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Holidays to Switzerland Travel Podcast Episode 72 Transcript

May 18, 2024 Last Updated on May 18, 2024

Discovering the hidden gems of the Interlaken Holiday Region

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.

Hello and welcome to episode 72 of the podcast, thanks for joining me today.

Is a visit to Interlaken and the Jungfrau Region part of your Swiss travel plans? For many visitors to Switzerland, the lure of the Bernese Alps and the stunning natural beauty of the area around Interlaken is hard to resist.

With mountains, lakes, glaciers, gorges and waterfalls all within easy reach, Interlaken is the gateway to the Jungfrau Region and is a fantastic place to base yourself during your visit to the area.

But Interlaken has more to offer than just its spectacular scenery, too.  With adventure sports, culture, customs and traditions, historical sites and an endless list of excursion possibilities, you really can experience all of Switzerland in one place.

In previous episodes of the podcast, we’ve learnt about some of the Jungfrau Region’s famous mountain peaks – like Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn – and about Interlaken itself, so in today’s episode we’re going to explore the Interlaken Holiday Region further.

I’m joined today by Renato Julier who is here to tell us about all the wonderful things to see and do around the region’s two beautiful lakes, Lake Brienz and Lake Thun.  Nestled either side of Interlaken, a visit to one – or both – lakes is a must-do when you are in the region, as you’ll discover from my conversation with Renato.

Before we get started, I’d like to say thank you to the Switzerland Tourism team for sponsoring the podcast.   Make sure you visit their website myswitzerland.com for loads of tips and inspiration to help with your trip planning.  If you need the train ride of a lifetime, you need Switzerland.

And what better region is there to explore by train, than the Interlaken Holiday Region?  Let’s hear all about it from Renato.

Hi, Renato. Welcome to the podcast. It’s great to have you back after quite a long time since you last appeared on the show.

Yes. Hi, Carolyn. Good to be back. Hello.

Great. So for those listeners who haven’t heard you previously on the podcast, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do and your background in the tourism industry?

Well, my name is Renato Julier. I grew up in the Valais, which is in the southwestern part of Switzerland. It’s a bilingual canton, you could say, region in Switzerland, where I grew up. I started to work for Interlaken six years ago already in my function as director of markets. I’m a tourism and marketing expert and I’m handling different markets for Interlaken, especially also the markets of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, GCC, and Italy.

So a wide range of countries there that you promote Interlaken to. Yes, that’s true. Great. Now, Interlaken is one of the most popular destinations in Switzerland. What is it about Interlaken that attracts so many visitors every year?

Well, this is a very simple question because there is one reason why people want to travel to Switzerland, want to discover. It’s a reason number one, always nature. In Interlaken, it’s a little bit different because you have the chance to discover not only nature wonders, not only mountains, lakes, or waterfalls. You have also the chance to jump into culture, for example. And Interlaken is standing for all of Switzerland in one place. So whatever you have in mind, Switzerland, glaciers, mountains, lakes, tradition, Interlaken has it all.

And I think that also the story behind Interlaken is very interesting. So in the past, it was a a monastery place. So people used to get there always. About in the year 1800 So the Interlaken’s reputation in tourism started. So people wanted to go there because they really found it was the perfect place for holidays. Interlaken is also very well known as the gateway to the Jüngfrau region, to the mountain area, and it was very easy reachable. Also during this time, it had a lot to offer. Until 1891, Interlaken was very well known under another name. It was called Aaremühle, which means our mill. The Aare is the river which is passing through Interlaken, actually through different canals.

Due to marketing reasons, by the 1891, to change their name into Interlaken, which comes from the Latin word Interlacus, which means between the lakes. And it was quite a good decision because after this, we had nice events already with the Unspunnen Festival. It was a folklore festival already in the 19th century. And 1912, we had already the Jungfrau Railways with the new cogwheel train to Jungfraujoch Top of Europe, to the highest train station in Europe, who, who gave us a little bit more reputation to Interlaken. And then started the real tourism industry.

