It isn’t always possible to spend weeks on end exploring an area; sometimes you only have a day or two. It might be that you’re passing through on the way to somewhere else or in town for something special. There are so many opportunities to make the most of what is in an area, but sometimes if you’re only there for a short amount of time, you wouldn’t even know half of what is there just waiting to be explored. Achievable, accessible adventure is about creating opportunities where possible.
In this series, we put together our ultimate, quick and easy to follow must do’s in some of the world’s most incredible locations.
Every time I visit the Swiss Alps, I fall more and more in love. In fact, I think I have been kidding myself through the pandemic that I didn’t miss it as much as I did. The Swiss Alps, or rather more acutely, the Bernese Alps, seem to hold a very special and dear place in my heart. It isn’t hard to see why. As a visual storyteller, I find that going to the Swiss Alps is a real treat – it is virtually impossible to take a bad photograph there. What I love about hiking in the Swiss Alps is that it presents you with so many options. First and foremost, the public transport links are great. It is entirely possible to arrive in Zurich and be in the mountains within a couple of hours. Once you arrive in the mountains, you see just how good public transport and access can be for hikers and adventure enthusiasts alike. A network of cable cars, funicular trains, mountain railways and buses service areas that make hiking at high altitude not only an incredibly memorable experience, but also entirely possible.
The Bernese Alps presents nothing other than an adventure enthusiasts paradise. Reaching altitudes of over 4,000 meters, you’re treated to incredible views, challenging and rewarding hikes as well as incredible hospitality and unforgettable experiences. The Bernese Alps are located in Western Switzerland, in the Berner Oberland region and are one of the most prominent alpine ranges. Housing the Eiger, Jungfrau and many other iconic mountains there has long been an appeal of this incredible area.
Image Descriptions: A block of four landscape format images. Top Left: A snow and shadow covered mountain face fills most of the image. At the bottom of the frame is a band of autumnal grass. Matt is tiny in frame and walks across the grass. Top Right: Fay is just off centre in the frame and is pictured from the waist up, holding hiking poles and wearing a backpack. There are out of focus mountains in the background and hazy lens flare across the fame. The colours are golden. Bottom Left: Matt hops across some rocks at the edge of a small, ice-covered mountain pool. There are tall, snow-covered mountains in the background. Bottom Right: A glacial lake sits in a snow-covered landscape with tall, snow-capped mountains and a glacier in the background. There are small areas of autumnal foliage visible
Where to stay
It is worth noting at this point that if you’re looking for a budget trip (depending on your reference of budget) Switzerland is certainly on the pricey side – with general costs of over 100 CF a day for accommodation. There are other options such as campsites and mountain huts, but these can also be pricey. The cost of living, in terms of eating out, buying groceries etc. in Switzerland is relatively high but if this is within your budget, it is well worth it! Because of the fantastic transport options and network of roads in the area, it is possible to stay in a whole range of places. Many of the mountain towns and villages are very well connected and each presents a different option for adventures if you want to keep it local whilst you’re there, or, alternatively, many areas are within easy driving distance of public transport distance. It would technically be possible to stay in Zurich and travel in by train, but if the beauty of many of the towns and villages in the Bernese Alps is that they can offer really differing experiences, with a bounty of options for accessing incredible places. For example, Grindelwald will provide you with a quintessential and traditional alpine experience. Whereas Interlaken will provide you with a more urbanized experience in the evenings with fast access to solitude in the day. Of course, the advantages of where you stay depend on what you want from the experience – if you’re looking for big supermarkets and plant based options, you’re likely to find this in the bigger towns.
When to visit
The Bernese Alps are incredible at any time of the year and each season offers a spectacularly different proposition. The winter offers a whole host of winter sports from skiing and snowboarding to snowshoeing and adventures by snow mobile. The spring offers an abundance of wildflowers, lushly painting never ending meadows. Summer provides access to some of the most incredible high altitude hikes and mountaineering routes, such as the famous via alpina, with a number of stages passing through this area. Autumn provides an array of snow capped mountains and incredible foliage that explodes with fiery reds, oranges and amber. It is worth noting that checking out the transport options is really important for the time you’ll plan to go. There are a number of times a year when the cable cars, for example, are closed for a short period in-between seasons for maintenance, which can make getting around not as easy or even possible as it would perhaps be a week previous!
Image Descriptions: A block of four images, described clockwise from left. 1: A portrait format image. Fay wears hiking gear and has poles and a backpack. Fay stands overlooking a bright blue glacial lake with tall cliffs in the background. There are areas of dark foliage at the edges of the frame. 2: A landscape format image. A shallow, ice-covered mountain pool occupies the foreground. We can see orange stones beneath the surface. In the background there are large rocks covered in areas of snow and scrubby autumnal foliage and there are tall snow-capped mountains in the far background. 3: A portrait image. Matt stands on large boulders looking out over a bright blue lake. Matt is wearing hiking gear and a backpack. A steep, tree-covered hillside fills the background. 4: The sun sets behind the summit of the Eiger mountain. This long-lens image shows the snow-capped summit with dramatic clouds passing in front. Areas of the sky and the bare rock on the mountain are bright orange from the setting sun.
