It feels like a lifetime ago that we were in Switzerland, but I wanted to write a travelogue about our time in Lenk im Simmental. We had a great trip, and this little alpine village is really a wonderful destination for families, so I thought I'd like to share that with you!
After leaving Italy, we traveled by train up to the Swiss Alps, to Lenk im Simmental, a breathtakingly gorgeous village in the Bernese alps. We were eager to give our urban kids a taste of the wilderness, since our Jakarta version of the great outdoors is a rooftop garden perched above a shopping mall. Lenk fit the bill perfectly: an alpine village with easy access to skiing, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, paragliding, and trail running and all manner of outdoor activities.
Lenk lies at the end of a long, narrow valley, surrounded by towering mountains on all sides. Soaring peaks, shrouded in whips of cloud; emerald green fields dotted with half-timber cottages; the sound of cow bells tinkling; mountain streams bubbling.
It goes without saying, Lenk is absolutely beautiful. But also, it is incredibly well equipped for families with small children.
One of my first impressions about Lenk was that people truly embrace alpine living. The great outdoors is valued and respected. It seems that everyone in Switzerland from retirees to newly-walking toddlers owns a pair of hiking boots and a full kit of mountain gear. Young and old alike were out hiking, biking, nordic walking, and generally enjoying the fresh air and beautiful scenery. It was totally normal to see a small group of seven or eight year olds dressed in rip-stop pants and hiking boots, backpacks on their shoulders, heading home from a short hike. And the best part? There with no parents in sight. Just kids being kids in the mountains. It was a welcome contrast to our concrete-and-shopping-mall life here in Jakarta.
Anyway, here are some highlights from our time in Lenk.
The Alpine Culture Playground
The Alpine Culture Playground might just be the world’s most scenic playground. Situated at the end of the valley right next to the Lenkensee (which is really not much more than a pond), and is bordered on the South side by towering glacial peaks. The playground is made to replicate life on a high alp, and the play features are all made of natural materials. There are blocks made out of old fence posts; tunnels for kids to run through; wooden swings and teeter-totters; and best of all, a tiny steam train that offers rides every half hour or so.
In the centre of the playground is a small kisok cafe that serves excellent coffee, nice Swiss beer, sausages and various other essential treats in the cannon of the Swiss kitchen. It’s the perfect place to sit and and warm up in the brilliant mountain sun while the kids run and climb and swing and play.
We visited this playground at least twice during our week-long stay in Lenk, and I’m sure that Stella would have been happy to play here each and every day of our stay.
Kiosk opens from lunch time till late afternoon on fair weather days. The playground is closed for the winter season.
The Mureli Trail, Betelberg Mountain
We took a cable-car up Betelberg Mountain walked down the Murmili (marmot) trail. Marmots are a beloved symbol of Switzerland, and the trail offers plenty of small installations that provide information and experiential learning about the lives of mountain marmots.
The trail is approximately three kilometres long, mostly downhill, and takes about an hour and a half to walk. This is probably THE perfect hiking trail for young children. The cable-does all the hard work for you, while the hiking trail minders down the side of the mountain at a gentle slope. Every so often there are small play features for children to climb and explore. There are several spots at which families can rest, build a fire, and grill some sausage or melt some cheese.
The path is wide enough to accommodate strollers. Our little umbrella stroller, unfortunately, was no match for the rugged mountain strollers most Swiss families used, and since that day it really hasn’t been the same.
For order kids, there is the possibility of renting scooters at the top of the mountain, and riding down. This looked like tones of fun, and I’m eager to return when the kids are older to try it out for myself.
The Betelberg Mountain cable-car is a short walk from the centre of town, and is stroller-friendly.
The Metsch Gondola
(Which is now an express chair lift, apparently)
It is a great Swiss tradition to ride up a mountain on a gondola, just for fun. So, on our last day in Lenk, (the first warm one!) we rode the Metsch gondelbahn. In the winter months, this is a pretty major skiing destination. In the summer, you’ll find excellent hiking here. The trails are well marked with information about difficulty-level, distance, and duration. Since we had to catch train later that day, we were not too keen on walking too far, so we just wandered around, took pictures, built some dams, and then rode the cable-car down again.
The Hotel-Resturant Zum Gade is about as traditionally Swiss as they come, and we enjoyed it so much that we ate here twice. We filled our bellies with rosti (which is basically a hash brown pancake), sausage, and french fries. We sampled Swiss apple cider, which is a dry (hard) cider, and is a nice counterpoint to rich Swiss food. There was a very Swiss children’s menu (think sausage, potatoes, cheese) which was a biiiiit challenging for our very Asian four-year-old who kept requesting noodle soup. Everything was delicious, my only complaint is that non-potato vegetables are not a prominent feature in the traditional Swiss kitchen.
We really appreciated the how welcome our kids were in this restaurant. There was a dedicated room for families with young children so we could eat without worry of disturbing our fellow diners. The bathrooms were equipped with changing tables; and there was even a little corner with toys and books for the kids.
We did a lot of self-catering because food in Switzerland is not exactly cheep. On our last night in Lenk we made a fondue, and this is an experience not to be missed. There’s something incredibly cozy about sitting around a boiling pot of cheese with your family as the mountains outside fade into the dark. There's a cheesery called Lenk Milch AG on Aegertenstrasse 2, where you can get the required cheese mix. Also, if you don't make it before the shop closes, they have a cheese vending machine, so!!
If You Go
Lenk is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Although on the map it looks pretty close to major train stations, it took about three hours (and three train changes) for us to get there from Bern. It is best to pack with this in mind (read pack light, you’ll be lifting your suitcases a lot!) because Swiss trains wait for no man.
As with most places in Switzerland, shops close early on Saturday and are closed all day on Sunday. The Co-Op, which is a national chain of grocery stores, and in my opinion has the best chocolate yoghurt in all of Switzerland, closes for the weekend by four PM on Saturday. Near the train station, there is a Volk, which is a smaller chain of grocery stores, that stays open until seven PM on Saturdays, but it too is closed on Sundays. Its important to keep this in mind if you need to stock up on food for your kids.
A note on equipment. The Swiss take their mountain adventures seriously. It is an imperative that you dress the part if you don’t want to stand out like a ridiculously-dressed sore thumb. Most families seemed to have a stroller built especially for hiking, or wore their kids in a specially designed hiking carrier. Even toddlers have hiking boots, backpacks, and gore-tex jackets. Our kids, in sparkly shoes and inadequately warm sweaters did not exactly fit in.
And speaking of equipment, there's a reason for all that gore-tex. Switzerland can be chilly, especially in the mountains. Despite being there in August, we had several days where the mornings were cool enough to see our breath, and and frost was a real threat. Our poor tropical children were woefully unprepared. So, be smarter than us. Pack for winter.