The Bernese Oberland, centred on the Jungfrau Region, is the most accessible and touristed area, but beyond this first great wall of peaks is another even more daunting range on the Italian border in which the Matterhorn is the star attraction.
Interlaken is centred on its long main street, Höheweg, which is lined with cafés and hotels and has a train station at each end, though the best way to arrive is by boat. The town lies on a neck of land between two of Switzerland’s loveliest lakes, and it exists chiefly to amuse the trippers on their way to the mountains.
Interlaken Ost station is the terminus for both main-line trains and those into the mountains coming from Luzern. You could get out at Brienz and do the last stretch to Interlaken Ost by boat. Likewise, from the Bern/Zürich direction, you could take a boat from Thun to Interlaken West.
In the evenings most backpackers congregate at one of the busier hostel bars: Balmer’s is the most popular and has cheap beer; Funny Farm (Hauptstr. 36, Matten) is a maverick hostel attracting party-goers with DJs at its Club Caverne till 1.30am (caverne.ch).
Interlaken is a real hub for extreme sports; paragliders spiral above, landing right in the town centre. If you decide to splash out on an adventure, Skywings (033 266 8228, skywings.ch) will take you paragliding for Fr.160; agencies such as Alpin Raft (Hauptstr. 7, Matten; 033 823 41 00, alpinraft.com) can arrange everything from rafting to ice climbing or canyon jumping, and can be booked direct or through hostels.
The cable car from Stechelberg leaps the valley’s west wall to reach the little-visited hamlet of Gimmelwald, continuing to the car-free village of Mürren. It’s worth the journey for the views: from here, the valley floor is 800m straight down, and a dazzling panorama of snowy peaks fills the sky.
Mürren is also accessible from Lauterbrunnen by taking a cable car to Grütschalp and a spectacular little cliff-edge train from there. It’s easy to do a loop by cable car and train. A cable car continues from Mürren on a breathtaking ride (20min) to the 2970m peak of the Schilthorn (schilthorn.ch), where you can enjoy exceptional panoramas and sip cocktails in the revolving Piz Gloria restaurant, famed as Blofeld’s hideout in the Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Top image: Zermatt in front of the Matterhorn. Winter in Switzerland © Bernsten/Shutterstock