Actually, in Interlaken, you will find about 200 hotels. We have 40 group accommodation, 21 campings. There is a golf course, there’s a casino, and there’s also a lot to discover and a lot of adventure. And there are a lot of point of interests who are very easy reachable by bus, by train, and also by boat. Even in walking distance in Interlaken, there’s also a wide range of international restaurants and a lot of shopping facilities.

So I guess you could sum it up by saying that Interlaken attracts so many visitors because it’s got everything that anyone could possibly want when they’re going on a holiday.

Yes, that’s true. The infrastructure is very nice. We can offer a lot of things, not only for individual travelers, also for families. Interlaken is also very well known as the European capital of adventure. You can also define it as the Queenstown of Switzerland or the Queenstown of Europe. A lot of people want to come to Interlaken for getting their once in a lifetime experience like peragliding, bungee jumping, or skydiving.

I think also to get there, it’s a perfect hub because from Zurich Airport, there is a direct train. Actually, every two hours there is a direct train which is connecting Zurich Airport with Interlaken. You can reach Interlaken in a very relaxed atmosphere already. You need only three hours from Milan, even from the southern part. Very easy reachable. We’re also from Geneva, you need about three hours.

And then, of course, Interlaken lies not in the heart of Switzerland, but in the heart of the Bernese Oberland at the foot of the famous mountain trio Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, which everybody knows these three mountains are probably, I would say, the most famous mountains in Switzerland with the Matterhorn. But they have also quite interesting story behind of alpinism.

Thanks to this as well, we have a very nice product, also some nice offers.

Great. There really is something for everyone. It’s the ideal destination. When you were last on the podcast, we chatted mainly about Interlaken, the town itself. But I know that the Interlaken holiday region actually encompasses the lakes that are on either side of Interlaken as well. So today I’d like to focus a bit more on those two Lakes and just share some of the delights of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz with our listeners. Could you start by giving us a bit of an insight into the two lakes and some of the differences perhaps between them?

When we are talking about the Interlaken Holiday Region, we are always talking about the whole lake region. We have also to talk about one side. In one hand, it’s the side of Lake Brienz. With Brienz itself, it’s a very nice village which lies at Lake Brienz. It’s the woodcarving village or woodcarving capital of Switzerland. So if you want to see wooden sculptures, even wooden cows, they’re also producing violins, for example, or cellos in the city of Brienz. You have to go definitely there.

Lake Brienz, this is a very shiny turquoise green lake. It’s about 14 kilometers long. The surface is about 30 square kilometers. And at his deepest point, it’s about 260 meters. So it’s actually one of the deepest lakes in Switzerland. It’s also one of the cleanest lakes in Switzerland. Really one of the biggest and deepest alpine lakes in Switzerland. And the water is very pure. There are not a lot of fishes inside, unfortunately, because the water is really clean. It’s too clean that fishes would have a lot of problems or quite a high challenge to find some nutrition. Lake Brienz, it’s a perfect spot for people who want to relax.

Of course, there are a lot of points of interest which you shouldn’t miss. If you compare it with Lake Thun on the other side, there is a little bit, I would say, much more to see. Lake Thun is about 17 kilometers long, the whole lake. It’s about at its deepest point, it’s about 270 meters. At Lake Thun you find a lot of different villages and cities. You have Spiez, for example, with a beautiful castle, with a with vineyard as well. Then you have, for example, Sigriswil, which is also a nice village with a beautiful suspension bridge. And last but not least, you will also find Thun. Thun is a very beautiful medieval city surrounded by five castles. It’s actually one of the biggest cities in our region and it has a lot to offer, especially shopping facilities. There’s a lot of culture behind. Of course, you can also visit a lot of restaurants with good food.

Great. All right, well, we’ll come back to Lake Thun in a moment, but if we can go back to Lake Brienz, you told us a few things there about the town of Brienz itself and the woodcarving traditions there. What are some of the other popular things to do around Lake Brienz?

Well, in Lake Brienz, you will also find typical Swiss villages like Iseltwald. Iseltwald, it was elected many times as one of the most beautiful towns, or you could better say, villages in Switzerland because it lies on a half island. And just next to it, there is also a smaller island called Snail Island. And it really looks like Switzerland on the postcard. It’s a very beautiful spot. It was used, especially during the last years, many times for movie scenes. Iseltwald is also the perfect spot if you want to hike to Giessbach Falls.

