40 by 30: Interlaken & Rigi, Switzerland
(Originally posted to Facebook in 2017. Part 2 of a series from Olivia’s birthday, where we traveled to her 40th country before her 30th year.)
We arrived in Zurich rather late in the evening, so we opted for a jet-lagged sleep at a local airport hotel, ibis budget Zurich Airport. After a nice sleep and quick (free) breakfast, we went back to the airport to pick up our rental car for our drive to Interlaken.
In past trips to Europe, we’ve opted for the cheaper manual transmission vehicles. An automatic transmission costs a bit more, but considering Avis considers a BMW x3 in Switzerland to be the same class as a Ford Focus in the US… we didn’t mind the additional charge. We spent an awkward 15 minutes trying to switch the language from German to English before finding an Avis rep to translate. And then we were off!
Once we arrived in Interlaken, the jet-lag was hitting me pretty hard. We’ve found the best way to combat it is to eat the correct meals for the time of day in your adoptive time zone… which meant lunch. After a drive around the narrow lanes to find parking, a quick consult of Foursquare led us to Schuh Interlaken, a comfy spot with an attached sweet shop.
We were really excited about our hotel, the Lindner Hotels & Resorts (Grand Hotel Beau Rivage). November is an off-season month, so prices were really reasonable. They weren’t quite ready for us after lunch, so we decided to walk the Aare river and take in the scenery.
Interlaken sits precisely between two lakes: Lake Brienz to the east and Lake Thun to the west. The Beau Rivage is directly on the Aare river between the two on the east side, which makes for a lovely walk west into the city. At that time of day, the sun was beginning its descent behind the tall mountains, so the glow on the trees, buildings and water was really gorgeous.
Liv and I really enjoyed these couple of hours. The walk along the water was incredibly peaceful, with few tourists. I got really shutter-happy with my camera — the light was just incredible. There were also a number of different kinds of ducks, gulls, and a couple of swans making the rounds throughout.
Interlaken is a pretty popular town to visit, as it turns out. I had a number of friends comment and message me about their experiences there, which was really awesome! It seems to be surrounded on most side by mountains… we saw at least half a dozen paragliders circling overhead, coming to a landing in a large park near the city center.
While we intended to make it as far as the lake, we walked pretty much as far as we could. After we passed the bulk of downtown, the pathway became blocked by some construction projects. The sun was nearly set when we reluctantly turned around and headed back on the opposite side of the river.
One of the most noticeable (and I as I was to find out, infamous) features of Interlaken is the “Hardermannli”, the bald, diamond-shaped rock face. There are actually two legends of this rock face:
The first legend has it that back when monastic life in Interlaken was at its peak, there was a monk who chanced upon a girl from Unterseen who was gathering wood while he was walking up on the Harder. He chased the unsuspecting child so long that in her terror she fell over the abyss to her death. Heavenly judgment instantly turned the monk to stone and he was condemned to look at his place of crime for eternity.
The second version of the legend tells of the unforgiving abbot of the monastery, whom everyone called Harder. The story goes that he was infatuated in a fisherman’s daughter and hounded her until she eventually became pregnant. She swallowed poison but not before letting her father know what had happened. In his rage, the father split the abbot’s skull with an ax. This act was followed by thunder and lightning over Interlaken, and afterwards the locals were able to recognise Harder’s face high up in the rock wall.
Try as I might, I wasn’t able to see anyone’s face in the rough rock. I took “his” picture anyway, in case I’d spot him later.
Like other towns we’ve visited with water running through them, (e.g. San Antonio, Venice, etc), Interlaken has a number of gates to control the flow to prevent flooding. I was also surprised to learn there are actually two waterways: the Aare river and a shipping canal that stays the same level as Lake Thun, connecting to a quay and railway. That explained a confusing fork in the water as we made our way back!
We checked into the hotel and made our way downstairs for dinner. We had their dining room all to ourselves, which made for a romantic, fireplace-centered meal, followed by simple cocktails in their lounge.
The Harder-kulm and Bahn
Directly behind the hotel and across the river is a funicular that takes you to the top of the Harder. Our “Interlaken Visitors Passes” furnished by the Beau Rivage gave us a sizable discount for the 8-minute ride, so it seemed like it would be difficult to pass up. Olivia loves to sneak hiking into our trips when I least expect it, so it was a relief to hear we didn’t have time for the two-hour trek to the top…!
On the way up we did, indeed, see many people hiking the trail below us. On such a gorgeous day, it would have made for great exercise! There is also a nice restaurant at the top in a pavilion with a glass (!) observation deck extending out from the (nauseatingly steep) cliff.
We took a moment to enjoy the bright sunshine, (and let a rare-but-noisy tour group finish their selfies) at the cafe. People watching was at its best: we heard a woman behind us ask the server if she was in Germany, and he informed her, in broken-but-admirable English, that, no, she was in Switzerland. Her follow-up question, “oh… well, which way is Germany?” was our cue to vacate our table as he tried to both understand her question and answer.
It was another shutter-happy day for me, but we were on a time crunch: we had every intention of making it up the Jungfraujoch, (the so-called “Top of Europe”, the highest point in the area) before heading to our spa day in Rigi. Unfortunately, the day would get away from us, so we made it to Grindelwald for lunch before heading to Weggis to catch the funicular to Rigi. This would be the meal where I had my first (of three) Weiner Schnitzels!
Our destination, the Hotel Rigi Kaltbad, was located in a car-free area at the top of a mountain. To get there, one must park and take a funicular, so we were in kind of a rush to arrive — nothing would suck more than not being able to get to the top! Thankfully, it runs every half-hour, so we were able to catch a ride up.
Our hotel is also a popular spa… as such, I don’t have many photos, (as they prohibit cameras in most places, for privacy). We spent several hours wading around, both indoors and outdoors, in the warm water flowing through various features. It was really, really relaxing.
After a soak in the “quiet” room, (and avoiding the couple obviously doing something to each other beneath the bubbles), we made ourselves ready for another promising meal.
The food and wine were spectacular, but what we didn’t expect was the company: everyone we’d seen an hour earlier in their bathing suits (or nude in the steam room) were now at tables around each other. It made for interesting table conversation!
We had a few after-dinner cocktails and played a few games of pool beside a crackling fire, ending our day in probably the best way possible, (yet again). The next morning, we’d be driving back to Zurich for our train to Vaduz, Liechtenstein!