Picturesque snowcapped mountains, gorgeous turquoise lakes, and beautiful green landscapes welcomed us to Switzerland. Our train from Milan brought us to Spiez where we hoped to spend a little time sightseeing around Lake Thun, before catching a local train to Interlaken about 20 minutes away. We started off hiking around the lake itself until the clouds turned to light rain and then eventually a heavy rain. After already spending about 30 CHF (exchange rate similar to USD) in our round trip to Lake Thun and back (for our failed hiking/sightseeing attempt), we had to buy another train ticket from Spiez to Interlaken for an additional 15 CHF. We learned quickly that the train and bus tickets were very expensive even for very short trips and would be the budget buster during our time here.
We arrived to the Interlaken-Ost train station, one of two stations for this city and made the 15 minute walk to our hostel, Funny Farm. We had our heads down most of the way through the rain and slipped into the hostel to check-in dripping wet. Prior to arrival, I had only grazed the surface regarding what to do here, but I knew it was famous for its hiking and made sure we added it to our trip itinerary. We spent the rest of the evening settling in to our first hostel experience ever and began to research our plans for the next 3 days.
We couldn’t exactly narrow everything down on our first night, but ended up hiking, biking, and kayaking around this gorgeous town.
Day 1: Biking Brienzersee (Lake Brienz)
We woke up to lots of cloud and a little rain. We found our budget breakfast at the local supermarket Coop and set off to find bikes as the rain looked to be clearing up. We rented a couple bikes from Outdoor Interlaken (25 CHF each) and were encouraged to take the trail around Lake Brienz. (We highly recommend this company as they were very helpful with our planning, both the biking and hiking. They also do a number of other adventurous activities that our hostel mates thoroughly enjoyed.) We rode off from the office toward the lakeside roadway. We had to ride on the roads for the first 20-30 minutes before we entered the private roads that had nearly zero cars. In the beginning we stopped constantly for what we thought would be the perfect picture, but the views were just as incredible all the way around the lake.
Also, along the way we were able to see Giessbachfalle, a beautiful waterfall pouring over the trail and extra full with the recent rains.
By circling the lake we passed through a handful of small, traditional Swedish towns with their well-known Swiss chalets. We really got a feel for the entire area. Our little bike tour ended up being about 40km, which was little more than expected…I guess I missed our friend at Outdoor Interlaken mentioning it before we took off.
We got back to the hostel mid-afternoon to rest after the long ride when our hostel mate from Norway said he was headed to Harder Klum. He invited us to join him, so we shook off the soreness from our ride and headed back out with him. Harder Klum is a peak overlooking Interlaken from the north side of town. There are 2 ways to the top…hiking it (few hours) or taking a steeply inclined train to the top (about 20min), we chose the second option of course (20 CHF per person round-trip at a discount using the visitors card from our hostel).
From the top we could see many snowcapped mountains in all directions, but most of the peaks were covered by clouds. We would hope to reach this peak on a sunny day, but it had quite impressive views nonetheless.
Day 2: Hiking Schynige Platte-First.
I gathered as much information as I could on my own and then with the assistance of a few locals and more specifically a member at Outdoor Interlaken, we decided to make the hike from Schynige Platte to First. This trail was expected to take between 6-7 hours and was one of the more difficult trails in the area. We excitedly got up early to beat as many people as we could to the start of the trail. We caught a bus to Wengen and boarded the Schynige Platte Railway, a nostalgic train with wooden benches that slowly winds its way to the top. Once at the top, we couldn’t help but stop at the Schynige Platte Hotel restaurant for a cappuccino gazing out in all directions before getting started.
After our last sips, we began our hike at the trail head at the train station. It winded around and up the first mountain until we were creeping along the ridge line. In one direction we could see Interlaken spread between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and in the other direction the many peaks within the Jungfrau region. We were continually taken aback by the incredible views and did our best to stay on a meaningful pace. Each turn through the paths and each ridge we crossed offered another unbelievable view of the area.