The Giessbach Falls are very stunning waterfalls near Iseltwald. If you want to go there, you just need to hike one and a half hours. You can walk along the lakes or through the woods, and then you will arrive at Giessbach Falls. Stunning waterfalls are running down about 500 meters in 14 steps, unique in Switzerland. At Giessbach, you will also find the biggest private nature park in Switzerland. And there’s also a beautiful hotel, the Grand Hotel Giessbach. Just to go up there to the hotel, you can hike up or you can also take the oldest funicular in the world to go up there.

So it’s a very stunning place which you shouldn’t miss. But of course, you should also visit the village of Brienz, the woodcarving village, to discover all the sculptures, to discover all these very tiny, beautiful wooden houses with the Swiss architecture. But there is much more to see and to do in Brienz, of course.

I know you can do a lake cruise on Brienz, and that’s part of the public transport system. But what other activities or water based activities are available on the lake?

Well, there are a lot of water activities which are doable, especially on each boat legs on both Lakes. On Lake Brienz. Lake Brienz is very famous for jet boating. We have also outdoor providers in Interlaken and you can book every activity even on the water or in the water. Or just another tip is kayaking, especially in winter. It’s a very nice, beautiful experience. You will get a dry suit. Of course, we have a long experience. So Interlaken can really provide us to help you with instructions. They give you the material, the equipment, they pick you up, they bring you back. We are also able to customize your tour to the physical conditions of the participants, for example. And especially also during bad weather, it means when it rains or even when it’s snowing, this is a very unique experience to do kayaking. Bad weather doesn’t exist in Interlaken. There are a lot of activities which are doable also in bad weather like jet boating, of course, and also kayaking. Both activities are doable 365 days a year.

Yeah, great. Okay. So if one of our listeners is visiting Interlaken and they want to go to Brienz or to Giessbach Falls, is the boat the only option or are there other ways they can get there?

Well, in the whole destination, you can move around in a very sustainable way. It means more or less a lot of things in Interlaken in itself are easy reachable in walking distance. But then you can, of course, take the bus or the train or the boat. If you want to discover, for example, Brienz, you have many possibilities.

You can, for example, take the train of the Zentralbahn from the train station in Interlaken East to Brienz. On the other hand, you can also take the boat from Interlaken East to Brienz. This is a little bit longer, but it’s a very nice experience. The boat cruises on Lake Brienz are only running in winter time, are only running running in summertime. So in the winter, it’s unfortunately not possible to reach the villages of Iseltwald or even Giessbach Falls by boat.

Okay. So train train only and public transport only, excluding the boats during the winter.

Yes.

And one day trip that I did last year when I was in the region was we took the train from Interlaken to Brienz, had a look around there. Then we took a bus and went to the Trauffer workshop just above Brienz, which was fantastic. I’d seen some images on Instagram of the wooden cows, and so we went there. Then we came, caught the bus back and then hopped on the boat to cruise back to Interlaken. It’s just all so seamless, isn’t it? The timetables are perfectly coordinated, so you never have to wait very long if you’re changing from one mode of transport to the other.

Of course, by the way, you can discover Interlaken in a very sustainable way. I always recommend all people to buy a Swiss Travel Pass. It’s all in one ticket where you can use all trains, all buses and all boats. You have access to more than 500 museums in Switzerland. There are also some activities or even experiences which are free of charge, like also the Ballenberg with Open Air Museum. Or you have also other reductions for funiculars or even for cable cars and cogwheel trains from 25 % up to 50 %.

Fantastic.

So it’s really worth to take it.

Yes. Are there any secret places or hidden gems around Lake Brienz that you can share with us that people may not hear about in a regular travel guide book?

You mentioned it already. There are a lot of hidden gems. I want to start with Ballenberg with the Ballenberg Swiss Open Air Museum. It was opened 1978. If you want to jump in into Swiss architecture, seeing or feeding some Swiss animals like goats and cows and learn more about Swiss handcraft, you should definitely go there. Of course, with the Swiss Travel Pass, it’s free of charge. On the other hand, you already mentioned it, the Trauffer Experience World, which is famous for his woodcarving sculptures, especially the typical Swiss cow, the wooden Swiss cow, which you can find in every souvenir store in Switzerland. You can go there. It lies in Holstetten am Brienz.

