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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

The Perfect Swiss Hiking Trip

If you’ve ever had an interest in hiking in Switzerland here’s the perfect Swiss hiking trip to consider. Penny and I just got back after a super week of hiking in the Bernese Oberland with good friends, all done without guides or travel organizers on a reasonable budget.

Saturday:

Arrived in Zurich via Amsterdam, and easily caught the first train to Lucerne after clearing customs. Stayed at a modest, but modern new hotel one block from the train station – the Ameron Flora. Took a walk around the city to walk off our jet lag. Then met our friends for dinner: we walked through Lucerne’s famous Chapel Bridge, along the canal to a fantastic place for dinner: the Terrasse at Hotel des Balances. We had a Michelin 1-star dinner at a beautiful table just above the canal with great views of the Lake of Lucerne and the city, as we listened to the cheers of the locals as Young Boys of Lucerne bested rival Basel, 3-1, in soccer and heard the singing on the canal.

 

Sunday:

Up early for breakfast so we could catch the 8:55 am train to Wengen, using our Swiss Pass for half-fare. Along the route, we changed trains in Bern, Interlaken, and Lauterbrunen, with the final leg on the Wengerbahn cog railway that eventually goes through the mountains to the top of the Jungfrau. We all marveled at the perfect timing of the Swiss rail system which enabled us to easily change trains with only 4-5 minutes. After a total of three hours, we are arrived at our destination: the beautiful mountain village of Wengen, nestled just below the Jungfrau.

Upon arrival, we walked five minutes to the Alpenrose, where we had nice south-facing rooms with gorgeous views of the Jungfrau. After unpacking, we regrouped and went to lunch in the village. Following lunch, we took the cable car up the mountain to Mannlichen. As we stepped off the cable car, we had one of the great views of the Swiss Alps with the famous north face of the Eiger immediately in front of us and the Monch and the Jungfrau jutting boldly out of the plateau to its right.

A pleasant 1 1/2-hour hike down a gradual slope brought us to Kleine Scheidegg, just below the Jungfrau. After another thirty minutes we arrived at Wengernalp, where we caught the cog railway back to Wengen. The views were spectacular throughout, as was the weather. Our hotel served us a pleasant five-course dinner that evening in its dining room.

(Hike: 2 hours, 4 miles, -1,200 vertical feet)

 

Monday:

Up early for a full breakfast and then caught the 8:28 train back down the mountain through Lauterbrunen to Wilderswil, where we connected with an amazing cog railway of the old Swiss style – first installed in 1927 – up the mountain to Schnigye Platte. The train climbed 2,000 vertical feet in 57 minutes. But now our real hike was beginning: six hours and 2,200 vertical feet up the mountain to Faulhorn where Switzerland’s oldest mountain inn was built in 1830. We had beautiful vistas along the way, with Interlaken’s twin lakes, Thunersee and Brienzersee, far below us.  After four hours and a challenging climb the last hour, we arrived at Manndlenen Hutte for a bowl of soup and sausage. Manndlenen was built in 1998 to replace Willy Weber Hut that we visited on our 1994 trip, where Willy served us hot chocolate and played the accordion for us. Willy is now in a retirement home, with the new owner having built a larger hut that sleeps 38 in its dormitory space.

After lunch we faced the most challenging climb of our trip: 1,200 vertical feet and two hours to Faulhorn. As we came out from lunch, Faulhorn towered high above us, causing some in our group to doubt their ability to make it to the top. But make it we did, in less time with less stress than we had anticipated. Arriving at this fabled inn at 2681 meters (8,800 feet) was an exhilarating feeling, as we settled in for a cold beer before heading off to our affordable rooms (with no heat, but heavy blankets). Penny and I made the short climb to the very top where we had a remarkable 360 degree view of the Swiss Alps, with the full range towering above us to the south. An early dinner in the rollicking, packed dining area – which included a group of thirty Swiss teenagers who had made the last climb with us – put us in bed by 9:30 pm.

(Hike: 5.5 hours, 6 miles, +2,400 vertical feet)

 

Tuesday:

It was cold the next morning as a hard rain during the night cleared the atmosphere for another warm, sunny day with temperatures in the mid-80s by midday. We hiked nearly three hours down the mountain to First, the mid-mountain stop above Grindlewald, where we had snacks and drinks. Our next two hours comprised a beautiful cross-mountain hike down to Grosse Scheidegg, where we enjoyed a relaxing lunch on the terrace. One of the guys and I hiked the last two hours down the Via Alpina, through beautiful wooded mountain paths at the base of alpine mountain rising high above us, with waterfalls from the glaciers plunging down on the rocks and river below. The rest of our group elected to take the bus to Rosenlaui, where our 1779 restored hotel awaited our arrival. We were quite fortunate that evening as the hotel had its annual singing entertainment with an amazing group of 18 yodelers, whose could hit the highest possible notes. As the only foreigners in the hotel that evening, we were in for a real Swiss cultural treat as the yodelers sang before dinner and after each of the four courses.

