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Getting Back to Nature in the Swiss Alps—Grindelwald, Switzerland

by Sandy Zimmerman, Travel Writer and WTA Member

Learn about Grindelwald, Switzerland by reading Getting Back to Nature in the Swiss Alps—Grindelwald, Switzerland by Sandy Zimmerman, Travel Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

There is something magical about the little villages in the Swiss Alps. Grindelwald has a population of 4,000, the largest in the area, and the village is alive with everything tourists could want. It’s a mountain village (altitude 3,393 feet) located at the foot of the Eiger and surrounded by the other well-known Jungfrau, Wetterhorn and Schreckhorn mountains. Grindelwald boasts of having 46 hotels, 22 guest houses, mountain huts, apartment accommodations, and a great variety of restaurants serving ethnic, gourmet, cheese fondue, Bernese, and organic food. Much of the food that is served in the restaurants is raised/produced on local farms. www.grindelwald.ch

I’m a city gal and the closest I have ever been to cows is seeing them from my car’s windows while driving in the country. I have traveled for 29 years but have never thought of spending time with cows! Before we visited Switzerland, I heard about their farm tours and felt it would be interesting. The charming little village of Grindelwald offers a close-up view of life in the Alps. We were invited on a tour to visit a dairy farm to experience the process of how cheese is made. Most everyone has seen pictures of the dairy farms in the United States, but this was very different. Grindelwald Mountain Cheese is prepared the old traditional way, a ritual as the farmers did centuries ago, with recipes for this simple method being passed down from family to family.

The guide, Hans, drove along the one-lane road watching for oncoming cars until we passed the last local bus stop and reached the top of the mountain at 5,100 feet. After 45 minutes, he stopped at the farmer’s wooden home and we were surrounded by nature. Several exceptionally large cow bells were hanging from the wall near the window’s flower box. We walked into the farmhouse and into a small room where the farmer’s wife was heating cow’s milk in a huge iron pot. Hans explained, “Every day after the cows are milked, she is ready to make cheese. As the milky cheese starts to thicken, a harp-like utensil is used to cut through the cheese because thick cheese becomes difficult to cut.” The only step of the entire cheese making process that is not “woman powered” is using a small mechanical mixer for 10 minutes. A metal hoop is then placed inside a cloth to make a primitive bowl and the farmer’s wife scoops 20 pounds of cheese into the bag, repeating this over and over again. The cheese is then placed into molds, pressed down into shape, and then stacked on top of each other. The cheese hut holds all of their stock of cheese, each being numbered with a date to identify the new and aged cheese.

Farmers bring their cows up into the higher Alps during the spring and autumn seasons. In spite of all of the modern comforts and inventions today, the Alpine farmers keep to this way of life. The wooden farmhouse was designed with a small room to house 11 cows which connected to the dairy cheese making room, a dining room/kitchen, with another small building next door used for their bedroom. The dairy farm tour is offered on Thursdays during the summer. See Grindelwald Tourism for further information.

Tourists are also invited to the World Snow Festival, an international snow sculpture contest and one of the most popular winter events that is held in January. It was launched in 1983 when a Japanese artist carved a giant Heidi into the snow. Jungfrau Tourism: www.myjungfrau.ch

Terrace on top of the Schilthorn Mountain. Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman
Terrace on top of the Schilthorn Mountain. Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman

Take a train ride to visit Piz Gloria, which is located on top of the famous Schilthorn Mountain. In 1968, United Artists shot James Bond 007’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for five months at this location. This rugged, unspoiled mountain was the setting for the exciting winter action scenes. Here, they built the world’s first revolving restaurant, which is a great setting for a wedding or summer party. You’ll arrive at the cable car station to begin this journey. Along the way as you ascend the mountain, passengers can stop and either change cable cars to continue up to the next level or go off to visit the villages. Finally, when the cable car reaches the pinnacle at 9,748 feet, you’re in for breathtakingly beautiful views. You can walk up to the Big Terrace, originally the movie’s helicopter pad, to see glaciers, lakes, and over 200 peaks. On a clear day you can see Germany. A UNESCO World Heritage (http://whc.unesco.org) natural site, this is nature at its finest! Schilthorn-Piz Gloria Mountain: www.schilthorn.ch

Village of Murren. Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman
Village of Murren. Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman

Go off-the-beaten-path on the way down the mountain. Stop at the highest year-round inhabited village, car-free Murren (5,361 feet), with only 500 residents and ten hotels, bars and one disco. Take the funicular car to an outside health obstacle course. You can walk barefoot on logs, change to pebbles, shaved wood, and several types of natural surfaces. The locals feel this stimulates the body. Murren: www.muerren.ch/start-e.htm

Open air restaurant during the winter. Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman
Open air restaurant during the winter. Photo courtesy of Sandy Zimmerman

The Hotel Spinne is a lovely first-class hotel hidden away in Grindelwald. With mountain-style luxury at your fingertips, there are views from almost everywhere! Guests can choose French cuisine in the Restaurant Rotisserie, Italian specialties in the Ristorante Mercato, or the outside Panorama Terrace at the foot of the Eiger Mountain. Besides their piano lounge and disco, Spinne’s Alpen Wellness Center includes Alpine herb sauna, Finnish sauna, alpine-light steam bath, massages, Jacuzzi, and glacial Kneipp-trail. www.spinne.ch

Details

Getting There

Swiss International Airlines: www.swiss.com

Tourist Information

Switzerland Tourism: www.myswitzerland.com

Notice: This information is current as of October 2009. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.