After a few days in Grindelwald and the trip to Jungfraujoch, both of which were pretty touristy, I treated myself (again, I’m just always “treating myself,” aren’t I?) to a sojourn in the teeny tiniest village I could possibly find that still qualified as a “village.”
This was Gimmelwald. But it’s nothing like Grindelwald. The tiny town is situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley (the village on the valley floor is called Lauterbrunnen and is big enough to have a train station, at least). Gimmelwald is only accessible by funicular, in true Swissalpen style. There are only about 20 houses in the whole place and, according to Rick Steves, almost everyone in the town has the same last name of Brunner (and yes, the lady with whom I booked my accommodation was indeed named Brunner).
I stayed at the “mountain hostel” and met some really nice American girls to hang out with. Within fifteen minutes of my arrival, one of them gave me the following instructions regarding dinner: “Walk straight down the dirt road, about five minutes. You’ll pass cows on your right, but if you go past the goat hutch you’ve gone too far. When you see a little wooden house with purple flowers in the windows, ring the bell. A woman named Helga will sell you sausage and cheese.” I couldn’t resist, but did exactly that. Helga Brunner wasn’t at home, but her cousin, Rolf Brunner was, and he showed me their cheese-curing room.
The cheese he had to sell me was one and two years old – this year’s cheese was still too young (you can see it on the shelves!). He let me taste each, the “Jungkase” or “young cheese” and the old. The old was much stronger, and the young already hard and crumbly but still smooth-tasting. I opted for the jungkase.
He also sold me some beef sausage, and together that made a perfect dinner. Thanks, friend Rolf!
After this, a couple of us took the cablecar up to the next town (Mürren) for a “Volksabend” or “Folkloric Evening,” which turned out to be a free concert featuring traditional dancing, yodeling, playing of the traditional alphorn, and twirling of the Swiss flag. This was particularly enjoyable because, unlike the tourist traps in Salzburg and Innsbruck, the people performing at this evening were part of real societies preserving their historic culture. For instance, we saw the “yodeling choir” and several traditional dance troupes. These are all locals who participate in these clubs in their spare time just for their own enjoyment, not as a gag for rich tourists.
But the reason most people go to tiny, picturesque Gimmelwald, is as a stepping stone to the local summit, the Schilthorn. The Schilthorn itself is nothing much to look at, kind of bald and barren-looking actually, but it’s the view from the top that make it one of my favorite places I’ve ever been. I would come back here before I went back to Jungfraujoch, in a heartbeat. One of the biggest attractions up there is the Piz Gloria, a 360-degree rotating restaurant. It. Was. Incredible.
Apparently, part of From Russia With Love was filmed here, and they offer a James Bond Breakfast Special: The biggest breakfast buffet you’ve ever seen (in true Swiss style – coldcuts, cheeses, breads, butter, soft-boiled eggs, muesli, and some scrambled eggs and sausage) at the center of the circular restaurant, and also bottomless coffee, AND a glass of champagne, just to make you feel completely glamorous. So two Americans from Ohio and I opted WAY in, and sat for almost two hours just sipping, eating, chatting, and watching the mountains from eye-level. It might be the best breakfast I’ll ever eat.
After that, we all hiked back down to Gimmelwald! Well actually, I let them get about a 20 mintues head start, because I really prefer hiking alone. I’m not antisocial or misanthropic, just that when I hike I tend to be a follower, not a leader, and I go into “horse-mode,” and just follow the butt of the person in front of me without making my own way. So I said, “no offense!” and waved the other two girls on their way, and spent a few extra minutes hanging out on the observation deck.
Needless to say, the views were unbelievable. The day was almost cloudless, so you could see as far as Italy in one direction, to Germany in another, and to France in another.
The hike down is not too long, 1600 m difference in altitude from top to bottom (that’s about 4,800 feet!), and it took me about 5 hours total (with a lot of breaks though, and at a leisurely pace). That sounds like an awful lot to me, but this chart on the Schilthorn says it’s true! It didn’t feel that hard, but my glutes were feeling it for days afterward haha.
Here’s the view from the top down:
I can’t think of a better way to spend 5 hours. The top of the trail was still snowed-in, so the first half hour was spent slipping and sliding over snow-slash-glaciers, but after I descended a little, the trail was clear.
One of the best things I found on the way down was a glacial lake. It was completely clear, and had this subtle blue tinge. Half of it was still frozen as snow, and it was SO clear that I actually filled my waterbottle from it.
All the publicity for the region claims that the hiking around the Schilthorn features some of “the most beautiful alpine scenery most people will see in their entire lives.” And I absolutely have to agree.
This is like The Lion King, if The Lion King happened in Switzerland instead of Africa.
My leg muscles may have remembered this hike for a few days, but I’m pretty sure I will remember it forever.