A hop, skip and... jump!

Thought Switzerland was only about skiing and snowboarding? Think again - the mountains of Interlaken have plenty more to offer adrenaline junkies in the summer, says Jane Duru. Just don't forget to pack your courage...

I’m standing on a precipice, staring down the barrel of a 50m drop into a gaping abyss. We’ve come to a stop at a seemingly-innocuous patch of steep mountainside road, been herded out of the van and are standing at the edge, palms sweaty with anticipation. And so our canyoning adventure in Switzerland begins...

Ok, so it’s not quite Kilimanjaro but for those without previous mountaineering experience, the most challenging part is the start. One by one, my fellow participants disappear like lemmings over the edge, until there is a little bunch of them gathered at the bottom, looking up expectantly at those of us too scared of gravity to be in any hurry.

Abseiling in SwitzerlandThe Grimsel tour starts with a 50m drop
Outdoor Interlaken
I decide to be sensible - and take the, ahem, plunge. Legs swing over the guard rail. Sam, the instructor, checks my carabineers are secure. “Now just keep your arms relaxed and walk; lean back into it if you can”. The first and second, I can manage, it’s the third that’s giving me gip. It’s one thing to hold onto the rope for dear life and try to obey what feels like a death wish; it’s quite another to be so relaxed that you can ‘lean back’ into it. I urge myself to do as he says and despite feeling like I’m doing a vertical interpretation of the moon landing, relief washes over me when I finally set foot on solid (horizontal) ground. Now, only a canyon to go…

Set in the Grimsel pass, about an hour’s drive from Interlaken, the programme is run by Outdoor Interlaken who have a wealth of experience running outdoor adventure pursuits in Switzerland. Sam, our instructor, takes care to illustrate how each jump and slide should be safely taken and landed. Graceful as a swan, he makes even the most nerve-wracking of jumps seem effortless.

The Grimsel pass is the “medium difficulty” course. We begin by forcing ourselves to plunge into the river. Freezing cold water (the river is meltwater from the glaciers higher up in the mountains) seeps into my wetsuit, but I’m too full of adrenaline to feel it just yet. The adventure continues – we leap off ledges into moody plunge pools, slide down treacherously smooth boulders, scramble up and over the rocks, all amid an ensuing chorus of supportive shouts.

Everything is just challenging enough to make you think twice before you do it. Not that you’ve got any choice - once you’re in the canyon, there’s no way out but the finish. An hour later, and after a climactic zipline into the final lake, we’ve reached the end - tired, hungry but happy. After a swift change of clothes (we’re out in the open so be prepared to get changed under a towel) a welcome buffet of cold meats, cheeses, bread and sugary drinks is laid out before us. For the next five minutes, the reverent silence of the mountains is broken only by the noise of our chewing.

Interlaken SwitzerlandInterlaken is beautiful but there's more here than mere scenery
Creative Commons / VinothChandar
Hedged in on all sides by fantastically dramatic mountain scenery, and with the gloriously aquamarine waters of River Aare coursing through it, Interlaken is pristine in its beauty. Around 2.5 hours' train ride from Geneva, it’s always been a popular all year round destination with the Swiss but increasing numbers of foreign visitors are heading here for the summer season as well as the winters, lured by the scenery and the fresh alpine air. But don’t be fooled by the seeming calm. There’s a beehive of activity going on in the surrounding alpine towns and mountains, and trekking to the top isn’t the only way to get those views – daredevils can choose their poison: hang-gliding, paragliding, skydiving and bungy-jumping are some of the many options.

Canyoning may be one of the most adrenaline-boosting ways to get intimate with nature but it’s not for everyone. Switzerland has a wealth of activities on offer during the summer, if you’re looking for a more laid-back way to experience its dramatic scenery. The mountains of Interlaken – most famously the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – make it one of the country’s most scenic spots and with over 500km (310 miles) of trails and alpine walking routes of varying difficulty, the area is a hiker’s delight.

Lake Bachalpsee SwitzerlandEnjoy a trek to Lake Bachalpsee in around 45 minutes
iStockphoto / Thinkstock
The next day, I join a group hike, with a plan to walk the First to Bachalpsee route. We set off from Grindelwald, a 30-minute train journey from Interlaken Ost, and a village so picturesque it could be the stuff of fairy tales. The chair lift takes us to First, which is at a relatively low altitude of 2168m (7112 ft); experienced trekkers can go higher up to Schynige Platte to do longer, more challenging routes, such as the Alpen Garten trail where there are 500 species of plants and wildflowers. It’s also possible to go ice-walking on the Oberer glacier, but that’s not for newbies like me.

I stick to greener pastures below, enjoying the leisurely pace of the Bachalpsee route, and pausing only to get admire the placid cows that line the route; the chiming of their cow bells makes for a melodious soundtrack. The farmers put them out to pasture here on the mountainsides all summer long, only gathering them in as the weather grows cold. The walk takes in views of majestically imposing mountains on the other side of the valley and Lake Bachalpsee glinting in the sun feels like just reward for our hour's walk. It’s not a difficult hike, which makes it popular, so on a sunny day, it does feel slightly congested with other tourists; if you want more privacy, continue your trek  past Lake Bachalpsee, downhill towards Bort, where you can get a cable car back to Grindelwald.

First FlyerWhizz down the mountain at 80km/h on the First Flyer
Jungfrau Tourism
Having drunk in enough of the alpine air to feel pleasantly giddy, it’s time to head back down. Walking is one option, but if, after all that serenity,you want to take the fear-factor up a notch, flying is another. The First Flyer, is an 800m (2624 ft) cable contraption which kids - big and small - will love. Strapped into a harness seat, passengers hurtle down the mountainside at speeds of up to 84 km/h (55 mph), making for a slightly discombobulating end to your ramble. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the option to Trottibike back to Grindelwald. These glorified scooters may look harmless, but they accelerate fast! Thanks to tranquil roads and an effective brake, I happily hurtle down the mountainside, all the way back to Grindelwald.


• The Grimsel canyon is suitable for most fitness levels; it's more challenging mentally than physically. There are hiking trails to suit all fitness levels in Interlaken but be mindful of high altitudes if you are unused to them; altitude sickness can cause dizziness, nausea and sickness at the worst. For more information visit Outdoor Interlaken.
• If you want the views, but don’t want the effort, take the funicular railway which ascends 1322m (4337 ft) in 8 minutes to Harder Kulm where you’ll have a fantastic vistas of Interlaken and the surrounding lakes of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz.
• Stay at the Victoria Jungfrau, the largest and grandest hotel in town and a slick option to counter all that rough and ready activity. The Beau Rivage is another charming five star option worth exploring, located only 5 minutes away from Interlaken Ost train station. For more information, read our review of the Hotel Beau Rivage.

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