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Sitting in a prime spot between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, Interlaken is the gateway to the Berner Oberland. This is the region of Switzerland that really looks the part, with waterfalls and peaky mountains stretching in every direction. If you’re on a packed tour of Europe, this is likely the only part of Switzerland you’ll see. The activities on offer include paragliding, helicopter skydiving and  the usual mountain biking and hiking. Ferry rides on the lake are lovely.

The hardest decision is where to stay, and how much to pack in. I’ve organized this guide in roughly alphabetical order, clustering the big areas:

***Adelboden

*Interlaken

**Kandersteg

Lake Brienz: ***Geissbach, ***Ballenberg

Lake Thun: ** St. Beatus Caves, **Spiez, ***Thun

***Meiringen

Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Jungfrau Ski Area are explored in depth in this post: **Grindelwald, **Lauterbrunnen, ***Kleine Scheidegg, ***Wegneralp **Jungfraujoch, ***Mürren, **Wengen

From the Vaud area, it’s fastest to drive through Bern, but the longer route is wonderful along the Jaunpass for epic Heidi-esque vistas.


Adelboden

For Swiss postcard views, Adelboden is hard to beat. Waterfalls in every direction, excellent hiking. We’re told winter is the high season; summer is a bit quieter. We enjoyed hiking to the waterfall and taking the gondolas up to the top of various peaks.

In the winter, the ski area is okay, and looks like it would be excellent on a powder day. Very speed groomers, use big guns. Popular and crowded when warm. Short season, pretty low, highest point is 2100 meters.

  • ***The Cambrian Hotel was a big win – modernized, lovely staff, all the amenities you could want. Instagram-worthy outdoor pool and range of spa facilities. The restaurant (Glasshaus) was quite good.
  • The Adler Adelboden looked cute in a more overtly Swiss-style way.
  • The ***Alpenblick restaurant was good – smallish menu, but elegantly executed.
  • ***Hohliebestübli was a good outdoor dining option. In summer the walk there is pretty grueling, but the views are worthwhile. 

Interlaken

Interlaken itself isn’t all that cute (a bit grungy). The nicest section is the north end of town, which has a range of historic hotels and a really lovely casino (architecturally at least). Very, very touristy in a not ideal way (think McDs and Hooters).


Kandersteg


Lake Brienz (East Side)


Lake Thun (West Side)

Spiez

Spiez is an especially old town in Swiss terms – the area was home to several large Bronze and Iron Age settlements. Three separate Bronze Age cemeteries with numerous graves contained a wealth of bronze axes, knives and cloak pins from 1750 to 1500 BC. It has a castle, a nice harbor, and a good range of restaurants, which is why we often end up there (it’s easy to get to from the freeway).

  • **Riviera by Elio: A little touristy, but good food, good view. Higher end.
  • **Hotel Restaurant Seegarten Marina Spiez: a super local option, not fancy, large patio. Pizza, schnitzel, and salads. I would not stay here (super gritty) or consider eating indoors, but it’s a fun place to eat with highly efficient staff and good people-watching.

Thun

***Thun is really quite lovely – it’s a destination all by itself, and often overlooked. Great architecture, right on the right and lake, with excellent views of the Eiger. The main shopping streets are lively and picturesque. It’s a good destination without a car, easy to get to on the train. In the summer months you can also visit many sites by ferry (in the winter, the bus is much more frequent).

It’s an old town, even in Swiss terms, believed to have been inhabited since the mid-3rd millennium BC. The history is diverse (Roman, Burgundian, Holy Roman Empire, home of a major military training school, in the cradle of early tourism in Switzerland, etc. 

Sites, Lodging, Dining Options
  • Untere Schleuse Brücke is one of several covered bridges in town – my favorite because you’ll often see surfers riding the waves right in front of it.
  • **Kunstmuseum Thun is rather small and focused on temporary exhibits. Check what’s on before you visit. We saw the Circus show in 2023, which wasn’t great.
  • **Thun Castle: Charming. Not a standout museum, but it’s cute and well-intentioned. Part of the castle is also a hotel.
  • Schadaupark, right where the Aare river empties into the lake, has a high end restaurant, Schloss Schadau (haven’t tried yet), lots of lovely grass to lounge on, and fairly extensive grounds to explore. It also has the *Wocher Panorama: a quite minor (though historic) panorama painting. From here, you can take a walk through very pretty waterfront neighborhoods, along a well-signed trail. It’s a nice excursion, and quite easy to catch a bus back to town from along the route.
  • **Dampfschiff: Not a bad restaurant, perhaps a bit forgettable. Outdoor seating, a bit higher end. 
  • **Spedition Hotel is a newer option, extremely hip – The Aficionados say “contemporary-chic in a historic build, a loft of style filled with thoughtful design elements and a signature of urban cool.” It’s near the train station in a formerly industrial area, but despite that it’s right next to town and quite convenient. We liked it, comfortable rooms, higher end touches, friendly staff. Dinner and breakfast were fine – perhaps not good enough to visit as a dining destination, but if you’re staying at the hotel, a good option to stay in.
Further afield, along the lake on the North side
  • ***Schloss Hünegg (Museum): Don’t miss this (5 minutes east of Thun). Like a mini-Biltmore, similar area and similar quality. Wonderful. 
  • ***Oberhofen Castle is even better than Schloss Hünegg – do both! Oberhofen has a storybook location on the lake, and has been through several wealthy sets of owners in the last 200 years, making for a very large and grand castle experience. Signage is excellent, and they’ve done some very thoughtful digital enhancements that work – it’s quite tasteful. Also lovely garden.
  • ***Chartreuse: a hotel and a truly exceptional restaurant. Some of the best Italian food we’ve had, in or out of Italy. It’s also almost never open (the restaurant), so check before you go.
  • As a backup, **Restaurant Bellevue au Lac is quite good for more traditional food. Nice patio on the lake.
  • **Restaurant Kreuz (next to Oberhofen Castle) is a perfectly fine schnitzel spot, classic menu, wood walls, speedy service. It’s big and you’ll likely be okay without a reservation.

Meiringen

Meiringen is famous for the nearby Reichenbach Falls, a spectacular waterfall that was the setting for the final showdown between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty. The village is also known for its claim to have been the place where meringue was first created. 

We visited to tour the oft-Instagrammed ***Aareschlucht. It’s very impressive and I would recommend it, with some careful planning. It’s a gorge (obviously) and you get packed in like sardines on a narrow path. Go early, go in the swing seasons, do whatever you can to avoid the geriatric conga line this turns into.

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