Via Alpina – Stage 10 – Meiringen to Grindelwald
Compared to other towns along the Via Alpina, Stage 10’s Meiringen doesn’t look like typical Bernese Oberland town, much less a hiking haven or ski resort—and there’s a reason for that. Meiringen lies on the valley floor at the foot of four passes—the Brunig, Joch, Grimsel, and Susten. So for hundreds of years it’s been more valued as a militarily strategic location than as a bucolic Alpine getaway destination. With a military air base on the southwest side of town, WWII “dragons-teeth” tank traps on the hillsides, and a secret a command bunker in the Aare Gorge, its tactical position is obvious—but a hiking village? After all, Meiringen is about as flat a town as you’ll find in all of Switzerland.
Nature has also shaped Meiringen’s look and location. In the 1500s, a series of floods destroyed surrounding villages, and in 1762 the Aare River changed its course and shifted the location of the town. Then came the disastrous fires of 1879 and 1891 which destroyed most of the buildings in the center of town, but thankfully, left the parish church with its detached Romanesque tower unscathed.
To discover Meiringen’s best hiking opportunities, just turn in any direction and take a short bus ride in the direction of the four surrounding passes. You’ll find the most spectacular valleys, glaciers, waterfalls and lakes in the Alps right in front of you. And since these valleys were the sites for some of Switzerland’s first hydroelectric projects over a hundred years ago, the funiculars and aerial trams—transportation systems used to support the construction of dams and power plants—are now there to provide public access to these otherwise remote wonders.
But we’ll have to save those hikes for another day. Today we’ve got the Bernese Alps right in front of us and our route is perhaps the most straightforward of all the Via Alpina stages—Up the Rosenlauital, over the Grosse Scheidegg, and down into Grindelwald. It’s a long stage—about 23km—but it’s not too demanding and there is funicular to speed your ascent and a bus that covers the entire route, making stops along the way.
The Rosenlauital (also known as the Reichenbachtal) extends from Reichenbach Falls on the fringes of Meiringen to the Grosse Scheidegg overlooking the Grindelwald Valley. Today we opted to take the funicular to the top of Reichenbach Falls—where Sherlock Holmes fell to his “death.” But we’ve hiked the forest and farmland route many times, and the funicular gives us a great view of the falls.
After ascending the final portion to the top of the falls on foot we followed an old oxcart road leading up the rural Rosenlauital. Take time for lunch at the Hotel Rosenlaui. They have a great restaurant and the hotel dates to the 1780, making it one of the oldest hotels in Switzerland. Another five minutes up the valley is Rosenlaui Gorge, where a catwalk and tunnel system allow you access to the heart-pounding thunder of water as it smashes its way through the gorge. The excursion through the Rosenlaui gorge takes about 30 minutes, but it’s time well spent.
Further up the valley, small alpine dairies and a 19th century waterwheel-powered sawmill at Schwarzwaldalp attest to the rural roots and traditional lifestyle being preserved in the valley. It’s another 2hr 30min to the Grosse Scheidegg, a sprawling saddle separating the Rosenlaui and Grindelwald Valleys. But we’ve hiked this leg many times so we took the bus from Schwarzwaldalp to the Grosse Scheidegg, and so might you.
Grosse Scheidegg to Grindelwald
The views from the Grosse Scheidegg include the icons of the Bernese Alps—the Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau and Wetterhorn. It’s a 2hr 30min descent into Grindelwald on a trail which slices through the winding road at several places. Unless you’re a purist, we’d recommend taking the alternate route—a high, hill-hugging contoured trail from Grosse Scheidegg to either the First or Schreckfeld gondola station, then make the mechanized descent to Grindelwald. Save those knees for the pounding descents ahead.
Wildflower: The Wild Pansy (Viola Tricolor) goes by several names—heart’s ease, Johnny Jump-up, or just pansy. The flowers are purple, yellow, or white. They’re found throughout the Alps, and from the Alps were transplanted in North America, where they’ve become best known as a cultivated flower. The flowers are edible and we often see them on salads at nice restaurants.
Food Tips: There are plenty of food choices along the way, but we always enjoy stopping for lunch at the terrace restaurant at the historic Hotel Rosenlaui. On a beautiful summer day it can be crowded, so plan ahead. Up the trail at Schwarzwaldalp there is a cheese stand selling their local alp cheese.
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