Wengen is the Switzerland that popular culture has implanted in your mind’s eye: the sound of music Switzerland, Heidi Switzerland – picture perfect alpine Switzerland. With so many people (read: maybe 4 people) asking me about the beautiful place where we spent Tom’s birthday weekend, I thought I’d give our mini-break a write up.
Although it is traditionally considered low season, as you can see from my many photos, Autumn looks very good on Wengen. We had a fantastic time and I hope to return during ski season if 2020 permits us that final hurrah.
This is by no means an exhaustive guide, for we only got about 48 hours in this lovely place and unfortunately the weather didn’t permit for certain activities. Also, to be perfectly honest, I took a hungover nap when we arrived on Friday afternoon. Still, I hope that this post can give you a taste for a beautiful part of the world, and a little bit of guidance about how to reach it.
Unless you’re a Swiss / Italian / German resident, you can pretty much file this one under ‘save for later’ – as it currently stands, a large number countries are subject to quarantine upon arrival in Switzerland, and those that aren’t will likely quarantine you upon return. Brits get the pleasure of having to quarantine both ways, because apparently neither country can trust the other!
First off, the language spoken in Wengen is German, but as its economy is predominantly centred around tourism, English is very widely spoken. Still, it’s only polite to brush up on your Guten Tags!
Wengen is car-free, but well-connected by rail routes. Rail links from Zurich are excellent if you are arriving from abroad, and I’d advise against hiring a car as you won’t require it here.
Should you wish to drive the bulk of the way, you can park at the multi-storey car park at Lauterbrunnen for 15chf per day and take the 15 minute train up to Wengen, which departs every half hour. Tom drove (I still lack a license), as rail links from the South of Switzerland to these parts are unfortunately not fantastic (the rail journey would’ve taken 5.5 hours vs. a 2.5 hour car drive). The drive from Lugano is very scenic, particularly if you take the Sustenpass as we did.
A word of warning if you’re taking the Gotthard tunnel; it can get super congested, particularly on Sunday afternoons in the opposite direction of Lugano. Luckily, we were coming from the other direction!
Where to stay
We stayed at the charming Alpenrose hotel, built in 1881 and run by the same family for over 100 years.
I booked it partly because Tom held fond childhood memories from a trip there in the early 2000s. I was extremely impressed with our experience – quality seems to have remained static since the noughts. The hotel is a little gem, with delightful staff, gorgeous cosy rooms, excellent food, and incredible views. We stayed in a double with a balcony which was a nice size, decorated in a warm, typically alpine style, and once again offering those amazing views.
Perhaps because it was transition season, combined with the aforementioned 2020-specific deterrents from travel, the price was quite reasonable (always take “reasonable” with a pinch of salt when viewing from outside of Switzerland). The full board, an extra 40chf for two per night, is perhaps the best value meal deal in Switzerland, getting you a high-quality multi-course meal in a beautifully lit (important!!) restaurant. Breakfast is included in standard fares, and is lovely, served in buffet format (pandemic be damned) with eggs & bacon cooked on request.
What to do
In summer and autumn, hiking and mountain biking are the orders of the day. Unfortunately, after arriving on a beautiful, warm, sunny afternoon, the weather quickly took a turn for the rainy on our weekend trip – undeterred, we hiked 1000m to Männlichen wearing disposable plastic raincoats from the local coop (I have about 1000 coats but not one hiking raincoat, how did this happen? Also, I know, bad for the environment, sorry).
Much to my delight, at about 700m up the rain turned to snow and we were greeted by a winter wonderland at the top. As beautiful as this was, we were already soaked to the bone and now also borderline frozen, so decided not to continue the hike to Kleine Scheidegg as planned but instead to stop in for lunch at the top. In normal times, the views from Männlichen would be spectacular, but for obvious reasons we couldn’t see much beyond snow clouds. It was looking like a bit of a treacherous hike down (particularly with my dodgy ankle) so we took the cable car (17chf one-way with the hotel discount; like I said, this is Switzerland and nothing is cheap) and spent the afternoon enjoying the hotel.
The following day, we took the cable car up to where we’d hiked the day before to finish what we’d started and walk to Kleine Scheidegg. This is a super easy 5k walk, mostly flat, which once again ordinarily would have spectacular views. Still, there’s a certain novelty to the snowy winter scenery for a Hong Kong-raised girl such as myself, so I personally didn’t feel any loss for not having clear skies. Only upon arrival at Kleine Sheidegg did I realise that we’d actually been there in June – the scenery looks very different blanketed in snow! We stopped for lunch (see below) before walking back around to Wengen via the beautiful Eiger trail – again, striking with clear skies but very fun in the snow. There’s also the option to take the train back, and three train stations along the way give you an easy way out should you become weary on the walk.
I’ve offered a very limited view of things to do in and around Wengen, largely because we were there for such a short time; however, the area is brimming with amazing outdoor activities, almost all reachable by train. I’ve outlined a handful of suggestions below under ‘saved for later’. I recommend using the amazing Komoot app to find good hikes and cycling routes beyond those suggested.