(Hike: 7.5 hours, 8 miles, -6,000 feet)

Wednesday:

We awoke to another beautiful morning following a second night of rain, had a typical Swiss breakfast, and made our sandwiches for lunch from the meat and cheese in the breakfast spread. We caught the 9:09 am bus to the town of Meiringen where we had spent the night back in 1994. From Meiringen we caught a series of three lifts – a cable car and two gondolas – to reach the Alpen Tower, on Planplatten high above Meiringen. From there we had our most delightful hike along the ridge line from Planplatten all the way to Tannenalp, with magnificent views of the Swiss Alps to the south and lakes and villages to the north, including Milchsee-Fruit that Penny visited on her first trip to Europe in 1965. We hit a few challenging “knife edges,” but nothing that couldn’t be easily handled. After three hours of hiking, we stopped for a sandwich lunch from our packs, high above the Tannensee with views of Milchsee to the west and Engstlesee to the east, nestling below a Swiss cross at the highest point of the ridge line. From there we ambled another two hours down to the lake of Tannen and through the town of Tannenalp From there we had an easy 45-minute walk through a pass to Engstlenalp Inn, site of our last mountain hotel – and our first back in 1994 when we made the reverse journey from east to west along the same route. Engstlenalp Inn had been upgraded since our last journey so we found ourselves in delightful modern rooms in the new wing. For “old times’ sake” we sat at precisely the same dinner table that evening in the inn’s dining room. It rained hard again that evening and weather the following day was predicted to be rainy, but the sky overnight and the sun shone brightly as we awoke.

(Hike: 6 hours, 6 miles, -1,800 feet, up & down)

 

Thursday:

After a pleasant Swiss breakfast at the inn, we headed out early at 8:00 so we could get back to Lucerne by mid-afternoon. We had a relaxing and beautiful hike above the

shores of Engstlesee before climbing up the mountain to the famous Jochpass. One of our group members had developed a severe blister so she and her husband elected to take the chair lift the top. An hour later we converged at the top of Jochpass in the shadow of Titlis Mountain and then we rode together down to Trubsee. Once again our group split up as two walked around the lake to take the cable car all the way to Engleberg. The remaining four of us hiked around the west side of Trubsee and down to an idle lift, where called by phone down to the operator who agreed to run the small gondola in seven minutes. Rather than walking the last hour down to Engleberg, we decided on a new adventure: riding the Trotti down. The Trotti is a uniquely Swiss invention of a scooter with bicycle brakes that you ride with both feet on the base down the mountain road through the woods to the base of the cable car station. Characteristically Swiss, we paid our fee but showed neither identification nor signed liability releases. We simply left our Trottis in the racks and walked into Engleberg for lunch. We concluded the mountain part of our trip with an easy, one-hour ride on the train to Lucerne, rolling down the mountain to Stansstad and around the lake to the large Lucerne train station. Collecting our luggage that we left at the Ameron Flora five days before, we checked into the Waldstatterhof Hotel across from the train station. We arrived by 2:30pm so we had time for a relaxing walks around Lucerne before meeting for the final night of our hiking trip.

(Hike: 4 hours, 6 miles, +1,200, -4,000 feet)

After roughing it for five days, we went to the Lucerne International Festival of Music in the KKL Concert Hall, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel for which he garnered the European Architectural Prize of the Decade in the 1990s. We heard a stirring all-Brahms concert conducted by world renowned conductor Bernard Haitink (music director of Amsterdam Concertobouw for twenty-five years). After the concert, we caught the Palace Hotel shuttle boat to Restaurant Jasper in the Palace for our final celebration at the end of “the Perfect Swiss Hiking Trip.”

(Total Hike: 25 hours, 30 miles, 17,000 total vertical feet, up & down)

 

Friday:

After departing from our friends, Penny and I spent the next day visiting the Swiss Museum of Transportation in the morning, and then drove around the Lake of Lucerne in our newly rented convertible to Vitznau and Weggis, where we had a relaxing lunch on the lake overlooking the mountains rising above the lake. After lunch, we took the cable car to Rigi, where we hiked around the rim, before a brief visit to the town of Zug. That evening we had dinner with good friends on the Lake of Zug and spent the night in their home. The weather turned cold and rainy that evening, lasting through noon of the next day.

Saturday:

After breakfast with our hosts, we drove to Mont Pelerin, high above Vevey and Lac Leman, for lunch at the Mirador Hotel with friends from Colorado. Our destination that afternoon was Nyon, the ancient Roman village near Geneva, where we walked with good friends from our days in Switzerland and had a relaxing dinner of perch from the lake in front of us.

Sunday:

We backtracked east along the lake, revisiting our haunts from our year in Switzerland, passing Medtronic’s European headquarters at Tolochenaz, and had breakfast with friends from Medtronic days. Heading back toward Geneva, we caught our flights to Minneapolis via Amsterdam, arriving home by 7:00pm, with great memories of our trip.