This mom recounts a snowy spring trip to Murren, the Jungfrau and Gimmelwald (among Europe's highest elevations), and how she got everyone into some family hiking.
Snow pelted the funicular as we slowly chugged our way up to Murren from Lautebrunnen down below. The three inches of accumulation suggested that the snowsuits brought to Switzerland for each of our children would indeed be unpacked. I inwardly groaned, imagining the hassle of winter-dressing I thought I'd escaped by leaving Maine in April.
We were traveling to the highest elevations of Europe, so I prepared to enjoy our winter -not spring- holiday in Switzerland.
When planning our trip to Switzerland, we had been enthralled by the image of Alpine views; long, sunny hikes; 'shorts and sweater' kind of weather. The village of Murren seemed ideal– no automobile traffic, hotels within walking distance of everything we could need. We read there are a variety of restaurants, grocery provisions (Swiss chocolate!), and a sampling of "tourist" shops to grab a cowbell or two. We read about miles of hiking and skiing trails, and views without the effort of hiking or skiing at all.
The stunning Alps were shadows behind a blinding snowstorm as we trudged the short distance from the Murren kograil station to our hotel. Grateful for the extended family we were meeting for this vacation, we enjoyed the rest of our first day, unpacking, visiting with everyone and taking a brief walk through the tiny, treacherously icy village.
That night, I went to bed anxiously, glancing around the cramped hotel room shared with Yacob, (10 months) and Jasmine, (3 years) and wondered what exactly we would do here for one week.
Touring Around the Jungfrau
Our first morning revealed a stupendous view of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks directly across the valley, sparkling with snow against a backdrop of clear blue skies. Our hotel, perched on the edge of monstrous cliffs, made going out on the balcony simultaneously thrilling and nerve-wracking with the kids.
We made haste to take advantage of the clear weather and headed to Jungfraujoch, the highest point in Europe, at 11,000 ft. This involved a two-hour train/kograil excursion down into the valley, up the other side, and then tunneling through the mountain to be deposited up on the saddle.
Despite the lightheadedness caused by the altitude, we spent a few hours taking in the sights. There was an incredible view. We could see for miles, the towns in the valleys and all the major peaks and ranges. A single skier's track was the only texture on the silken sheen of the snow-covered plateau. The observation tower was both a restaurant and a scientific research center with geological information, considered a tourist attraction. An added attraction at the summit is the Ice Palace, an extensive gallery of ice sculpture. A milky blue maze of pictoramas and decorative architectural details, benches and tunnels, this was a unique and slippery experience!
Punctual to a Fault
Our return trip back to Murren was flawed only by an abrupt lesson in Swiss punctuality. I hopped off the train to dispose of some trash, the train door closed behind me, and, although I was right there and the conductor was right there, I was not allowed to reboard, and the train continued down the mountain. I had to wait a half-hour for the next train.
As the train returned to the lower elevations, one could see the snow melting and hear avalanches echoing throughout the valley. The snow fall was over, and by the end of our sun-laden week, the ski season would be over, too.
Hiking to Lauterbrunnen Valley
On our second day, my husband and I hiked; the children left in the capable care of their grandparents. We followed a meandering path through Murren down a steeply sloped decline to Gimmelwald, an even tinier town. There we enjoyed excellent homemade yoghurt from a dairy cum hostel. We continued through this two-street, quintessential Swiss village, passing farms and pastures and a variety of farm animals. The well maintained trail dropped down to a river gorge, over ice and snow in some spots, all the way down to the Lautebrunnen Valley. We entered a totally different climate zone: hot, no snow and spring fully sprung, just as the brochures said.
