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Wengen for the faint of heart - gruezi's trip report


Aug 31st, 2008, 01:23 PM
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Wengen for the faint of heart - gruezi's trip report

I absolutely love great hiking and gorgeous mountain views, but I don’t do well hanging thousands of feet above ground in a little metal box connected to a wire “clothesline”, or walking around the edge of a lovely but very high mountain. In fact, such activities terrify me. So, I have to plan carefully to assure my mountain adventures are more joyful than frightful. Here is my “faint of heart” account of 4 days in Wengen.

I’ve wanted to visit the Berner Oberland because it is such a Fodor’s favorite and from reading on this board I’ve been intrigued by the villages of Grindelwald, Wengen, Murren and Gimmelwald. After much research here, I decided on Wengen and the Hotel Alpenrose. I couldn’t be happier with my 4 days in this little bit of paradise. I was lucky and had perfect weather – clear blue skies, tons of sunshine, and temps 75-80. And, on the last night, my husband joined me for a special date in this romantic village.

Day 1

Departed Zurich at 9 am and with a few train changes arrived in Wengen at 11:44. Lovely, scenic trip. After walking around this charming town in the wrong direction for about 30 minutes or so, I finally found Hotel Alpenrose and checked in to a small (read: size of a nun’s cell) but charming single room with a stunning south view toward the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the gorgeous Breithorn. Price with halfboard: 160chf. (This wonderful 3-star alpine style hotel is a real find and I truly enjoyed my stay there.)

Set out for Mary’s Restaurant, a pretty 25-minute walk in the Staubbachbankli direction, from just below the train station. There I enjoyed a delicious goat cheese and salad plate for 18chf. Proprietor helped me choose a walk that continued on from there along the outer mountainside toward Biglenalp (# 42/43 on the map) which would take a few hours. And so after clarifying I wouldn’t be clinging to any cliff edges, I set off.

After a few minutes of gorgeous views toward Jungfrau and Breithorn I headed into the woods and up, up, up. And then up some more for over a very strenuous post-lunch hour. I had only a basic trail map, and wasn’t sure how long before I’d “see something” or level off or find a turn in the trail. At one point the trees cleared and I was treated to eye-level views of stunning Gimmelwald and Murren and various waterfalls to the right, but then I headed inward and upward with only pine trees and upward climbing.

Just as I began mentally cursing myself for not taking a Fodor-approved walk my first day, I reached a plateau and there before me were gorgeous in-your-face views of Junfrau and Eiger and Monch for miles and miles ahead of me. I followed this trail onward toward Biglenalp but once almost there, cut across some hills and wound up back in Wengneralp where I had some most delicious icy cold water (a rare Swiss treat indeed) and gazed in awe at the mountaintops before me. Sitting down made me realize I’d been walking for almost 5 hours and my little feet were crying, so I hopped on the train back to Wengen and the Hotel Alpenrose for a nice hot shower and some relaxing on my balcony.

At 7 I went downstairs for the buffet dinner at the Hotel Alpenrose. I will give full disclosure right away that I’m not too keen on buffets. The other clientele were very folksy older British couples, and made me feel quite youthful. It was a rather casual and down-to-earth dinner. But there was a surprisingly delicious assortment of food and I found plenty to enjoy – most especially a bread pudding for dessert that was James Beard perfection. I did feel I was a bit of a sorry spectacle dining alone, and every time I paused to digest I was urged to go get my next course. I hadn’t planned on half-board, and quickly decided to dine elsewhere the next night, but it was nice to not have to travel far to eat when I was so, so tired from a wonderful day of walking in the mountain air, and the food was quite good and a great deal at 35sfr for soup to cheese course if you are a big eater (I am not, but my husband would have really, really enjoyed this!)

Earlier in town, my acrophobic self had scoped out the skytrain up to Mannlichen. The most favored hike in this area is from Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. From the ground the skytrain looked a bit scary, but I was determined to take the hike and the only other way to get there was a 2 hour uphill hike. Posted travel time by skytrain was 5 minutes. Heck, I can do anything for 5 minutes I bravely told myself!

So, I reviewed all the Fodor’s hiking and dining notes I’d brought along, and prepared my daypack for an early departure. I fell soundly asleep by 9:30! Mountain air is a wonderful sleeping aid. I slept snug and cozy in my little nun’s cell until 6:30 am.

