High life: summer fun in the Swiss Alps
by Margaret Doherty
The Lauterbrunnen valley in the heart of the Alpine region is a classic Swiss landscape. Waterfalls cascade from the high pine-topped slopes, cow bells tinkle as their well-fed owners leisurely munch the lush meadow grass and snow-capped mountain peaks glisten in the sunshine. I half-expect Heidi to emerge from one of the little barns that dot the steep hills above the wooden chalets with their colourful flower-filled window boxes and the orderly lines of tasty fruit and vegetables in their gardens.
Not surprisingly, with the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau among its famous peaks there are some challenging hikes in the area but there are also many child-friendly alternatives that still take in the impressive scenery. The various types of transport available to take you there are enough to cause excitement in kids of all ages. Sophisticated double-decker trains speed you from Zurich. Small rack-railways that have been pulling visitors up incredible gradients for over 100 years take you past, and even through, the mountains. Cable cars glide smoothly up steep hillsides and small four-person gondolas make steady progress through distant valleys. A mite confusing at first, but a good map and a chat at the local tourist office will make things seems much clearer. Villages and stations boast story-book names such as Grindelwald, Winteregg and, my personal favourite, Rotenegg.
The car-free village of Murren offers you the chance of a leisurely walk back along the train track to pick the train up at Winteregg to make your way back to Lauterbrunnen, or a further funicular ride takes you up to Allmendhubel with its fantastic views of the Jungfrau and a restaurant, playground and Children’s Adventure Trail where the whole family can try out a host of different games and gadgets.
For braver souls there is summer tobogganing at Pfingstegg, a panoramic terrace reached by cable car from Grindelwald. Smaller children can share a toboggan with their parents while older ones can brave the 736m run on their own. Grindelwald itself offers a programme of family and kids activities over the summer months, Grindelwald 4 Kids
, including woodland trails, biking and climbing courses for 4–16-year-olds.
The latest adrenaline adventure in the mountains is the First Flyer, which travels between First and Schreckfeld. Four people can simultaneously but independently fly seated around 800m down an aerial runway. But there are lots of family friendly hikes and bike routes if that’s your preferred mode of transport. And if you get a rainy day, Murren has a large sports complex and Lauterbrunnen has a small swimming pool.
For something a little different visit the medieval castle at Thun, on the shores of Lake Thun (or as it’s also known, the Thunersee). Built in the twelfth century, highlights of this white, turreted fairytale castle, which also houses the town’s museum, include the huge Knights’ Hall, with its ceiling of 26 original pine beams stained red with ox blood and now blackened with soot. Climb up to the roof to see the tiny turret prison cells, apparently in use until 1920. Some still have manacles chained to the walls. There are also great views over the town and lake below. For more information go to www.schlossthun.ch
One of the big tourist attractions is the trip to the Jungfraujoch, Top of Europe, with the highest train station in Europe. To reach the top the train actually goes through the Eiger. It makes two five-minute stops inside the mountain, at Eigerwand and Eismeer, where you get a real sense of the immensity of the ice-covered mountain on the way to the top. Sadly, on my visit, the views that can on a clear day can extend to the Vosges in France and Germany’s Black Forest were obscured by cloud and sleet. But it proved yet another fine example of the achievements of Swiss engineering in making such a majestic landscape accessible. (Keep an eye on the weather forecast. You can find out what it’ll be like at the campsite notice boards or at the local tourist office. And remember, air temperature drops by around 0.6% with every 100m increase in altitude so bear that in mind when heading for the heights.)
Margaret Doherty flew to Zurich with SWISS airlines. SWISS operates daily flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to either Zurich, Geneva or Basel. Fares start from £69 return including all airport taxes. Visit www.swiss.com or call 0845 601 0956. Train connection from Zurich to Lauterbrunnen took under three hours with two changes.
- To find out what the region has to offer www.MySwitzerland.com and www.myjungfrau.ch are good starting points.
- When walking always wear suitable footwear and clothing, take plenty of water and snacks and keep to the marked paths.
- Save on buying bottled water. Most villages have numerous water fountains where you can replenish water bottles for free.
- Interlaken, the town between lakes Thun and Brienz, has two train stations: Interlaken West and Interlaken Ost (east). They are about 15-20 minutes walk apart at either end of town.
- Boat trips serve Lake Thun near Interlaken West and Lake Brienz from Interlaken Ost (see boat signs at the stations).
- Camping Jungfrau has a shop on site for all your basics and Lauterbrunnen has a small Coop supermarket. There’s a much larger Coop opposite Interlaken Ost train station. Shops are largely closed on Sundays and often closed for lunch.
The network of trains, cable-cars, buses and private mountain railways can seem confusing but the Swiss Travel System offers a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad to help reduce costs and match your specific travel needs. Ask about the Family Card which is issued free of charge for use in conjunction with selected Swiss Passes and entitles children aged 6-15 inclusive to travel free on the Swiss Travel System network when accompanied by at least one parent. For details go to www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk or call free on 00800 100 200 30.
A seven-night break at Camping Jungfrau in Lauterbrunnen with Eurocamp staying in a two-bedroom ‘superior’ mobile home (sleeps seven maximum) arriving May 2010 costs £459 for the whole family. Go to www.eurocamp.co.uk or call 0844 406 0552