Switzerland ‘on the level’

By Emily Moore
This item appears on page 26 of the September 2019 issue.

Reflections (including Al and Emily Moore’s) in Leisee Lake at Sunnegga. Photo by Ken Sanner

So you’d like to visit Switzerland and experience those towering Alps, but health problems make it seem unlikely. You can’t walk a great distance and never uphill. Your energy is limited and your balance is a bit of a problem. Well, take heart. You can still see those Alps.

My husband, Al, and I have traveled extensively, including to all seven continents, but we’ve been to Switzerland 12 times, last in August 2015 (June ’17, pg. 50). It’s our favorite place. Now that we’re dealing with health- and age-related issues, I came up with a possible plan for us to see our favorite places there once again. I’d like to share it with readers of ITN.

Get a Swiss Travel Pass. A second-class pass for 15 consecutive days is available online for CHF513 (near $522). It’s expensive but worth it. The pass is good for all train, bus and lake steamer travel, and it offers a discount on cable cars.

Travel light. A 22-inch suitcase plus a small carry-on should be sufficient. You’ll be glad that’s all you took!

Buy hiking sticks. On Amazon.com, you can purchase High Stream Gear Foldable Hiking & Trekking Poles, currently $44.90 for two poles, excluding shipping. (They cost a lot more in Switzerland.) They fold down to 14½ inches, so they can fit in your suitcase. Young and old use them in Switzerland, and they’re very helpful.

When booking air travel, request wheelchair assistance. This is not just for the disabled. It can also be for those of us who find long walks in the airport very tiring. The wheelchair “driver” can take you to the head of any line, deliver you to your next gate or assist in picking up your baggage and taking you to the exit.

At the Zürich Airport, ask your wheelchair person to take you to the train station (in the terminal) and validate your train pass at a ticket window. After taking the escalator down to the train level, you’ll quickly learn the Swiss train schedule system (very easy).

Take the train to Interlaken in the middle of the Bernese Oberland region, the most impressive portion of the Alps. A short train ride from Interlaken takes you to Lauterbrunnen, where you can cross the street to the cable car station to go up to Mürren.

On the train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. Photo by Emily Moore

Accessible only by cable car, Mürren is quiet and car-free. You’re in the mountains and looking across at three famous massifs: the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

From the station, it’s a 10-minute walk to Hotel Alpenblick (Ägerten 1078A, Mürren; phone +41 33 855 13 27, www.alpenblick-muerren.ch), a hotel we highly recommend. (Stay several nights, as it’s a hassle to pack up your stuff and move.)

Perched on a ledge of the mountain, the hotel overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Rooms with a balcony can cost CHF190 per night in summer. Delicious breakfasts! You can easily spend half a day relaxing on your balcony, drinking in the mountain scenery and breathing fresh mountain air.

So far, the walking required of you has been minimal and level. After a good night’s sleep, you’ll be ready for adventures.

From the hotel, you can walk/hike 15 to 20 minutes through the village — very picturesque, with shops, restaurants, a co-op, hotels and chalets. Enjoy a coffee and croissant.

• Here’s one of our favorite things to do. From the Allmendhubel funicular station in the middle of Mürren, a quick 10-minute ride takes you to the station just above the village. Nothing is there but a small restaurant, some playground equipment and an unobstructed view of the three massifs.

An easy trail back to the village meanders through fields and cow pastures. It’s all downhill, but the last part could be hard on the knees. It takes about an hour, so you may prefer to take the funicular back down (free with your travel pass).

The funicular between Mürren and Allmendhubel. Photo by Emily Moore

From Mürren, there are many easy excursions to take.

• The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a flat, easy hike — about 1½ miles from one end to the other. You’ll pass cows, gardens and waterfalls, with lots of places to stop and rest. If you get tired, you can catch the bus that goes between Lauterbrunnen and Stechelburg. If it’s raining in the valley, you can visit Trümmelbach Falls, an impressive thundering waterfall inside a mountain.

