photo of Bernese Highlands

A summer day in the Bernese Highlands, Switzerland. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Bernese Highlands

Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau—the names conjure up images of craggy, cloud-piercing peaks white with snow even when alpine valleys and villages below are living a flower-filled summer. These are the legendary peaks of the Bernese Alps, and even if they don't tell the whole story of Switzerland's Bernese Highlands, they are both the stage and backdrop. Bernese Oberland lies in the southwestern part of the country. Its primary villages are Brienz, Interlaken, Grindelwald, and Meiringen, each with its own charms in summer and winter.

Brienz sits on the eastern shore of deeply hued Lake Brienz, and on the narrow-gauge railroad line that connects the holiday destinations of Interlaken, Meiringen-Hassilbert, Brunig, Lucerne, and Engleberg. Families typically visit Brienz in large part because of part of the family-friendly Alpenregion, which also includes Meiringen and Hasliberg. Another is the Ballenberg Open-air Museum, a living-history museum with more than 100 reconstructed homes, 250 native farm animals (some to pet), and demonstrations of traditional Swiss crafts from woodcarving and basket-weaving to cheese and bread making (open April to October). For top photo ops take the rack railway to Briezer Rothron at 7,710 feet or visit Giessbach Falls, which rushes into the lake. For a glimpse into the ancient art of woodcarving—there are examples all over town—there's the Swiss School of Wood Sculpting, and there are always cruises on the turquoise lake.

Interlaken, tucked between Lake Thun and Brienz and at the base of massive Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, may be the region's most famous village resort—unless you're a Sherlock Holmes aficionado (more on that later). Composer Felix Mendelssohn famously wrote of Interlaken, “If you haven't seen the Interlaken countryside, you haven't seen Switzerland.” Interlaken is compelling winter or summer, and one don't-miss thrill is riding the Jungfraujoch (train) up to the highest railway station in Europe.

Just over six miles away at Beatenberg ski resort, families can ski or snowboard, saunter along winter walking paths, ride toboggans, and skate in winter. In summer, there's the cableway up to the Niederhorn, a walking paradise where ibexes, chamois, and marmots can be seen. Two of the region's great family hotels are here: The Dorint Hotel Blüemlisalp and Hotel Jungfraublick & Beauregard, both with extensive family amenities including swimming pool, playground, playroom, game room, and the availability of childcare.

There are many reasons to visit the Eiger village of Grindelwald in winter: skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and a slew of family programs. But the single must-go reason: it's home to the longest sledding trail in Europe—just under 10 miles from Faulhorn at 8,796 feet down to Grindelwald. In summer, there are scenic hiking trails for all ages. Hotel Kirchbühl, with lodging ranging from family rooms to four-room apartments as well as a ton of activities and programs for families is a great family hotel choice.

Where did Sherlock Homes plunge to his death at the hands of his nemesis, Professor Moriarty? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the famed detective, vacationed in Meiringen and deduced that the roaring, 394-foot Upper Reichenbach Falls was the perfect spot for Holmes to die. He reconsidered later and resurrected Sherlock, but fans from across the globe still travel to Meiringen and ride the funicular to the infamous falls. An excellent choice of lodging in the Alpenregion is the Handeck Family Hotel, southeast of Meiringen in Guttannen.

Tips: There are frequent trains from the Zurich airport directly to Interlaken, and you may even be able to check your baggage from your home airport to your Swiss destination so you don't have to carry it on the train. Learn more from the Swiss Travel System at www.swisstravelsystem.com

Beatenberg and Alpen Region are two resorts with the Swiss Families Welcome Label, meaning they offer a range of family programs related to entertainment, childcare, accommodations, and more.

Recommended Side Trips:
Swiss National Park, Locarno/Lake Maggiore, Geneva, Lausanne

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