Tuesday 31 May 2011

24 hours in Interlaken

This April I finally set foot in Europe thanks to a work assignment. India and Switzerland have a deep connect thanks to the numerous Bollywood films that have featured this spectacular destination. Swiss chalets, Swiss cheese and Swiss chocolate, do you really need more reasons to visit Switzerland? Here's the first article from the Swiss series that I penned for iDiva, The Times of India. 

One fine day...
It all started when I found a €20 cents in my wallet one fine day. I had no idea where and how it came into my wallet, but I knew it was a sign...my Euro trip was in the making. And sure enough, two weeks later, I was on my way to Switzerland. After an unusually smooth landing at Zurich airport, I headed straight to the station to catch a train to Spiez. The Interstate Railways proved to be a must-see sight in itself. Comfy interiors, clean toilets, adequate luggage space and a restaurant and bar aboard this double-decker train had me instantly thinking of the numerous movie sequences shot aboard such trains, like The Tourist or our very own Hum Tum. So I got myself a cup of coffee and immersed into the view outside that curiously transformed from open fields and calm lakes to graffiti-splashed walls and impressive glass buildings. Spiez arrived in less than two hours. The station is surrounded by imposing snow-flecked mountains on one side and the serene Lake Thun. En route to Interlaken, a flurry of chalets instantly caught my attention. With the typical slanting roof, most of these chalets were adorned with cow bells in different sizes and had little courtyards where children were playing around. A life so ordinary and yet so coveted. 

I made it to the hotel, the Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa, after a quick 20-minute ride. This 140-year-old hotel effectively combines old-world charm with contemporary luxurious amenities. Its exquisite architectural structure, friendly staff and prompt service impressed me within minutes of my arrival. My room key came with a personalised booklet filled with hotel information, whereas my luggage had reached my room well before me. In addition, my room held a breathtaking view of the Jungfrau Mountain peak, for which the hotel even provided a pair of binoculars to get a closer view. It was truly luxury at its best.

The view from my room

Exploring the city 
The cool and inviting weather urged me to head out and explore the town on foot. The visual imagery largely comprised wooden chalets with French windows decorated with colourful flowers around the porch and ceramic roosters (sometimes ducks) sitting by the window ledges. I was particularly fascinated with the eloquent restaurants and pubs here, many with al fresco seating. After walking along the Höheweg, I dropped into Tchibo, a local cafe, for a cup of coffee. A refreshing cappuccino and chocolate donut later, I explored the many coffees offered by the brand and selected the Espresso Gold to take back home. However, it was Swiss chocolaterie Schuh that truly wooed me with a chocolate show they were hosting that very evening. Combining an exotic chocolate display and chocolate-making demonstrations for enthusiastic learners (like me) with a mouth-watering chocolate voucher as an add-on, the show cost a mere CHF 14.80. With a promise to return later in the evening, I set out to do some shopping.

Coffee and donut at Tchibo

 I managed to grab a pair of gorgeous suede boots for a steal and a bagful of souvenirs to take back home. Once back at the hotel, I freshened up and decided to head out to catch the chocolate show that was due to start in an hour. However, unfortunately, Murphy’s Law intervened and it was cancelled due to lack of sufficient registrations. The glorious day ended with some finger-licking cheese risotto, margarita pizza and red wine at Rafmi Pizzeria, followed by beer samplings whilst listening to retro German tunes at a local bar called Johnnie’s

Local beer Rugen Brau

Most often, when people travel they hope to see wondrous sights, but Interlaken showed me much more. This little cheery town resonates with peace and quiet. Here, you’ll find more cycles than cars, impeccably clean streets, organised pavements and a disciplined traffic scene. But most of all, happy and content people.

Fact file
By air: The nearest airports are at Zurich and Geneva.

By rail:
There are daily direct trains from foreign destinations (like Frankfurt and Berlin) to Interlaken. There are also daily connections from foreign countries to Interlaken (with a change of trains) such as Paris-Bern-Interlaken.

By road: A well maintained highway and ‘Autobahn’ route connects Interlaken with airports at Zurich and Geneva as well as most large cities in Switzerland and Europe. ‘Autobahns’ require a toll sticker. The toll sticker is available at the border or gas stations and post offices within Switzerland. The annual fee is CHF 40.

The Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa
Hoheweg 41, Interlaken 3800, Switzerland
Tel: +41 (0) 33 828 28 28

Published in iDiva's May 2011 issue.

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