Reflections on Interlaken

8th March 2010, by Chris Gill

Waiting for the 0825 to Lauterbrunnen and Wengen

Waiting for the 0825 to Lauterbrunnen and Wengen

As part of my recent tour of resorts in central and southern Switzerland, I thought it would be instructive to follow up on my week based in the valley town of Bourg-St-Maurice by staying for a few nights in Interlaken – a valley town with its own tourist trade, thanks to a privileged setting between two lakes in the glorious Bernese Oberland.

Interlaken is a neat rather than notably cute town. Picture postcards rightly focus on the setting rather than the town, but it’s a pleasant enough place to spend time. If grand hotels are your thing, you may be drawn by the scale and style of the *****Superior Victoria-Jungfrau or the merely ***** Lindner Grand Hotel Beau-Rivage. Mysteriously, the tourist office didn’t put us up in either of these.

February was clearly low season – the streets were quiet in the evening, and there was no pressure on the restaurants. But there were a few people using the trains up to the Jungfrau resorts, and one or two spots in the town had something of a ski resort ambience – the cheery restaurant Des Alpes, for one, and the funky Hüsi bar in the centre for another.

The town doesn’t seem to be on the ski resort wavelength, though. There are ski shops that do ski rental, but they close early on Saturdays, and don’t open at all on Sundays. How are weekend arrivals supposed to get hold of skis? When we wanted to visit the tourist office, it was always closed. Strange.

Our hotel, however, was anything but quiet. The City Hotel Oberland appears to have developed a thriving trade in American and Japanese package tours, the participants in which thronged the breakfast rooms from 06:30am in order to make the most of the day ahead by riding up to Europe’s highest railway station as early as possible. All a bit of a shock to the system.

For skiers and riders, the attraction of Interlaken is of course lower prices than you’ll find in the nearby resorts, particularly in the Jungfrau resorts. I had hoped that the tourist office would be able to provide a neat table of prices supporting the view that there is serious money to be saved, but it hasn’t been forthcoming. So I have briefly applied myself to the matter.

On the Interlaken website our *** hotel has an “indicative” price right now of CHF 91 per person for a standard double. The nearby **** Krebs has CHF 110. In Wengen the *** Bellevue costs CHF 105 to 155. The **** Silberhorn costs CHF 135 to 250. So yes, prices do seem to be lower.

The price you pay, of course, is in the time you spend riding trains or buses. The train from Interlaken takes 20 minutes to Lauterbrunnen (between Wengen and Mürren), and the total time to Wengen is 45 minutes. It’s much the same to Mürren.

In our case, we were using Interlaken as a base for skiing Meiringen and Adelboden. We used a hire car, but you can get to them by train and bus, too. They are further away, but Meiringen doesn’t take much longer to reach; the trip to Adelboden is a bit longer.

In the end, whether this or any other valley town makes sense as a base depends on your priorities, and the exact deal you are able to get. The aforementioned hotel Victoria-Jungfrau was clearly lacking business when we visited, so you might be able to get a discount on the current rack rate of CHF 400 per person. But don’t bank on it.

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