Interlaken, Zermatt and Lucerne: A Swiss Saga

Three destinations. Three distinct offerings. This Alpine slice of Europe is steeped in layers of local legend, mountaineering spirit and centuries of alluring art and history.

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Sleepy villages and alpine mountains flank Lake Brienz in Interlaken. Photo by: Boris Stroujko/shutterstock

Chapter 1: Interlaken of Lore

I’ve never shied away from vertigo-inducing heights. Zwei-Seen-Steg, or the Two Lakes Bridge, a cantilevered viewing platform extending from Harder Kulm mountain, on which I position myself at 4,340 feet, is no deterrent. It is where I first greet the Swiss Alps.

From my vantage point, the frosty summits look like upside-down chocolate cones topped with sugar-dusted hulk in the far south—Mönch (13,450 feet) is sandwiched between Eiger (13,026 feet) on the left and Jungfrau (13,638 feet) on the right. Tourists swarm the edge of the bridge’s railing, some armed with selfie sticks and some with hiking gear, all awaiting their turn to photograph the region’s triune icons. Between these three peaks and Harder Kulm rests Interlaken (Latin for “in between lakes”)—an aptly-named town that separates twin turquoise lakes in repose like meditating yogis. To my right lies Lake Thun and to my left, Lake Brienz. The landscape in the middle is brushed with strokes of gradient green upon which Lego-like houses stand. A bird’s-eye view allows me to grasp the sheer magnitude. Star-struck, I search for the right things to say, unwilling to botch a first impression. Ultimately, I let sweet silence fill the air.

“Most mountains in Switzerland are famed for local legends,” my guide, Erika Matte, interrupts my reverie. “You know,” she continues while pointing at the range ahead. “It is said that Mönch (monk) put himself in the centre to keep Jungfrau (virgin) safe from Eiger (ogre).” She then motions to a cluster of houses below in the distance. One of them is her home. Over the next few days, I will learn more about Erika and her hometown: that she has a son she adores and, like most Swiss natives, she loves to go on hikes and worships punctuality. In her youth, she worked with Swiss Air Lines, which came with an opportunity to see the world. Now, even at the age of 75—her hair a shade greyer than the surrounding snow—she has no plans to retire in the near future and finds solace in showing visitors around Interlaken. Her presence helps coax a revelation that rewires my perception of the country and its people; beyond the Bollywood-projected destination for hopeless romantics, I see a land steeped in mysticism, nature and adventure.

 

Read the full feature in the print edition of National Geographic Traveller India March-April 2022.

To read more stories on travel, cities, food, nature, and adventure, head to our web forum here or our new National Geographic Traveller India app here.

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

  • Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.

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