Grüezi Switzerland! 🇨🇭
I recently had the chance to go to Switzerland for ten days. Here's my account via five main topics: hiking, activities, running, culture, and food!
I recently had the chance to go to Switzerland for ten days. During our time, we stayed in Zurich, Wengen (pronounced Vein-gen), and Lucerne. Rather than writing up an entire travel chronology, I decided to change it up and describe the trip via five topics: hiking, activities, running, culture, and food. Let’s get started!
We hiked a lot during the trip, especially in the Swiss Alps. Switzerland has a great transportation system, so almost every spot we traveled to was either by train, gondola, or both. However, keep an eye on the time since many places close around 5:30 pm.
Schynige Platte Trail
Length: ~ 4 miles
This trail takes the cake for the most spectacular views. The path forms a loop along a mountain ridge that provides endless views of the town of Interlaken thousands of feet below.
There was a wide array of flowers and plants at this location. Everything from aster, rhododendron, laurel, and edelweiss, to name a few.
You will notice here and in many other spots in the Swiss Alps that livestock can roam freely through the land. Most animals are wearing bells that give an almost wind chime noise when heard from far away. It’s a pretty nice sound except for when you’re trying to sleep.
Length: 3.5 miles
We didn’t hike this trail altogether, but it’s worth mentioning since it was the location for most of my runs and the course for the race I ran (more on that later). Starting in Wengen, the path heads up to the ridge of Männlichen 3000 ft. above. It’s a technical trail, but you are rewarded with spectacular views above the treeline roughly halfway. Plus, at the top, there is an overlook with a 360-degree view of the landscape.
Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg
Length: 3.5 miles
After taking a gondola up to the ridge of Männlichen, we began our slightly downhill trek to the small town of Kleine Scheidegg. The views from this trail are fantastic, and you can see right down the valley to the town of Grindelwald. Towards the end of the hike, the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains come into full view.
Also, a quick tangent: I was surprised by the number of playgrounds throughout our stay in the Swiss Alps. They were 10/10 playgrounds too. I’d be tempted to get on them if they weren’t covered with four-year-olds zooming all around.
Mt. First to Bachalpsee Lake
Length: (down & back) 4 miles
After taking a 25 min gondola ride to the top of Mt. First (pronounced ‘feerst’), we started our hike out to Bachalpsee Lake. The trip is uphill there and downhill back.
Lake Bachalpsee is beautiful and a great spot to relax for lunch. While there, a group of cows walked along the water, feeding on grass and minding their business. What a life they got.
Grütschalp to Mürren
Length: 3.5 miles
This was a nice hike on the opposite side of the valley from where we were staying. The walk was beautiful, with several wooded sections. We hiked into Mürren, a cute little town with restaurants, hotels, and shops. After staying there for a couple of hours, we took the train back.
Castle of Thun
Wow, this town made me realize how young America still is!
Towards the end of our stay, we took a train to the town of Thun (pronounced ‘tune’). The castle immediately catches your attention as soon as you enter the town. The buildings and the covered bridges are beautiful and have an old-world feel.
The castle of Thun was built around 1180, which is so hard to comprehend! The five floors include artifacts and historical records, both describing the history of the castle, but also the surrounding town. Looking down from one of the castle spires made me feel like the insulting French knights from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
One of the many interesting items displayed in the castle was the town’s executioner sword. Inscribed on both sides of a blade was an unsolved encrypted message.
Grindelwald - Rodelbahn
The Rodelbahn was a group favorite during the trip. After a gondola ride from Grindelwald to a mountain overlook, we arrived at a metal track that snaked along the mountainside. After getting tickets, you get in line and hop into these plastic toboggans with a lever used to speed up or brake. Once the light turns green, you slide down the twisting turning track while also picking up some serious speed. It was fun watching others blast down the hill like they were in hot pursuit.
This can get pretty touristy, so it helps to get there early. But regardless of the lines, it was well worth it.
Switzerland is the most beautiful place I have ever run. My favorite part was while we stayed in Wengen. Running in Lucerne and Zurich was also great, but I’ve always preferred the remote trails over urban streets.
