The culture of the Berner Oberland is a friendly although occasionally insular one. The major destinations of the region such as Interlaken, Wengen, and Gstaad have large tourist populations and as such boast multiple royal hotels as well as some of the most impressive alpine infrastructure in the world. Here state of the art cable cars and trains provide access to some of the region’s most dramatic summits and glaciers. However, in the more removed and forgotten regions of the Berner Oberland, such as the peaceful Simmental region, farming, and traditional alpine culture still reign supreme. Here farmers toss hay by hand and the jingle of cowbells fills the air. The locals, while not always initially outgoing, are quickly discovered to be a warm and welcoming bunch, who love to talk about the alpine way of life as well as recommend all of the best places to visit in and around their respective villages. In the Berner Oberland German is the primary spoken language, although the nearby Pays D’Enhaut is home to a French-speaking population.
In the Berner Oberland, the food is mainly high alpine and Swiss fare. Consisting largely of local cheeses, meats, and hearty Germanic multi-grain bread, a very happy and full stomach is a common occurrence after dinner. Steak, fish, and chicken dishes are popular as well as a regional carrot and orange soup that has to be tried.
Hiking in the Berner Oberland is the region’s greatest draw. Fantastically marked and maintained Swiss trails provide access along the most photogenic routes to all of the region’s high mountain passes and minor summits. The hiking is often rigorous due to the precipitous and rugged nature of the surrounding mountains, however, the lower half of the mountain range in the Simmental near Lenk offers more accessible hiking. These hikes travel along fantastic wind-sculpted ridges and through the sinkhole and grotto pocked karst topography, a rare and beautiful formation unique to limestone landscapes.
Some of the most famous high mountain passes in the world are in the Berner Oberland, such as the impressive Hohturli – a hiking pass above Kandersteg that sits only a bit below 3000 meters. The hike over the Hohturli is part of the greater Via Alpina hiking route and is considered by many of those who partake in the great trek to be one of the most dramatic hikes of the entire route. Many of the hikes in the region take multiple days between villages and are serviced by alpine huts that offer comfortable if simple accommodations, as well as full dinners, beer on tap, and espresso! Our treks in the region are the Eiger Trail, the Berner Oberland Trek, and the Jungfrau Loop. The Eiger Trail is the most substantial of the three, traveling between Gstaad and Grindelwald and in the process crossing the greater portion of the Berner Oberland. The Berner Oberland trek focuses on the second half of the route traveling in the opposite direction between Grindelwald and Kandersteg. The gentler Jungfrau Loop follows the Lauterbrunnen valley beneath the shadow of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau between Grindelwald and Wilderswil.
The most notable villages in the region are Murren, Wengen, Grindelwald, Kandersteg, and Gstaad. Murren and Wengen are the two cliffside villages of the Lauterbrunnen valley, both nestled in the mountains high above the valley floor. The villages are inaccessible by car and offer unparalleled views of the Jungfrau massif as well as world-class accommodations. Grindelwald lies across the Kleine Scheidegg pass from the Lauterbrunnen valley and sits in the shadow of the impressive Eiger itself. From Grindelwald, at night you can look up to the imposing North face of the Eiger and watch the lights of the Jungfraujochbahn, a train that burrows through the Eiger to a glaciated shoulder of the Jungfrau summit. Kandersteg is a destination for modern ice climbers as well as one of the most classic destinations for Ryder-Walker, as it is a village we as a company have been guiding out of for nearly 35 years. Kandersteg sits beneath the beautiful Bluemlisalphorn as well as the Oeschinensee, a truly stunning alpine lake. Gstaad lies at the far end of the Berner Oberland and is a ski resort with a glitzy reputation around the world. Despite its reputation, it remains a charming village with easy access to multiple fantastic hikes!
The Berner Oberland is the most visually striking region of Switzerland. Nowhere else in the world are the valleys so incredibly sheer and the mountains so precipitous. The Lauterbrunnen, in particular, feels like something out of fantasy film or storybook as it feels truly too beautiful to be true. The accommodations are warm, comfortable, and all boast excellent kitchens – even the alpine huts that are perched thousands of feet above the valley floor. When Ryder Walker was founded as a company, the hiking in the Berner Oberland was both the inspiration and example of the sort of high-quality accommodation and hiking that we wanted to share with people around the world!