We could pick up a bike trail, which after cooling our toes in the river, we followed to the Gondola. There we could ride back up to Murren, via Gimmelwald. This was an easy, beautiful walk with a perfect balance of walking and sightseeing. Later in the afternoon we ventured over to the Alpine Sports Center with the kids. European swimming pools are hard to beat. The children loved the small one-foot-deep pool (with underwater lights) and wall of lightly cascading water. And we enjoyed a soak in the hot tub and a few lengths in the well heated lap pool. Huge windows framed a vista of snow-capped Alps turning the golden yellow just before sunset. Group changing rooms and showers with stalls for privacy were practical for dressing and washing the children.
Cycling with Baby Trailers
The bike path that we had discovered inspired our adventure for the following day. After only two phone calls, Josh, my husband, secured us bicycles with a trailer for Jasmine and Yacob– to be picked up from a hotel down in Lautebrunnen. The wide, paved paths made the seven-mile ride to the head of the valley (the same point where we cooled our toes the day before) very easy to negotiate. Enchanting views of farms, fields, wooden buildings, stone walls, a meandering stream and a nice selection of waterfalls all contributed to another spectacular day in Switzerland.
The kids, antsy in the trailer, were thrilled to have a break at the playground on the outskirts of Lautebrunnen. Climbing structures, wooden swings, long covered slides and a tunnel were the highlights for them. We had pizza at an outdoor cafe as the sun waned. Dinner was cheap and casual, our most relaxing evening meal yet. Most restaurants don't serve until 6:30 pm, an especially difficult time for our kids. So on most days, their good behavior was encouraged with liberal use of the excellent Swiss chocolate, plus we had the help of four other adults with us.
Strolling to Gimmelwald
The following day we had an excursion back down to Gimmelwald with the children. The paved single lane path was convenient for strollers and small waterfalls and the passing of ATV sized "trucks" were great entertainment. At our elevation, we could also watch the paragliders descend and ascend, riding the thermals of this incredible valley.
The kids devoured the fresh whole milk yoghurt when we stopped again at the dairy. We made our way to the playground, the most scenic playground I've ever been to, before heading back up to Murren on the gondola. Jasmine especially had been looking forward to finally riding on the gondola The crowds and dogs in such close proximity distracted her from the fun of "flying," but Jasmine was definitely thrilled to spot her grandparents hiking back up the path. (They didn't need the ride.)
An Evening al Fresco
We ended that day with a second trip to the pool and an attempt to eat out (not in our hotel restaurant) and enjoy the famous Swiss Raclette, a centerpiece dish involving melted cheese and boiled potatoes. The timing proved to be too challenging for 10-month-old Yacob, so he and I enjoyed a glass of wine and a sippy cup with an assortment of Swiss cheeses and crackers outside, taking in the evening air and awe-inspiring view of mountain tops, bathed in a rosy alpine glow of the sun.
After dinner, we took a stroll through the village. Local children playing in a small courtyard encouraged Jasmine to join in, but she was content to watch them hurl their ball over a mountain of snow accumulated by roof shoveling.
We admired all the weathered wooden structures, the houses and barns with working shutters, finely crafted railings, doors and balconies, and sweet flower boxes. This could be nowhere but Switzerland.
A Cultural Awakening
Jasmine's cultural awareness extended to the observation of the abundance of binkies (pacifiers for those not in the know) in the mouths of 3-year-olds. She would enviously point them out, for hers was mandated only for bedtime.
The evening turned from cool to cold as we headed back to our hotel. After the kids went to sleep, we packed our things. The following day we headed to Zurich for an afternoon of sightseeing, before flying back to Maine.
A few weeks after our return, at Jasmine's birthday, her uncle presented her with a shoe-box-sized box wrapped only in the plastic bag from the duty-free shop in the Zurich Flughafen.
Giving us an expectant look, he leaned over to where Jasmine was unwrapping a genuine Rigi Gondola. A tiny hand crank propels the softball-sized gondola and two tourist figurines from one side of the playroom to the other.
Josh, Jasmine and I all said in unison, "Cool!".
For more information on Switzerland visit http://www.myswitzerland.com or call 877/Switzerland.
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