Another valley to discover in the Berner Oberland

12 Sep

12 September 2021.

One valley over from Lauterbrunnen, directly south from Spiez, we found craggy mountains, alpine lakes, and fewer visitors. This is the Kandertal.  Hearing North American accented English was rare, at least during our visit. Unlike in the Jungfrau Region, we found some locals who do not speak English at all, causing me to resurrect my pitiful German last studied some 48 years ago.

Kandersteg features several large, classic hotels, many outdoor dining terraces, and abundant mountain trails.

I’ve had Kandersteg on my list of places to check out for a few years. However, no matter how many times we go to Lauterbrunnen, it is hard to tear ourselves away from time in the Jungfrau Region on a normal 10-to-14-day trip. This year we set up Base Camp Barton for a month in Lauterbrunnen so we could work in some other exploration, including a 3-night side trip to Kandersteg.

The train trip from Spiez is lovely, rising up through the valley on a cleverly engineered railway. Normally when one passes from Spiez in the Berner Oberland to Domodossola in Italy, the travel is through the Lötschberg Base Tunnel. But this is on the old (early 20th Century) Lötschberg Line. I get quite a railfan education when traveling with my ferroequinologist husband. 

Oeschinensee with requisite lakeside restaurant, a rocky beach, sheer cliffs on the far side, and cows, of course.

We are here for hiking and made the obligatory trek to the Oeschinensee, an easy-to-reach alpine lake that attracts many if only to take lunch by the lakeside. Hardy souls can work off lunch with rugged high terrain hikes or, like us, one can walk to-and-from the lake in about an hour on wide paths. Going uphill on the way back was a bit of a workout (which we needed) but there is also an electric shuttle bus option which we thought quite nice as a way to make the lake accessible to all.

We stayed at the charming family-run Blümisalp Hotel and Restaurant in Kandersteg. The husband is a Certified Swiss Federal Master Chef who turns out simple fare, well-prepared and beautifully presented. It is quite nice to come back from hiking and not have to think about going out so we indulged in their restaurant twice for prix fixe meals. The rooms are neat and quiet, service is efficient and friendly. We’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

Our second hike, a further education in mountain railways, was a trek along the Lötschberger Nordrampe which runs for about 20 kilometers from Frutigen to Eggeschwand. We are not 20km/day walkers so we were delighted that one can take the trail in bites. We chose to walk from Kandersteg to the charming Blausee, about 3.6 miles. Here we got an appreciation for the clever “crazy-eight” (my words) tunnel required to bring the trains up the steep valley. On our 90 minute walk we saw two farmers, dozens of cows, a few passing trains, and no other people until we arrived at Blausee. Of course, there is a hotel and restaurant there, in true European fashion. We also got to enter the Blausee Nature Park through the back door from the trail and did not have to pay to enter like those who drive there do.

Below, a few scenes from our Lötschberger Nordrampe hike to the Blausee. It was overcast and rained the minute we arrived at the Blausee and were safely undercover drinking coffee. The Blausee is so clear you can see tree trunks submerged in 12 meters of water.

It is clearly cow parade season as a herd of about 15 sauntered past our terrace on Saturday, stopping all traffic through Kandersteg on a fine sunny morning. An hour later, while taking the bus to the end of the valley to start our hike for the day, the bus had to stop for three dozen cows to pass. This was not the driver’s first parade. She immediately exited the bus and shooed the cows away protecting her vehicle! 

Cow Parade in Kandersteg.

Our final hike in the Kandertal was at Sunnbüel, up above the southern end of the valley. The lower slopes were still encased in shadows when we ascended at 10:00, but on top, at 6352 feet, the sun was brilliant and the path beckoned. The hike I chose was a lollipop to Arvenseeli, a series of three pristine alpine lakes. Except, this late in the season they were dry, rocky beds surrounded by cows nibbling on sparse alpine plants. (I think these were the cows that missed the trek to town this morning as elsewhere on the trail there were fresh indicators of recent cow passage and lots of hoof prints.) While this was advertised as easy and a family hike, there was a sketchy portion of more than 20 minutes featuring narrow trails that sometimes disappeared, difficult footing, and the aforementioned cows sometimes blocking the way as if daring one to pass. The advertised 90 minute hike took us two hours and 8 minutes. Still it was a good workout followed by a welcome lunch with a Panaché (half beer, half lemon soda) and accommodating server who spoke no English but put up with my stilted German. 

Below, scenes from the Sunnbüel area, the Arvenseeli Loop. Note the cow standing in a dry, rocky lakebed.

Now that we’ve been to the Kandertal, we see other possibilities for exploring. We learned of the Gasterntal a river valley near Kandersteg that is quite remote and only seasonally accessible. We may have to come back.

9 Responses to “Another valley to discover in the Berner Oberland”

  1. Marcia Lynn Kakiuchi September 12, 2021 at 14:24 #

    The beauty of the landscapes and your perfect descriptions truly make your posts so fun and interesting to read. The pictures are out of a magazine!

    Like

    • Laurel September 12, 2021 at 21:37 #

      Thank you dear Marcia! Happy to have you along for the trip! Where to next for you adventurers?

      Like

  2. Grier September 12, 2021 at 12:47 #

    What a delight to experience new town and new hikes! I think I’d give the cows a wide berth if possible. Your photos are beautiful and show an appealing landscape. So glad you’re having a lovely time.

    Like

    • Laurel September 12, 2021 at 21:35 #

      We do give the cows some room. The two staring after me in that picture were grazing but when Ric and I passed through, started to follow us but we made it through the gate and reconnected the electric fence just in time! I have seen them try to butt someone so we don’t mess with them. There are some really challenging hikes that you’d love!

      Like

  3. gayleseely September 12, 2021 at 12:02 #

    Lovely to imagine you walking around in the amazing swiss countryside. I can almost feel the air – my little experience with it was magical, and it is so nice to see all this lovely detail. It may be time to go back, and follow in your footsteps.

    Like

    • Laurel September 12, 2021 at 21:32 #

      Ciao, Carissima! It has been years since you’ve been here, I believe. We really love having our annual “fix” of these mountains, so different from Italy. It’s always fun to “discover” a new place, too.

      Like

  4. chloe erkenbrecher September 12, 2021 at 10:18 #

    Beautiful photos. Makes me want to go there, but to look, not to do the hikes you do. Your photos are the next best thing to being there.

    Like

    • Laurel September 12, 2021 at 21:31 #

      You can do so much looking without much effort! Have you ever been to Switzerland? Great train trips abound!

      Like

      • chloe erkenbrecher September 13, 2021 at 09:31 #

        Yes, I love Switzerland. Have also spent time in the mountainous areas of Italy and Austria. Needless to say, I love mountains, probably because I have spent so much time in them in my home state of Oregon and California. In the meantime, I will live vicariously through your wonderful posts.

        Like

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