Day 2

Early breakfast at 7 am – I was the only patron there. It was quiet and the food was delicious with wonderful fresh baked breads and jams and eggs, cereals, yogurts, cheese…. I ate up and grabbed an apple for the road and headed to the skytrain.

I was sitting on board in a cold sweat at 2 minutes to 8. No one else was there! OMG is there no attendant? Am I riding in this alone? Have I lost my mind? I am not this brave! At 3 seconds before 8, the attendant and 3 other passengers hopped on, the door closed and we started up. I began my personal 5-minute timer, found a focal point on the floor, and did my yogic breathing. This worked really well - for about 3 minutes! Then I tried positive self-talk. Checked my watch a few thousand times. 5 minutes had passed and we hadn’t landed yet! Now I’m panicking. The next 2 minutes felt like 2 hours. I started counting down from 100. At about 47 we docked but the doors did not open …. “OMG! OPEN THE @#$% DOOR AND LET ME OFF!” Well, I didn’t scream out loud, but someone somewhere heard my anguished mental plea, and finally the door opened, and a bazillion feet above sea level I walked very quickly across an open grid floor to wonderful, blessed terra firma. I turned around and looked at the view and almost fainted. Literally. Sit down. Deep breaths. It was a simply amazing vista, if a bit terrifying for me. Absolutely gorgeous views everywhere, and I was proud of myself for sure.

I had a brand new camera – this will make you laugh but it is my very first digital camera – so I took a million pictures to prove to my family how brave I was. Then I took a million more pictures of all the grazing cows for a school project for one of my kids. Then I set off on perhaps the most beautiful and glorious walk I’ve ever taken. Think Ireland greenery with the alps, big beautiful Swiss cows and goats with tinkling bells, and throw in some gorgeous views to the Eiger, Jungfrau and over the Grindelwald valley. Sheer heaven.

After this 1:20 walk to Kleine Scheidegg, I hopped on a train to Grindelwald to check out this other popular alpine resort and perhaps have a nice lunch there. The train ride is lovely with tons of photo opportunities. I can’t say I fell in love with Grindelwald however. I missed the traffic-free charm and lovely setting of Wengen and was perhaps now spoiled for life by this special little place. I walked all through Grindelwald town and toward a pretty church and extremely well-tended cemetery. Then, not knowing what to do from there, and not having a guidebook, and not being especially hungry, decided to head right back to paradise. So, I hopped on the next train and took it to the Allmend stop which sits right above Wengen.

At Allmend I had a nice lunch in an idyllic setting looking over all of Wengen and toward the mountains across the Lauterbrunnen valley. All was right in my world. I had a very sweet waitress who indulged my bad German and we got to talking. Here is my very, very small world story. Turns out I know this woman! She worked at my daughter’s school in Zurich and had been very, very kind to her when we moved last year from the US. I had met her only once, but my daughter spoke often of her. My daughter had mentioned to me her friend Ms. S. had quit her job and moved “somewhere.” Well, didn’t “somewhere” turn out to be Wengen where she and her husband had bought the very restaurant at Allmend where I chose to have lunch. So if you get to Allmend, say hi to Lisa the friendliest hostess in all of Switzerland.

After lunch, I decided I would walk the rest of the way to town. It had gotten noisy with some construction so I’d put some beautiful guitar music on my iPod and headed down the hills toward Wengen. I was literally on the top of the world and felt that way too. I took the longer route through a lovely nature trail that marked the various trees and wildflowers. (#41 to 46 perhaps?) The trail ends at the Park Hotel Beausite and walks you past some lovely views of the Jungfrau again and then through. I stopped at the bakery for some bread and then went to the Silberhorn Hotel where I stopped for an ice cream and to be nosy. The ice cream was good, but the view was blocked by all the yellow umbrellas, and the common areas of the hotel a bit dingy. Strike this from my list of possible places to stay.

Stopped at Coop under the hotel to collect “dinner.” Picked up some camembert, some chocolate, a good knife, some cups, napkins and a very small bottle of wine. Cost of dinner and essentials was 18chf. I’d already made a dinner reservation for the next night at Caprice because tomorrow Mr. gruezi arrives, and he likes a romantic dinner out. So tonight I was conserving cash.

