Interlaken, Switzerland

Located between the two lakes of Brienz and Thun which are joined by the river Aare, Interlaken at 566m above sea level is perhaps a town that can claim to be the international capital of outdoor activities.  

To visit I stayed at Camping Alpenblick.  There is a bus stop outside the campsite, however if you feel fit you can walk the 5km or so into town, picking up some local cheese, milk and eggs from the farm shops on the way back. The campsite will give you a pass which allows you to travel by bus free of charge and gives some discounts on other attractions.

Interlaken boasts incredible scenery, the two lakes of Brienz and Thun and the attractions around them such as the St. Beatus caves. To the south we have the mountains of the Bernese Oberland and especially the Swiss Skyline peaks of the Jungfrau region, including the Jungfrau, (4,158 m), the Mönch (4,107 m) and the Eiger (3,970 m). Whilst the peaks of these mountains are accessible only to mountaineers, a sequence of connecting mountain railways gives access to the Jungfraujoch, a saddle (3,454 m) between the Jungfrau and the Mönch.  Alternatively one can take the cable cars to the top of the Schilthorn to admire fantastic views from a revolving restaurant that does a complete turn once every 55 minutes.  This is the location of Piz Gloria, the hideaway of Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the film On Her Majesties Secret Service and there is an excellent Bond World exhibition there as well.  Another outstanding feature is the Thrill Walk at Birg on the way up to the Piz Gloria.  Here one can look down at sheer rock faces through the glass or slatted metal floors.

Closer to Interlaken, the Harderkulm (1,321 m), just to the north of the town, and the Schynige Platte (1,967 m), just to the south, are also accessible by railway, and provide extensive views of the higher mountains. Boat trips operate on both lakes Thun and Brienz, serving various lakeside settlements. One of these, Brienz, is the starting point for one of Switzerland's last remaining steam operated mountain railways, the Brienz-Rothorn railway.

Other activities include backpacking (which can be easily done from the campsite) skydiving, canyoning, hang gliding, paragliding, and of course skiing.


Historical tourist development

Interlaken was one of the towns on the Tour of Europe popularised by painters in the nineteenth century and one can see the Hotel Victoria today which is resplendent in charm from this period.  The landscapes of Franz Niklaus König amongst other painters toether with the success of the Unspunnenfest, a festival of Swiss culture, in 1805 and 1808 put the town on the map.  As from 1820, it was a destination on the map for aristocrats and by 1859 the first spa was open.  Transport links included a steam ship route on Lake Thun which opened in 1835 and one Lake Brienz fin 1839.

In 1872, the Bödelibahn railway opened from Därligen, on Lake Thun, to Interlaken. Two years later it was extended to Bönigen, on Lake Brienz. Initially this line was unconnected to the rest of the Swiss railway system, and served as a link between the steamships on both lakes. However, in 1893, the Thunersee railway opened alongside Lake Thun providing a direct rail connection to Thun, with onward connections to Bern and beyond. In 1888, the Brünig railway opened between Alpnachstad, on Lake Lucerne, and Brienz, on Lake Brienz, thus providing a through steamer and rail connection from Interlaken to Lucerne. By 1916, the Brünig railway had reached Interlaken from Brienz, and, together with an earlier extension at its eastern end, provided a direct rail route to Lucerne. In 1890, the Berner Oberland railway connected Interlaken to the tourist destinations of Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald.

With the opening up of transport links, hotels developed along the route to the Jungfrau. In 1860-75 and 1890-1914 several luxury hotels were built with views of the Jungfrau and surrounding mountains. The current Kursaal was built in 1898-99 and remodeled in 1909-10.