Switzerland Part 2: The Alps

“The hills are alive with the sound of music!” That’s what everyone sings when they enter the Bernese Alps region of Switzerland, right? Oh, just me?

This week’s blog post is all about the Swiss Alps! Think clear skies, the jingling of cow bells, staggering mountain peaks, magnificent waterfalls, and the fresh smell of pine. I had the opportunity to visit the Alps when I was in middle school. My family took a trip to Europe and I’m so grateful we did. Ever since I knew that Zach had a love for mountains, hiking, and the outdoors, I could only hope that one day we could return to the Swiss Alps. There are multiple ranges of the Alps, some that span into countries other than Switzerland. Though I researched many places to stay in the Alps, I kept returning to the small little town my family stayed in all those years ago. Nothing could compare to it. It was easy to convince Zach after showing him the pictures; he was all in! We quickly added Murren, Switzerland to our European travel plans.

We finished out our three days in Basel and booked tickets to Murren. At the Basel Train Station, we grabbed snacks for the journey. Train stations have excellent food selections. From sandwiches to pastries, there’s always something easy and handheld to grab for your travels. Some trains have food cars, but it is more convenient to have your own snacks handy. We only made it to Bern, the capital of Switzerland, when trouble began. Our train came to a stop, an announcement was made overhead in German, and everyone but a few people got off the train. We looked around in complete confusion. What the heck was happening!? We found a very nice lady who spoke English to explain the situation to us. Apparently there was a problem with the train and its departure time from Bern was now undetermined. We had no idea what to do! We ended up getting off the train and finding a station worker to help us understand the timetables. Thankfully we figured everything out! We would be getting into Murren a bit later than anticipated but we would make it! The Swiss train system has an app that is well used in Switzerland called SBB Mobile. This convenient app can be incredibly helpful in times like this!

After transferring trains a couple times, we arrived in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. This valley is home to beautiful scenery everywhere you turn. On either side, mountains reach to the skies above and waterfalls thunder into the valley. Though the views from the valley floor are remarkable, you can’t truly appreciate the grandeur until you get into the mountains above the valley. We took a bus from the Lauterbrunnen station to Stechelberg, on the other side of the valley. These buses run frequently throughout the day and stop frequently the valley. Once at Stechelberg, we took a cable car up to Gimmelwald. From Gimmelwald we took yet another cable car to Murren, our final destination. This trip took about four hours, even with the slight train issue in Bern. The Swiss transportation system is normally extremely efficient and reliable. You can get anywhere with ease, even to the Alps.

By the time we arrived, it was too dark to appreciate the views. We were exhausted! ** Travel tip: always bring extra snacks. In many small towns, restaurants close early**. By the time we had arrived in Murren, there were no restaurants open. Luckily we had some leftover snacks to tide us over until the morning.

During our time in Murren, we stayed at the Hotel Alpina. This ski lodge style hotel doesn’t seem like much when you walk up to it. But if you happen to look around the far corner and off the patio, you won’t be disappointed. Hotel Alpina is built on the side of a cliff overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Above the town is the Schilthorn Mountain. You can barely see the cars as they drive along the valley floor. Looking up and over the valley, you see the three mountainous splendors that make this valley so popular: the Monch, Eiger, and Jungfrau. Hotel Alpina is truly located in a breathtaking spot. We decided to pay just a little more to have a mountain view room and we were not disappointed! Waking up in the morning, we opened our curtains and were immediately taken aback by the insane view! Walking out onto our balcony we were in awe. Zach looked like a little kid on Christmas, and that was all I could’ve asked. Hotel Alpina offers complimentary breakfast every morning. We had choices from an assortment of breads and pastries, jams, cereals, yogurt, granola, hard boiled eggs, cured meats, and cheeses. We were able to enjoy a delicious breakfast, hot coffee with frothed milk, and wonderful service before starting our days in the mountains.

