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The Wow in Wengen

Wengen

Wengen

This is my final posting of my favorite small villages in Switzerland. Interlaken, between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, is touristy with lots of diverse restaurants and hotels.  Mürren sits high on a ledge and overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  Traffic-free, it is quaint and picturesque with shops, eateries and hotels.  Gimmelwald is traffic-free,  the smallest of the villages and one of a kind. There are great walks and hikes from Gimmelwald, which makes it very popular with the hiking crowd. But, my favorite of all the villages is Wengen.  Wengen, population 1,300, swells to 5,000 in the summer months and 10,000 in the winter. It too is traffic-free and to get there from Interlaken you take the train to Lauterbrunnen, and switch trains to go further to Wengen. Arriving on the train we see women getting off and unloading large trolleys of groceries and staples to pull up to the chalets and hotels.

The Walk into Wengen

The Walk into Wengen

There is a small grocery shop in Wengen, but for supplies it must be easier to cart them from Interlaken.  I took a tour of the Victoria-Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa.

The Victoria-Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa

The Victoria-Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa

The rooms at the Victoria-Lauberhorn are on the small side, but have a fantastic view of the mountains and the spa facilities were relaxing and calming. There is a one street shopping area, with fine specialty shops for the nicer souvenirs.

Main Shopping Area of Wengen

Main Shopping Area of Wengen

One shop features, crafted in Switzerland gifts only, and I bought a handmade coo-coo clock here and had it shipped home. There is also a very nice jewelry shop.

The Chess Pieces

The Chess Pieces

Walking through town there are large parks and huge chess sets. Benches are placed along side the sets so you watch how the match is going. There are also tennis courts and a pool in the upper park area past St Bernards English Church. The priest is available only in the summer months, since it is a rotating ministry.  He was on sabbatical from the UK, but said the church was supported by the parish and held services most of the year, but sometimes without the priest.  It was the same for the local Catholic Church as well. My highlight was the conversation I carried on with a German speaking woman, who invited me into her beautiful abundant flower garden. We got along just fine, mostly pointing and smiling.

Wengen Flowers

Wengen Flowers

The loop walk through Wengen is just long enough to stretch your legs, mingle with the locals and enjoy every minute of your stay. My choice for a vacation in Switzerland would be Wengen.  It is perfect!  Be sure to watch the video to get an idea how beautiful it truly is!

For more information on the Victoria Lauberhorn Hotel and Spa see: http://www.hotel-victoria-lauberhorn.ch

Around and Down to Gimmelwald

 Chalet in Gimmelwald

An Alp

I’ve decided smaller is better. The smaller a village is the better I like it.  Gimmelwald, population 100, is ideal. We are walking the switchback paved path from Mürren to Gimmelwald and it is a glorious day! We part from the upper lane to the lower lane at the end of Mürren and make our way through the burbs (the last chalets before the smaller path to Gimmelwald). Looking down, down, down, Gimmelwald is just a speck at the bottom, but only a 30 minute walk, all downhill. The only people we pass are the bikers (bless their hearts) that are biking the trail up.  Good for them!  Meadows are filled with beautiful summer blooms and the cows are busy grazing.  It takes me a few minutes to get Bluebell to look up for a picture.  That grass must really be good! We hear the bells on the goats long before we see them and when we do they are in a hurry to move on. We walk a few hundred feet, turn back, walk a few hundred feet turn back.  This is the way to Gimmelwald.

The Walk to Gimmelwald

The Walk to Gimmelwald

Saved from developers, who wanted to turn Gimmelwald into a village of 1000, the village was determined to save itself by declaring the village was in an avalanche zone. On the hills we see the angled wooden sticks designed to help prevent the snow from barreling down the mountain.

The Avalange Sticks

The Avalanche Sticks

They had to do something in order to get the avalanche zone building code! The code would keep developers out. The village is a community of farmers who make hay while the sun shines and cares for their cows. In mid-summer the farmer straps elaborate ceremonial bells on the cows and takes them up to a hut at high elevations. When the cows arrive at their summer home the bells are removed and hung under the eaves of the hut, called alps.

The Cow Bells

The Cow Bells

The farmer hires a team of cheese makers, mostly students and city slickers who want to spend a summer in the mountains, to work at each alp. Now there’s a summer job for you! It’s up at 5am to milk, take the cows to pasture, make cheese, and then milk again in the evening. In the summer all milk is made into cheese and in the winter the fresh milk is sold as milk. While the cows are higher up on the mountain the farmers are busy making hay. As the cows come down the mountain in late summer they stop and eat the hay that has been stored up in small huts along the path by the farmer, who has spent the summer preparing the hay for them.

