By Li Yen, Ang Xue Er
Nestled at the foot of the snow-clad Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains and flanked by two scenic lakes, Interlaken is a popular Swiss resort town. It is also the rail junction for excursions to the mountainous Jungfrau Region, and an adventure mecca for adrenaline-loaded sports.
This postcard-perfect Swiss town derives its name from the Latin phrase “Inter Lacus”, which means “situated between two lakes”—namely, the turquoise blue Lake Brienz and the crystal-clear Lake Thun.
Witnessing the stunning panorama of the white summits Eiger, Monach and Jungfrau towering above Interlaken’s glittering lakeland scenery is an ethereal, one-of-a-kind experience. From crystal clear lakes, charming chalet villages, eternally white mountains to fairytale castles – Interlaken is a fairytale land on Earth.
View of Lake Brienz with paragliders flying over the lake. (Bruno Petroni/swiss-image.ch)
A family enjoys a lake-side bath at Lake Thun, and the evening view of the Niesen mountain. (Christof Schuerpf/swiss-image.ch)
A panoramic photograph of Interlaken. (Hans Zurbuchen/swiss-image.ch)
Castles in Lake Thun
Take a leisurely 2-hour cruise along Lake Thun, and fall in love with the picturesque scenery along the way.
Like a scene from a fairytale, five gorgeous castles line the shores of Lake Thun, against the magnificent backdrop of the Bernese Alps.
The castles Spiez, Hünegg, Oberhofen, Schadau, and Thun transport you back in time to the lives of Swiss nobility, and provide an unparalleled atmosphere for your imagination to take flight.
Each of these spectacular castles has its own unique personality.
Hünegg Castle was built in 1862, in the style of the renaissance castles in the French Loire Valley. Several rooms were later renovated in the mid 1900s in the Jugendstil style. Thanks to the owners’ meticulous preservation efforts, the castle’s interior looks exactly as it did in 1900s.
The romantic 12th century Oberhofen Castle has fairy-tale turrets which offer impressive views of the Bernese Alps. It is also known for its extensive medieval keep. Take a leisurely walk through the elegant Summer Hall, the Knights’ Hall, the Turkish smoking parlour, and the neo-Gothic dining hall, which provide insights into Bernese lifestyle from the 16th to 19th century.
The Oberhofen Castle’s chapel has an impressive 15th century medieval fresco, and serves as a perfect venue for fairytale weddings. The castle grounds feature a 2.5-hectare English-style park with a children’s play area. There are also benches for visitors to rest and immerse in the splendid view of Lake Thun and the Niesen – a 2,362m pyramid-shapes mountain that has inspired many artist such as Paul Klee and Cuno Amiet.
Oberhofen Castle (12th century) on Lake Thun in the Bernese Oberland. The mountains Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau form the backdrop. (Christof Schuerpf/swiss-image.ch)
View from the mountain Niesen, overlooking Lake Thun. (Bruno Petroni/swiss-image.ch)
Schadau Castle, also called the Pearl of Lake Thun, was built between 1847 and 1854 with romantic and neo-Gothic style elements. Surrounded by a large English-style landscape, Schadau Castle is home to the Swiss Gastronomy Museum and Scherzlig Church. Admire the breathtaking views of the Alps and the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains from the castle’s lakeside terrace. Don’t miss the stunning panoramic painting in its Schadau Park—a 7.5m-high, 38m-long 360° circular painting, and the the oldest known surviving panorama. Completed in 1814 by Marquard Wocher, the panorama depicts a morning in the town Thun.
The lakeshore Schadau Castle, which can be reached by boat. (Peter Maurer/swiss-image.ch)
Spiez Castle sits at the end of a rocky land of Lake Thun, and it is nestled amidst the vineyards of the town Spiez. The medieval Castle, which dates back to 1000 AD, has a beautiful garden and an early Romanesque-style church known for its fading Romanesque frescoes in its apse and crypt.
Inside the castle, a permanent museum offers a glimpse into the aristocratic residence, and a viewing platform at the turrets provides an impressive view of the surrounding landscape. Visit the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque-style living quarters; the 15th-century residential and court rooms; the wood-panelled Renaissance room; and the early Baroque banquet room.
The town of Spiez. (Simon Wuethrich/swiss-image.ch)
Built between 1180 and 1190 by the dukes of Zähringen, Castle Thun stands on a hill in the town Thun. The castle has a five-storey historical museum narrating the region’s cultural development over the past 4,000 years. You can visit its Knights’ Hall, one of the few surviving halls from the Middle Ages, or climb up into the towers for a sweeping view of the town Thun, the lake and the Alps.
