Hiking in the Berner Oberland, Switzerland

Swiss cow in the Alps

Mere words are not enough to describe the spectacular scenery of the Swiss Alps.

Swiss cow in the Alps
Swiss cheese anyone?

We stayed in the small town of Lauterbrunnen.  It is a good place to use as a base camp to explore the area of Switzerland called the “Berner Oberland.”  The Berner Oberland is the high country south of Bern in the middle of Switzerland.  Lauterbrunnen is at 800 meters (2,624 ft.) above sea level.

view of Wengen
A view across the Lauterbrunnen Valley

We took a cable car up the mountain to a place called Grutschalp.  Grutschalp (1,485 m., 4,872 ft.) is at one end of a plateau.  Next, we took a train for a few minutes to the town of Mürren (1,638 m. 5,374 ft.), at the other end of the plateau.  There are no cars in Mürren.  There is no road to this town high up in the mountains.  The only way to get there is to use the cable car or hike on foot.

There is a place at the edge of the cliff near Mürren called the “Nose.”  BASE jumpers jump off the cliff, free fall 12 seconds, deploy their parachutes, and gently fly down to the floor of Lauterbrunnen Valley.  BASE stands for Buildings, Antennas, Spans (bridges), and Earth (cliffs), the four things on which these daredevils jump off. The BASE jumpers congregate at a local pub to tell the tales of their jumps and share videos they make from cameras mounted in their helmets.

BASE jumper
A BASE jumper heads for the Lauterbrunnen Valley floor

From Mürren we took another cable car on a short ride to a tiny village called Allmendhubel (say that fast five times!) (1,907 m., 6,256 ft.).  This village is where the trailhead is for one of the best trails in Europe.  We hiked the Mountain View Trail from Allmendhubel back to Grutschalp.  It took about two hours.  The trail was relatively flat for most of the way.  The views were incredible.  The weather was perfect too, sunny, clear and about 70 degrees.

view of the Swiss Alps
The Swiss Alps - where is Heidi?

We could see the famous peaks of Eiger (3,970 m., 13,024 ft.), Mönch (4,107 m., 13,474 ft.), and Jungfrau (4,158 m., 13,641 ft.).  The Jungfrau is the highest mountain in Europe.  The Eiger has been featured in several movies.  One of them is the Eiger Sanction with Clint Eastwood (1975).  I watched a German film a few months ago called NordWand (North Face) (2008).  North Face is a suspenseful adventure film about a competition to climb the north face of the Eiger in the 1930s.  Climbers had made it to the top of Eiger first in 1858, but they had gone on an easier route on the south side.  Nobody had completed an ascent of the difficult north face, said to be the most difficult in Europe. After having seen and enjoyed the film, it was very interesting to see the Eiger in person.

The Eiger is the peak on the left.

While hiking the trail, we came across quite a few cows.  Every cow had a big bell around its neck.  The mountainside is normally very quiet and tranquil in summer.  Except for the tinkling of cows walking around!  They sound like a lot of wind chimes.  The Swiss make excellent cheese from these alpine cows.

An inch long hummingbird in Lauterbrunnen

By the time we made it back to the hotel, our hips, knees, and feet were sore.  However, it was worth it to spend an exceptional day to hike the Berner Oberland.

on the Mountain View Trail
Hiking on the Mountain View Trail
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The Grand Tour of Europe

The Grand Tour of Europe

From the 17th through the 19th centuries, many upper class British young men traveled a traditional path through Europe called the Grand Tour.  The Grand Tour served as an educational rite of passage whereby the traveler learned about culture, history, architecture, and the arts. The traveler became knowledgeable about classical antiquity and the Renaissance, and was usually accompanied by a learned guide.

The Grand Tour of Europe
The Traditional Grand Tour of Europe

The itinerary for the British traveler started in Dover, England, crossed the English Channel to France or Belgium, and then continued down through the middle of Europe to Italy. Finishing in either Rome or Naples, the traveler might take a ship back to England.  Grand Tours lasted from several months to several years.

Grand Tours are a thing of the past.  The days of the landed gentry wandering the capitals of Europe seeking knowledge and life experiences are long gone. Instead, today we have gap years, study abroad programs, hippie trails, and sabbaticals.

I’m fortunate to work for a company that offers an eight week sabbatical after every seven years of service.  Add in three weeks of vacation and I don’t have to sit in a little grey cube staring at a computer screen for almost three months.  My sabbatical is fast approaching.  I have looked forward to it for at least a couple of years now.  I’m going to make the most of it.

I can’t do the Grand Tour.  There is not enough time and money.  But I can try to do some portions of it.  In reverse.  I’m starting in Rome, Italy.  My plan is to detour first to Greece, Turkey, and Israel.  After returning to Rome, my Grand Tour will take me to Milan, Lake Como, the Berner Oberland, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Krakow, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, London, Bath, and the Cotswolds.

I invite you to follow along.

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