. It is a perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon and is extremely child friendly with lots of play areas, hammocks and even barbeque areas for a family day out! We sat down to enjoy our sandwich and some cheese with grapes by the lake and then decided to walk down the rest of route instead of taking the cable car.
On the hiking trail from Trüebsee to Unter Trüebsee
The journey was a red route which we didn’t realize at the start and the decent was quite steep and rocky at some places. However, the cool breeze, the grazing cows and their ringing bells and a little bit of rest kept us going.
Scooter biking from Unter Trüebsee to Engelberg
As we descended to the end of the trail at Unter Trüebsee after a long 3 hour hike, we realised that going to Engelberg station was yet another hour - by this time we were calling it Swiss hour and adding 1.5 times the time for us non Swiss amateur hikers! The other option was to rent a scooter bike, which we did. The journey down was both exciting, liberating but sometimes a bit scary on the steep downhill slopes with cars and trucks coming from the other end! Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed our ride and laughed at the terrible miscalculation of the journey time and route! With aching legs we boarded the train and made our journey back to Zug.
Time to head back home
After a hearty Swiss breakfast, we packed our bags and bid goodbye to Zug as we headed back to Zurich to catch the return flight back to London in the afternoon.