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At the easternmost tip of the lake, BRIENZ has a quiet, community feel – not many people come visiting, and those that do mostly stop for just an hour or two before catching the boat back to Interlaken. The town is known as the most accomplished centre for woodcarving in Switzerland, and has many low-key workshops and souvenir shops hawking everything from mass-produced tat to quality hand-tooled busts, figurines and nativity scenes in limewood. Brienz also boasts the last steam-driven rack railway in Switzerland, with a fine old beast puffing its way up the flower-strewn slopes for an hour to the Rothorn summit (daily June–October; Fr.66 return, Eurail and InterRail not valid, Swiss Pass 25 percent discount). There are plenty of strolls around and about on the top, as well as a tough trail heading northwest through the mountains to Kemmeriboden.
The major draw of Brienz is its proximity to the Freilichtmuseum Ballenberg (Open-Air Museum; April–Oct daily 10am–5pm; www.ballenberg.ch; Fr.14; SMP), 3km or so east of the town, a huge area of rolling parkland which serves as a living showcase for traditional Swiss architecture and crafts. There are two entrances, the West nearest Brienz and, some 4km away, the East entrance near Brienzwiler; regular postbuses from outside Brienz station serve both. In-between are thirteen separate areas, each containing several examples of traditional houses from different parts of Switzerland, transported here piece by piece from their original settings, reassembled and restored. Within each building are held daily demonstrations of traditional crafts, everything from needlework to faggot binding. The museum can be a little heavy going and the whole place is really too big to absorb in one go; you’d do well to select a few areas from the museum map (Fr.2) and aim for them alone. There are four restaurants on site, as well as groceries where you can buy provisions for a barbecue (free firewood provided).
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