Via Alpina – Stage 9– Engstlenalp to Meiringen
It’s reassuring to start a hike from Engstenalp to Meiringen and see the trail strung out along the mountainside for several miles ahead. Today’s route starts by gaining only 400 meters in the first 6 miles. But then drops over 2100m—nearly 7000 ft of knee-jarring vertical descent in the remaining 6 miles. Thankfully there is a cable car to perform the descent since I’m hoping to stave off any knee replacement surgery for the next 20 years.
A Gentle Ridge
The highlight of this stage—and indeed, one of the best dayhikes in the Swiss Alps—is the ridge of the Balmeregg from the Tannensee to Planplatten. Just hearing the words “ridge hike” strike fear into Elain’s heart, since she assumes that most ridge hikes are “knife-edge ridges” like Katahdin or some of the vertiginous routes in our Wasatch Mountains of Utah. But take heart—the Balmeregg is an airy, open, grassy ridge, grazed throughout the summer by cows, sheep, and goats. But it has just enough patches of scree to let you know it’s a ridge. The abundance of wildflowers is enough to keep us both entertained for the duration of the Balmeregg ridge portion of the stage.
The goats at Tannalp are amazingly friendly. They come up to every hiker perhaps looking for a handout or maybe just to like the salt deposits from the sweat that has accumulated and dried on our backpacks.
As we walk through the hamlet of Tannalp, passing the chapel, dairy, and Berggasthaus, we could feel this was a lively place with a resident population including families with young children, and visitors who come to stay for more than just a night.
Earlier in the day, before leaving Engstlenalp, we waited for Schaukäserei Engstlenalp to open, since we wanted to stock up on some more of their dairy delights—So we got off to a late start, took lots of photos, and did some serious dawdling, and by the time we completed the Balmeregg and arrived at Planplatten, it was mid-afternoon. We weren’t emotionally geared up for another 2100 meters of descent down to Meiringen, so we hopped on board the cable car. But promised ourselves we would come back later in the summer to hike this stage again—it was that enjoyable.
There are several advantages of taking the cable car down: The cable car showcases some waterfalls that you wouldn’t see on the hike. It allows you to get out and explore the villages, shopping, and restaurants at the cableway stations on the descent. Finally, it gave us more time to explore Meiringen, thoroughly fascinating and very distinctive Bernese Oberland town. What makes Meiringen so different from any other town in the Bernese Oberland is the topic of our next stage. But for now, we’re off to the bakery to stock up on Meringues.
Wildflower: Most of the route between Engstlenalp and Planplatten is just above treeline. And since it’s on a ridge, the trail bobs and weaves through areas of full sun or shaded, north-facing or south-facing—so we have a lot of diversity. That makes it difficult to choose a wildflower, with so many options to choose from. So we selected one that’s quite rare and very protected. It’s the Alpine Blue Sow-Thistle (Cicerbita alpina). We found it at an elevation of about 1700m on a sunny slope.
Food Tips: Meiringen lays claims to be the place where meringues were invented. They were first produced around 1600 by a pâtissier named Casparini. He called them “Meirring” or plural “Meiringe.” The French took to the creation and converted the name to a French spelling—“Meringues.”
In 1985, the Guinness Book of Records came to Meiringen when the bakers in town created the largest meringue in the world. It contained 2000 egg whites, 120 kg of sugar, and was topped with 60 liters of whipped cream. The result was a meringue 2.5 m long, 1.5 meters wide, and 70 cm high. There was no oven large enough to hold it, so they had to bake it in a sauna for two weeks.
That record stood for over 30 years, when in 2016 the village of Gruyères created a meringue about 100 meters long and topped with Gruyère double crème.
Meringues are served everywhere in Switzerland, but especially in Meiringen and Gruyere. The Frutal Bakery and restaurant is a top producer of meringues and has a bakery counter filled with them at their shop at Bahnhofstrasse 18 in Meiringen.
- The National Three Peaks Challenge Doesn’t Have to be a Beast - January 11, 2022
- Corries, Becks, and Crags: British English Helps for the American Hiker - January 7, 2022
- Aletsch Arena: Commanding Views and Panoramic Hikes - November 22, 2021