The Cheese Hut

The Cheese Hut

The first lodging you come to when walking down from Mürren is the Hotel Mittaghorn, ran by Walter Mittler. The hotel features a loft of 10 beds, several sinks, one shower and a fire ladder out the back window. This location would be great for a group of hard core hikers. Dinner consists of salad, main course and dessert served at 19:30 by reservation only. If this place seems to0 frilly for you the next stop is the Schlaf im Stroh, (Sleep in Straw) an actual barn. After the cows head for higher ground in the summer the von Allman family hoses down the barn and fills it with straw. Blankets are free, but bring your own sleeping bag. They fluff up the hay each night before bed. The fee includes breakfast, a modern bathroom and showers.  The kids would love it!

Schlaf im Stroh

Schlaf im Stroh

Gimmelwald has a strict building code. All shutters must be natural, green or white. The main shopping area, one tiny room of farmers goods, operates on the honor system. An announcement board reveals the news; one side for tourists and the other for the locals.

Villagers heat their homes with wood, so every house is surrounded in cut logs, since the wood needs to be aged a couple of years to burn well. There are also covered stacks of wood all through the village.

Gimmelwald House Surrounded by Cut Wood

Gimmelwald House Surrounded by Cut Wood

Next we stop at the house of the school teachers, Olle and Maria Eggimann. They rent out two rooms in their house, the most comfortable place in town. We ring a bell and Olle comes down the stairs to a small room called the Lilliput Shop, where we buy sugar coated almonds.

The Alpenrose is the old school house with the big cow bells hanging under the eaves. The new school house is a huge building. There is a computer for each of its 17 students, two teachers, and a large playground outside.

The New Schoolhouse

The New Schoolhouse

The Mountain Hostel is the center of activity in the village. With 50 dorm beds, a self-serve kitchen, a mini grocery, and pool table, it is lively with the college age crowd.

Mountain Hostel

Mountain Hostel

The Pension Restaurant has 13 basic rooms to let and Gimmelwald’s only restaurant. With breathtaking views it is right next to the gondola station. We stop and enjoy a plentiful lunch.

Pension Gimmelwald

Pension Gimmelwald

We end our day in Gimmelwald with a gondola ride (the only way in or out of town other than walking down from Mürren) to the valley below where we catch a train back to Interlaken. A day in Gimmelwald is a step back in time. It’s good to know there are still places to be found like this. Definitely, Gimmelwald is my kind of place! Watch my video to get an idea what it is like to walk to Gimmelwald!

For more information about the B&B ran by Olle and Maria Eggimann, email them at oeggimann@bluewin.ch

For information about the Gimmelwald Pension see: http://www.pensiongimmelwald.ch

For information about the Mountain Hostel see: http://www.mountainhostel.com

For the other lodging accommodations show up in the village and talk with them.

Mürren and the Alphorns

Mürren

Mürren

We are at the train station, Interlaken Ost, (East) early this morning to go to Lauterbrunnen. From Lauterbrunnen we take the funicular to Mürren.  Mürren, population 450, is a pleasant alpine resort filled with bakeries, cafés, chalets and no public road access. There are over 2000 beds available here in chalet looking hotels. Perched on a ledge overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley and surrounded by mountains (the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau) Mürren is definitely “Heidi” like. Mürren is the highest continually inhabited village in the Canton of Bern. It is recognized by the design of the chalets and the pronunciation of the Mürren dialect.  In 1911 the first British winter tourists arrived. In the village there is no full time doctor, no police officer, and no resident priest or pastor, but keep your eye open for the “Milch Express,” a tiny cart that delivers fresh milk and eggs to the hotels and homes throughout the village. Getting off the train the hikers go in one direction, to the Gondola Station taking skiers and hikers up to the Schilthorn and down to Stechelberg via Gimmelwald, and the Japanese tourists with cameras bigger than they are, head off into another direction, to set up their tripods.  We follow the sound of music, literally. On a flat terrace of earth is a group of musicians providing a concert playing long, long, long horns called Alphorns. How much breath does it take just to blow one of those things? Alphorns, alpenhorns or alpine horns are used by the mountain dwellers for communication or signal instruments, substituting them for the lack of church bells. They are carved from solid softwood either spruce or pine. In former times the alphorn maker would use a bent tree to create the curved shape of the base, but modern woodmakers piece the wood together at the base.  The cup shaped mouthpiece is carved from a solid block of wood and added last to the instrument. The sound is similar to blowing through a long tube, but they do have music designed for the alphorn. After a café we walk to the paved utility road (wide enough for a small tractor with hay) and begin our descent to Gimmelwald.  Be sure to watch the video!  Scenery is fantastic!

