Switzerland Austria September 2019
In September of 2019, we crossed the Pond and visited the continent, Switzerland and Austria to be exact. We flew in and out of Zurich on older American Airlines 767s that were not very nice for long haul flights! No electrical plugs, no private entertainment screens, etc etc. Can't complain too much since we were using AAdvantage miles plus we paid for Main Cabin Extra. That got us great exit row seating with tons of leg room. Other than that the trip was fabulous!
17 nights in total: 7 nights in Switzerland, 9 nights in Austria and a final night at a Zurich Airport Hotel. This was mainly a hiking trip with some great scenery and several days visiting with our London friends who have an apartment in Austria. The weather was beautiful most of the time. And you will notice a common theme below: lots of great food and drink at mountain restaurants, most for lunch mid-hike. That takes careful planning and research!
The Bernese Oberland was our Swiss goal: mountainous terrain with lots of villages lorded over by the perpetually snow bound Jungfrau, Monch and Eiger peaks. We took trains directly from the Zurich Airport (very convenient) to Interlaken followed by a regional train to Grindelwald. Then a short ride on a town bus to our small apartment in the Chalet Abendrot, our base for the next 7 nights. Gorgeous mountain views from our patio! We purchased the Jungfrau pass which included the regional train, Grindelwald buses and most cable cars in the area.
The weather forecast for the upcoming week did not look promising! We decided to stay low the first couple of days since the high country scenery would be in the clouds with rain. Walk day 1 was back in Interlaken with an interesting self-guided tour of decorated wooden houses in the adjacent village of Bonigen. We also took the funicular up to Harder Klum (nice views of Interlaken and the lakes) and did a short hike mostly in the forest. Swiss trains run like clockwork!
Arrival and Day 1
Sunday, our second hike day, started cloudy and drizzly too, so another low level destination: the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The valley is known as the "Valley of 72 Waterfalls". While we didn't see 72, we saw several great waterfalls including Staubbachfall right outside of Lauterbrunnen town and the very unique Trummelbachfall. The latter was like a vertical slot canyon that had been carved out by the water. The enterprising Swiss had built paths, stairs and tunnels that parallel up the canyon and come out to multiple viewpoints. Loud and wet with spray.
We had our first cafe dessert, apple kuchen, on the way to Trummelbachfall, then afterwards a great lunch on the patio at the campground restaurant! It was rated the best restaurant in Lauterbrunnen on TripAdvisor. A long and tasty lunch of mixed salads and Cheese Fondue! We almost finished the cheese and bread...it was so much! As it was cool, the big propane heater and blankets were very welcome!
Still cloudy up high but the cable cars in the area are included in our pass, so up we went. We did a short out and back hike on the "Mountain View" trail (ha ha). Still eerie and fun! We took this cable car again and the train two days later in much better weather.
Our third day started out colder and cloudy, but we had run out of low-level alternatives! The rain down low had turned into snow up high overnight, though Grindelwald was just wet. So up we went on the First (in German that does not mean our "first") Gondola right next our apartment into the winter wonderland! The walk to Bachalpsee (lake) was a bit wet and muddy with some snow spitting on us. Normally a beautiful blue water lake, it was a bit monochromatic in the clouds and snow! We had lunch at our first mountain restaurant at the top station of the Gondola, though obviously not out on the patio. The First Cliff Walk was interesting.
After lunch the weather started clearing! We hiked from First to Grosse Scheidegg along a panoramic trail with ever improving views. Finally good weather. More Swiss cows. All that cheese requires a lot of milk! Look at the size of some of the bells on those cows. At Grosse Scheidegg (not much more than a hotel and bus stop) we caught the bus back to Grindelwald.
First and Grosse Scheidegg Day
For the fourth hike day, we headed back to Lauterbrunnen and took the cable car (same one we went up two days ago for the cloud walk) and small train to the little mountain town of Murren. Then the Allmendhubel Funicular further up the mountain. All in all 3 trains, 1 cable car and 1 funicular! Good thing the Swiss transportation is very efficient.
We walked the other end of the Mountain View trail before lunch, in much better weather! Met our first cows on the trail. They really did not want to move! First gorgeous views of the snow capped Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks. They were ever present for the next couple of days. Had our first outdoor patio mountain restaurant lunch with a view! Good food and good libations.
After lunch we hiked the "North Face" trail that looped around and back down to Murren. Constant mountain views, more cows and several muddy stretches from the recent precipitation. In Murren, there were several Chamois in a field, a native goat antelope of the Alps. Of course, now we had to reverse the whole public transportation route.
