Follow the Yellow Signed Trail

Posted by on Oct 1, 2013 in Featured, Switzerland | 6 comments

Prior to this trip a visit to Switzerland was right at the top of our travel priority list. In recent years I had become fascinated with the thought of hiking parts of the Swiss Alps and finally seeing firsthand the country’s renowned and pristine fairytale landscape (I even went as far as getting our very own MySwitzerland.com brochures sent to our apartment). We split our time among the mountains, quaint villages and larger cities throughout our 2 1/2 weeks. Each city and small town had a lot of character, but it was up in the highlands where I found the most beautiful Switzerland. 

Our first stop in Switzerland was to Lucerne (my favorite of the cities we visited). But it was seeing the Alps on the train ride from Como that gave me a giddy, child-like excitement. We rode around and through towering lush-green mountains. I knew that in a few days time, we’d be exploring terrain like this. Although we did some quick hikes at the beginning and end of our trip in both Lucerne and Lugano, we did the majority of our hiking in the Berner Oberland region. It was here where hikes and views that I knew from pictures came to life.

The Berner Oberland (also known as the Jungfrau Region) is a famous mountainous area in the territory surrounding the city of Bern. The three major peaks (Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger) that highlight the region are topped with the Jungfrau at 13,642 feet. Swiss mountainside here is exactly how I imagined it, only better. Unforgettable views are dramatized with classic Swiss chalets, bright flowers, feeding cows and snow-capped mountains. We spent our first three nights in the quaint mountainside village of Gimmelwald and the next five nights in Lenk, a small town on the southern fringe of the Berner Oberland. 

I don’t think we could have picked a better place than Gimmelwald to start our hiking in Switzerland. The small village is perched on a ridge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley. One zig-zag road goes through town. And by town, I mean a dozen chalets, a couple of pensions/restaurants, and the cable car that connects Gimmelwald to the Lauterbrunnen Valley below and Murren, a ski town, just north along the same ridge. To the east is the Schilthorn at 9,744 feet and across the valley to the west are direct views of the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger. In Gimmelwald, we were completely surrounded by natural beauty and breathtaking views on all sides. 

Our location was the ideal base for hiking. We were within a five-minute walk to more than ten different trails. Our first two days provided some of the most scenic hikes we have ever done. Unfortunately, we were rained and fogged out on our third and final day. If I’m being honest though, I think we were both secretly okay with the bad weather as our bodies were quite sore after the three and six hour hikes. Our evenings were spent sipping back beers and eating authentic Swiss food (which for me meant sausage) with our friends, Emily and Jeff, in honor of what we had accomplished hours before. 

As we moved onto Lenk for more beautiful countryside and hiking, the Swiss experience took on an entirely different feel. Although Gimmelwald is still amazingly traditional, the surrounding towns and famous mountains bring hordes of tourists. And even though there didn’t seem to be a lot of visitors while we were there, there was a noticeable difference when we arrived in Lenk. Let me take a second to explain how we ended up in such a random town (which to our delight, not even many Swiss people knew about). We were extremely fortunate to meet two friendly and overly generous volunteers, John and Allison Curtis, while building huts in Mwandi, Zambia. For years, John and Allison ran (and still work at) an international school in Lenk (check out the Winter Term). When we told them that we would be passing through Switzerland, they immediately offered for us to stay at their farmhouse. What made this offer even more generous, was that they’d be in Maine with family during our time there. We enjoyed a perfect set up for five days, sharing the house with their granddaughter and other family friends from Utah. 

What makes Lenk different than Gimmelwald or other areas of the Berner Oberland, is that it feels like a normal, non-touristed town. The English posted signs and language almost completely disappeared as we found ourselves in a more traditional German-speaking section of Switzerland. Communication was so limited at times that one day we inadvertently hopped on a school bus to catch a ride home from the grocery store. We didn’t realize how creepy we must have seemed until we looked around and noticed we were surrounded by elementary school kids with their backpacks. To our defense, the bus looked similar to other buses we’d seen. We were in rural Switzerland and it did not feel like vacation. It felt like home (maybe partly due to my first bus ride since 7th grade). 

Switzerland makes hiking so easy and enjoyable. There are no park or entrance fees like many places in the U.S. Bright yellow signs and color coded markers make for easily the most navigable trails I’ve ever been on. In addition, all private-owned farmland is public property for hikers. At some point, all trails lead through backyards, across the front steps of chalets or two feet from a herd of cows (which by the way, Kat was petrified of for some reason). 

I am so happy that we chose Gimmelwald and Lenk for our Alpine hiking experience. The views were incredible, of course, but the overall mountainous atmosphere throughout Switzerland was unparalleled. I asked myself at one point during a full-day trek, “do you think this is where hiking was invented?”. While I never took time to google that question, through my eyes, it might as well be true.

6 Comments

  1. I am tremendously jealous but so happy for you guys. Those pics look amazing and this combo of hiking / beer drinking is right up my alley. Kat: your fear of cows made me laugh!!! MOOOOOOO!!!!!

  2. Beautiful, if you consider to come to holland, you are invited.
    Greeting anita

  3. i’ve gone snowboarding in jungfrau, its amazing!! kat i’m disappointed you didn’t bond with the cows like mike did!

  4. In my defense, the Swiss cows seemed different than any other cows we had encountered. They stared us down with angry eyes and looked ready to charge at any moment!

  5. trains / mountains / tunnels – Trains coming out of tunnels on mountains = Nirvana! Great pics, can’t believe how crystal clear those lakes are.

  6. Sick pics Pally

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  1. Switzerland: One country, three cultures | Unearth The World - [...] to explore the countryside and cities alike.  Hiking through the Alps was a highlight (Check out Mike’s blog here)…

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