It was not long until we were high above any surrounding trees. We even encountered a bit of snow that dusted the mountaintop overnight and knew we had chosen the right trail. We later came across a number of cows grazing near one of the highest points of our trip. After snapping a handful of pictures of these huge animals we took a smaller trail that went straight to the top of Faulhorn. This was my favorite part, a real feeling of accomplishment, to summit one of the high peaks at 2,681m (8,796ft). The view wasn’t the best at the time as a giant cloud came over just as we arrived, but this didn’t take away from our feelings of success.
We continued on toward First which was mostly downhill from there. The trail creeped down and along past a few small lakes and streams before we were peering out toward the highest peaks of the Swiss Alps in the Jungfrau region as well as Jungfrau itself the “top of Europe.”
Finally we arrived a First, where a few ski lifts resting for the summer lead us to the Gondola that later took us down to the town of Grindelwald. While in First we walked the frightening cliff walk and out to the platform viewing point…a little nerve racking for those of us with a fear of heights. Splurging for a glass of wine and hot chocolate we took in the views of the area from the lodge knowing we had a bit of a commute to get to Lake Lodge, our hostel in Iseltwald. Side note: we decided to book two different hostels in our 4 night stay in Interlaken (both found on Hostelworld.com). For the first two nights we stayed at Funny Farm in downtown Interlaken, and it was more of a cross between a hotel and a hostel. For our last two nights we wanted a change of scenery so we moved to a hostel further out of town on Lake Brienz called Lake Lodge in the town of Iseltwald.
Day 3: Kayaking Brienzersee, Lake Brienz
We had sort of blown our budget most of which was on transportation to each of the activities above. Each train and bus would cost at least 10-15 CHF each and the steep trains to the top of Harder Klum and Schynige Platte 20-40 CHF each. If it wasn’t for the hostel providing a visitors card that allowed free rides on in-town buses, I think we wouldn’t be able to afford to eat. With this in mind, we decided to take it easy and relax at our hostel in the town of Iseltwald.
We had previously ridden past the hostel on our bike ride and found it to be a very quaint, Swiss village on the edge of the lake. However relaxing is not our strong point and by lunch we were itching to do something. The hostel itself rented Kayaks for 15 CHF per person, so off we went. We decided to paddle a few kilometers to the Giessbachfalle to see it again, but this time from the lake. The cool waters splashed as we paddled and the sun’s rays kept us warm for a lovely ride to through the lake.
Leading up to this destination, Whitney was terrified at the thought of spending few nights in a hostel, but it turned out to be a great time. Our first hostel ever was Funny Farm which had much less interaction with other guests allowing us to ease into the hostel experience slowly. This was followed by the much more interactive and fun atmosphere of Lake Lodge. We spent our final night in Switzerland laughing and joking with our new friends. We met so many fellow travelers at both hostels and particularly enjoyed the last evening here at Lake Lodge as everyone crowded into the kitchen, gathered each of our meals and finally sat down at a huge table for an engaging family meal. If it wasn’t for our upcoming 7am train we likely would have been up well into the night.
Overall, we absolutely loved Interlaken and would encourage everyone to make a trip. There is so much to do and explore while enjoying the outdoors with hiking and biking trails everywhere. The number one thing to do would be hiking, but there is a wealth of other activities from skydiving, to boating, bungee jumping, and whitewater rafting. However, please be aware of the costs of getting around as we were shocked at the end to have spent a whopping total of 250 CHF for the two of us in 3 days on trains and buses from our starting point in Spiez, to our hiking and sightseeing in Interlaken, to finally adding in the 40 CHF early morning taxi to our train to Munich (The buses were not running early enough so we had no other option). If it wasn’t for our relatively inexpensive hostels and the local supermarket to-go meals, we would not have been able to afford any of this. However, as you can see the beauty was priceless and we would certainly make the same sacrifices to do this again.
Thank you Switzerland for sharing your beautiful landscapes with us and we will see you again someday soon.