You can reach it very easily by bus from Brienz in about 15 minutes by bus, you reach the Trauffer Experience World and you have the possibility there to carve and to paint your own wooden cow during a workshop. The Trauffer Experience World is also allocated the very nice hotel, the Bored Hotel with 31 rooms. Of course, you can also combine your visit of the Trauffer Experience World with a visit of the Swiss Open Air Museum Ballenberg.

Or there’s just another hidden gem up to Giessbach. It’s called the Axalp, which lies on 1500 meters over sea level. It’s about 35 minutes away from the village of Brienz. If you go up there, you are in the middle of the nature. There is a nice trail, a very nice path with wooden sculptures through a beautiful lake, which is doable, which you shouldn’t miss. So there are a lot of hidden gems in and around Brienz to discover. And of course, a lot of people are using Brienz, especially if you want to go, if they want to continue also to Meiringen. There are some gorges like the Aareslucht, for example, the Gorge of the Aare, also other waterfalls which are very stunning and popular.

Okay, well, there’s a couple of new places that I’ll have to make sure I visit now that you’ve shared them with us. Okay, let’s head on over to the other side of Interlaken to Lake Thun. You mentioned earlier Spiez and the town of Thun itself. What are some of the other places that we can visit around the lake?

Well, there are a lot of small villages which you can visit, not only Spiez with a beautiful vineyard, but it’s really worth probably to start with Spiez because they started already more than a thousand years ago to plant wine. The area is very small, about 11 hectares. They’re producing very excellent white and red wine, but in a very limited quantity, but in absolute fantastic quality. But you can also, for example, take the boats across the lake and go to open Oberhofen.

Even in Oberhofen, you will find a lot of… There’s not only castles, there are also very nice restaurants where you can enjoy the view, or you can go up to Sigriswil. Sigriswil is a beautiful village and you can cross the Gummi Schlucht. There is a beautiful suspension bridge. I always recommend people to do a fondue backpack tour, which you can buy in Interlaken. So you will get a pack of fondue in a backpack, everything what you need to prepare your fondue on the hiking tour. And there are some very nice areas where you can prepare and eat your fondue on the way. For example, to Thun. Thun, it’s the beautiful medieval city I already mentioned.

Of course, above Thun, there are other hidden gems which you shouldn’t miss, like the Stockhorn, for example. So from Thun, you can take the train, for example, direction Spiez, from there you can move on direction Stockhorn is a beautiful cable way. And there are also stunning lakes. Or there’s also the Niesen Mountain, for example, with the longest staircase in the world. But you don’t have to go up here by foot. You can also take the funicular and you reach it very easy from Mülenen in only 20 minutes. So there are a lot of points of interest, a lot of viewing points.

There’s also the Niederhorn, for example, which is a stunning place with a funicular, with a gondola. And you have always in and especially around Interlaken, you find a lot of stunning panoramic points with a beautiful sight on Lake Thun. Last but not least, there is also another hidden gem at Lake Thun, the Saint Beatus Caves.

You can easily combine a visit with a boat trip, for example, from Interlaken West or even from Thun or from Spiez. And you can combine it also with a nice hike of about 40 minutes. And then you will reach the caves. For a visit of the cave, you need about 90 minutes. You can also have a guided tour and learn more about the caves, about stalagmites and stalactites. The Saint Beatus Caves are actually not only open in summertime. They also open in wintertime, especially during the weekends, Saturday and Sunday.

They just recently opened a new restaurant and they have a new illumination system, new light system I wanted to stay with in a very nice atmosphere. Even there, there are a lot of events. You can even eat a raclette, some Swiss specialties in the cave. And there also saw a lot of music events as well.

Okay.

