Tales from the Field: A Journey Through the Alps of Switzerland
By: Hanna Glafke
If ever you wish to see a more fairytale-esque location, Switzerland is it. Walt Disney used many locations throughout Switzerland to find inspirations for his movies, his parks, and to personally enjoy. I had never been to Switzerland, but after visiting the Matterhorn at Disneyland and having Chase rave about his first visit there, I knew it would not be long before I visited the Alps.
Chase and I were journeying together, and since we wanted to get the most out of our visit we decided ten days in the Swiss Alps would be perfect. Five nights in Wengen (pronounced Vengen), four nights in Zermatt. We planned on staying a quiet chalet in the alpine village of Wengen, which is located right in the heart of the Jungfrau Region. Wengen was the perfect village as it’s not as touristy as Interlaken, but not as small as say, Mürren, or Gimmelwald. Before each trip Chase likes to prepare to almost the last detail. I know a lot of travel blogs tell you to just go and not think, but we like to be prepared, have a place planned out for the night, and most importantly for the Jungfrau region, have transportation figured out.
Here’s a great travel tip if you’ll be in the Jungfrau Region: get the Swiss Pass! It’s a train pass that costs about $350 per person (we chose the 8 day Flex Pass), depending on your age. I watched a woman shell out 80 francs for a one way ticket from Interlaken to Wengen (about 10 miles). If we did that our transportation alone would have cost us over $1000 each, as we were traveling by train multiple times a day. Another added benefit of obtaining a Swiss Pass is that many lifts (gondolas, funiculars, etc.) are 25%-75% with the Pass in hand. Do some calculations before and decide what you will be doing and where you will be going, but more than likely you will want to get a pass.
The village of Wengen is not the best in terms of touristy shops, but it features a gondola that takes you up to Männlichen, and over to Grindelwald. We chose Wengen because it has a gorgeous view of the Jungfrau mountains: the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. You can also see down into the Lauterbrunen Valley, as well as across to the town of Mürren. It’s quiet, quaint, and since we stayed in an Airbnb, we felt one with the Swiss.
Speaking of Männlichen, I highly recommend this side trip. We got up before the sun to take the first gondola up about 3,500 ft. to see one of the most spectacular views of the trip:
When Chase and I arrived, the sun was just rising and the fog was still hanging over the valley below. We hiked up about 600 ft. to the highest point in Männlichen and witnessed one of the most gorgeous views from the whole trip. We could see straight down to Lauterbrunnen Valley tucked between the two cliffs, where your eye was first drawn to the majestic mountains, down through the valley, and all the way to Interlaken. Looking the opposite way we could see the valley that housed Grindelwald, with the uniquely shaped Wetterhorn standing above.
While up at Männlichen, there is an amazing walk with very little elevation gain and gorgeous views as well. It’s called the Männlichen-Kleine Scheidegg and was absolutely one of my favorite walks. It takes around 1.5 hours to traverse the ridge in either direction and on sunny days it will probably take longer as the views down towards Grindelwald and the imposing North Face of the Eiger ahead are breathtaking. Take note that the train from the Kleine Scheidegg to head down to either Grindelwald or Wengen can be pricey, even with the Swiss Pass, so we recommend turning this to an out-and-back hike with taking the gondolas back down to either town.
Chase and I loved visiting Grindelwald. The views on the train going up are astonishing. You feel like you’re on the set of the Hobbit. The town is a bit more of a tourist hub when compared to Wengen, Gimmelwald, and other smaller villages in the area, but the energy is fantastic. We were lucky enough to spend an evening in town when a large farmer’s market took over the entire village. Also spend some time wandering the quieter streets where the “storybook” style architecture abounds across all the grassy meadows.
One last thing I would recommend doing in Grindelwald is hiking to Bachalpsee Lake. It isn't a rigorous hike, but not necessarily an easy walk either. After taking a gondola up to First, we walked about a mile and a half to arrive at the lake. The hike is mostly flat, but not paved so be prepared for an uneven path. Overall, the journey was quite easy, and they even have benches to sit and have a picnic if you brought food (which we did).
