Finally, the part of the trip that every single one of us had been looking forward to…… it was off to the Swiss Alps. Anto, Astrid and I had been busting to go back since our last visit in 2012 (in Autumn), and the others were keen for snow, sledding and marvelous mountains.
It was a very early start to the day as we had an 8am train out of Zürich. The alarm was set for 6.20am and and of course both kids were sound asleep and had to be woken. After quickly getting the kids dressed and down to breaky, Anto finished the last-minute bag packing. The kids weren’t that keen on breaky so early and didn’t eat much. The rest of us tried to eat enough to last the morning, even if Alan decided that a donut with caramel filling would be a good option before 7am.
We were checked out of the hotel by 7.30am and walking down to Hardbrucke station with all our luggage. It was gently snowing and there had been a light covering of snow overnight. We caught the train down 1 stop to central and found our track fairly quickly, since it was printed on our tickets we booked a month ago while in Sweden. The Swiss take their train timetables very seriously. When we were in Prague they couldn’t even tell us the track number until 5 minutes before our train to Vienna was due to depart!
As we arrived on the platform it was packed with people in full ski gear with skis and snowboards. We still can’t get used to people sitting on trains and buses in full gear. Luckily they mostly got on the train before us which was heading up to the ski slopes near Zürich.
Our train had come in from another city and was quite busy. I normally jump on with the kids and try to get us a block of seats (when we don’t have reserved seats). I managed to find 2 groups of 4 with only 1 lady sitting in one of the seats. When she saw me plonk down with 2 kids and a heap of bags she quickly packed up and moved. The trip was an hour into Bern and was snowy the whole way, piles and piles of snow and big snow storms coming in at the train. A dog on the train in our carriage kept Soren happy and amused.
After 50 minutes and lots of snowy villages, we had to coat up and get all the bags and jump off. We had 6 minutes for the change and we were only going to the other side of the platform. Lots of people were doing the same change as us and it was all fairly relaxed.
The trip out of Bern was very scenic. The city was full of snow and looking rather pretty. I was looking forward to exploring it more on our day there after our few days up in the Alps.
The train from Bern to Interlaken Ost was also busy, and we couldn’t get seats for all 6 of us together. The carriage was full of small tired children who were behaving much worse than ours. In fact making our kids seem quite angelic! The trip through to Interlaken is extremely scenic. There was plenty of snow and little villages. The train runs around the edge of Lake Brienz, which was looking lovely with all the snowy mountains behind it. On our last visit to Interlaken the snow line was not yet down to the lake, so it looked totally different.
We were late arriving into Interlaken Ost (very un-Swiss, the trains are normally timed down to the second). Half of the train was transferring to the connecting train to Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald, but we all had to change platforms which meant a walk through tunnels with luggage. There were several conductors hurrying everyone along, obviously stressed at the trains lateness.
The train was full of people in ski gear heading up the mountains. Interlaken Ost is the central change station for all the trains throughout the Bernese Alps. After a quick 15 minutes we were off the train at Lauterbrunnen and straight across to the post bus which was waiting in front of the cable car station. We couldn’t find how to buy tickets for the bus so ended up not getting any, we later found out they were free, despite internet not telling us so. It might have been due to the Lauberhorn ski event running during our stay, but either way free buses during the stay was a bonus. The bus conveniently dropped us off in front of our apartment building. No walking through snow with our bags!
The apartment in the Swiss Alps was the first bit of accommodation we booked for the trip. On our last trip we stayed in Interlaken, which was convenient, but not the alpine experience we had imagined. This time we were determined to stay in a village further up in the alps. We looked at several and decided on Lauterbrunnen, partly because we found the amazing Airbnb apartment we ultimately booked, and partly because it seemed like a lovely village last time we passed through. The apartment was as good as it had looked, 3 bedrooms, and huge kitchen, bathroom and living area.
The best bit though, was the chalet was entirely surrounded by snow, with gorgeous views of the beautiful cliffs of the Lauterbrunnen valley. These were the wonderful views we had from our apartment for the next three days. We were all a bit sad we weren’t going to get to stay longer!
We decided that given we were in the apartment before lunch time it would be wise for the over-tired children to have a nap before our afternoon hike. I got the kids off to sleep (after a lot of resistance) while Anto and Mikl walked into Lauterbrunnen village to pick up groceries and hire a sled. Yes, hiring a sled was definitely a priority!
Once the boys were back with both supplies and a sled, we had lunch, and then got the kids up and fed them. Then suited up for our planned afternoon hike from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg. Lauterbrunnen lies at the bottom of a U-shaped valley . The Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the deepest valleys in the Swiss Alps when compared with the height of the mountains that rise directly on either side. The valley is rarely more than one kilometre in width, and set between limestones precipices, sometimes quite perpendicular. The streams descending from the adjoining mountains, on reaching the verge of the rocky walls of the valley, form cascades so high that they are almost lost in spray before they reach the level of the valley. The most famous of these are the Stubbach falls, less than one kilometre from the village of Lauterbrunnen. The height of the cascade is almost 900m, one of the highest in Europe formed of a single unbroken fall.
Our planned walk was from our accommodation straight down through the valley and past all the falls, to the village of Stechelberg. The post bus runs along this route (albeit on the road rather than the hiking trail), so it was a good choice for our first snow hike, as it was both fairly flat and we could jump on the bus when needed. We started out with Soren in the ergo and Astrid walking. To get across the stream that ran past our accommodation and separated from the walking trail, we had to walk back down the road towards the village and past the very pretty church and cemetery and down onto the compacted snow trail. We were pleased to get onto the trail as the road was rather slippery with ice.
