The popular Swiss resort town of Interlaken, in the Bernese Oberland region, was much loved by the Victorian gentry who holidayed here in their droves. It was so popular that the town’s name was changed from Aarmühle (meaning “near the mill”) to Interlaken (“between lakes”) in the late 1800s, as the latter was easier to pronounce.
The town is nestled between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and overlooks Switzerland’s famous three peaks: the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau a veritable insta-worthy landscape.
Interlaken gets busy in the summer, as people use it as a base to explore nearby regions. So consider a winter jaunt and enjoy the quieter vibe and roster of fantastic adventure activities in and around Interlaken, from winter kayaking to paragliding.
The glacier-fed Lake Brienz is one of Switzerland’s deepest lakes – 260m at its deepest point. It is shallow at the edges but rapidly deepening so you can’t see the bottom just a few meters from the shore.
This makes it a perfect lake for kayaking, as you can climb in with only your feet submerged in water and within seconds be gliding over the lake. During the winter you’ll need to wear a dry suit to keep you warm – if you fall in, your drysuit should prevent you from getting too wet and cold.
During our visit, the lake was an oasis of perfect calm, with barely a ripple in sight.
Our guides from Hightide Kayak School, Dave and Peter, let us use the sea kayaks, which are around 5m in length and faster than the standard touring kayaks. We set off at around 10am, before the sun had risen fully over the surrounding mountains to a spot on the lake where the sun first casts its warm glow in the morning.
We stopped for a short break after an hour or so of kayaking and made our way up to Ringgenberg Castle, which dates back to the 1200s. We climbed the steep steps to the top of the castle and enjoyed some hot fruit tea and a biscuit as we looked out onto the lake.
2Jetboat ride across Lake Brienz
We booked a ride on a water-propelled jetboat – a jet of water ejected from the back of the boat – for a thrilling jaunt across the lake with Jetboat Interlaken. We reached speeds 60 kilometres per hour. Its pretty high-octane when doing 360° turns.
On the journey to a small island called Schnecke (German for “snail”), drivers Phil and Grizzy told us about the region’s history. The island looks like a snail from above and there’s also a rumour that snails were farmed for food here way back when. We then sailed passed Seeburg Castle, which was once used as a sanatorium for troubled children, and rumoured to be haunted.
3Paragliding over Interlaken
Paragliding is Interlaken’s most popular adventure sport. No previous experience and pretty much anyone can sign up, whether you’re nine or ninety. Paragliding Interlaken organises daily tandem flights that take off from Amisbuel, near the town of Beatenberg, around 800m above Interlaken.
You’ll be attached to an experienced paragliding instructor and together you float through the air and will also (if you agree) perform some high-octane tricks such as helicopter turns. My instructor, Drew, has completed more than 10,000 flights so I knew I was in safe hands.
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Flights last 12 minutes, but this can vary anywhere from eight minutes to 20, depending on weather conditions. The instructor takes plenty of pictures and videos during the flight, so you have some mementoes when you get home.
4Discover Lake Thun on foot
The charming villages that border Lake Thun are well worth exploring. Just hop on a bus (included with your Swiss travel pass) and to lake Merligen, and walk up the steep incline the church. From here you can take a mountain path and either run or walk along the trail while taking in the beautiful views of the lake and mountains.
Merligen enjoys a Mediterranean climate year-round, so you’re almost guaranteed sunshine even though there is a winter chill in the air and with layered clothing it makes for a wonderful way to explore the area on foot.
5Interlaken walking tours
Interlaken and its long and colourful history, so book a place with Interlaken Walking Tours run by locals. Our guide was born in nearby Wilderswil. We visited a local cheese shop called Chäs Fritz, a woodcarving shop, chocolatier and a local dairy farm.
At Confiserie Schuh, a chocolatier that produces fine Swiss chocolate, they are keen to show off their skills with demonstrations of how to make caramel truffles and even chocolate high-heeled shoes.
6Take a relaxing boat ride on Lake Thun
Book a lunchtime table on BLS Lake Cruises, a relaxing alternative to taking the bus. The cost of the journey is included in the cost of the Swiss pass. It’s a delightful and gentle scenic tour of Lake Thun and you can spend time taking pictures from the bow or relax with a glass of wine.
During the winter months (December to February), the centre of Interlaken is transformed into a winter wonderland, with a large ice rink, beer and food hall and traditional restaurant. It’s particularly lovely to skate to the sounds of classic cheesy music, alongside children twirling and leaping on the ice while the sun sets in the distance.
Top it off with a warming glass of mulled wine in the beer hall and then tuck into a traditional cheese fondue in the Swiss Chalet Restaurant.
Osteria da Pasquale in Hünibach (a 40-minute direct bus from Interlaken) is a traditional Italian restaurant that makes everything from scratch, including their delicious pasta dishes.
Bären in Bönigen, which is situated next to Interlaken. The restaurant serves all the Swiss staples, most of which contain large doses of melted cheese.
A trip here is incomplete without ordering a bottle of Rivella, a Swiss soft drink which tastes like a mix of Irn-Bru and lemonade. It’s surprisingly refreshing.
The Beatus Wellness- & Spa Hotel is located on the side of Lake Thun and has some impressive wellness facilities including an outdoor 35°C pool, indoor pool and seven different saunas. You can also rent rowing boats and pedalos.
For a budget option, book a bed/room at the friendly Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof, which costs as little as £15 per night, including complimentary breakfast and WiFi.
Weather: We spent 4 days here in early January, and every day was cold and sunny. Bring thermals and a warm jacket, gloves, hat, scarf and sunglasses.
Language: Interlaken is a German-speaking region in Switzerland, but many of the locals also speak English.
Currency: The currency is Swiss Francs (CHF) – some places only accept cash so make sure you carry some with you at all times. Currently £1 = CHF 1.27
Getting there: SWISS offers more than 150 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick (seasonal), Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh to Zurich and Geneva.
The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This includes all rail transfers and local buses. Interlaken is a 2-hour train from Zurich and 2-hours 40 minutes from Geneva.
More info: Visit Interlaken