• For the best hike of all, take the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen, then the cable car to the mountain Männlichen (50% discount with your travel pass). A trail winds around the back side of Männlichen, ending at the Kleine Scheidegg rail station (from 7,306 feet down to 6,762 feet). This hike is so easy that we saw mothers pushing baby strollers on the path.

The yellow trail markers said one hour 20 minutes, but, with stops for rest, drinks and lots of pictures, it took us about two hours. Cows shared our path at times, and we could hear tinkling cowbells way down in the valley.

The last part of the hike is spent looking directly at the looming north face of the Eiger, then you arrive at Kleine Sheidegg with its outdoor restaurants, lots of activity and the three massifs right there above you!

Take trains and the cable car back to your hotel if you’ve had enough for one day. Or, for an extra charge, take the special train from Kleine Scheidegg through 5 miles of tunnels to the “Top of Europe” train station, Jungfraujoch. There you can visit the Ice Palace, carved out of a glacier.

• Now, here’s the frosting on the cake: the world-famous revolving restaurant Piz Gloria (schilthorn.ch/en/infos/contact), atop the Schilthorn.

Before making this trip, check the weather and pick a clear day.

The lake steamer in Brienz. Photo by Emily Moore

From the hotel, walk 20 to 30 minutes through Mürren to the cable car station on the other side. This cable car used to cost $80 round trip, but now it’s covered by the travel pass. The cable car ride is thrilling as you swing high above the valley; Mürren soon looks like a toy village.

At the restaurant, viewing platforms extend all the way around, and the 360-degree view of the mountains is awesome! Book a seat by a window in the restaurant and enjoy a light lunch as the mountains slide past. It takes an hour for the restaurant to revolve 360 degrees. You can also see the trail that some hike up all the way from the valley.

• For a relaxing day and beautiful scenery, you can take the lake steamer on Lake Brienz from Interlaken to the village of Brienz. The boat zigzags back and forth across the lake, picking up passengers; travel time is 1 hour 13 minutes.

Brienz is known as the woodcarving capital of Switzerland. Browse through shops and buy some carvings, then take the boat back to Interlaken. Or go by train (18 minutes).

You’ve now used up about half of your 15-day travel pass. Time to move on to Zermatt and the Matterhorn.

Trains run hourly from Mürren to Zermatt. If you take the 8:58 train, it will take 3 hours 16 minutes, with five changes. You’ll be thankful you’re traveling light!

The chalets in Zermatt that have direct views of the Matterhorn look appealing, but trudging uphill is tiring, so we recommend Hotel Testa Grigia (Bahnhofstraße 21; phone +41 27 966 79 00, testa-grigia.com/en).

Located on the main street only a 5-minute walk from the train station, the hotel charges $200 per night. You can see part of the Matterhorn from your balcony.

• There are many cable car options in Zermatt. We recommend taking the funicular to Sunnegga, a plateau area with the very small Leisee Lake, a photographer’s paradise! Reflecting the Matterhorn and other mountains, the lake is a downhill walk from the station, but a small funicular travels there and back.

The peaks Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau — the view from Hotel Alpenblick. Photo by Emily Moore

• On a clear day, take the Gornergrat train to the summit station. As you climb uphill and emerge from the woods, the mighty Matterhorn suddenly appears. At the summit station is an unparalleled view of the mountain.

At the Matterhorn Museum, you’ll learn about the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865. In the church graveyard, you can see where many climbers have been buried.

With two or three days left on your travel pass, consider a visit to Lucerne (about 2½ hours from Zermatt), where you can see beautiful covered bridges and the “Lion of Lucerne” carved out of rock.

By now, you should be savvy with Swiss travel, making it easy to find a hotel close to the station, and, since Lucerne is on a lake, how about a boat ride?

Save a day on your card for travel to Zürich the day before your flight home. The Ibis Zürich Messe Airport Hotel (Heidi Abel-Weg 5; phone +41 44 307 4700, www.accorhotels.com) allows for an easy exit in the morning.

Greenville, IL

View of Mürren, far below, from the cable car to the Schilthorn summit and the revolving restaurant. Photo by Emily Moore