A Swiss Haven off the Beaten Path – Grindelwald
More often than not, when one plans to travel to a new country, the travel itinerary consists of the most popular, most inhabited or the larger, more historical cities. Barcelona or Madrid in Spain, Istanbul in Turkey, and London in the UK for example, will be the preferred choices and for the time-bound traveler, this will more than suffice.
If you are a foreigner living in Europe like me, your roster of travel opportunities opens up and reads quite differently. Living in Europe for the past two years, the one thing we have discovered as frequent travelers within the continent, is that it is the lesser known destinations – ‘off the beaten path’ villages, townships, lakes, forests – that possess a certain ‘je ne sais quoi‘ that is far more alluring and the secrets and stories hidden behind these relatively obscure landmarks make for the most compelling and exciting experiences. The thrill of discovering such quaint, jaw-droppingly picturesque places makes the discovery of the ‘road less travelled’ that much more desirable.
We had some family visit us recently from India and so it was settled that we would take a weekend trip to Switzerland commencing with a drive from Munich to the resort town of Interlaken, nestled like a footnote at the bosom of a dramatically scenic view of the Alps in the background. Maybe it was the fact that our expectations of Interlaken were quite high as one hears of it from others so often as one of the must-see spots in Switzerland, but apart from the beautiful Alps all around us and the lush green mountainous valleys that made for some great photographic captures, the minuscule town of Interlaken itself didn’t seem to have much to offer excepting the one main street with its gamut of typically Swiss chocolate and watch shops, restaurants, souvenir shops, banks and the beautiful postcard view of the Alps as you sit and have some lunch.
As we had heard, Interlaken is a base town from where many tourists and ski enthusiasts embark on their treks to surrounding peaks and mountains and is also a popular starting point for summer Swiss tourism. Nonetheless, glad to have seen it and ticked it off our list and after walking along the pristine river Aare, we decided to drive further towards Lake Brienz and parked our car in the small village town of Bonigen, situated adjacent to Interlaken. Interlaken is flanked by Lake Brienz and Lake Thun and the river Aare that flows between the two lakes.
The view of Lake Brienz overlooking the spectacular Alps and nestled comfortably in the lap of the surrounding village of Bonigen – a municipality of Interlaken – is breathtaking. With quaint, gabled, red-roofed tourist hotels and immaculately groomed houses and gardens, Bonigen with its lake view is well worth the trek, even a short one – just to sit on a bench and stare. Surely, nothing could be more exquisite.
We would gladly have been glued to our seats a while longer had we not heard the sudden flash of thunder, signaling the onset of thick clouds and inevitable rain. That being in Europe meant a change of season possibly every hour of the day was a fact not lost on us. Reluctantly, we left the benches and made our way to our car hurriedly to avoid the impending downpour. My husband in his prior internet research of Switzerland, had chanced upon a small village town in the Bernese Alps called Grindelwald that seemed to have gained popularity over the years for its close proximity to the Jungfrau Mountain. That was to be our next destination and stop for the night.
Having already experienced more than our share of green landscapes, rolling hills, unending tunnels and lakes during our long five hour journey so far, I think it is fair to say that by this point, we were confident that we had seen and been wowed by the best that Swiss nature had to offer in that region and Grindelwald may in all probability be more to the tune of such beauty.
We were wrong.
As we started to drive higher up towards Grindelwald, the Alps seemed to be coming closer with every turn on the winding mountainous drive. It was already becoming evident that something spectacular was around the corner. When we finally pulled into what looked like a small village town running along one ascending street to the left side of the road, the view on the right side left us with gasps of disbelief. The Alps seemed like a stone’s throw away from us! Looming large and grand above us and so close that the feeling you get is of being able to touch them just by extending your arm, we already knew that the decision to spend the night here in this little piece of heaven was the right one. I must have already clicked a hundred pictures of the majestic snow-peaked mountains by the time we pulled up at the Eiger Hotel – our abode for the night. If you are planning a trip to Grindelwald for the first time, I highly recommend staying in this hotel. Quaint, with a very old world charm, perched as if on a hill right in the center of the little town, facing the most incredible view of the Alps and the Jungfrau mountain range bang across from it, it couldn’t get better than this.
Being another pit stop for skiing and tobogganing in the winters and hiking trails along the Alps in the summer, Grindelwald’s entire economy today rests on tourism – offering alpine huts, ski lifts and cable cars for the benefit of the travellers. The railway track was extended to Jungfrau in the early 1900s that has now become one of the top attractions for tourists via the cog railway that ascends within the Eiger glacier towards the highest peak.
For the four of us, we had booked an Apartment at the Eiger Hotel (named after the Eiger glacier also from the Jungfrau region) with an ‘Alps-facing’ view from our balcony. Some evening tea in the balcony and many more photos later, we decided to take a walk up and down the main street with the quaint restaurants and shops. The town was small but charming nestled almost precariously at the foot of the Alps as if to seduce you with the promise of more if you continued up the road further into picturesque oblivion. As it grew darker, the lights up in the Jungfrau Mountain in front of us came on and enamored, we sat for a drink outside one of the restaurants to stare and take in Grindelwald by night – in all its stupefying splendor.
Robert Frost once said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I … I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” I couldn’t agree more. Grindelwald turned out to be the ‘less travelled’ road that made all the difference to my Switzerland experience.
From filmmakers like Yash Raj in Bollywood to the James Bond sequels and scenes from Star Wars, the love affair of Switzerland with the rest of the world is palpable. But to really make it ‘An Affair to Remember’, lose yourself in those obscure, quaint and mystical towns like Grindelwald to discover what love really means.