One of the great things about living in Geneva is the short distance to the Alps. Even before we bought our 1973 MGB Roadster last year, we loved driving the windy Alpine pass roads, through Switzerland, France and on to Italy. In the past years we have ticked off the Simplon Pass (through the village of Gondo), the Majolapass to St Moritz, Col d’Iseran and Col du Mt Cenis.
Last week my mother came to stay, and my husband and I headed for the hills in the MGB, leaving Granny to have fun with the kids at home. We had planned a route but at the last minute changed plans, when we read that the Grimselpass had opened early this year. Many of the Alpine Passes have been cleared already, due to the mild winter. The skiers disappointment was the motorists joy but the roads were still quite quiet with mainly locals out for a drive.
We headed over the hills around Gruyeres to the small town of Interlaken. We had been told that Interlaken was not really worth a visit, but it was actually quite nice. It is not on a lake, but nestled between two lakes – Brienzersee and Thunersee – just south of Bern in the heart of Berner Oberland.
The drive was a scenic one, over the Jaunpass (with added excitement of a chalet fire – the owner of the holiday chalet had to watch in horror as the house burned; by the time the fire brigade arrived from the village in the valley, the fire had engulfed both chalet and adjoining barn).
Soon we were on the banks of the Thunsee and heading towards Interlaken where we had booked a room in the Gasthoff Schoenegg
The Gasthof could be described as “a bit run down” or, if you were feeling generous “shabby chic” but the rooms were prettily decorated, the beds were comfortable and the owners friendly and very welcoming.
If the bathrooms were not particularly modern, the delicious breakfast more than made up for it, not to mention the mountain views out of the gingham curtained window.
A quick trip to Grindelwald was followed by a wander around Interlaken that evening. We were pleasantly surprised by the good quality of the souvenir shops in both Grindelwald and Interlaken. Hardly any cheap and tacky junk, but decent – often handmade – traditional Swiss goods.
Interlaken was reasonably busy, although our waiter said that this was actually quite a quiet time and that the summer is much busier, and many of the shops were open till late at night. The Hotel Victoria Jungfrau is unquestionably the most impressive hotel in Interlaken with views of the mountain range that includes the namesake, Jungfrau.
The next day we headed along the Brienzersee towards Haslital and the Grimselpass, trying to outrun the dark clouds. the scenery in this area of Switzerland is very much what tourists expect the country to look like – it almost looks too perfect.
Between the wooden chalets, lush green grass and wild flowers carpeted the valleys, cows with huge brass bells around their necks grazed, sprinklers showered water in graceful arcs. We almost expected to see a massive hand reach down to adjust a chalet and allow the Hornby train to pass through the toy railway scenery.
We finally saw something that we had heard about – Toblerone Line – tank traps. The Swiss are either paranoid or very well prepared, depending on how you look at it, and have barriers in the countryside that are designed to delay the progress of the enemy through their pretty country. We also saw several small airfields, which are dotted around rural Switzerland for use in the event of an attack on the main airports. If you look past the grass covered bunkers, which house some of the Swiss military airplanes, you might see large doors on the side of the hills behind them. There are bunkers cut into the walls of rock, a bombproof home for the Swiss airforce.