For the little ones, the castles of Oberhofen, Spiez and Thun offer a knight’s trail, where pageboys and varlets can learn how to be knights and ladies. To complete their mission, they have to conquer different levels in the castles to be given a knighthood.
You can also have your very own fairytale wedding in the castles’ churches.
View of Castle Thun and the surrounding town of Thun. (Jan Geerk/swiss-image.ch)
Along the banks of Lake Brienz, explore the charming chalet village of Bönigen, the tiny fishing village of Isetlwald, or Brienz – a woodcarving and violin-making village.
The village of Bonigen lies on the shore of Lake Brienz, and it is also called ‘the village of woodcarved houses’. (Jost von Allmen/swiss-image.ch)
The village of Iseltwald, a beautiful destination both in summer and in winter. (Herbert Steiner/swiss-image.ch)
Brienz started to flourish as Switzerland’s premier woodcarving town thanks to an entrepreneurial wood carver, Christian Fletscher, who started selling his woodcrafts to tourists.
Brienz has a wood carving museum that allows you to carve music boxes and cuckoo clocks out of wood – an ideal souvenir. It is also home to the Woodcarving School of Brienz – the only school in Switzerland that delivers a 4-year training course.
To experience Switzerland’s living traditions in an open-air museum, take a ten minute bus ride from Brienz to Ballenberg – the Swiss Open-air museum.
Ballenberg, the Swiss open-air museum of rural culture, is located near the village Brienz. (Christof Schuerpf/swiss-image.ch)
The Ostermundigen house built in the year 1797, in the Swiss open-air museum Ballenberg. (Marcus Gyger/swiss-image.ch)
Traditional home-based weaving at the open-air museum Ballenberg. (Marcus Gyger/swiss-image.ch)
Constructed in 1978, the open-air museum showcases an extensive exhibition of 100 residential and agricultural buildings from across Switzerland. The 66-hectare land contains alpine huts, barns, and humble workers’ quarters, reviving the traditional life and rural culture of Switzerland’s past.
From the authentic cultivation of plants and rearing of over 250 farm animals, to craftsmen and farmers working with traditional tools, the open-air museum aims to re-enact Switzerland’s tradition rural life.
Get dressed in a traditional Swiss costume, and roam the village to learn more about Switzerland as it once was. Visitors are transported back in time by the sounds of farm animals, the chiming of cowbells, and the scenes of craftsmen and farmers hard at work with traditional tools.
Furthermore, do look out for their special seasonal events including:
1. Brächete (scotching flax into linen)
Using old tools, women in traditional dress demonstrate the process of transforming flax (type of plant) into beautiful table cloths, linens and more.
2. Schwingete (Swiss alpine wrestling in sawdust)
Swiss alpine wresting in a ring with a sawdust-covered floor. It is different from the usual types of wrestling, as the grip positions are fixed. An interesting regulation is that the winner has to wipe the sawdust from the loser’s shoulders, emphasizing the importance of sportsmanship.
3. Yodelling Concert
“Yodel-ay-hee-hoo!” Recognisable from the very first few notes, this Alpine music involves repeated and quick changes of pitch between low and high pitches. Revel in the uplifting, melodious harmonies of yodeling choir concerts at Ballenberg.
Jungfraujoch: “Top of Europe”
One of the world’s greatest rail journeys starts from Interlaken. Departing from Interlaken Ost, the train journey to the 3,454-metre-high “Jungfraujoch—Top of Europe” is particularly astonishing.
Matthias Bütler, Head of Marketing Jungfrau Railways describes the journey as follows: “The rail journey first starts on flatland between the two lakes (Lake Thun and Lake Brienz), then it passes through the hills, trees and valleys, and further up the journey, you will see the colourful alpine scenery, and at the end, you will reach Jungfraujoch—Top of Europe—a view of snow-capped mountains.”
A World Heritage Site and popular high-end tourist destination since the 19th century, Jungfrau has been adored by many great European artists, writers and royalty for its beauty.
Take an elevator 117m further up to the Sphinx observatory, where you can enjoy a 360-degree, bird’s-eye view of the magnificent Bernese Alps and the mighty Aletsch Glacier (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) from the Sphinx vantage terrace. On clear days, one can even see beyond Switzerland’s borders to the Black Forest in Germany, Vosges in France and the Italian Alps.
The Jungfrau Railway takes visitors from Kleine Scheidegg towards Eiger Glacier (pictured) and Jungfraujoch. (Marcus Gyger/swiss-image.ch)
The Sphinx observatory at Jungfraujoch provides panoramic views of the Aletsch glacier. (Rob Lewis/swiss-image.ch)