After our time in the Jungfrau Region, Chase and I made our way to Zermatt where we hoped to see the Matterhorn. We hoped four nights would be enough time to see the Matterhorn as I have heard of many people spending a day or two in Zermatt only to have the mountain completely enveloped by clouds.
We left our chalet in Wengen, and took a series of trains, including the famous mountain train into Zermatt. The train into Zermatt is an experience in itself as you rattle along a precarious track through a narrow and extremely steep valley to the famed ski village nestled in the south side. The first thing we saw when we arrived in Zermatt was the iconic Matterhorn in all her glory. Chase and I were ecstatic. We arrived to our hotel, the Bella Vista (which I highly recommend), dropped our bags and went in search of another good view of the Matterhorn. We thoroughly enjoyed gazing up the Matterhorn, but the photo ops weren’t there as the mountain was backlit by the setting sun, so the next morning we took a funicular up to Sunnegga where we hiked up to Grindjisee Lake. The photo ops were unmatched. We had the entire lake and view to ourselves for over two hours and had plenty of time to take the exact shots we needed without worrying about other hikers crowding the small lake.
I would highly recommend Grindjisee, as the lake sits high above Zermatt, with the Matterhorn fully visible. This is also the only lake in the region where larch trees line the shore, making for a colorful and vibrant foreground. This was definitely one of the best views of the entire trip.
After Grindjisee, we hiked up to Stellisee, a more well known lake than Grindjisee, but it was quite a beautiful view, and well worth the hype.
Chase and I both liked Grindjisee a little more because of the foreground, but the hike up to Stellisee is well worth it. Chase and I did a circuit, and I'm glad we did our own research because the woman we asked when we took the gondola up told us about the "normal" loop, and it would have taken us twice as long if not more. Our loop was: Sunnegga, Grindjisee, Stellisee, back to Sunnegga, with a few stops, including the tiny lake of Leisee, along the way. We were told the best loop (5 Lakes Hike) was heading in the opposite direction of what we did, and after looking at a map realized it would take way less time and hiking if we did the loop we chose. Another reason it's good to do your own research!
We woke up early on our final full day to see fog rolling in, and wanted to see the small hamlet Findeln before we left. We were lucky with the weather because as soon as we arrived, the fog was hovering over the valley below, and we watched as it began snaking its way closer to the tiny town. We got some gorgeous shots of the fog before noticing the fog was creeping higher and higher towards us. As we hiked down towards town we realized the fog would be staying put for the day, and wouldn't get any views of the mountains. At this point we realized the only place to see the Matterhorn was well above the fog, in an area called Gornergrat. The only way to get to Gornergrat, if you exclude a grueling 7-8 hour hike up, is riding the cogwheel train. The train departs from the center of Zermatt and climbs more than 5,000 feet to drop you off at an elevation that is over 10,000 feet up!
The views from Gornergrat are quite fantastic, and this is a excellent place to visit even if you are not looking for an escape from the fog. It's about $100 per person (50% off if you have the Swiss Pass), and for that price I would give yourself a few hours to enjoy the scenery, walk around a bit, and enjoy some of the shops and dining they provide.
My recommendations in a nutshell (some experiences were not written about above, but you can find them below):
While in the Jungfrau Region:
Get a Swiss Pass (do this before you travel!)
Visit Männlichen, and hike up to the view point
Hike along the ridge to Kleine Scheidegg
Hike through Mürren and Gimmelwald
Buy Alpkase from a local farmer
Stroll through the grassy meadows filled with cows near Bort
Explore Trummelbach Falls (especially if the weather is bad!)
Ride the gondola up to First, and hike to Bachalpsee (bring snacks)
While in Zermatt:
Ride the funicular up to Sunnegga, then hike to Grindjisee, Stellisee, and back to Sunnegga
Visit the historic chalets on the hike to Z’mutt
Visit some hamlets, such as Findeln and Tuftern
Ride the train up to Gornergrat
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Hey, I'm Chase Dekker, a wildlife and nature photographer looking to share my stories and expertise with as many people as possible. My blog gives you a glimpse into my life as a photographer - whether it be stories from my travels, or guides on how to make your own trips as successful and special as possible.
I hope to give you valuable insight on everything from travel, to animals, to photography tips and more!