The small town of Thun located in west-central Switzerland is quite possibly my favourite place in the world. Just when you think that a place on earth with so many blessings which include accurate time keeping, cheese and chocolate couldn’t get any better, it does. A mountain range of the Alps, known as the Bernese Alps (Berner Oberland), is located here. As such, this extremely mountainous region is noted for its incredible beauty. Despite the name, “Bernese Alps”, suggesting that they are located in Bern, the range runs through the cantons of Bern, Valais, Fribourg and Vaud. The astonishing surrounding Alpine scenery has helped establish the nearby resorts of Interlaken, Thun, Meiringen, Grindelwald, Mürren and Kandersteg.
Many of the peaks in the range rise to more than 3660m. Jungfraujoch railway station at the top of Jungfraujoch peak is the highest point of Europe. On my last visit to Thun I took the Niesenbahn funicular to the top of Niesen, which lies at the southern shore of Lake Thun and peaks at 2,366m. The Niesenbahn is a bright yellow tram on rails connected to a cable that carries people up and down the steel slope. It really needs to be experienced to be believed! We reached the top of this perfectly pyramid shaped mountain only to find clouds surrounding the peak. Visibility was so poor that I couldn’t see past my outstretched arm. I consoled myself with hot chocolate.
This time however, I got lucky. On a cold November morning, a few of us packed into a car and drove up the winding roads to the village of Beatenberg. The route to Beatenberg from Thun by road is so scenic that if heaven was a place I’m sure this is where it would be. Steep cliffs overlook lush green valleys. Traditional wooden farmhouses dot the entire landscape. Sheep and cows graze lazily close to narrow roads snaking up the mountains. And then, there is this lake!
This lake of Thun that glistens, shining under the sun, all shades of turquoise and blue. It’s elegance takes total command of your view; Clear as a crystal, captivating like a Goddess, a Venus emerging from the earth instead of the sea.
Beatenberg sits high above Lake Thun and offers the most magnificent views. *It is from here that you can also catch the cable car or begin your hike to the summit of Niederhorn. If you take the cable car they will stop half way should you wish to hike the rest of the way up. If you don’t want to just remain in your car. It is a relatively easy hike and a well travelled path. However, if you plan to do that in winter make sure you are appropriately dressed and have the right equipment for the weather as it can get windier and snowy the higher up you go.
I’ve always believed that reaching the top of any mountain you have climbed undoubtedly brings you closer to God. This certainly felt true at the peak of Neiderhorn. A little snow had fallen overnight making everything look brand new. In the distance I could see clouds cascading down between two peaks like a waterfall. All around me snow capped peaks glistened against a brilliantly blue sky under the sun. The light so incredibly intense bouncing against the snow and blinding you with its glare. On this clear day it was possible to follow the ridge and see the peaks of Stockhorn, Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. What a treat! Looking down, forests running wild against the mountains covering everything in their path. To the right, snow had covered all but the road which was ribbonning against the snow.
These highlands are also home to Ibex. In summer hikers regularly spot them.
Between April – October Restaurant Niederhorn at the top serves food with spectacular views. There is seating for around 240 inside and outside. Deck chairs are provided so you can take in the views while you sip drinks. As we were there on a cold Sunday in November much of the restaurant was closed but the kitchen was still open and a limited menu available. Stop here. Refresh yourself, take in the view, exchange stories and breathe before you make your way back down.
These mountains? They will leave you breathless. If you do at least one good thing for yourself in your lifetime, let it be to arrive here. Witness this gift of wonder that has been bestowed upon us. Swiss ingenuity means the Bernese Alps are accessible to people of all ages. It is common to see young families hiking up with grandparents.
The various mountains in the range are closed to the public at different times of the year (mostly in the winter months before the skiing season begins). Whilst this allows maintenance and repair of facilities to be carried out what this must also do is allow wildlife and ecosystems here to flourish. This fine balance of sustainability and mass tourism allows for a unique experience – one that is echoed in the mountains.
See it for yourself.
*Adult return fare for Niederhorn cable car is CHF40pp.