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More of Just Back -
In the Swiss Alps,

the Hills Really Are Alive


By George Nevin

Founder-owner, Intimate France


Our June 2016 tour of the French and Swiss Alps encountered some showers. OK, a lot of showers. You might even call them frequent. Oh, go ahead, call it rain.


The Alps, where they are not rocky and snow-covered, are green — for a good reason. They get their share of spring rain ... and summer rain, fall rain, winter snow.


Thus it was that when in early June I looked out the window of my room at the Hotel Berghof in the village of Wilderswil, just south of Interlaken (in the Berner Oberland, which we call the Bernese Alps) and saw sun shining off the snowbanks of the Jungfrau massif, I knew it was our day to visit the high mountains.




The view from my window at Hotel Berghof, Wilderswil, near Interlaken, Switzerland.




Cows, sheep and goats, each with her or his own bell, graze beneath my window.


So just before 10 a.m., our group of nine was waiting at the small train station in Wilderswil for the train that would take us in 15 minutes to the larger town of Lauterbrunnen, the first part of our day's journey. It was a day that would involve transportation by rail, cable car, rail again, foot, cable car again, bus and train.


Our destination — the car-free village of Wengen, reachable only by train, cable car and foot. And skydiving, I suppose, or hang gliding, or helicopter.



Wengen is traffic-free and remarkably sited in view of the Jungfrau massif.


In years past I had visited Mürren, another traffic-free mountain village nearby, and found that I liked Wengen better. (The people of Wenger call Mürren "Moron," to give you an idea of the rivalry between these two mountain resorts.)


In Wengen, our little group strolled the car-free streets, admiring the steeply roofed mountain houses, the fountains, the cows grazing right in the village and the views of the Jungfrau massif at every turn. There were Kay and Sam, Dave and Jan, Judy and Mike, Alice and Bob.


Along the way I related the legend of the Jungfrau.


"You see those three peaks side by side by side?" I asked. "They are all major mountains — around 4,100 meters (13,450 feet) in elevation.


"The one on the left is the Eiger, the ogre. The one on the right, the Jungfrau, is the highest of the three peaks at 13,642 feet. The Jungfrau is the young woman.


"The one in the middle is the Monch, the monk. So as you seen, the monk is protecting the young woman from the ogre."


They ate it up.



The peaks of the Jungfrau massif, as seen from traffic-free Wengen.


After a break for a quick lunch, I proposed that we stroll downhill around 45 minutes to the even smaller village of Gimmelwald, also car-free.


It was a delight — we were the only ones on the path, if you don't count belled cows. We passed ravines coursing with icy water, chalets surrounded by hayfields, clumps of white flowers that someone identified as eidelweiss.  


Along the way we stopped for a group photo. Just before the shutter clicked, I told them what I always say to my groups — "Pretend you're having a good time."


They did. Enthusiastically.



Our group (minus Dave, who had forged ahead) on the path from Wengen to Gimmelwald.



Gimmelwald, once we reached it, was no les delightful than was Wengen.


Entering Gimmelwald.



Typical hut, Gimmelwald.


Cowbell collection, Gimmelwald.


Purchases at this store in Gimmelwald are on the honor system — no clerk is present.



After poking around the very, very quiet village, we finally ran into some residents.


Some of the few Gimmelwald residents we encountered.



Soon it was time to take the cable car back to the valley floor at Stechelberg, and shortly thereafter we found ourselves back at the station in Lauterbrunnen.



The steep-sided, glacially carved valley of Lauterbrunnen reminded us of Yosemite.


A tired but happy group rode in silence back to Wilderswil.


We didn't have much to say on our way back to Wilderswil — were we too tired?


That evening, the group opted to stay at the hotel and snack rather than having a real meal. I was fine with that — I walked down to another nearby hotel, the Bâren, and enjoyed a local specialty, boiled beef and vegetables.



A Berener Oberland specialty — boiled beef and vegetables.



It was a fitting, and delicious, end to a wonderful day.