So there’s always plenty going on. If you want to if you want to sleep in a cave, of course, you can do that as well. But there is much more to see at Lake Thun, especially Thun itself, the beautiful medieval city has a lot to discover. Also there, you can always do a guided tour and learn about the history of this medieval city. You can even discover the five castles in and around Thun. The whole region has so much to offer. It’s really amazing. And especially you can combine cultural heritage sites with cities or villages and nature, which is really unique in Switzerland.

Yeah, absolutely. So the transport options for visiting around Lake Thun, similar to they are to visiting around Lake Brienz?

From Interlaken West, you can take the train to Thun. You should be there in about 40 minutes. So you have trains direction Bern, even Bern, the Swiss capital is easily reachable in only one hour from Interlaken. But there are also buses, regular buses, direction Spiez and Thun on one side, but also on the other side, you have a lot of bus options if you want to discover the Saint Beatus Caves, for example, if you want to go to villages like Oberhofen, or even Thun.

And last but not least, you can also reach most of these villages and especially the bigger villages or towns like Spiez and Thun by boat very easily 365 days a year.

You mentioned the castles a couple of times there, and I visited Thun and Spiez Castle myself, and they’re both wonderful. The views from the tower over the lake are just amazing. What are the other three castles and are they open to visitors as well?

Of course, there are a lot of castles which you can visit. You have, for example, the Castle Schadau, which lies at Lake Thun. It’s also a hotel. So if you ever dream to sleep like a queen or like a princess in Interlaken, you can do it because they have limited rooms available that are often used for couples, especially also for wedding. It’s a beautiful wedding area as well, the Castle Schadau.

Then we have, of course, the castle in Castle Thun. There’s also a museum inside, which you should do is you can really climb up one of the towers. And if you look out of the tower, you have this beautiful, this tower stunning view to Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau to the city, or the city of Thun, and also the stunning river Aare.

But then there is also the Castle Oberhofen, for example, then we talked about the Castle in Spiez, which you shouldn’t miss. All these castles, you can reach them within a short time. Especially with the public transport system, I always recommend to take the bus or even the boat, and you can easily stroll around. So all of these castles, there are a little bit, or most of them, they are a little bit similar.

There is really the Castle Schadau, which is a bit out of the box. And also the Castle in Thun, which has a very nice museum which you should miss.

Right. And the Castle in Oberhofen, a lot of people have probably seen photos of that. It’s got the incredible, incredibly beautiful tiled roof with the green and gold color tiles. It’s quite well known, I think, too.

It’s also quite well known. The castle in Oberhofen, it has also beautiful park nearby. And even if you want to hike a little bit in the area, you just want to relax. The Castle Oberhofen is a very romantic place. It was built in the year 1200. It has also a nice history and especially a spectacular view over the lakes and to the mountain. Inside, there is a beautiful restaurant and it has really one of the most beautiful gardens, probably. Even if you reach it, for example, by boat, it’s really stunning because it looks directly at the lake. There are also a lot of events in Insight, especially concerts, exhibition, and there’s also beautiful museum, which you shouldn’t miss. So there are these five restaurants.

Of course, there is also another one, the Schloss Hunegg. I don’t know if you have already time to discover it. It’s a castle from the 19th century. It lies in Hilterfingen, which is also very well known for his wine. And also there, there is a beautiful park. It’s a very romantic place as well. So in Interlaken, you have the possibility to discover all these five castles very easily.

Okay. So with castles and beautiful nature and lovely towns and villages to visit and caves and suspension bridges, how would you choose to spend the perfect day around Lake Thun?

Well, I would probably take the train, for example, from Interlaken and it’s else when I’m staying in it, I will take the train. And then I would move forward to Spiez there. I would take some time to discover the castle. Probably, it’s also worth it to invest some time for a wine degustation because the wine is really excellent. From there you could probably easily take the boat. You can cross Lake Thun and then you could go, for example, to the famous Saint Beatus Caves via Sundlauenen. You can do a very small hike up to the Saint Beatus Caves because they’re very mystic and very special. The caves are a real hidden gem.

After the visit of the caves of the St Beatus Cases, you can still take the bus and go on, for example, to Hilterfingen, for example, or can visit the Castle Hünegg, or you can move on also to the city of Thun and to jump into one of the biggest cities in the whole canton Bern. Probably you have some time for a guided city tour or even for a guided castle tour because it’s really worth it and you can finish your trip with a nice dinner and one of the excellent restaurants.

