Travel Story Interlaken: Switzerland's adventure central

The view over Interlaken from the Hotel Metropole.
Photo of Gemma Nisbet

This pretty town isn't just the place to go for stunning mountain scenery and outdoorsy pursuits — it can also lay claim to historical connections and a surprising musical pedigree. 

Fifteen minutes ago, I wasn’t even aware that Swiss-German rock existed. And yet, here I am, apparently in the birthplace of the genre.

I’m in Interlaken, taking a tour of the pretty town and its surrounds with guide Beat Kornfeind. And, at his behest, I’m peering through the windows of a pub, the Goldener Anker, which he tells me has a strong connection to Polo Hofer, an Interlaken local regarded by many as the inventor of “Swiss dialect rock”.

The pub hasn’t yet opened for the day but Beat assures me it has a lively music scene. “Jimmy Cliff was just here, ” he says. We have to settle for watching the video for Hofer’s 1985 hit, Alperose, on Beat’s phone instead.

Of course, Interlaken is really known not for its music but for its natural attractions. Nestled, as its name suggests, between lakes Thun and Brienz, the town is the gateway for the spectacular mountain scenery of the Bernese Oberland region. And, as I’ve been discovering this morning, it’s also a gorgeous place in its own right.

Friendly, knowledgeable Beat, a guide for Interlaken Tourism, is a good advocate for his home town.

Born here, he spent years working as a tour guide in North America and Australia, including a stint based in Perth. He remembers Western Australia fondly, particularly our consistently sunny weather and the landscapes of the North West. Embodying the Swiss love of the outdoors, he tells me he’s gearing up to compete in the Jungfrau Marathon, which takes place in the mountains around Interlaken.

We’re taking things at a more laid-back pace today, though. After a short walk through the centre of town — past the Hohematte, the huge, grassy town square-cum- park, and with a detour to the restaurant at the top of the Hotel Metropole to take in the fantastic view — we’ve hired electronic bikes. Interlaken is surrounded by mountains, but our route is mostly flat, and the e-bike does most of the work for me. For the most part, I just need to point it in the right direction and pedal slowly.

Starting out from the Interlaken West train station, we head along the Aare River, crossing over to follow a path through the edge of a nature reserve bordering Lake Thun. Here Beat pauses to show me “something spooky”: the ruins of Weissenau Castle, which dates from the 13th century. When the castle was built, this section of land was an island but the river has silted up over the centuries. It fell out of use in the 16th century and has crumbled since, with only a few walls and the remains of a tower still standing. And Beat’s right — I don’t think I’d like to visit after dark.

After a glimpse of Thun, the bigger of the two lakes bordering Interlaken, we ride through the countryside, past neat chalet-style houses with immaculate vegetable gardens and window boxes filled with the locally ubiquitous red geraniums. Overhead, paragliders make lazy loops across the sky — or at least they look lazy until I hear one guy, cruising a little lower than most, squealing with excitement (or possibly terror).

Interlaken is a major centre for these kinds of adventurous activities and if you want to bungee jump, skydive, whitewater raft, heli-ski or canyon swing (yes, it’s a thing), you’ll be in paradise.

But we continue our gentle progress through the pretty village of Unterseen and along the river. I think we crisscross the river a couple more times — on one bridge, we watch one of the boats which offers outings on the lake cruising backwards along the adjacent ship canal, unable to turn around in the confines of the passenger dock — before reaching the western tip of elongated Lake Brienz.

Families are out and about, walking and sunbathing by the water on this warm Sunday.

Sadly, though, I’m nearly out of time. And as I sit on the train from Interlaken station, watching the landscape of mountains and lakes flick past the window, I have the saxophone-accented strains of Alperose on loop in my mind.

Gemma Nisbet was a guest of Switzerland Tourism.

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