Lat 46.536784 Long 7.962596
Jungfrau region, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland
Go in winter (November – April) for snow sports, and some soggy hiking at the lower elevations around the Thunersee and Brienzersee lakes.
The ski-accessed area is massive and varied — with something for everyone, from trails to backcountry.
In summer (May – October), the region re-opens as a buffet of action sports — much like Queenstown in New Zealand, but much more expensive.
White water rafting, canyoning, mountain biking, climbing, paragliding, and base jumping are a few of the dishes on offer, and you'll be able to hike all but the highest peaks.
We did the trip in May and had a real mixed bag of weather — from baking in thirty two degrees at the start of the week, to freezing in blizzards and negative five by the end.
Unless you're European, chances are you'll be arriving by air — and almost any old airline will do. Except Etihad. You'll need those precious legs for hiking, and whoever ordered the Etihad fleet had scant regard for the limbs of the budget-minded adventurer. The closest international airports are Zurich and Geneva. If you're looking at any sort of stopover, Zurich is by far the better city.
Whichever city you fly into, the easiest option is to hop a train to Interlaken. The ticket'll set you back more than a few francs, but the views are grand, and the wi-fi surprisingly speedy. You'd better be using that internet for posting your photos though.
For more flexibility — rent a car and be free as birds. But beware! Unlike their German neighbours, the Swiss are far more reserved on the road. Speedlimits are less like suggestions here, and more like orders. They're also heavily enforced, so expect certain and hefty punishment if you're naughty enough to let the needle creep north.
There's something great about floating around a lake under mountains. Luckily, there's a couple of lakes and plenty of ferries accessing various small towns. Heck, it doesn't really matter where they're going — jump on, kick back, and soak up the sights.
LIVE IT UP
Want luxury hotels, easy access to adventure sports, shopping, lots of food options, pampering, and nightlife? The town of Interlaken nestles between two scenic lakes and provides a great access point to the mountains via hire car or regular trains, without sacrificing choice or creature comforts.
Want a quieter base up in the mountains you can access by car, and walk straight from your door and into some decent hills?
Lauterbrunnen and Gindelwald are two great options. Both have good access to trails right from your door, a couple of decent restaurants, a couple of shops with the basics, and accommodation ranging from backpackers to hotels, apartments and chalets.
Both are also mind-blowingly beautiful. Grindelwald sprawls under the sheer north face of the Eiger, while Lauterbrunnen is wedged between sheer cliffs punctured by seventy two waterfalls. It's your choice — but, seventy two waterfalls, people... Seventy. Two. Waterfalls.
We chose Lauterbrunnen, and didn't regret it. We also chose an apartment (Edelweiss Apartments) with a kitchenette, and certainly didn't regret that either (See Eat, below).
There's plenty of options if you're staying in Interlaken, but once you're in the mountain towns the pickings get slimmer. The best bet here is Swiss cuisine, but dare I say it — there sure is a thing as too much schnitzel. Yes, around about day three you'll be feeling sluggish as a bear in early spring, and although they're heartily portioned — mountain schnitzel don't come cheap.
Still, local cuisine is always an itch that should always be scratched at least once. Here's a couple of our favourite food finds.
Huesi Bierhaus, Interlaken: Hearty pub grub with a great selection of local beers. Hit it at happy hour for a good vibe. [Website]
Hotel Oberland, Lauterbrunnen: Honest, home-cooked Swiss fare. Thoroughly recommend the schnitzel, followed by a nap. [Website]
Of course, the wilier devils among you will be wondering whether self-catering would be a sensible solution — and indeed it is, if you've booked accommodation with a kitchen.
There's Coop supermarkets in Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Mürren and Wengen to stock up.
Is it worth it? Well, I'm no economist — but let's use beer as a case study for cost.
Pub: USD$50 for a round of 3 x beers (I'm still not sure how this is even possible).
Supermarket: USD$10 for 8 x 750ml cans.
The same's true for lunch. You could pay mountain prices for mediocrity — or you could stop by the local Coop or bakery to grab some bread, cheese and meats for a picnic with a view. There's nothing better than Gruyère sliced by a swiss army knife under the sun in an alpine meadow.