Wonderful. Before I let you go, do you have any tips for our listeners who are planning to visit the Interlaken holiday region?

Of course. Well, when we’re talking about Interlaken, as I mentioned it before, Interlaken is also very well known as, you could say, the hub, the access to the famous Jungfrau region, to the mountain area. And of course, everybody knows that Interlaken is also the starting point to Jungfrau Top of Europe. Jungfraujoch lies on 3,500 meters over sea level, and you can reach it easily in a cogwheel train from Interlaken via Grindelwald or via Lauterbrunnen. Lauterbrunnen is very famous for his waterfalls in the whole valley. You will find 72 waterfalls.

If you move on your trip, you can continue your journey via Kleine Scheidegg. You can jump again into the train and reach finally the highest train station in Europe on 3,500 meters, Jungfraujoch Top of Europe. From there, you have the most beautiful view through the longest glacier in the Alps of Europe, which is actually the Aletsch Glacier with a length of 21 km. And the glacier is still very thick. At the thickest point, it’s about 900 meters thick. So there you have access, 365 days to endless snow and ice. And there’s also a lot to see. You can walk inside of a glacier.

There’s an ice pavilion, for example. There are also nice restaurants on top. And then 2020, we just opened the new Eiger Express, which is a new connection, a faster connection from Interlaken to Jungfraujoch Top of Europe. Instead of taking the cogwheel train of two hours, you can take the train now from Interlaken to Grindelwald Terminal. There’s a new terminal. And then you can take the new cable way of the Eiger Express. They take you up in only 15 minutes to the Eiger Glacier on 3,000 meters over sea level. From there, you can jump again into the cogwheel train and you reach the Top of Europe faster. Instead of two hours, you need only one hour and 13 minutes.

Then there is another nice new attraction, which is the GoldenPass Express. Probably you heard already about that. It’s a beautiful panoramic train which is connecting Interlaken in the German part of Switzerland with Montreux at Lake Geneva, which lies in the French speaking part of Switzerland. So this new train connection is actually also connecting two World UNESCO nature heritage together, the Lavaux on one side with Jungfrau Aletsch in Interlaken. This train makes it very special.

You need only three hours. And it’s also really worth it to take the train in a direct connection from Interlaken to Montreux, or even the other way around, whatever you prefer.

Well, there’s certainly a lot to do. And you can understand why people like to come to Interlaken and spend quite a few days or even a week or so there because there’s so much to do both in the immediate vicinity and, as you said, going a bit further on to somewhere like Montreux.

Thank you very much, Renato, for sharing all that with us. I know that many of our listeners will be including the Interlaken Holiday Region in their itineraries. So I’m sure that all the information that you’ve shared with us today will help them to finalize their itinerary and decide exactly which places they’re going to see and what things they’re going to do when they’re there.

Thank you very much, Carolyn. It was a pleasure to talk about Interlaken and I really hope to see you all soon in Interlaken – Switzerland in one place.

Thanks, Renato.

Thank you. Have a nice day.

Has Renato given you even more reasons to visit the Interlaken Holiday Region?  

Whilst it may be the mountains and waterfalls or even the adventure sports that first piqued your interest about this idyllic Swiss destination, as you’ve heard, there are so many other reasons to visit too.

Castles, caves, customs, cruises and charming villages are just some of the many attractions of Lake Brienz and Lake Thun, so I encourage you to spend some time exploring the region further.

You won’t be disappointed!

You can find more information about the Interlaken Holiday Region on the website interlaken.ch.  I’ll include that link in the Show Notes, along with links to detailed guides about the Swiss Travel Pass, which Renato mentioned, and lots more great resources about the Jungfrau Region and Berner Oberland.

The show notes are at holidaystoswitzerland.com/episode72

Thanks again for joining me today.  If you found this episode helpful, I’d love it if you would love a rating or a review wherever you listen to podcasts.  Thanks in advance!

Until next time, tschuss.

You can see the full show notes and listen to this episode > here.