Oh what a lovely feast I had on my balcony! Wonderful view, wonderful bread, cheese and chocolate. And, then, I read an entire wonderful book and fell fast asleep with plans to try the Eiger trail in the morning.

Day 3

I had worried about the weather but today was even more perfect than the day before. My husband was on his way to see the “top of Europe – Jungfraujoch” and I was taking my acrophobic self on a hike and meeting him for lunch. I was up early for another wonderful Alpenrose breakfast and by 9:30 was at Eigergletscher for the start of the Eiger trail.

Oh how wonderful this trail looked! And oh how it brought back memories of a bad experience I’d had last year when I went too high for my own good on a damaged Bergweg high over Lake Luzern. I started out, and as I walked across a talus edge and toward a sharp curve I got a very anxious pit in my stomach. The hike is 2 hours with no turn off. What if I get scared? I can’t really turn back midway. It just wasn’t feeling good or fun. But, I shouldn’t be a chicken. Fodorite’s said it’d be fine. But it doesn’t feel fine here…. And on and on, the mental rantings of an insane phobic person ensued.

I wish I could say otherwise, but I headed back to the train station all the while debating what to do. Here is what I decided. “Okay, yesterday I braved the skytrain. Today, I can just enjoy what is here at my feet. Sometimes happiness can be found right in front of you.” So with just a tiny regret I began the lovely walk from Eigergletscher toward Kleine Scheidegg which Swisshiker had recommended. By now mr. gruezi had made contact and was on a train up to Jungfraujoch and so I waved like a mad woman as his train passed by, and everyone on the train waved back, except my husband, who somehow didn’t see me. Oh well.

Brainstorm! I know how I can make contact with my other half! I arrived in KS, stopped and listened to some lovely alpine hornists, and then walked straight up the Lauberhorn (#40) which is directly across from “the top of Europe” albeit just a tiny bit lower! It’s a good bit of exercise and about 35 minutes straight up to the top. Gorgeous views all around and no cliffs or scary edges for me. My husband found me waving to him in the lens of a viewing camera from across the way and we shared a special moment from my top of Europe to his.

Afterward, I walked back down and met him in KS for a nice lunch, with spectacular views, at the Eigenordwand Restaurant. Nice date, huh?

I was getting a bit tired, and my husband was very tired, as he got up at 6 to head up from Zurich, plus he still had his overnight bag and heavy jacket in hand, and he had found the heights surprisingly tiring. So we took a train to Lisa’s restaurant and had some ice cream and then walked into Wengen from the other direction this time, past some incredibly charming homes with gorgeous window boxes and perfectly stacked firewood.

Back to the Hotel Alpenrose for showers and a wonderful nap with cowbells ringing in the background and lovely views from both sides of room #301 toward Lauterbrunnen, Jungfrau and Breithorn. Absolutely perfect.

We went early to dinner at Caprice as I wanted a table with a view and had reserved one in advance but wanted to be sure… We got there and they suggested a drink on the outside terrace. “Will you save us a table with a view?” “Yes!” Had one drink and went inside and all the tables with views were gone… sigh… Oh well, get over it…

Inflexible with the menu, but we ordered with one substitution to a 3 course menu. Service was slow and very amateur. My water glass was empty the whole dinner even after I would ask for water. There is a Michelin guide sign out front and a few other awards so we expected a bit more, but our food took forever to arrive and then was overcooked.

It was good, but certainly not great. The dining room is lovely and we had a nice time, but I can’t highly recommend this restaurant. The bill included a 20chf surcharge for the menu substitution that was not mentioned to us beforehand. I don’t know the cost of the meal as my husband paid, but I would say at least 220chf. Afterward, we helped a couple from Montreal, staying at Caprice, with the proper tipping protocol. We got to talking, and they seemed under-whelmed by the whole hotel including the dining. (Although they did say the room was nice.) I was feeling so lucky to be so happy at the Hotel Alpenrose for a lot less money. (I had called the Caprice earlier in the week and was quoted a price of 360chf for a single…no way!)

After dinner we headed back for a nice sit on our balcony to gaze at the stars – big dipper was right overhead. Then to bed with no plans for tomorrow, but gruezi was feeling pressure to take mr. gruezi on a nice walk that involved no cliff edges, no hour long uphills, and no skytrains yet was lovely and scenic nonetheless…

Day 4

Slept in a bit, packed, headed to breakfast. The sky had gotten a tad cloudy and we were thankful mr. gruezi had already gone to the top of Europe. We had another wonderful Alpenrose breakfast and headed out for a little stroll. I remembered a Fodorite (Togo) recommended a little walk past the church at the end of town for views of the Lauterbrunnen valley so we headed that way. We were rewarded with stunning views of this valley and the mountains all around, as we did a little loop around the edge of town and back – about an hour in all.

