Grindelwald is the principal town in the Jungfraujoch, a term that refers to the saddle between the Eiger and the Munch Mountains in Switzerland’s Alps. The combination of snow-clad mountain peaks, beautiful valleys, sheer rock faces, waterfalls and glaciers, including the Aletsch (which is Europe’s largest at 65 square miles and 2,300 feet in depth), make it one of Europe’s most popular train routes and hiking destinations.
Grindelwald is a pretty town whose limited activity is along a single main street. Although it has some pretty, alpine-style buildings, its beauty lies primarily in its setting on a small plateau, just above the valley floor, that is surrounded by picturesque mountains. To the west, five 12K and 13K mountains and the Grindelwald Glacier loom over it. To the northwest, it overlooks the valley floor and the town of Grund.
There isn’t much to do in the town itself. Yet a cow beauty contest did draw our attention one day. We are not sure which cow won.
Outside of beautiful cows, Grindelwald provides easy access to cog-train transport to a number of hiking centers. Alas, our hiking was somewhat limited by a full day of rain. Yet we still had some good weather and hit the trails when it was sunny to work off some of the cheese fondue we had been eating.
Jungfraujoch Area Hikes
This short 3.8-mile trail that is one of the premier spots in the area. It takes about 3 hours to do. We took the cog railway from Jungfraujoch to reached the trail’s beginning at the toe of the receding Eiger Glacier. The trail proceeds down the 13,026-foot Eiger, along the base of the mountain’s infamous and dangerous North Face. The trail then plunges 2,600 feet to the town of Alpiglen, at which point we caught a train down the rest of the valley to Grindelwald.
The views are generally drawn to the dramatic North Face, the Jungfrau, the Munch, surrounding peaks and to the town of Grindelwald in the valley far, far below.
But the walk through the mountain’s scree field yields other lovely views. Among the more dramatic are:
- Striking green Fallboden reservoir in the midst of a barren landscape;
- Deep gorges lined with rocks that were beautifully scoured by rushing mountain streams most of which, by autumn, had slowed to a trickle; and
- A lovely waterfall that shoots out of the mountainside to freefall to a sculpted rock face that scatters the spray into a lovely fan-like pattern.
Although the trails declines are relatively steady, we were happy for the assist of cables on some particularly steep, rocky segments. While the trajectory is generally downhill, a couple of steep 200+-foot elevation-gain inclines taxed our muscles. If you really want to tax your legs and your lungs, you can begin the trail at Alpiglen and hike up! Not for us.
Bachalpsee Lake and First Cliff Walk
Our second hike started with a Gondola ride from Grindelwald to First. First is a hub for more than 20 trails going off in different directions and at different altitudes. We began with a relatively easy (other than the 4-6-inches of fresh-fallen snow and, on the way down, slippery slush) eight-mile round trip hike (with a 440-foot elevation gain) through a 7,400-foot high alpine meadow to a pretty mountain lake. The views over the lake and along much of the trail provided panoramic scenes of a broad section of the Alps including several 12K-15K peaks (especially Eiger, Munch, Schrekhorn, Wetterhorn and Finsteraarhorn) and three glaciers.
We returned to a man-made, hanging, cliff-side bridge by the gondola station. We walked to the First Cliff Walk platform for a spectacular view of the north face of the Eiger and a number of other peaks. Unfortunately, we ran into a long line of Japanese, each of whom had to have individual pictures taken at the end of the platform with a flag. Not wanting to wait while each person took multiple pictures of themselves, we took our pictures from another view point. Still beautiful.
The 25-minute gondola ride from the 3,400 feet of elevation in Grindelwald to 7,121 feet in First was as beautiful as the view from the platform. While we could see many of the same peaks, the ride also provided a more intimate view of the farmer huts, cows grazing along the mountainside with their clanging cow bells, and the towns and individual homes in the valley below. Not in the mood for a gondola ride? No problem. You can also hike or take a helicopter or take more adventuresome modes of transports among intermediate stops. These include mountain bikes, carts, hang gliders or a zipline.
- Barry’s where we had two very different meals, both of which we fully enjoyed. After a few straight dinners of cheese fondue, Joyce enjoyed an unusual, but very tasty combination of smoked salmon, rosti and cottage cheese. Tom has a rack of lamb, a medley of properly-cooked vegetables (carrots, zucchini, eggplant, Swiss chard) and a selection of fruits (cantaloupe, pineapple and orange). We had a bottle of another nice Swiss wine, this a 2016 Henri Cruchon “M’ merlot from around Bern.
- Derby is a restaurant within a hotel. Tom was very pleased with his grilled veal steak with mushroom cream sauce, spinach with mascarpone cheese and noodles in butter. Joyce had less luck with her rather tasteless grilled trout fillet with creamy butter sauce and overcooked rice. We accompanied our meal with a pinot noir from Switzerland’s Les Grisson region, a Maienfeld Ruthauser pinot noir.
- Restaurant Kreuz is where we had a post-hike lunch consisting of air-dried meat, sausage, shaved cheese and pickled vegetables and a dish of toast topped with melted cheese and a fried egg. The food was nice, although we were less excited by our choice of two glasses of wine, a Hohannisberg du Valais and an Aigle AOC Waldvogel.
We stayed at the 3 star Parkhotel Grindelwalk Dorfstrasse. Pre-arrival, the staff was incredibly helpful and responsive to any question that we had. When we did arrive (early morning), they were extremely helpful in suggesting how to incorporate everything we wanted to do in the time that we had.The room was comfortable and had robes, slippers and a hot water pot. The hooks by the door made it easy to hang up coats. Being an older 100-year old building, means it is not new, sleek and modern. But it is comfortable and has everything we needed except for plugs. The 2 plugs in the room are poorly placed. One is under a table by one side of the bed, which entailed crawling to plug in. The other was across the room behind a small couch. A third plug was in the bathroom where we could plug in the hot water pot. It would have helped if they had some extension cords. The bathroom was old but clean and functional. Grindelwald has a very small main town area. While this is only a 5-7 minute walk from the train, it is up a small slope and is on the further end away from the main town area. However, it is right next to the gondola to go to First. Breakfast is very good with a nice assortment of the normal breakfast items. And let’s not forget the attentive staff that continued into the breakfast area. They have a nice bar/seating area for a pre-dinner drink.