One agent from every retail office across Canada recently accompanied Trek Holidays' President Allan Ronneseth on the Explore Worldwide trip "Hiking in the Bernese Oberland". It turned out to be a great trip with a brilliant mix of activities for all fitness levels, beautiful scenery, good shopping and plenty of optional excursions and time to relax.
We joined the group in the quaint village of Kandersteg. Nestled below the lower peaks of the Bernese Oberland, this is pretty much one-street-town lined with chalets, hotels and restaurants and little traffic. We used Kandersteg as a base to hike to Oeschinensee, a pretty alpine lake at an altitude of 1580 meters, about a 500 meters climb from the village. This was a warm up day to give us a taste of what the degree of hiking was.
As it turned out no one had any real issues with this and some of us decided to extend the hike with a circuit on top of the cliffs overlooking the lake, while some relaxed in the sun enjoying a well-deserved beer. Day three of the trip saw us hike from Kandersteg to Kiental, another quaint village (as a matter of fact all villages in the Bernese Oberland seem to be extremely quaint!) In the next valley. The hike took us through forests and alpine meadows which, in summer, are covered in carpets of flowers. Towards mid-afternoon we topped out on a ridge separating the Kandersteg and Kiental valleys and enjoyed some wonderful vistas. We followed a trail down to the cable car station and descended about 1000 meters into Kiental. Cable cars, fun railways and rack-and-pinion railways abound in the area, allowing you to hike at altitude and enjoy some real mountain scenery without putting too much effort in. At the same time, if you do not want to take the trains or cable cars, you can follow one of the many hiking trails up the mountain and make your day as strenuous as you want.
We stayed in Kiental for one night at a local hotel, quite typical for the type of hotels Explore uses in Switzerland. Some rooms had private facilities, while others shared, but always the rooms and bathroom were clean and comfortable and the service very friendly.
Our tour leader knew the area well and in the next days adjusted the itinerary such that we saw the best of the area. The first major change saw us take trains and a cable car from Kiental to First, a station at 2168 meters above sea level. The views into the valley as one ascends are fantastic, but on this day clouds obscured them on the last portion of the ride. The weather did not stop us from hiking to a mountain hut at the top of Faulhorn, another 500 meters higher. Enveloped in fog and with temperatures near zero, we enjoyed the warm surroundings and hot food here.
The afternoon was optional and some of us hiked down in to the valley to shop, while some of us continued their hike along the mountain range that separates the Grindelwald and Brienz Valleys. In good weather the views over the lakes around Interlaken would have been stunning, but even in the fog the atmosphere was exhilarating, with rocky outcrops and steep drops looming in the ever changing clouds.
Another day we took a rack-and-pinion railway to the ridge above Lauterbrunnen and hiked the beautiful high route to Muerren. Hiking on the west side of the valley we enjoyed spectacular views of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, some of the highest mountains in central-Switzerland. Our picnic lunch, which Explore provided and like on other days had a great variety and amount of food, was had on a spur opposite these beautiful peaks and overlooking the deep valley below.
One optional excursion no one should miss is the train ride to Jungfraujoch, at 3573 meters Europe's highest station. Perched on the snowy ridge between Monch and Jungfrau, the station offers spectacular views all the way into France and Germany to the north and over the Aletsch glacier stretching away to the south. One can partake in some winter activities that makes any self-respecting Canadian giggle, but one good walk would take you onto the glacier or a nearby viewpoint.
Some of us could not get enough of hiking and decided to throw in one last great hike, along the foot of the famous Eiger North Face. Considered unclimbable for many years, Eiger and its adjoining peaks loom high above you and this hike really lets you appreciate the sheer scale of these mountains.
The Bernese Oberland truly is an area with lots to do and see for people of all physical abilities. Take the Walking the Bernese Oberland trip if you want a mix of scheduled and optional hikes, or Explore's Alpine Trails if you want to visit this and other great alpine regions (like Mont Blanc and Matterhorn) on a strenuous trek.