Gimmelwald – Hidden Getaway in the Swiss Alps
Away from the main lines of the tourist haven that is the Berner Oberland, lies the small sleepy car free village of Gimmelwald. Home to less than 150 people, most of whom tracing back to just 3 Swiss families, Gimmelwald is every backpacker’s Holy Grail. Tell the Swiss that you are going to Gimmelwald, most of them would pop up with, “You mean Grindelwald, right”? At 1360m above sea level, Gimmelwald is probably the best kept secret of the Berner Oberland and for good reason too as most tourists wouldn’t take the hassle to get there.
The first leg of the journey to get to Gimmelwald was a train ride from Interlaken Ost to Lauterbrunnen. I got into the second car, as the first four would go to Lauterbrunnen and the last four would go to Grindelwald. After a 20 minute train ride up the Alps, I got out at Lauterbrunnen and walked out of the station for the second leg, a 12 minute bus ride to Stechelberg. Stechelberg is the base of the Schilthorn Gondola and Gimmelwald is the next stop. After traveling for an hour by three modes of transport, I reached Gimmelwald and right outside the gondola station was the sign board for Mountain Hostel, arguably the most famous hostel in the world.
Gimmelwald has one hotel, a pension, a couple of bed & breakfasts and the Mountain Hostel. The Mountain Hostel was the place I called “home” for three brief nights of my life. The hostel itself is located at the edge of a mountain, with the majestic Jungfrau range across the valley, with every room having a view to the Jungfrau range. The hostel is run by the Brunner family, who treat you as part of their family while you are there, which means you might also have to do some odd jobs around the house. I, for one, acted as welcoming committee for guests arriving during the day, as the reception used to be closed during the day, and helped carry wood for building a small shack outside the hostel. An Australian who was there with me, decided to stay back for a month helping out with running the hostel in exchange for free stay and a small allowance. The hostel is famous for its unique coin operated showers and the now shutdown outdoor hot tub looking out into the Alps. With not many places around to eat, you are advised to carry groceries for cooking your meals in the well equipped kitchen at the hostel. Right behind the Mountain Hostel is Esthers B&B, which houses an unlikely store under a stair case where you can find almost anything you’d need to survive; bread, Swiss cheese, Alpine yoghurt, coffee and what not.
Gimmelwald is a great base for many hiking trails in the Alps. A seasoned hiker can look forward to hiking upto Schilthorn (2969m), while the less accomplished, like me, can walk up to the small town of Murren and take the Gondola upto Schilthorn. The walk to Murren takes nearly an hour along the gradually inclining road, where mountain bikes rule the roost. Murren is a hotbed of adventure sports, with skiing being the mainstay during winter and paragliding during the summer. The 15 minute paragliding flight from Murren takes you through the Jungfrau valley and the Staubachfall, the most famous waterfall in the valley and lands in the field near the gondola station at Stechelberg. The Schilthorn peak offers a 360 degree view of the Alps, where you can catch a glimpse of all the major peaks of the Berner Oberland and a distant peek into the lakes of Interlaken. At the top of Schilthorn is a symbol of modern capitalism, the Piz Gloria. A revolving restaurant with sign boards for all the peaks that you see through it while sipping a hot cup of coffee, it is famous for having been featured in the James Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.
After three days of hiking, mountain viewing and recharging my batteries in the Swiss Alps, it was time to leave. As I waited for the gondola, I recollected the famous travel quote I had heard about Gimmelwald, “If heaven isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, send me back to Gimmelwald.”