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Day 1 in The Alps

For our first day in the Alps, we decided to tackle the big kahuna, The Jungfrau, the Top of Europe! This magnificent peak is seen directly outside of our patio, and from across the region. To get up to the Jungfrau however, we had to start our journey by going down into the valley. To get to Murren, we took the double cable car route up from Stechelberg. There is another way to get to and from Murren, located on the opposite side of the town. Walking out of Murren the other direction from the cable cars, you will come upon a small train station. **Travel tip: you can buy round trip tickets from any of these stations. Whether you are going down to the valley and back up again, going further, or taking multiple forms of transportation, buying round trip or one way tickets at these locations is very easy**. We bought round trip tickets for the Jungfraujoch. Down the stairs, we waited for the train. These trains run every 30 minutes, so don’t fret if you miss your intended train! The train leaves Murren and passes through Winteregg before letting passengers off at the cable car station that will continue to the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

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Once in the valley, we walked across the street to the train station and hopped on yet another train that would bring us up to the Jungfrau. The views as you climb through the different levels of elevation are breathtaking. As you climb higher, the views get better! We passed through the picturesque mountain town of Wengen and changed trains once at Kleine Scheidegg. Most people on this route are headed for the Jungfrau and instructions are announced in multiple languages for tourists. It’s really a very easy process. Towards the end of the journey, we entered the mountain. The rest of the way to the peak was in complete darkness!

After reaching the top, we exited the train and entered the Jungfrau building established there. We came for the views so we headed that direction first! The observation deck, also called the Sphynx, gives visitors a 360 degree view of the Alps. There are truly no words for the expansive beauty you experience at this lookout point. After taking in the vast panorama, we followed the signs to walk on the glacier that covers much of the Jungfrau peak, the Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps. Pack your sunglasses for this part! We emerged from a long tunnel into a sparkling white tundra. It is from this perspective that you can truly gauge the enormity of the Alps.

While exploring the Jungfraujoch, don’t forget to check out the Ice Palace! The entire structure is made of ice, from the floors to the ceilings, the walls, and the sculptures.

On our return from the valley, we took the cable car to the train station (as we did on the way down, but reverse). Instead of taking the Murren train back, we walked! There is a well kept path that follows the route of the train from the cable car station into Murren. The walk took us about 50 minutes. The terrain was relatively easy; any age would enjoy this shorter hike.

**I highly recommend packing snacks for your day at the Jungfrau. Large tour groups often occupy the restaurants and the food is expensive and bland. There are Coops in Murren and in the valley that you can easily access before traveling up the Jungfrau Mountain for the day.**

Murren Restaurants

During our time in Murren, we ate exclusively at our hotel restaurant. You couldn’t beat the views, the prices, or the delicious menu options. It was incredibly convenient for us as well. We never felt that we had to dress up, which was wonderful. Our first night, we enjoyed a typical Swiss dish called Rosti. Rosti is a combination of meat, often a sausage, and cheesy hash browns. How could you go wrong with that?! The second night we had a very popular, and very fun, Swiss specialty: fondue! We couldn’t leave Switzerland without dipping bread and veggies into some ooey gooey Gruyere cheese. I mean, c’mon! I think I could eat fondue while looking at the alps for the rest of my life. Sign me up!

Day 2 in The Alps

Day two in the Alps would be our hiking day! Both Zach and I love getting into the outdoors. Hiking is something that we have enjoyed doing together throughout the different stages of our relationship. There’s something to be said for leaving civilization behind and immersing yourself in nature. I find hiking to be so cleansing; taking a deep breath of mountain air is a sure way to ease any anxieties. Actually, research now shows that spending as little as two hours outside a week can be good for your health. I don’t disagree! Before you head out for your hike, make sure you have ample water and snacks. You can fill your water bottle at any fountain located in Murren, super convenient! Also, pack sunscreen. Don’t only pack it, wear it! 

We began our hike by heading out of Murren towards the train station at the end of town. We walked alongside the railroad tracks, following the trail we had walked along the previous day. Just as we were about to get to the Grutschalp train station we came to a fork in the road. Instead of continuing on to the train station, we took a sharp left and continued up on the Mountain View Trail. Word to the wise: always check snow levels before heading out for a hike in the alps, especially in the spring. Although we were there in late spring, there was still quite a bit of snow! We followed the trail through beautiful wooded twists and turns and into a sprawling field covered in wildflowers. As we ascended, we came to somewhat of an impasse. There was about 3 feet of snow covering our trail! Zach pursued ahead to confirm we still had a clear path and we continued on. Luckily, other hikers had traversed through the alpine snow and there was a path visible for us to follow. We relied on trail markers on trees and trail signs throughout our hike to verify we were still on the right path.