And the Rains Came to Manarola

Manarola Vineyards at Night

Manarola Vineyards at Night

The rain has not let up all night.  The wind is fierce against the apartment windows. I wonder if the wind will carry away the crucifixion scene lights on the vineyard across the way and what the path through the vineyard to Corniglia will be like tomorrow. I don’t have to wait long to find out.

The Vineyard in Manarola in the Morning Light

The Vineyard and Path in Manarola in the Morning Light

At daybreak it is still raining and blowing. We hear someone outside our door and look to see who it is.  A large picnic basket filled with warm bread and pastries has been tied to the door.

The Morning Breakfast Basket

The Morning Breakfast Basket

There is already ample cereals, milk, jams, and assorted coffees and teas supplied in the kitchen, but who can turn down warm bread and pastries? We take our time eating breakfast hoping the weather will perk up.
It doesn’t. I ask my husband, “What shoes did I bring to wear in the pouring rain and look good in mud?”  Hmmm……  Hmmm……  Didn’t I see a hiking supply shop on the hill walking up here yesterday? We bundle up and step outside.  The wind is buffeting us through the small passageways and moves us right along. I’m freezing.  I keep hearing running water.  I look down at the drain along the side of the road and realize there is a river running through it.  The river is about six feet below the ground and moving right along. The wind keeps us moving too. In 2011, Vernazza, one of the Cinque Terre villages, was washed into the sea by a massive flood. They are just now getting things back to order from the massive mess. That is the kind of day it is, will we be washed into the sea? The hiking shop is small but offers shoes, socks, jackets, scarves and a washing machine that is washing away at the front of the shop. Hikers can wash their clothes here.  I bet they do a big business, what a great idea. I look over the hiking shoes.  I see a pair that looks just like me.  Practical, comfortable, and a little weird.

The Cool Hiking Shoes

The Cool Hiking Shoes

The laces lace all the way to the end of the toe.  I haven’t seen shoes that look like this before.  As we  leave the shop I ask about the river below the street.

“As long as the river is moving below the street it won’t wash us out above the street,”  is the reply.  “The water moves from the hills to the sea underground.”  Well that’s a relief.

Along with the hiking shoes, I bought a scarvy thinky that can be wrapped in several styles around my head, neck or just ears and I think it looks spiffy and keeps my head warm.  We continue our walk down the hill to the main street of Manarola. Restaurants are closed and so are the shops. It is eerie. The boats in the street are covered up. At the sea wall we take the path around the sea edge. DSCN0637 There are not too many people out, too blustery, too rainy. We make our way back to the main drag after a while and decide on a cafe that has a terrace covered in a heavy plastic wind shield so you can still dine outside and see out.  We take our seats and take our time.  No need to rush about.  Several other guests have done the same. Suddenly an Italian woman sitting  at the front table near the exit gets up to go. She starts screaming that her borsa (purse) that she had hung over the back of her chair is missing.  The screaming turns to frantic cussing as she goes to all the tables looking for her bag. Her husband helps her look and tries to comfort her.  She still screams. The women all check out their purses to make sure they are where they put them.  This would be a nightmare for any woman. She eventually leaves none too happy.  The manager did try to talk to her, but it was useless. Lesson learned again:  Nevah Evah place your purse on the back of your chair when dining out.  Keep it in your sight. We finish our dinner/supper and head back up into the hills. It is still rainy and cold.  Housekeeping has been to the apartment.  There is a bottle of champagne and a note to let us know we can get our linens changed twice a day instead of once a day. There are candies on our pillows. What woman changes linens twice a day, I think?  My husband picks up the remote control for the TV.  I guess it will be our introduction to Italian media,  our first experience since we arrived in Italy.  It breaks my first commandment.  Thou shall not watch TV on vacation.  I hope the sun comes out tomorrow!

If you like what you read here put on your blinker and turn in to the “Likes” on Facebook at  CadyLuckLeedy or The Travel Lady in Her Shoes. Or follow me on Twitter @CadyLuckLeedy.  Thanks!

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