In September 2014 we went hiking in Grindelwald, Switzerland—for the eighth time. It's the best place for hiking we've ever found. The scenery is spectacular, the trails well-maintained, and there's every level of hiking from easy to terrifying. At each trail intersection a cluster of yellow signs tells the number of "stunde" (German for "hours") to the next destination. There's no wind. Mountain restaurants located at strategic spots allow you to relax on a deck with beer and rosti while admiring the view.
But before going any further into the hiking aspect, one must consider where to stay. Switzerland is expensive. On our first three trips we stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants, before wising up: the thing to do is rent an apartment, have lunches at the mountain restaurants, and breakfast and dinner at home. Home!--it's so much nicer than a hotel room anyway, to have a living room and separate bedroom, a dining table on which to spread out all the brochures and maps, and a kitchen where you can make whatever you want.
Here's the website where you can find your dream apartment:
On the top blue bar, click Languages > English.
On the blue-on-white bar, click ACCOMMODATION > Holiday Apartments.
Now you're at a page where you can select from 5-star apartments down to 1-star. (The town apparently rates them.) Click on a star category and you'll get a list. If there's one you're interested in, click its “more>>”. The resultant screen describes the apartment and prices. You can learn a lot from this page.
The most important thing to me, though, is the location. We've stopped renting cars in Switzerland and now take the train to Grindelwald. Therefore we want an apartment that's within reasonable suitcase-pulling from the train station.
If you click Situation on an apartment's page, you'll get a map showing its location. Using the map's arrows and plus-and-minus signs will give you the big picture. If you have a rental car you can stay anywhere, but if you have no car you'll want to be in easy walking distance of the two main grocery stores, the Coop and Migros, which are both on the main drag. The Coop is a block to the right of the train station (on the map) and Migros is another couple blocks to the right.
We look for apartments that are no farther left than the train station (Bahnhof) and not much farther right than the village church (Dorfkirche) and its cemetery. Also the views are better above the main drag (which is uphill) than below it (which is downhill). The important thing to remember is that you'll be carrying lots of groceries home. About groceries: when we first came to Grindelwald we thought the Coop was something you had to be a member of. It's not; it's a regular grocery
There is one other thing we also look for in rental apartments: we don't want the basement! Grindelwald has tons of rental apartments but many of them are in basements. The residents use that space to generate extra income, since they live in a resort town. But you don't get much of a view in a basement, and in some you feel like you need to keep the curtains closed a lot of the time. Nix on basements!
Once you get to Grindelwald, stop in at the Sports Center (a little to the right of the train station on the map). In its lobby you can pick up a lot of good brochures, among them a catalog detailing all the rental apartments, including a legend that explains the symbols. It's easier to use than the above website.
Now that you're settled in an apartment, a few words on why you want to be here: to enjoy unparalleled beautiful walking. If you haven't used hiking poles before, this may be the place where you find out what a difference they make, especially on steep trails. We bought some at a store along the main drag.
Grindelwald is in a high bowl with mountains all around, including the infamous Eiger (you may remember the old Clint Eastwood movie “The Eiger Sanction”). But that doesn't mean you have to hike straight up all the time. There are gondolas and cog railways that will take you high up on the mountains, where you can walk for miles without horrible elevation gain or loss. At the train station you can buy a pass that covers those modes of transportation, as well as some buses. On this past trip we got a 10-day pass.
But you can also start a hike right from your apartment. Our traditional first day is to walk out the front door and up to the summit of First, where a wonderful scenic lunch awaits. Another favorite is walking down to Grund (a town below Grindelwald) and taking the Mannlichen gondola up, then walking around to Kleine Scheidegg, a hamlet from which climbers assault the Eiger.
There's a trail along the base of the Eiger from which you can get an up-close look at its craggy face and end up at the mountain restaurant Alpiglen. From there another trail (my favorite) goes high-and-narrow across to Bonera, aka Bonerin, and then down (so steeply a ladder is required) to a cutoff trail leading to the mountain restaurant Marmorbruch. On the way to it you'll cross a major-ly scary bridge over a cataract called the Gletscherschluct.
Or you can take the lift up to Pfingstegg (another mountain restaurant) and from there have a choice of two great trails: going left you end up at the mountain restaurant Milchbach and from there have a lovely woodsy walk back to Grindelwald. Going right you walk along a veritable mountain-goat trail along the side of a cliff to reach the mountain restaurant Baregg, where you have a close-up view of the receding (global warming, you know) glacier across the chasm.
A super-duper hike is to take an early train from Grindelwald back down to Wildersville, where you switch to a cog train that takes you up to the mountain restaurant of Schinige Platte. (See how many mountain restaurants there are? No shortage of restrooms either.) From there it's a gorgeous walk along some ridges, looking down at Interlaken and Lake Brienz at some points. After a couple hours you hit another mountain restaurant that's perfect for a pick-me-up of coffee and apple cake. Then on to the summit of Faulhorn, which has a mountain restaurant for lunch. After that, wind your way down to the summit of First and take its gondola back to Grindelwald.
And we haven't even touched the surface! Trust me, if you like to hike, Grindelwald is where you want to be.