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About halfway through our hike, we broke for lunch. Before setting off on the hike we stopped at the Murren Coop to buy items for a simple lunch: a baguette, prosciutto, cheese, and fruit. Of course, we brought some delicious Swiss chocolate with us as well! Everything tastes better in the alps, especially chocolate!

On our way down, we opted to hop on the Allmendhubel trail, since the remainder of the Mountain View Trail was covered in snow. We were not prepared in the slightest to hike through the snow! Though we have hiking boots, we left them at home to save room in our carry-ons (we only packed carry-ons for our trip!). We hiked in the alpine snow with tennies; not recommended! By the end of the hike, they were drenched. We were drenched! Hiking through snow is not easy, folks. On our way back down to Murren, we once again walked through fields covered in wildflowers and a dense forest. This hike was such a fun experience. While I wouldn’t recommend it for families while there is snow, it could be family friendly when dry, especially for older kids. 

After we took a breather from our eventful hike in the Alps, we ventured back down into the Lauterbrunnen Valley. After taking the cable car down to Stechelberg, we walked along the valley floor to one of Lauterbrunnen’s popular attractions, Trummelbach Falls. While walking through the valley, it is easy to get distracted! Countless waterfalls cascasde down the walls of the mountains on either side of the valley. A beautiful alpine river, Lutschine, runs along the walking path. Signs are placed throughout the walk, directing walkers towards trails leading through the valley and trails leading to our destination, the falls. Trummelbach Falls is a unique collection of waterfalls; Trummelbach Falls is inside the mountain! After paying a small admittance fee, walk up to the base of the falls. There is a funicular that will take you to the best viewed sections of the falls. Wear stable footwear as the walkways are often wet! After viewing the falls, you can either choose to walk down the stairs, viewing other sections of the waterfall, or take the funicular back down. Since we were exhausted from our hike, we opted to take the funicular down. This attraction is fun for the whole family! Go early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid large crowds. Unfortunately, I don’t have any good pictures of the falls. It’s dark and hard to get clear focus inside the mountain cave.

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Murren Thoughts

Man, I wish we had more time in Murren. This picturesque mountain town is truly the epitome of Swiss charm and alpine wonder. Not only is it a fun journey to the town, but it’s just a fun place to stay. Besides hotels, there are bed and breakfasts, guest houses, and hostels available. There is a place to stay with any price point. Pretty much every hotel has its own restaurant and/or patio overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley below. The local Coop provides grocery options for locals and tourists alike. Ski shops are intermingled within the town, selling winter sport attire. Murren is, after all, a destination in the winter and the summer. Access to ski slopes from Murren is incredibly convenient. And, apart from ski slopes, the hiking trails are readily accessible from any point in town. If you want a true experience in the Swiss Alps, consider Murren!

Other options to stay in the Lauterbrunnen area: Lauterbrunnen Valley, Gimmelwald, Wengen, Stechelberg, Grindelwald, or Kleine Scheidegg. If you plan on utilizing Swiss transportation (train, bus, funicular, gondola) for more than two days, I highly recommend investing in the Swiss Pass, which allows you unlimited travel on the methods mentioned above. If you choose to invest in this pass, you will not need to buy tickets every time you choose to use public transportation in Switzerland.

If you choose to visit Europe, I insist that you to visit Switzerland! Switzerland, though it can be an expensive destination, is well worth your time and money, especially when visiting the Alps. With efficient and easy-to-navigate public transportation, getting around the country is easy. When in doubt, friendly locals will take the time to help you out.

Questions about visiting the Swiss Alps? Let me know!! Where should we visit mountains next?!

Next post: Rome!

Have a wonderful Friday, everyone! Enjoy your weekend! 

 

XOXO, Sarah