The first run in Wengen was a rough awakening. After only a few miles, I was huffing and puffing up a gravel-maintenance road connecting the small mountain villages. I felt out of shape.
I failed to remember that I needed to acclimate to the altitude—especially coming from the meager 300 ft. elevation in Durham, NC. Luckily, the next day’s run was a little easier. And then the following day, still a bit easier. I was slowly acclimatizing, and running was beginning to feel normal again.
The Männlichen Trail Race
Before the trip, Kyle discovered a trail race in the same town we were staying at. It was a perfect coincidence and too good to pass up.
Unlike most trail races with a bulk start, this race spans several months and holds a leaderboard of the fastest times for the year. Three detectors along the course (start, halfway, finish) record the official splits and post them to the live standings.
I planned for Wednesday for a full attempt on the course, which gave me four days to adjust to the altitude and recon the trail.
Wednesday morning arrived and at 8 am, I clipped on my race number and set off. With the days of scoping out the trail, I divided the course into three sections:
Section one is getting out of town. I navigated the byzantine roads and steep sidewalks to the Mannlichen trailhead.
As soon as you turn off the trails, the difficulty immediately increases. For the next 1.5 miles, a small rocky singletrack trail meanders up a wooded section of the Mannlichen mountain. To keep momentum, foot placement was critical, and taking the right line up the rocky sections could save costly seconds.
The third and final section was above the tree line. At this point, the legs were burning, and the ridgeline finish felt tantalizingly close. With the thin air, I was breathing like a full-steam locomotive.
Finally, though, I crested the mountain and passed through the finish banner at 46:15, officially claiming the top spot on the leaderboard!
Switzerland is a fascinating hodgepodge of numerous cultures. And with tourists, it wasn’t uncommon to hear 6 or 7 languages while on the train or out to eat.
Before the trip, I spent some of my free-time learning German. However, I later realized that Switzerland actually has four native languages (Swiss German, French, Italian, and Romansh), depending on the region.
Thankfully most people could understand English, but there were several times when having a better understanding of Swiss German would have come in handy.
Shopkeepers and locals tended to say speak a mix of different languages. For example, while I was leaving a store, one of the employees said, “Danke. Merci. Thank you.” They’d cover all the top languages to ensure they get their message across.
I read online that Switzerland and Swiss people have a reputation for being boring, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Our nights in both Zürich and Lucerne were anything but dull. Both cities had a very active nightlife. Families, couples, and groups of teenagers all congregated near the riverwalks. There was music playing and people chatting everywhere. It was lovely to be a part of it as we sat down and listened to a jazz band play by the water.
I also loved the architecture in the Swiss alps. Everything from the chalets on the green mountain pastures to the old stone buildings and cobblestone streets. There was an old-world charm that felt truly special.
Most of our days, we were cooking at our Airbnb, but for the times we did go out, the food was truly fantastic but expensive.
Hidtl, in Zurich, is the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world! It has a buffet-style approach where you get what you want and pay by weight. The unlimited buffet was $68, and if we weren’t walking and doing other activities later, I would have gotten this and undoubtedly got my money’s worth.
Most days, we gathered supplies at our local Co-op grocery store, and there were several standout items worth mentioning:
The ready-made meals were fresh, great tasting, and top-notch.
All bread and pastries were fresh and sometimes right out of the oven!
The muesli was fantastic, and I had it for breakfast and snacks. The brand I got was called C.M., which had bits of dried apple and golden raisins.
Camille Bloch Torino Noir - were tiny cylinder-shaped dark chocolate bars with a creamy mousse filling. It was amazing and came in packs of five.
Even though I had a minimal look at the traditional Swiss cuisine, the parts I did try were terrific. Several of us even noticed during the trip that our skin felt clearer too. It makes me wonder what the U.S. allows into our foods. 😬
Would I go back?
For next time, I would mainly stay in the Swiss Alps. Then, maybe try some more technical trails like the west face of the Eiger.
I hope this is useful for anyone traveling here soon or planning to in the future.
Vielen Dank, Switzerland!