Our fifth hiking day was at Schynige Platte, a gorgeous mountain plateau. Of course the weather was outstanding again. A historic cogwheel train takes you up to the top, crowded (fewer scheduled departures) and not as comfortable as the regional trains. We did a long loop hike before lunch, passing several small peaks, with more views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau massif, plus views of the Brienzersee and Thunersee lakes. The climb up the Oberberghorn was very interesting with a steep trail and steep ladders/stairs to get to the great view from the top.
We ate lunch at our only option, the Schynige Platte Panorama restaurant. Great food, beer and wine out on the patio with drop dead views. After lunch we did a short hike up to the Daube Viewpoint for, get this, more views..., before heading back down on the cogwheel train and back to Grindelwald.
Schynige Platte day
Our final hike day in the Bernese Oberland had arrived. Another gorgeous day. The original plan was to take the Mannlichen cable car directly from the Gindelwald area up to the Mannlichen ridge, but cable car was closed for 2019. So we had the odyssey of three regional trains to get to the mountain town of Wengen on the far side of the ridge, then the Wengen cable car up. Whew, takes a while even with the Swiss efficiency.
We first hiked to the top of the Mannlichen "peak" then reversed direction and headed south with non-stop views of the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau massif as we got closer. This was a very popular trail, wide and quite a few people. Our midday goal was Kleine Scheidegg, a small "town" on the rail line between Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen. We stopped for lunch at the very picturesque Grindelwaldblick mountain restaurant. What can we say! Great food ("fitness lunch" of salads, veggies and schnitzels), great refreshments, great views, and a huge ice cream creation for dessert. This is civilized hiking at its best!
After lunch we hike a trail that passed directly below the Monch and Jungfrau as it traversed around and down to the train station at Wengernalp. We lost the crowds doing this trail. We caught the train at Wengernalp back to Kleine Scheidegg then on to Grindelwald.
Mannlichen Kleine Scheidegg day
Darn, a day without hiking! We will call this a rest and travel day. We took the bus and trains back to the Zurich airport and picked up our rental vehicle for the Austrian driving part of the trip. A very nice Volkswagen Tiguan SUV, diesel so do not try to put gasoline in the tank! It was a 4 to 5 hour drive to Innsbruck, trying out the Austrian autobahns. Quite a bit of traffic so it was hard for the speedsters to maintain speed.
We had no problem finding our apartment for two nights (an Air BnB) just across the Inn River from the Old Town, though parking and luggage logistics were interesting! Our parking spot was a 10 minute walk from the apartment at the owner’s house up the hill. That necessitated dropping off the luggage at the apartment, storing it in a ground level room, driving to the house, walking back down to the apartment, then lugging everything up two floors. Phew, what we do for location…
We walked the Altstadt (Old Town) both evenings. Narrow streets, old European architecture, every plaza full of outdoor restaurants and people. More German food? Nope, we went ethnic in the “big” town: huge Doner Kebab sandwiches one night and Indian food the second night. Both were great for a change.
Today was our excursion to the Nordketten mountains north of Innsbruck. The journey was half the fun: 3 different transports: funicular from town, a long cable car to the Seegrube, and a short cable car to the top of the Hafelekar. Lots of people on a glorious Innsbruck Saturday. The day was full of views of the Inn Valley, Innsbruck and the Nordketten mountains.
The main hike was a traverse below the peaks with a good bit of exposure on one side (cable attached to the inside wall if you felt the need to hold on). All on trail but some slippery and steep sections as well. There were quite a few sheep still being pastured on the high slopes. Nice lunch of course on the Seegrube Restaurant patio with views of mountains and valleys.
The Nordketten Mountains
This was supposed to be more of a travel day between Innsbruck and Gosau but we wound up spending at least half a day in Zell am See. Our UK friends, John and Brenda Cowen, have an apartment in Maria Alm (more on that later) about 20 klicks from Zell. When we said we were going through Zell, they came over to meet us and we had a grand time! Coffee and cake first, then a 7 mile hike around lake, then a late lunch and libations. Another glorious weather day with lake and mountain views.
We arrived in Gosau close to dusk and easily found the Kirchenwirt Hotel, our abode for the next 3 nights. Nice night time patio dining 2 evenings (too “cool” the other evening!). We reserved the half board here since Gosau was a much smaller town and the 3 course meals were great. Even included wine as part of the “summer special”.
Good views of the Gosau valley and the jagged West Dachstein mountains from the hotel. There were also several churches and a chapel within easy walking distance.
