Bern and the Bernese Oberland
If you think Switzerland is all about snow and winter sports and is difficult to access with a group then, as Val Baynton has discovered, you may want to think again!In the heart of the Bernese Oberland are the tranquil mountain villages of Wengen and Mürren – both are good bases for a group, giving far-reaching views of mountains like the Eiger and Jungfrau. They are easy to access by Swiss public transport from the capital city of Bern – itself a popular place for groups to stay with many attractions within walking distance.
Our overview of what the region has to offer, and how to get around includes insights from GTOs – Eileen Booker, Mike and Jenny Hillman, Sylvia Page and Ruth Thomason – who recently experienced the destination at first hand on a four-night FAM trip organised by Travel Editions.
Switzerland in the summer
Ellen Walker from Travel Editions explains that Switzerland is a good destination for groups in spring and summer. She says, ‘It’s warm and the snowy mountain tops contrast with the valleys and their green meadows full of flowers. Winter ski resorts such as Mürren and Wengen are good bases for a group as they are interesting places to stay in their own right, and offer great views of the mountains alongside top-class hospitality and accommodation to suit a variety of budgets. Switzerland has a reputation for being expensive but it can be visited very cost effectively and with many places in the Alps not compatible with coach travel Swiss public transport really does cater for groups.’
Public transport in Switzerland is superb and is best accessed by using a Swiss Travel Pass, which gives unlimited travel by train, bus, boat and public transport in cities and can be purchased for varying number of days.
It includes some mountain excursions – such as to the Schilthorn above Mürren – and free entrance to more than 500 museums. With coaches unable to access mountain villages – where only electric cars are allowed – this is the only alternative and, as Mike and Jenny Hillman report, ‘What really makes public transport easy for a group, though, is that luggage can be taken care of by a specialised carrier – on arrival in Basel train station we checked our cases at the SBB Luggage counter and they were transported to our hotel in Bern. Two days later, our bags were transferred to Mürren and, on departure, back to the airport.’
Also useful to know is that the train carriage reserved for your groups can be easily identified as Eileen Booker found out, ‘I was impressed how, at train stations, the reservation for our group and our specific carriage was listed on electronic signboards and additional signage indicated precisely where we should stand to access our seats on the train when it arrived! What’s more all the connections were on time and the travel arrangements went like clockwork.’
Bern is around an hour by train from Basel Airport so it’s a good place to start a visit to the country. There’s lots to see and do in the city and a guided walk is a useful way of learning more about its history from medieval times to the present.
Highlights for a stay include the Einstein Museum, the Zytglogge – a 13th century clock tower – and the famous bears that live in a spacious riverside park. City centre hotels suit a range of budgets and restaurants such as Kornhauskeller and Dampfzentrale are close by.
Excursions from Bern (using local transport) can easily be made to attractions such as the Emmentaler Show Dairy and the Kambly (biscuit maker) experience. Eileen Booker says, ‘I enjoyed the visit to Emmental Cheese where we experienced both making and tasting the cheese’, and Sylvia Page adds, ’Bern was lovely and I enjoyed visiting the Clock House and seeing the famous Bears, while, at Emmental Dairy, it was interesting to see how quickly milk turned to cheese!’
In less than 60 minutes, a train will take you from Bern to Interlaken – a pretty village at the base of the Bernese Oberland Alps and between two lakes. Here you can take a 10-minute funicular ride to Harder Kulm, where there are spectacular views from a platform and restaurant over Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. Interlaken Ost station has regular train connections giving access to the mountains via Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald.
‘The itinerary was well organised, and we were impressed with the variety of things to do and see, which would be very suitable for the members of our Camera Club – satisfying all photographic subject preferences.’Jenny & Mike Hillman
Interlaken is a good base for active groups with a wide selection of well signposted walking and cycling routes on hand around the lake and up in the mountains, and you can both swim and sail on the lakes too.
The journey to Mürren from Interlaken via train, bus and finally cable car, takes around an hour – everything interconnects marvellously! Hotels in Mürren are in traditional chalet style and give spectacular views across the Lauterbrunnen Valley and up to the mountains.
Ruth Thomason says, ‘Murren was magical’ and Sylvia Page adds, ‘it was an experience in itself to be in the fresh air, with mountain views, meadows full of colourful spring flowers and stay in a village where everything moves on foot or by electric vehicle.’
From Mürren, several trips can be organised including a cable car ride up high to SchilthornPiz Gloria, which famously featured in the James Bond film, On her Majesty’s Secret Service as Blofeld’s lair, and is now the home of the Bond World 007 exhibition telling the ‘behind the scenes’ story of how the film was made.
Ruth Thomason adds, ‘it was fun to visit the exhibition and have breakfast in the revolving restaurant and it’s definitely something my community and church based group would very much enjoy.’
Taking the cable car down from the summit you can stop at Birg for the Thrill Walk. This aweinspiring steel and glass walkway clinging to the mountainside is suspended high above the valley and is not for the faint-hearted.
Sylvia adds, ‘I was pleased I plucked up the courage to do this walk!’ Back down in the valley your group can visit the tremendous Trummelbach Falls where a huge volume of water from high glaciers surges out of the mountain.
The Fam trip was much enjoyed by the GTOs and provided useful information as these final comments suggest.
‘I was so surprised at the ease of travelling with a group by Swiss public transport. I would look to organise this as a destination for my group but would aim for a maximum party size of 20 people.’Eileen Booker
‘I found the guides knowledgeable about the areas we visited and it was good to see just how easy it was to travel by train and tram.’Ruth Thomason
‘I wanted to discover what there was to do in the Alps besides skiing down the slopes, and as a result I will be encouraging the members of my U3A group to consider this as a holiday destination.’Sylvia Page