This is an off-topic post; just a subject I felt like writing about, and that might be of interest to some readers. Long story short, I needed to travel to Switzerland before the end of the year for administrative reasons, and because school in Colorado starts in mid-August, my husband and daughter couldn’t come along. A Swiss friend clued me in to what turned out to be an incredible “trip within a trip”: Sunstar Hotels’ hiking tour of the Bernese Oberland. I did the four-day trip from Wengen to Meiringen, and it was, how shall I put this…HEAVEN. Basically. In addition to factors that might not apply to everyone’s experience (perfect weather, and I love hiking), I was very impressed with the quality of this tour, given that I’m always a little wary of package tourism. Even if you hate hiking, you should do this trip and just take the train or bus…seriously! Here’s how it went:
After some time in Bern visiting friends, I took the train from Bern to Wengen, using the ticket voucher that Sunstar provides as part of the tour. This involved a standard train from Bern to Interlaken, and then a very cool cog train from Interlaken to Wengen:
My room at the Sunstar hotel in car-free Wengen was right on the main (pedestrian) drag, a short walk from the train station. One thing that’s unique in Switzerland (or at least compared to the US): hotel rooms for one person, with a twin bed. I kind of liked this; since I rarely go anywhere without my family, it added to the “girl on an adventure” feel of the trip. I settled in, had an Orangina on my balcony and took a walk around Wengen before dinner. Wengen is chock full of the kinds of contrasts you often see in Switzerland, like a pair of sheep “mowing” the grass in front of a store that sells $10,000 watches. Dinner (included in the tour) at the Sunstar restaurant was delicious, and they had no problem accommodating the fact that I’m a vegetarian (hello rösti potatoes!).
The next morning, I had breakfast at the hotel (buffet included; it was great) and headed out early for the hike to Grindelwald. Meanwhile, the hotel desk clerk tagged my bag so that it could ride the train to the next destination (luggage transportation also included), which allowed me to carry just a small day pack with water, snacks, and a jacket. I wanted to walk the longer but more scenic route under the north face of the Eiger, which I (correctly) anticipated might take a while. So, before the sun peeked over the ridges, I was off up the hill:
The trail continued down, down, down, the valley toward Grindelwald, and after five to six hours of walking, I was getting ready for a break. Here in Colorado, that would probably involve eating a protein bar while perched on a rock by the trail (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But hey, this was Switzerland, and around a bend in the trail appeared this charming little alpine cafe.
I enjoyed a fresh-pressed apple juice while taking in the view, then walked about another hour down into Grindelwald, where I checked in to the Sunstar hotel at the upper end of town.
My suitcase–having enjoyed the cog train ride from Wengen–was waiting for me in the cutest little hotel room you can imagine, with an Eiger-shaped bed headboard.
The Sunstar Grindelwald was probably my favorite hotel on the tour: it has a fabulous indoor swimming pool with huge glass walls that look out at the Eiger, plus a beautiful terrace garden where you can lie on a lounge chair soaking up the mountain splendor while a waiter brings you prosecco. Or if you need to work for a while, which I did, you can do that in their quietly elegant lobby with…you guessed it…yet more Eiger views. You’re probably starting to get the feeling that I didn’t want to leave, which is kind of true… The food here was also excellent, and again there was a vegetarian option for everything, including a homemade veggie burger with a split avocado for a “bun”; just the ticket after walking all day to get there!
After two nights in Grindelwald, it was time to hoof it to the last stop on the tour, Meiringen. This involved crossing the Grosse Scheidegg pass, which–despite its name–is a lot easier to hike over than the Kleine Scheidegg, at least from this direction.
Once over the pass, the hike down into the valley-floor town of Meiringen is more of a walk on a gravel path by a creek; very pleasant and not at all strenuous. I even took the long way down into Meiringen to draw the experience out as much as possible.
The hotel in Meiringen is a “partner” hotel, not a Sunstar, and it was smaller and less luxurious than the Sunstar hotels, with no resort amenities (pool, etc.). However it was very clean and comfortable, the food was fine, and my suitcase arrived before I did. After a night there it was back to Bern with another Sunstar-provided train ticket voucher after a truly relaxing and delightful time in the mountains.
A few logistical notes, based on questions people have asked me, for anyone who’s interested in doing this or a similar trip:
-The Sunstar package includes four hotel nights, dinner and breakfast each day, luggage transfer, and your train ticket to the start and from the finish. There really are no extra costs other than the city taxes in each town, which were less than US $10 per day. You don’t tip, and there’s no surcharge for a single room if you’re by yourself, so this is really an economical trip as far as Swiss tourism goes.
-The Swiss don’t fool around when it comes to hiking. I’m not the fastest hiker but I’m in decent shape and I don’t stop a lot, and each of the point-to-point days took me seven hours total. However there’s the option to take the cog train (Wengen to Grindelwald) or the bus (Grindelwald to Meiringen) if you want to.
-I’m vegetarian and this was no problem; you just have to tell the hotels ahead of time and they will accommodate that. Vegans might have more of an issue, because nearly every Swiss dish contains either meat or fairly copious amounts of cheese and cream sauce.
-I took hiking boots in case of bad weather–I really lucked out with zero rain, but it could have poured the whole time–but you can definitely do this hike in running shoes if the conditions are good.
-Even as someone who is used to going on family vacations, or on work trips where I’m with other people, doing this trip by myself was not weird. The hotels gave me my own table at dinner and I just brought a book to pass the time between courses, and I felt totally safe hiking the trails alone. Again, I do a lot of outdoor activities at home, and there were definitely sections of the trail where I went an hour or more without seeing anyone else out there. My sense is that many or even most people who visit this region take the train between trail sections and do shorter hikes, so you see fewer people on the more strenuous uphills, but I felt totally safe by myself. The trails are so well-marked that you really don’t even need a map, much less GPS.
-Linguistically, I was really surprised at how good the hotel staff’s English was, and how few of them spoke French. Several were even native English speakers (mostly from the UK). Not speaking Swiss German was no problem; I was excited to get some French practice in, but the hotel staff much preferred English.