A HOLIDAY IN THE SWISS MOUNTAINS FIT FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
MEIRINGEN, CANTON BERN
by Alana Dunsmore
Many of us unexpectedly found ourselves searching for holiday ideas in Switzerland. With travel plans cancelled, we were on the hunt for fun activities for the whole family. In the end we settled for a lovely holiday in the mountains – which we highly recommend!
A MODEST SWISS VILLAGE WITH HIDDEN FAME
There were several reasons why we chose Meiringen for our summer vacation. Not least of them: the nearby Swiss Open Air Museum called Ballenberg, the waterfalls where Sherlock Holmes is meant to have perished, the magnificent Aarescchlucht gorge – and the mountains, of course.
It wasn’t until walking around in the quaint village that we noticed flags with little meringues on them. As I ponder this, my husband says, “Ahhh Meiringen…meringues…do you think this is where meringues were created?” How could we have missed this one? We turned to good old Google and, sure enough, although there is some debate, it looks like they have a pretty strong claim, so we’re going to give it to them and say we visited the original home of the meringue!
Meiringen is accessible by train and that is how we travelled there.
As an aside – we discovered early on that it’s a good idea to go to the SBB office in person when you buy train tickets. Due to some confusion the first time we travelled by train, we went to the station to ask some questions. The SSB agent not only answered the question, but managed to come up with a package that saved us 300chf!
This time we struggled to find the right tickets because of a temporary closure along our route, meaning we would have had to detour. A diligent SBB official spent nearly half an hour looking at every available option and ensured we got the best deal possible.
By the way – do check the vacation packages offered by SBB. In addition to the train ticket, there are discount and coupons including entrance tickets to attractions.
Finally, a special shout out to the staff at the SBB office in Meiringen. My son loves collecting special free ‘kids’ tickets’ which children can have validated at various stops along the way. When we asked for one in Meiringen, the staff member couldn’t find one, but rushed all the way into the basement and came back with a handful of unique and special edition kids’ tickets. Great customer service!
MEIRINGEN: Where to stay?
We were late planning this trip (holding out hope for our usual Canada trip until the last minute) so, when we started looking at hotels there wasn’t much available.
Finally, we booked a room at Hotel Meiringen and we were so happy we did. The hotel is opposite the train station, offers continental breakfast and has its own pizzeria. It was recently renovated and the rooms are modern, simple, and well maintained. We booked the family room with a single bed for our son.
The staff made sure we had everything we needed. Everyone spoke at least some English (Meiringen has a long history of appealing to English-speaking tourists, all the way back to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), so it was very easy to communicate. In terms of COVID I will warn you when we were there the rules were more relaxed than some of the major cities (i.e. no mandatory masks indoors).
MEIRINGEN: Where to eat?
We enjoyed the delicious pizzas in our hotel (Pizzeria Bahnhöfli).
Usually we don’t do this, but we ended up eating at the pizzeria in our hotel all three nights we were in Meiringen. The next day we all three decided to eat there again, for our second night. This was going to probably be our longest day with lots of walking, so we thought it would be nice after a long day to just be a few steps from our beds. We we’re grateful we made that decision, as my son was half asleep at the dinner table.
Visiting Meiringen in the summer meant we definitely wanted a table on the patio. Not only is it a lovely good size patio but it has a beautiful unobstructed view of the surrounding mountains. The inside seating area is beautifully designed with typical rustic mountain decor. The pizzeria was recently renovated. The pizzeria is across a quiet street from the playground allowing easy access for the kids to burn some energy while they wait for their meal.
There are many restaurants, including fine dining options. Make sure to reserve your table; every night we watched people being turned away.
SIGHTSEEING DAY ONE: Aareschlucht
We visited the Aareschlucht gorge first thing in the morning as suggested by the hotel manager and because of COVID, hoping it would be less crowded. Most of the walking paths through the gorge are narrow (1-2 m wide). Even without COVID it is better to visit the gorge in the morning because it would not take many people to make it feel crowded. Plus, it is much nicer to take pictures when you don’t feel rushed.
Aareshlucht is accessible by train. This was very convenient for us since our hotel was across the street from the train station. Taking the regional train two stops delivers you a few minutes’ walk from the entrance of the gorge. There are actually two entry points into the gorge, both entry points are accessible by train (meaning you can walk one way through the gorge and ride back). The train line has a stop a short walk from both ends.
Don’t let the crowds prevent you from visiting this amazing, natural limestone formation. The gorge is about 1400 meters long. Although many of the paths are narrow, it’s beautiful and awe-inspiring. The gorge has been opened since 1888. We couldn’t stop admiring the amazing tunnels and the stunning color of the water in the streams below us and in the multiple waterfalls. The 45-minute walk was filled with unbelievable views.