We stopped and bought me a new backpack in town for my next hiking trip and picked up some more bread and cheese for the ride home.

Then it was time to say good-bye to Wengen and thank you to the Hotel Alpenrose and catch the train down to Lauterbrunnen. Mr. gruezi had parked his car there overnight for 13chf.

We were sad to say good-bye but it was a truly wonderful weekend and we are already plotting our winter trip to Wengen and to Hotel Alpenrose.

Ps When we got off the train in Lauterbrunnen, I checked out the skytrain to Grutshalp with train connections on to Murren and Gimmelwald, and you know what? I think I can go up that – maybe I’m getting better, but it honestly looked doable and it’s only 4 sweet minutes. I can do anything for 4 minutes! Only problem is, what if I decide I can’t get back down? Ah the musings of gruezi…
gruezi is online now  
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Aug 31st, 2008, 02:19 PM
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Thoroughly enjoyed your trip report! Your description of the hikes brings back the great memories of 5 years ago when I was in that area. Definitely makes me want to go back. Sigh.
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Aug 31st, 2008, 02:27 PM
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Glad you had a wonderful time! Knowing how precise the Swiss are, it should ease your trepidation about the lifts, eh? I am sorry about your special dinner. We had very good food there and the chef made me a special vegetarian whim. However, that was 4 years ago and I have heard some mediocre reviews since. Anyway, the weather gods were with you and the BO is definitely gorgeous!!
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Aug 31st, 2008, 02:28 PM
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Hi gruezi,

Holy cow, how'd you get inside my head??

Ok, though I've only skied from Wengen and never hiked, I do spend most of every day there with those same thoughts -- "Wow, this is gorgeous, wow, this is incredible, wow, I can't believe I'm here seeing this . . ."

I'm so glad you enjoyed the Alpenrose! I've stayed there twice. The owner is the chef, and if you picked up the photo-album history book, you know the family has been in the hotel business for more than 100 years! And now the couple's daughters are getting their education in the business, as well.

Anyway, on both of my visits, they varied their evening meal, with the whole meal being a buffet only one time. I always thought the meals were really good, so I hope you consider more meals with them on your next visit. I'm also a solo diner, and have not had any trouble finding my own pace with the waiters -- hopefully they won't rush you on a return.

I've also had that Coop dinner, and really do love it as well!!

And doesn't the hotel have a wonderful ambiance? The bar is really a peaceful place to relax.

Anyway, I really appreciate your taking the time to write in good detail; I always love a vicarious visit!! You are too kind!!!

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Aug 31st, 2008, 02:30 PM
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Good thing you were not with me and my wife when we scrambled up the 2,200 foot very steep ascent to a shelter facility on the edge of a steep clff overlooking the de Moiry Glacier.

The "facilities" hung out over the edge of the cliff. One could look through a hole in the floor straight down to the surface of the ice about 1,500 feet below.

Coming back we had to descend a steep patch of graular snow. The best way down was feet first. It was too steep to stand up on without crampons and an ice ax, neither of which I had with me. Leki hiking poles do have their limitations!

So, I improvised a sled out of the seat of my pants.
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Aug 31st, 2008, 02:48 PM
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travlsolo - double sigh... My calendar is full and I go back to work in a few weeks, so I have to settle for a winter weekend. It is a special place.

Hi Linda - re: Caprice dinner - I think maybe they just need to freshen up the help. The clerk/head waiter shared how he was joining his boyfriend in SA and couldn't wait to get out of Wengen. Kinda showed... Thanks for reading my report and for all your help before hand.

Hi Swandav - Thanks for reading and sharing your love of this wonderful place. Is this area a good spot for beginnerish skiers? My teens ski a bit, but don't go every day and we also like to just "hang out" around a fire, take a sled ride, have fondue, etc. What do you think of Alpenrose/Wengen for a winter family vacation like that?

Bob - I have also used my bottom to get around a tricky mountain situation... Just was too scary and vertigo-ish to do otherwise! Your story is funny now, but maybe not then? Thanks for reading and sharing.

