To be more precise, I made my bed in the home of cows in Switzerland. The actual bovines were kind enough to move out while I was there.
Let me rewind just a bit. As part of my 2007 summer in Europe, one of the places I had at the top of my list to visit were the Swiss Alps. I was introduced to the tiny village of Gimmelwald through Rick Steves’ travel guidebooks, and decided it would be the perfect place to call home while visiting these majestic mountains.
My Switzerland adventure started with a long train ride from Salzburg, Austria to Interlaken, nestled at the foot of the Alps between two lakes. My travel buddy, Teresa, and I stayed the night at Balmers Herberge – possibly the friendliest hostel we lodged at during our 10-week trip.
Our time in Interlaken consisted of eating, sleeping, schlepping heavy luggage miles through the rain, and storing said luggage at the train station while we brought only the bare necessities up the mountain in our backpacks.
Our journey to Gimmelwald started with a train ride to Lauterbrunnen followed by a bus ride to Stechelberg. From there we boarded a gondola lift that whisked us up the mountain.
Gimmelwald is a small village, stuck in the past, living high in the Alps. The day we arrived was overcast and rainy, but despite the less than stellar weather conditions, the views were absolutely stunning! To this day I’ve never seen anything like it – completely indescribable – the towering peaks, the waterfalls that flow down to the unseen valleys below…beautiful.
Once in the village we had no trouble finding our accommodations as there is really only one “street” that runs through town. And one large barn. Which just happened to be where we laid our heads for the next couple of nights. 🙂
Yes, we stayed in a real barn (the cows left four weeks before we arrived), filled with real straw. We each had a “bed” reserved in the straw, with as many wool blankets as we wanted. And we wanted! It was absolutely freezing our first day and night there!
After dumping our stuff, we headed out again to hike up to the town of Mürren, which is the closest place to buy groceries. Mürren is a larger town about 800 feet higher up the mountain than Gimmelwald. It took us about 45 minutes to walk hike there along the paved path. This is when we realized how incredibly out of shape we were.
After making our food purchases, we enjoyed (ha!) a rainy hike back to Gimmelwald. Back in the barn we spent some time trying to warm up. Not an easy task when the temperature inside is no warmer than the freezing temperature outside. But at least it was dry!
We finally decided to brave the chilly rain again and ran to Mountain Hostel, which we had heard rumored made fresh, wood fire pizza.
The rumor turned out to be fact. Yay! 🙂 We ordered a cheese pizza and hot chocolate and enjoyed both along with the warmth of the building. The atmosphere was very friendly and inviting with a lot of people just hanging around eating, drinking, and playing games.
The next morning we woke up to clearing skies and even more incredible views than the day before. We couldn’t stop taking pictures of the majesty that surrounded us.
And how was it sleeping in straw beds, you ask? Well, let’s just say that I wore every item of clothing I had with me to bed each night, and was covered from head to toe with three layers of blankets. It was darn cold in there! But we slept pretty well! 🙂
Our day started with another hike up to Mürren where we grabbed some hiking trail maps. We decided to start with an easier trail and ended up choosing one that lead to Grütschalp. This was an incredibly easy walk, even for us out-of-hiking-shape folks. The trail was paved and very flat and wide. We passed so many people who looked like they were in their 60’s or 70’s which I loved. I hope I’m still skipping around mountains when I’m their age!
We made it to Grütschalp and took the train back to Mürren. The weather at this point was perfect – blue skies, hot sun, cool temperatures – we were so thankful, and determined to enjoy every last minute of it while it lasted!
Back in Mürren we decided to grab some lunch before tackling some of the more strenuous hikes. We ate at the Alpina Hotel with this view:
We both had the traditional Swiss dish of rösti. I also had some hot chocolate (I did mention that the temperature was still cool despite the warm sun). 🙂
Re-energized with lunch, we were ready to get off the beaten path (or at least the paved path) and do some “real” hiking! All throughout these mountains are trail signs marked with different arrows depending on how difficult/strenuous that particular trail is. Yellow arrow = easy, red and white striped arrow = hard.
The trail we took to Allmendhubel was marked with a yellow arrow. It lied. Although it was a wide, partially paved path, it seemed like it went straight up with really no break. We nearly died. We made it almost to Allmendhubel Station, then decided to veer off the path to take a hike that Rick Steves had recommended in his guidebook, which would take us back to Gimmelwald by way of the North Face Trail.
No paved paths here! We loved it!! We hiked from alpine hut to alpine hut, through beautiful meadows filled with wild flowers, past rustic barns teeming with cows (and goats, and pigs, and chickens), through aromatic pine forests, all with the most amazing and incredible mountain views one can imagine.
We made it back to Gimmelwald around dinnertime and sat on a bench to eat surrounded by mountainous glory, with views of the valley and waterfalls below.
The next day we said good-bye to Gimmelwald and were whisked back down the mountain. Our time in the Swiss Alps was short, but filled with incredible beauty and fun times.
Accommodations Info & Tips:
I’m sorry to say that the barn is no longer being used as a place of accommodations. *sad face* Our “beds” were reserved through Esther’s Guesthouse who still rents rooms and apartments – there just isn’t any straw involved. 🙂
While in Interlaken, we stayed at Balmer’s Herberge which was a great place. It seemed like it would be a bit of a party hostel but was actually pretty mellow. I think most people who stay there are in town to do the plethora of “outdoorsy” activities – not to go wild and crazy until the wee hours of the morning. Current rates for a dorm bed are around $33/night. And there is also a restaurant on the premises which we ate at.
There are so many hiking trails throughout this region! It’s probably best to do some research prior to arriving to get an idea of what kind of trails are around. And get a map!! But that should go without saying. 🙂
Other than hiking – the outdoor activities available in the Alps are endless! If I ever make it back to this part of the world, I will definitely be trying paragliding! We saw so many paragliders jumping from high elevations and drifting down to earth. It looked like such an amazing experience.
If you ever visit Gimmelwald, keep in mind that there really isn’t much in town. No restaurants (other than pizza at the hostel), no grocery store – so if you want to eat 🙂 you’ll either need to bring food with you or make a trek up to Mürren. The gondola lift will take you up there from Gimmelwald so you don’t have to walk.
But this lack of “necessities” is what makes Gimmelwald so wonderful to visit. That and the views, of course. 🙂