Come summer the cool quiet landscape of the Swiss Alps returns to life. Icy whites are replaced by verdant greens and yellows; the sky a unfakeable shade of blue. Birds stretch their wings after a long winter in the clear mountain air, sweet with the scent of thousands of wild flowers. The icy covers are lifted from a wonderland of trails, lakes, rivers and activities that were off limits to our winter-loving friends.
Let's face it: The summer season is always quieter and more relaxed than the winter frenzy. And you can guarantee September, in the waning days of the holiday season, will be even better. The crowds have all gone and you can enjoy summer Swiss Alps indulgences in perfect peace.
For our stay we chose the car-free town of Wengen, which offers the perfect mix of luxury, history and quaint charm. Accessible by mountain railway and convenient for exploring the region, it’s isolated enough to be free from day trippers, offering an all-day peacefulness you won’t find elsewhere. More than that, it is home to some of the most impressive luxury establishments in the Alps.
SPA VICTORIA LAUBERHORN
Built in 1897 the grand, historic Spa Victoria Lauberhorn is the quintessential Swiss Alpine lodge. The luxurious guest rooms offer spellbinding views over the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Jungfrau Mountain. Downstairs the wellness area includes a day spa, heated indoor saltwater pool, sauna, steam room, plus hot and cold plunge pools. In-house restaurant Lobhörner offers traditional four course meals, while Pasta & More delivers à la carte fare.
In Wengen you’re not without options, including the refurbished Hotel Belvedere, a 1912 art nouveau establishment with atmospheric grandeur, or the Hotel Schönegg, which mimics the traditional chalet experience with beautiful pine panelling splendid views.
A unique Swiss Alps dining experience can be had at the Sunstar Alpine Hotel Wengen’s Grill Cabin. The setting is probably best suited to a chilly winter night, but unforgettable nonetheless. The octagonal pine cabin, complete with sheepskin rugs, has a warmth you could only find in Switzerland. The roaring central fireplace, which guests are seated around in close comfort, affords a highly social experience for the 14 lucky diners. The traditional menus include two wonderful raclettes, a mixed grill of pork, sausages and spare ribs, and a homely Apple pie.
An alternative experience can be found at Restaurant 1903 in Hotel Schönegg. The wonderful chalet feeling flows from the hotel into the restaurant space, where Chef Sylvain Stefanazzi Ogi prepares a traditional Swiss menu with a Mediterranean feel. Delights of the degustation include Lamb Sashimi with herb pesto and feta cream, and Sautéed Pears with Wiliamine, almond biscuit and chocolate coulis..
With vast stretches of spellbinding wilderness to explore, lunch is literally a walk in the park. We found heaven on a grassy hillside in Gimmelwald, an idyllic farming village we will remember for a tiny pay-what-you-want honesty shop and vast silence, interrupted only by inquisitive cows and their bells. Let fate choose where you place your picnic rug: there’s no shortage of inspiring mountain vistas. Pick up some Emmental Cheese (the holey one, no less, made in the Bernese hillsides not far from here), and Bündnerfleisch, the famous traditional Swiss air-dried beef. Add a crusty Swiss loaf, some fresh seasonal fruit and a bottle of Pinot noir and you’re winning.
Perched impossibly on a steep rocky outcrop, 11,000 feet in the air, surrounded by imposing mountains and glaciers, sits the Jungfraujoch, a lonely observation tower. There’s no roads or visible path to the outside world, yet thousands of visitors make the journey every day. You’ll find the answer deep inside the earth, where a mind-bending underground railway snakes through the Eiger mountain, to an icy terminus first opened in 1912. An elevator takes you the last few hundred metres to the Sphinx, an observation tower with spellbinding views of the Aletsch Glacier, Monch and Jungfrau mounts, and the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Deep in a dense forest there lived a shepherd who fell in love with a fair maiden, intoxicated by her deep blue eyes. Together they would row onto a lake under the romantic moonlight, until one unfortunate day the shepherd fell from a cliff to his death. The poor maid was heartbroken. Every evening she would row herself to the middle of the lake and cry for her lost love. One morning her parents would awake to find the maid drowned, and the lake had turned a mysterious shade of blue, not unlike the fair maid’s eyes…
The reality is just as incredible as the story; Blausee glows an impossible electric blue, and the water is so clear thousands of rainbow trout swim as if suspended in space. Visitors will be tempted by relaxing glass-bottom boat rides, a stroll through the fairytale forest, or a glass of wine in the restaurant, which serves fresh delicacies from the trout farm.
TAKE A HIKE
The Swiss love hiking, and alpine explorers will find no shortage of wilderness to conquer. Beginners will get the best of Swiss Alps on the short hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. After ascending the cable car from Wengen, you’ll be treated to magnificent views of the Lauterbrunnen valley, a steep snaking void with sheer terraced cliffs. The trail goes south, which affords sweeping vistas of the Grindelwald Valley
The wide plain is punctuated by the most famous sight in all the Swiss Alps: the north face of the Eiger, beside its legendary neighbours Mönch and Jungfrau. On a clear day Eiger’s 6000 foot wall of rock and ice is revealed in all its glory. Skillful and well prepared adventurers will find their challenge to the west on the Schilthorn, following the steep rocky moonscape to the observation tower made famous after featuring in James Bond’s adventure On Her Majesty‘s Secret Service.
Come spring, when the ice melts, Lauterbrunnen becomes the valley of 72 waterfalls.
Holiday planners will instantly recognise Staubbach Falls in the town of Lauterbrunnen, a quaint village at the heart of the valley, but head deeper for more unique thrills.
At Trummelbach Falls, the water runs so deep in the mountainside it takes an underground funicular to reach it. Man-made tunnels and viewing platforms showcase the river at its most impressive, where the water surges like a snake through a beautiful maze of sweeping curves. Standing on the precipice isn’t for the faint-hearted. The tremendous thunder of water is deafening; the spray putting the best raincoats to the test. But there’s a mesmerising tranquility to the violence as you stare into the abyss. A clarity of thought occurs when you free yourself of distraction - when you can hear nothing, you can see everything. I encourage you to experience it for yourself.