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Aug 31st, 2008, 03:22 PM
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Hi there gruezi

Fabulous report, an absolute delight to read! =D>

So glad you enjoyed just a bit of heaven. One trip is all it takes, and you're hooked. Got me 20+ years ago, and I've gone back just about every year since.
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Aug 31st, 2008, 03:24 PM
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Great report, Gruezi, and I'll be filing it away...hoping to do a similar week-end.

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Aug 31st, 2008, 03:29 PM
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Hi again,

Ah well, not so much for beginners I think. Well maybe if there is really good snow.

I'm a terrible intermediate, and I think the best/easiest skiing is around the First cable car -- it's a very wide and gentle slope, and truthfully I could just cruise there all day.

I think the best thing is to hook up with a class within one's level; the instructor will find the best skiing for the day, and of course will not do anything too challenging for the class.

Anyway, great report!

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Aug 31st, 2008, 04:05 PM
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Here's a pic my DH took of me using the spider crawl/butt hike technique. (hey it beat doing a body slam os a slope)

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Aug 31st, 2008, 10:30 PM
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Wonderful report Gruezi and really glad you could overcome your fears. getting really excited because we will be in Berner Oberland in just a month, Can't wait!!!
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Sep 1st, 2008, 10:38 AM
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Thanks a lot for this report. Glad you enjoyed your time in Wengen - I also love that village and think it's the best out of the 'big four' (Wengen, Mürren, Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald).

No, I don't think Wengen is perfect for beginners. Most runs are intermediate at least. Like swandav said, First above Grindelwald is the best for beginners, but Mürren also has some nice easy runs.

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Sep 1st, 2008, 11:04 AM
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Hallo Gruezi,

I love your report! REading it makes me feel like I'm there again. . . sigh.

If you managed the Luftseilbahn up to Mannlichen, the one from Lauterbrunnen up to Grutschalp will be very easy for you. It does not go very high off the ground. And if you don't wish to ride it back down, you can walk down via a nice wide path, easy enough to be used by bicycles.

Just don't take the Luftseilbahn down from Gimmelwald to Stechelberg, unless you feel ready for a thrill.
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Sep 1st, 2008, 01:55 PM
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Hi Wengen lovers,

Thanks everyone for reading and sharing your stories!

Swandav and Ingo thanks for the advice on the skiing.

Enzian - that is the encouragement I need! I thought the same thing - the lift is closer to the treetops so not as scary-looking to me.

Linda - I love that photo because I can definitely relate!!

Marie - have a wonderful trip and I hope the sun shines for you too.


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Sep 1st, 2008, 03:46 PM
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Gruezi, thank you for the lovely and detailed report. I've added a new item to my list of places I must go hiking.
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Sep 2nd, 2008, 12:14 PM
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marking for later reading
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Sep 2nd, 2008, 01:07 PM
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"I had a brand new camera – this will make you laugh but it is my very first digital camera"

Gruezi, you got some competition here I still have the camera with film, and don't have a problem with it! when take it to develop, I ask to print a set of paper photos, and scan them on a CD.

You are brave! I know how scary it is to ride in BO! But the views are so worth it!
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Sep 2nd, 2008, 03:13 PM
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you've interested me in a whole new place...stunning..
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Sep 2nd, 2008, 05:56 PM
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The gondola up to Grutshalp isn't very far off the ground. The train to Murren never gets close to the edge or if it does you can't see it because of the trees. The only really high part is to Gimmelwald. Either way you go it is really high. There is a trail from Murren to Gimmelwald that doesn't look very steep and isn't on the edge of a cliff.

We loved staying in Gimmelwald but I also really enjoyed hiking the area you were talking about.
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Sep 2nd, 2008, 07:59 PM
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Loved your report. Our adventurous days are over... but enjoyed the vicarious thrills. What is the "sky train"? How does it compare to the gondolas that go up to Mt. Pilatus? That one is in two stages: first.. simple four person gondolas. Then second stage.. a big cab that goes up the rest of the way. I thought I would pass out when I saw what was ahead of me... but did survive. Unfortunately, at the top it was gray and drizzly. But I'll never forget that trip. Here in NYC there are similar cabs that travel between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island... but, relatively speaking, they are only a few feet off the ground -
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