Last summer we spent a wonderful two weeks in Lenk, in the Swiss Alps. This was our fourth visit to Lenk and probably our 20th to Switzerland. Our first visit to Switzerland was during our “Year in Europe” in 1988 where we spent the summer hiking in the Swiss Alps. On that trip we stayed in Grindelwald and Zermatt. Over the years we have returned many times, staying in different mountain towns. For the last four summers we have stayed in Lenk. There is something about Lenk that has captivated us.
Lenk is a small mountain town in the Bernese Oberland (also called the Berner Oberland), the mountains in the canton of Bern. The mountains are south of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, with valleys running south from the lakes. Each valley has a mountain town at the end. Starting in the east you have Meiringen, continuing on to Grindelwald, Lauterbrunnen, Kandersteg, Adelboden, and ending with Lenk, Saanen, and Gstaad in the west. All these towns have great hiking and we have hiked them all except Meiringen.
Steve and I like “easy hiking”. We don’t want to spend three hours walking up the mountain, just to go over the pass and walk down again. Instead we like to walk from two to four hours, with gentle ascents and descents, stopping for a picnic lunch with a view. Switzerland offers that type of hiking. You wouldn’t think so at first look. Lenk sits at 1000 meters (3200 feet) elevation and the tops of the mountains surrounding start at 1800 meters (6000 feet). The secret is the mountain transportation. Gondolas and buses take you high up into the mountains so your hike starts at or near the top. You can do a gentle walk back down, or walk across to another mountain ride.
Swiss mountain towns are at peak-tourism in the winter for skiing, but they are well set up for summer tourism. Not all the ski gondolas run in summer, but enough are running to give the hiker plenty of choice. It is a short season for hiking in Switzerland – from June to September.
Lenk is at the end of the Simmental valley, near the more famous towns of Gstaad and Saanen. It is not crowded with tourists but instead gets hikers from Switzerland and Germany. Occasionally we hear American or British voices.
Lenk is surrounded by mountains with four easy to reach hiking areas. We usually rent a car in Switzerland, but you can easily get by without one. The gondola is in the town center, as are the bus and train stations. Buses take you up the mountains. The train takes you to Zweisimmen where you can change to the main train line. If you don’t want to walk on the mountain tops, there is a good trail that goes for miles along the river.
There are good food shops in the town center and good bakeries. The Co-op has a very good selection of natural foods – organic grains, beans, pasta and organic vegetables. There are several restaurants and cafes. Contrary to their national reputation, people in the village are very friendly and helpful. Many speak some English.
St Stephan, a village a few miles from Lenk, holds a Cow Parade (in German – Alpabfahrt!) at the end of the summer, usually the second Saturday of September. The farmers put on traditional farming costumes, dress up their cows and walk them down from the alpine pastures to their fields in the valley, where the cows will spend the winter. The parade is organized by family and the best milker for each family heads the line of cows and wears the biggest bell. They walk down the mountain road to the parade grounds where they walk around on display, then continue onto the main road and to the farm. We have been caught in that fun traffic jam!
While Lenk is our current favorite Swiss destination for hiking, there are many to choose from – Gstaad, Kandersteg, Grindelwald, Zermatt, Saas Fee, Davos, Klosters and many more. Find their tourist website and look for their summer activities. You can see what they offer for hiking in the summer.
A word of warning – Switzerland is expensive! The Swiss Franc (CHF) is similar to the Euro, but everything costs a lot more. Lunch can be shockingly expensive (80 CHF for two). A cup of coffee is 4 CHF! But, vacation rentals are well priced (700CHF/week) and you can do your own cooking. Individual mountain rides can be pricey, but most towns offer a reasonably priced pass for hikers. You can travel to Switzerland on a budget.
I don’t think I have adequately explained why I love Switzerland. It is the same reason that I love England – the walking culture. Walking trails everywhere, towns full of people wearing hiking boots, well marked trails, tourist office people that are happy to spend an hour talking about which trail is the best. And mountain restaurants! Even though they are expensive it is such fun to be way out in the mountains sitting at a table outside a farmhouse, having lunch. Or having your sandwiches sitting by a waterfall that comes from the glacier overhead. I love the feeling of pure joy walking high up in a mountain valley surrounded by rocky mountain tops, hearing the running rivers, breathing that wonderful mountain air.
I just booked our summer 2018 trip to Lenk, this time for three weeks!