The next morning the weather was still looking good so we headed up the valley to the Gosaukamm cable car for a high level hike. The cable car overlooks the Gosausee lake and takes you up to the high country of the West Dachstein mountains. From the top station we followed a trail that contoured around to the backside of the jagged mountains. Yes, the trail was easy to follow but much more difficult than anticipated! Rocky, uneven footing, rock slide areas to cross, boulder areas to scramble up and down! Getting to our desired destination/turn around point took longer than planned!
The destination, of course, was the Stuhlalm mountain hut for a (late) lunch! My favorite remote mountain hut of the trip. Glorious setting beneath the peaks with views of other mountains across the valley. Menu chalked on boards, obviously a family run establishment. After the long hike back, we had to stop at another restaurant near the top cable car station for a dessert. A requirement to re-fuel after the “grueling” day.
West Dachstein Hike
The weather forecast for today was some drizzle and clouds so we chose a low level hike around the Gosausee and Hinterer (high) Gosausee lakes. Lots of lake views with mountain backdrops of course. Destination? The Holzmeisteralm mountain hut for lunch! An 8 mile mostly level hike with a steep section to get up to the Hinterer Gosausee level. Cloudy as forecast but we did not get rained on, yea.
Gosausee and Hinterer Gosausee Lakes
This was the travel day between Gosau and Maria Alm, but we had always planned to do “something” in the morning since it was only a 2 hour drive. The weather was forecasted to be cloudy but clearing in the afternoon, so we visited Hallstatt in the morning, a UNESCO heritage site. Very nice old town with narrow streets right on the Halstattersee lake.
Taking the forecast as gospel, we decided to make a quick run over to the Krippenstein cable car system up into the Hohe (high) Dachstein mountains. This high level area was our original plan for yesterday. Three cable cars but a little different in that the third section goes down, not up. Our decision did not look too good as we soared up into the clouds… But it did start clearing and it turned out to be a good afternoon! Very different geology here, white karst.
We got off at the top of the second leg and hiked mostly down to the bottom of the third station. A very easy wide trail for the most part, except for the “shortcut” trail I decided to try. Not a trail but a route! Up and over boulders, down steep rocky sections, easy to follow due to the plentiful markings on the rocks. Very exciting! Pretty sure it did not save us any time… Late lunch at the Gjaidalm mountain hut near the bottom station. Cold and windy but we were determined to eat on the patio. Great food of course, but we were the only ones outside!
After negotiating the three cable car sections back to the vehicle, we drove the two hours to Maria Alm. We stayed with Cowen’s for the next four nights and had a great visit. Their apartment has a gorgeous view of the village below and the Steinernes Mountains beyond.
Krippenstein Cable Cars and Hike
Maria Alm is only a few miles South of the German border and Berchtesgaden. In fact the mountains North of Maria Alm are called the Berchtesgaden Alps in total. We did two day hikes with the Cowen's under beautiful skies with great mountain views. Tree line is very low in this area and we saw some early fall color in the low brush. We took picnic lunches on both days, but of course stopped into mountain huts each day for drinks and dessert! You will see below that Stef, John and Brenda must be royalty.
Maria Alm Hike 1
This was a special treat! We attended the local Harvest Festival on our last full day in Maria Alm. What a hoot! Lots of displays and exhibitions, food and beer gardens, oompah bands, etc. Then a big parade that included vintage tractors. The revelry went on well into the night (long after we retired) and the beer flowed freely. I had a huge dish of ice cream to keep my stamina up before dinner (it did NOT affect my appetite). Maria Alm is a very cute village situated in a gorgeous locale.
Maria Alm and the Harvest Festival
Our last full day in the Alps! Boo hoo! Again mostly a travel day as it was a 5+ hour drive back to the Zurich Airport. We said our goodbye's early and promised to meet again somewhere in our world travels in the near future!
We stopped in Innsbruck to break up the drive and did a short hike (one hour up/one hour down) from the top of the Hungerburg funicular to the Arzler Alm mountain restaurant. Are you surprised?? Our last mountain hut patio lunch with views of the Inn Valley and mountains across. Then our last (again, boo hoo) alpine dessert, the Austrian Sacher Torte. In all, not a bad last outing!
We spent our last night at an airport hotel and had a leisurely morning breakfast before making our noon flight. The weather today? Pouring down rain! Talk about timing! Worst weather of the trip and we were not disappointed in the slightest.
It was a great trip. The weather was better than expected, the mountain views were as grand as expected. The hiking is not wilderness, but where else can you find mountain hut restaurants for lunch, beer and wine everyday! The most civilized hiking in the world!