A few tips:
Even on a very hot day, especially if you visit the gorge first thing in the morning is, we suggest wearing pants and even bring a sweater. Since you are surrounded by rock most of the 45-minute walk it is quite cool and there is not much exposure to the sun. Also wear shoes with good traction on the sole. Lots of moisture in the air made the path wet at times. The one other thing to be aware of is that the path is quite narrow and at times bumpy. The path would be impossible with a stroller or wheelchair. There are some spots which are too narrow for either to pass through.
SIGHTSEEING DAY ONE (part 2): Reichenbach Falls
We had dressed appropriately for the gorge which mean we were too warm by mid-day, so we first headed back to the hotel before seeing the falls. We had a quick early lunch, then headed to the funicular for the falls.
There are 3 ways to get to the Reichenbach falls. A bus which will take you from the town to the funicular train which takes you up to the observation deck of the falls. Second option is the local train, the same train you take to the gorge. The train takes you about halfway there. You get off at the first stop and then it’s a 10-minute walk to the funicular. Third is to walk about 20 minutes from the main train station in Meiringen to the base of the funicular.
The Reichenbach Falls are not only a breathtaking beautiful waterfall it’s also famous for being a backdrop for one of Sherlock Holmes’ most famous stories. The waterfall is where Sherlock Holmes supposedly was pushed off by his arch enemy Professor Moriarty, who also fell. The exact location is marked by a star on the edge of the rock visible from across the observation deck. The falls are absolutely magnificent and a true natural wonder!
From the observation deck it is possible to get some amazing photos. I would recommend making the hike to the star, at least part of the way. However, note that it is a bit of a hike and near impossible if you have a stroller or limited mobility to make it all the way to the star. If you’re up to the challenge, though, I definitely recommended doing the hike. Not only will you see the star, the famous place where Sherlock supposedly died, but the views are really impressive. The hiking path takes you up and over the waterfall therefore you also get the thrilling feeling and view of standing over the waterfall. It’s incredible to stand over the waterfall and have the strong rush of the water underneath.
If you are a hiker, it’s worth noting there are a lot of other hiking options in the area. Some start from the observation deck. There is also the option to hike up the waterfall.
SIGHTING DAY ONE (PART 3): For the Sherlock Holmes enthusiast
If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes and seeing the Reichenbach Falls is not enough for you, within the town there is a small museum which has many fun displays involving Sherlock Holmes and Watson. It’s a small but impressive museum. Whether you’re a fan or not I would recommend this as something worth checking out if you are in Meiringen. It is fun to see how the town has embraced and made this story come to life!
In addition to the Sherlock Holmes Museum, there is also a free-standing plaque explaining the story of Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s journey to Meiringen and their time in the town, as well as the real-life trip of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. They also explain the incident at the Reichenbach Falls and outcome.
SIGHTSEEING DAY TWO: Ballenberg Museum
Ballenberg Museum is an outdoor museum and the main reason we made the pilgrimage to this area. Although the timing was perfect to attend an outdoor attraction with the current health restrictions, it also is a great way to discover Swiss history, especially for kids. It brings the exciting and interesting history of Switzerland alive for them to learn, explore and understand.
The site includes more than 100 original buildings (some several centuries old) from all around Switzerland. In addition to heritage houses from a variety of areas, there are 250 domestic farm animals, natural gardens and fields. There are also multiple demonstrations of traditional crafts and events. There are loads of animals, play areas and a merry go round for the kids to enjoy.
Ballenberg is huge, so we dedicated a day to this area but you could definitely spend more time here. We went knowing we wouldn’t see everything and that it would be a great thing to come back to another day.
Ballengberg isn’t in Meiringen. It’s near a town called Brienzwiler and it is accessible by train and bus from Meiringen. You take the train to Brienz and then a short bus ride to the museum. It’s very easy and convenient.
BONUS TREAT: for the water lovers
There is a pool in the town of Meiringen which made my son very happy! That was really his only request when it came to what he wanted to do for his summer holiday.
On our last day before heading to the train station to return to Geneva we woke up early to relax by the pool, which was a lovely surprise. It was beautiful and a perfect end to a great Swiss family holiday including a cool water slide! There’s been great disappointed in our house due to Genève Plage water slide not working this summer. There are also free chairs and umbrellas where I could sit back and watch the boys having fun, while enjoying the incredible mountain scenery surrounding the pool.
We stopped at the Frutal Meringues, mentioned to us as the best bakery for meringues, which was confirmed by the long queue outside. Armed with yummy meringues we hopped on the train home.
We loved our Swiss mountain family holiday – it was the perfect balance of relaxing entertainment for all ages, quality family time with stunning mountain backdrops. We all highly recommend it.
Note: The area is also popular for skiing in the winter.