What to do
Where to start? There are literally endless options to explore in the Bernese Alps. Wild swimming in cold, pristine blue lakes that make you wonder if they’re even real. Hiking long distance from hut to hut. Hiking at altitude to see some of the most incredible mountains in the world. A huge array of mountain bike trails as well as adrenaline fueled experiences such as paragliding, go carting on mountain trails and even mountain drives on some of the most incredible mountain passes in the world such as the Susten, Furka, Grimsel and Gotthard passes. It simply won’t be possible to see and do everything in the Bernese Alps in a short period of time, but below, I’ve listed some of my favourite hikes to give you some inspiration and get you started! It was pretty difficult to pick just six!
Hike One: Eigergletscher – Grindelwald
Take the funicular train from Grindelwald Grund station up to Eigergletscher, changing at Kleine Scheidegg and you’ll be introduced to, in my opinion, some of the most incredible views in the whole alps. Who wouldn’t want to spend a half day (or more) looking at the North Wall of the infamous Eiger? Get off the train at Eigergletscher and you’ll be treated to a well maintained path that takes you all the way back to Grindelwald. It’s a long descent and often very steep in places, but what your tired legs experience will be made up for by the views that change with every step you take. From high mountain views, to time in the forest – this really is, in my opinion, one of the best hikes in the alps! There is the option to make the hike shorter by starting at Kleine Scheidegg instead, or alternatively finishing the hike at Alpiglen and taking the funicular train back down the mountain.
Hike Two: First to Schynige Platte
With incredible views, the First cable car will take you to an altitude of 2,166m to begin your hike. On your way, you’ll encounter the mirror-like Bachalpsee – a popular attraction for those wanting a shorter day’s hike. Here you’ll likely see families enjoying a picnic. For those continuing, the journey to Schynige Platte offers some of the most breathtaking views of the alps, whilst taking in near 360 degree views at points. Making it to Schynige Platte, you can take the funicular down to the bottom of the mountain and take a train or bus back to your original destination.
Image Description: A panoramic landscape image. This long lens image shows the edge of a glacier. A line of jagged peaks of ice and compressed snow runs through the centre of the frame and catches a ray of sunlight whilst the rest of the image sits in deep shadow. Above and below this ice wall we can see snow-covered rocks and deep drifts of snow. There is very little colour in the image and it seems very cold.
Hike Three: First to Grindelwald
If you enjoyed the hike from Eigergletscher to Grindelwald, this hike provides a great opportunity to enjoy the views from the other side of the mountain. It would also be possible to combine this hike with a hike to Bachalpsee and equally possible, if you fancy a challenge, to begin your hike from Schynige Platte, hike back to First and then down to Grindelwald from there.
Image Descriptions: A block of two landscape format images. Left: A tall, snow-capped mountain peak dominates the frame. In the foreground, some golden, autumnal grasses blow in the wind. Right: Fay stands on the crest of a grassy hill looking out at the view over some distant snow-covered mountains. Fay is wearing hiking gear, a backpack and is carrying hiking poles.
Hike Four: Oeschinensee to Berghaus Oberargli
Oeschinensee is without a doubt one of the most mesmerizing and captivating places on earth. The blue waters that peer out from the bottom of the towering mountains make you question your reality and wonder how anything could lookthatamazing. Generally, you’ll want to take the cable car from Kandersteg up to the lake terminal and hike from there, but if you’re feeling particularly active, you can hike all the way up from Kandersteg. What I love about this hike is that it allows you to see this area from so many different view points – low level and high up. The path is narrow in places and you’ll really feel the steep path as you hike at altitude, but it is well worth it! If you fancy something a little more easy going, the hike from the cable car station to the lake and around the shore is incredible in its own right. This path is relatively accessible, and there is even a small electric bus in the summer season running every 30 minutes that will take passengers from the cable car station to the lake and back.
Image Descriptions: A block of three landscape format images. Left: Distant, hazy snow-covered mountains fill the frame. The image is mostly blue, but there are small areas of golden light throughout the frame where the mountain rocks are catching the setting Sun. Centre: Fay wears a swimsuit and neoprene gloves and stands knee-deep in a huge lake. Mountains flank the lake in the far distance, and, on our right-hand side, the Sun sets behind a mountain shoulder. Right: A long-lens image showing two snow-covered mountain summits. The rock is orange/gold in colour as it is catching light from the setting Sun. An almost full Moon hangs in an otherwise clear blue sky above the mountain peak on our left-hand side.
Hike Five: Steingletscher – Seebodensee
Steingletscher is an area that I just keep coming back to. There are so many brilliant opportunities to explore here. Take any of the little trails up from the varied access path/small road to the end of the Amphitheatre and you’ll find hidden areas which you can’t see from anywhere else. I particularly love this hike as it gives you the opportunity to see things from a slightly elevated position whilst taking in other worldly glacier views. The drive to get there is pretty special too – taking in the Susten Pass. A relatively short hike, but that should not put you off – it is truly spectacular!
Hike Six – Steingletscher – Tierbergli
You may be forgiven for thinking that this hike is in a similar place to the previous one and therefore the views would be similar. But the added altitude gain on this hike will give you something much more different. A hike up to this hut provides spectacular views of the surrounding glaciers – and then you realise that there is still more towering over you! If you fancy it, there is the option to do this as a via ferata in sections – if you check out the map, you’ll see this alternate route marked our following a relatively similar path to the hike version.
Image Description: A landscape format image. Fay and Matt are wearing swimming gear, neoprene gloves and sunglasses as they stand almost waist-deep in the bright blue water of a glacial lake. In the background, enormous snow-covered mountains tower above the far lake shore.