Why Interlaken provides the ultimate hobbit adventure
by Sam Bradley
View from the Aare promenade to the old town and church of Unterseen credit: swiss-image.ch/Jost von Allmen
Like Bilbo Baggins leaving behind his comfortable hobbit hole and boldly heading for exciting adventures, we approached the famed region of Interlaken with fear and trepidation. This is the land of adventure and bravery; a land where only the courageous flourish, and we knew we would return to our shires changed men, if we were lucky enough to return at all. The Jungfrau mountain towered above us, as fierce as Mordor in all its splendour, while at its feet the lakes of Thun and Brienz simmered with quiet hostility.
In all honesty, I confess our trip wasn’t quiet as intimidating as a Lord of the Rings adventure. Instead of meeting gruesome goblins and dreadful dragons we started our journey from the safety of the lovely Alpenrose Hotel in Wilderswil. The hotel provided swiss hospitality at its best: luxurious bedrooms with beautiful views out onto the mountains, nourishing breakfasts for the adventures that lay ahead and a jacuzzi in the garden as the perfect place to recover at the end of the day. And it’s just as well we had the perfect base camp, as life in the shire of Switzerland is busy indeed.
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
Keeping our feet and making sure we weren’t swept away fittingly became one of the main aims of our first adventure; night sledding. We were whisked away high into the swiss alps, where the air was still with a sense of adventure. The lights from Murren twinkled down in the valley below, while around us was nothing but the silence of the forest at night. And with a whoop and a yell we were off, chaotically careening our way down the mountain like tipsy hobbits on an evening escapade. The sleds offered little in the way of control or brakes, but we courageously managed to steer our way along the trail as it wound through forests and meadows, and even past an eerily majestic frozen waterfall. Time seemed to stand still, and if ever I felt like I was truly in a magical fairy tale world, this was surely it. Sadly all adventures must come to an end, and just as the cold was starting to gnaw at my insides we arrived at the cosy swiss restaurant at the bottom to be greeted with friendly welcomes, hearty ales and a warm cheese fondue.
Night Sledding credit: Duane Stacey
Warm cheese fondue credit: Duane Stacey
“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking stick.”
With our sense of adventure well and truly awakened we realised that conquering mountains would become the mission of our stay, and it was one we attacked with gusto. The landscape is dominated by the towering presence of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains, which legend has it portrays the monk (Mönch) protecting the young lady (Jungfrau) from the ogre (Eiger). The Jungfrau mountain is the tallest of the three at 4,158 metres, and it was to be our first target. Luckily, there’s a train straight to the station at the top, so conquering this mountain proved to be relatively easy: there were even free chocolates and amazing views of the glacier as a reward for making it.
The next mountain on our wishlist was the legendary Schilthorn, which is best known as the backdrop for the 1969 James Bond movie, “On Her Majesty's Secret Service.” After another all-too-easy cable car ride to the top we were rewarded with breakfast at the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant, complete with unforgettable panoramic views out over the snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see. If getting up the mountains was easy (thanks to an amazing array of masterful engineering and technological wizardry) we were soon to discover that the true adventure lay in the descent. The quickest and most exciting way down from the Schilthorn is the James Bond way: simply pretend there are a bunch of nasty villains on your tail and ski down as quickly as you can. You’ll need to keep your wits about you as some parts of this slope reach a jaw dropping steepness of 75 degrees, but fortune favours the brave and we were soon safely at the bottom.
The name's Bond, James Bond credit: Duane Stacey
Excited for more skiing, we discovered that the Jungfrau region offers a multitude of amazing slopes and is generally blessed with bountiful snowfalls. Backed up by a wide network of ski lifts and trains, in winter the whole region is magically transformed into a wonderland just waiting to be explored. Within a thirty-minute drive from Interlaken there are three ski regions with over 200 kilometres of pistes (and a free ski bus). The skiing options range from the beginner-friendly slopes of First to the world famous Lauberhorn track, which is the longest downhill course in the world (at 2.7 miles) and also the fastest (competitors often reach speeds of 100 miles per hour during races).
We could have spent the rest of the trip contentedly skiing and exploring, as happy as a horde of goblins discovering golden treasures, but our adventures were not over yet. The Swiss Alps also happens to be one the best paragliding locations in the world, and before we knew it we were strapped in and running off a slope into the big blue sky. There’s surely no better way to enjoy the beauty of this magical place than from the air, and so it came to be that we were able to add another hair-raising but unforgettable experience to our list of adventures conquered.
A view from above credit: Duane Stacey
All this excitement can be rather exhausting, and we found our evenings were best used for recovering, relaxing and sharing stories from the day. Once again Mr Tolkien said it best when he observed that “if more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” Wise words indeed, and we happily did our bit to make it a merrier world by enjoying some fine meals in the many pubs and restaurants scattered around Interlaken. The Ice Magic festival in the town square also offered a great evening of entertainment, with skating, Bavarian curling, shopping, food and mulled wine all on offer.
Bilbo Baggins was famously reluctant to embark on adventure, stating “we are plain quiet folk, and I have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing, and uncomfortable things.” However, there’s no doubting he returned back to his shire a more mature and confident hobbit, and a whole lot richer for his experiences. Adventures still provide the same benefits today, so next time you feel that Tookish yearning for discovery stir within you, make sure you strap on your sword and boldly heed the call. Adventure awaits.