|The Bernese Oberland|
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South of Bern and Luzern lies the grand Alpine heart of Switzerland, a massively impressive region of classic Swiss scenery – high peaks, sheer valleys and cool lakes – that makes for great hiking and gentle walking, not to mention world-class winter sports. The BERNESE OBERLAND is the most accessible and touristed area, and also the most spectacular, best known for a grand triple-peaked ridge of Alpine giants at its core – the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, cresting 4000m. However, the Oberland takes in a vast tract of territory, and the approaches to the high mountains have their own, less daunting pleasures: the twin lakes of the Thunersee (with the atmospheric old town of Thun at its head) and the Brienzersee (with Brienz) offer Alpine horizons and beauty enough to merit a stop of their own. Between the two, the bustling town of Interlaken is the main transport hub for the region, but the sheer volume of tourist traffic passing through can make it a less than restful place to stay. Coming from the big cities, many people aim for Interlaken as a supposed necessary stop, but it truthfully has little to offer beyond dozens of hotels and a handful of souvenir shops, and you’d do better to head straight for the mountains.
On a visit to the region, and stunned by the natural drama all around, the composer Felix Mendelssohn wrote: “Anyone who has not seen the scenery which surrounds Interlaken does not know Switzerland.” Once you’ve seen it, you’ll know what he means. Arguably the single most captivating place in the entire Alps lies just a short way south of Interlaken – the gorgeous Lauterbrunnen valley, with the resorts of Wengen and Mürren perched on plateaux above providing excellent winter skiing and summer hiking. Grindelwald is another bustling resort in its own valley slightly to the east. Both offer access to one of Switzerland’s top excursions, the amazing rack-railway journey winding up through spectacular mountain scenery to the snow- and ice-bound Jungfraujoch, a windswept col nestling at 3454m just below the peak of the Jungfrau itself, and the site of the highest train station in Europe. Further west, the Oberland rolls on and on through little-visited wooded valleys and pastureland, out to the borders of the German-speaking area, where sits probably the most famous name in the region: Gstaad.
Tourist offices, centred in Interlaken but scattered throughout virtually every town, control the Oberland’s thousands of chalets and private rooms, most of which, at higher altitudes anyway, close along with hotels and many resort shops and services in the quiet “between-seasons” of April–May and October–November. The flipside of this is that hoteliers and many chalet owners concoct high-season prices, generally applicable in late December and throughout February, which can be much higher than the rest of the year. Tourist offices can also provide details of the region’s numerous mountain huts (generally open June–Sept), which offer hikers or ski trekkers a bed and simple comforts in the wilds of nature. The co-ordinating Bernese Oberland tourist office has administrative offices at Jungfraustrasse 38, CH-3800 Interlaken (033/823 03 03, www.berneroberland.com & www.berneroberland-hotels.ch).
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