The even better bit about getting off the icy road was it was time for Astrid to jump on the sled and get pulled along. It was definitely a great mode of kid transport! Despite it being below zero degrees, there was no wind and it was only snowing lightly on us. It was pretty much perfect alpine walking weather. As we headed into the valley we admired the snow-covered trees and the frozen waterfalls. There are over 70 waterfalls in the valley and they were frozen in various positions down the cliff faces. We often saw pieces of ice falling down in mini-avalanches. We were also impressed at just how many people were staying at the local caravan park, it was packed (well in excess of 50 vans), despite it being freezing and snowy. A pretty nice place to camp!
As we walked through the valley, the spectacular sheer mountain cliffs on both sides of the valley and frozen trees were picture perfect. It was alternating between sunshine and cloud with light snow, but in our ski gear we weren’t at all cold and didn’t really even need hats or gloves.
We did walk past many farms. Most of the animals were barned for the Winter, and we could tell when we walked past a barn by the strong cow manure smell! We did find some horses outside enjoying the snow though…….
Some of the farms we passed were selling produce. We spied a ‘self-service cheese’ place at one farm, where we selected our cheese out of the fridge (which was warmer than the outside temperature). We got a lovely handmade ‘alp cheese’ which turned out to be delicious. They all worked on an honesty system, so we deposited our money and were on our way……. now with cheese!
Astrid got pulled on sled for most of walk which she loved, she just got to sit back and relax and take in the scenery. Anto and Mikl took turns pulling her along and Soren was catching a lift in the ergo. Everyone was enjoying our walk along in the crunchy snow!
After awhile Mikl decided he wanted a go on the sled too. Astrid found it a little tough to pull him though! Anto got the privilege of pulling both Mikl and Astrid along for a while. The walking got side-tracked for a little bit as we took turns going on the sled down a small hill into big piles of soft snow.
Just when we thought the walk couldn’t get any more scenic we had to cross a partially frozen stream not far from the Stechelberg cable car station. We could even watch the cable cars zooming up the mountain high above us.
Three quarters of the way through our walk we swapped to let Soren have a go on the sled. Astrid was not happy about losing her sled (we should have hired two). So we then tried both kids on the sled at once. It was a bit of a challenge getting them to cooperate and not fight, but they managed it for a while. Both wanted to have a go at pulling Anto, which unsurprisingly didn’t work all that well! We eventually returned Astrid to the sled and Soren was refusing to go back in the ergo and was very unhappy about losing his ride.
We eventually reached the post bus stop in Stechelberg where we only had a short wait until the bus arrived. The hike from Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg is around 7km and expected to take 1 hour 45 minutes and rated as easy (it’s pretty flat). The timing was pretty accurate for us as we were walking on snow and stopping often for photos and to take turns sledding. Once the bus arrived we did confirm that the buses were indeed free (another saving in Switzerland!).
After a short sit-down it was time to head into town and investigate dinner. We caught the post bus back into the village and picked up a few more supplies (mostly beer) from the supermarket as we had remembered it was closed the next day (Sunday). It was now snowing in big chunks on us and rather cold and we had all gone out without gloves since we were catching the bus. We’d forgotten about having to walk through the village to find something for dinner!
The village of Lauterbrunnen has a population of a bit under 2,500. Many of those are outside of the main town centre. While it’s a touristy area, it’s less so than some of the villages on the other side of the Bernese Alps, like Grindelwald.
We had a little wander through the town and walked past a base jumping cafe that we had read good reviews of, and was both open and warm looking, so decided to go in. The cafe was dedicated to extreme sports and had interesting pictures to look at and had alpine sports showing on the TV, so it kept the kids entertained.
They guy who ran the cafe was really lovely and very helpful. We of course started with beer for the boys and wine for me. Mikl decided on the beef burger with Swiss cheese and chips. Alan had a Thai green chicken curry, that the owner was worried might be too spicy, but of course wasn’t for Alan. Anto and I couldn’t decide on what we wanted to eat so shared a vegie burger with sweet potato and egg and cheese fondue. As nice as the burger was, the fondue was amazing. The kids thought so too, and scoffed half of it. We had ordered them ‘nachos’ but it turned out to be corn chips with homemade dips. They had an issue with their oven, so gave us the kids meals for free.
All full of yummy dinner, we walked back down to the train station to catch the post bus back to the apartment. It was only a short distance, but it was definitely too cold, snowy, and dark to be walking back. I’d also gone out only in leggings, so was not keen on walking. The bus runs hourly, so we’d timed our departure from the cafe to make the appropriate bus. Unfortunately the bus was so full of people coming back from the Lauberhorn ski race that we couldn’t even get in the door. We eventually squished in, and even more people tried to get in behind us. The bus must have had 80 people on it going down the winding snowy roads. A fair proportion of them were rather drunk! Luckily we got off after a few stops and were back to the warm apartment in no time.
After the kids were off to bed for the night we checked out the how beautiful the valley looked at night. From our balcony you could see the snowy cliffs almost glowing. As the odd car went past, the headlights lit up all the snowy chalets. It definitely wasn’t going to be a hard few days staying here!
Statistics for Saturday the 16th of January, 2016 – The morning in Zürich, Switzerland started out at minus 2 degrees. Once we arrived in Lauterbrunnen, the temperature ranged from minus 2 to zero degrees with pretty much constant snow fall. A pretty mild day for the Alps as we were about to find out the next day! The total walking for the day was a touch under 14km, most of it on snow, so it certainly felt like more. Astrid had a pretty easy day as she got pulled on the sled for a fair proportion of it…….