Where to eat
I’m not trying to pull a Molly Mae here, but I can’t claim that German-Swiss cuisine is a favourite of mine. If you various renditions of cheese, potatoes, and meat, often with random tropical fruit as a garnish, you’ll love it! It’s certainly not the most vegetarian-friendly of all cuisines I’ve sampled, but despite this, I did enjoy what we ate. I wouldn’t, however, pin this as a particularly foodie-oriented destination – particularly not during low season, as quite a few restaurants (and the hotels they are attached to) are closed.
On the Mountains
We tend to bring backed lunches on our weekend hikes, as a plate of pasta at a random backwoods cafe here in Switzerland could set you back a good 25chf. The packed lunch option is available in Wengen too, and there’s a decent sized coop in the town from which to purchase supplies (or if you’re a true stingy legend TM, build your own sandwiches at the breakfast buffet). This particular weekend we were in the holiday mood and it was particularly snowy, so we indulged in some mountaintop eating.
If there’s ever an occasion for cheesy, fattening food, it’s when you’ve done a 1000m hike and it’s snowing outside. On the first day, we dined at the Männlichen Berghaus restaurant. Honestly, I’d have rated anywhere that served hot food at this point as I was so cold but the food was decent and certainly served its purpose.
The second day, we had lunch at Bergrestaurant Kleine Scheidegg, which served – you guessed it – hearty German Swiss mountain fare! The food was good and the views are wonderful, so it’s certainly worth a stop. You can actually even stay the night if you fancy!
For drinks, Tom particularly enjoyed Rocks bar, which unexpectedly fulfilled a craving for a British-style pub latent within him since February. Drinks are very reasonably priced, and you can even get Guinness on tap (a big deal here in Switzerland). This is the kind of bar in which nobody is a stranger – a great way to pick up recommendations for local hikes!
Still freezing from our hike up to Mannlichen, on the way back to the hotel we had some very nice coffee and warm apple strudel with lashings of vanilla custard at the extremely cute Waldschluecht cafe. The cafe is so old fashioned it feels like you’re stepping into a time capsule, in the best way possible!
Though I’d paid up front for full board, the first night’s menu at the hotel didn’t particularly appeal to us (for reasons outlined below), so they kindly deducted the 40chf for that night and we went out to eat at the adjacent Baren restaurant. This was a very nice, typical Swiss German fare-serving restaurant. The Austrian red wine was a highlight, and the service good, but as with anywhere in Switzerland, the experience wasn’t cheap.
In hindsight, I’d have stayed at our hotel for dinner the first night because what we realised when we did dine there was that the food was much better than the daily-changing printed menu would have you expect. The Alpenrose menu really doesn’t sell the dishes at all – a starter of “autumn salad”, for example, was a beautiful shaved cucumber, orange and feta salad – the menu honestly had me expecting a couple of leaves. Despite being 5 courses for just 20chf, the quality seriously (and a bit unexpectedly) impressed us. I was well catered for as a vegetarian, with very nice substitutes offered for every meat dish. The extensive cheese buffet to finish was a very nice and indulgent touch. I can only guess that the room rates subsidise the prices here, as to be quite honest the meal was actually better than that at Baren and half the price.
Saved for Later
The Jungfraujoch, so-called “Top of Europe” is 3,463 metres above sea level and offers spectacular views of the Bernese Alps. Tom actually went as a child, when 1gbp was equivalent to as much as 2.4chf (it’s now 1.19chf, thanks a bunch Brexit :)), and loved the experience. We were both horrified to see how expensive it is to reach today – even for Switzerland – at 176chf for one adult, with a covid discount. We thus didn’t undertake the trip this time, and may have to wait till we win the lottery to do so, but if you do wish to, be sure to pick a day with clear skies or it truly won’t be worth it. If you’re feeling really rich, you can pick up a new Swiss watch there at the highest watch shop in the world!
The Schilthorn and its revolving restaurant Piz Gloria are famous for their appearance in a 1969 Bond film. To commemorate this, they even have a James Bond exhibition. I’m not an action film type of gal but I still fancy a trip here, and could maybe even be forced to watch On her majesty’s secret service in advance. Once again, the weather during our stay would’ve detracted a bit from the experience of the incredible views, so we filed this one under save for later.
Skiing! I was so charmed by Wengen even without snow, I can’t even imagine how picture-postcard beautiful it is when winter is in full swing. As ski towns go, this lacked the snootiness of Courchevel or Verbier and I loved it all the more for it. I’ll report back if I get the chance to ski here!
Some final notes…
The Alpenrose hotel will close from this Sunday the 18th of October until the 18th of December, so that the staff can get their own break while demand isn’t too high.
Like I said, I hope to be back in Wengen one day soon, after which I may update this with some more comprehensive notes. In the meantime, I’m enjoying seeing the snow cap on the mountains around Lugano get lower and lower while trying to understand a single word of my economics homework (it’s in English, so I don’t have that excuse). I hope that this was marginally helpful or at least provided a nice distraction from… well, everything…