Bernese Oberland : the Lakes
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Boat on the Thunersee with the Eiger in the background (©_Switzerland Tourism)
The two lakes in the heart of the Bernese Oberland – the Thunersee and the Brienzersee, with the major resort of Interlaken lying between them – form the gateway to the region. Sidelined by more famous lakes such as Geneva and Luzern, the two are often overlooked by visitors in a hurry to get into the mountains, but there’s something very peaceful about them, poised between the big cities of the north and the high Alps further south. In even the most hurried of Oberland tours, you could easily devote a day or two to enjoying the beauty of the lakes, set amidst cliffs and forested hillsides, dotted with quiet villages, and backed by a long chain of dramatic snowy heights.

Both the Thunersee and the Brienzersee are well served by transport, with mainline trains running between Thun, Spiez, Interlaken West & Ost, Brienz and on to Luzern, quite often swishing along within metres of the water, plunging in and out of tunnels cut beneath the mountains which ring the shoreline.

Unless speed is of the essence, though, you’d do well to take at least one trip by boat: the BLS train company (Bern-Lötschberg-Simplon; 033/334 52 11, www.bls.ch) provides service on both lakes, stopping at a host of towns and villages all along both shorelines. The Thunersee is the more picturesque of the two lakes, overlooked by the Niesen and the Stockhorn on the west, the wooded slopes of the Beatenberg on the east, and with the snowy peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau always in view to the south. There are at least half-a-dozen boats a day in summer (June–Sept) between Thun and Interlaken West (2hr), stopping at – among other places – Hilterfingen, Oberhofen, Spiez and the Beatushöhlen. Service is just as regular on the Brienzersee between Brienz and Interlaken Ost (1hr 15min). If you’re visiting out of season, note that boats run on both lakes at least daily from April to October. In November and March, there’s one boat a day between Thun and Interlaken only; from December to February the Thunersee service is reduced to weekends only. Boats on both lakes are free to Eurail and Swiss Pass holders, and half-price to InterRailers.

There’s also a host of eat-aboard cruises, some on vintage steamships, generally running three times a day throughout the summer. Special evening cruises run on Friday and Saturday evenings all summer long departing from Thun, and once a month departing from Interlaken Ost (Fr.22). The paddle steamer Blümlisalp makes a six-hour meander from Thun to Interlaken West, while its sister ship the Lötschberg does a similar three-hour round trip from Interlaken Ost (both daily mid-June to mid-Sept, ordinary tickets valid).

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