Travel

A Swiss Adventure – Heidi Comes to Life

By – D.J. Wilson

Parents and Grandparents alike are delighted to share Johanna Spyri’s 1880 classic children’s story “Heidi” with newer generations.  The story is about the life of an orphaned young girl left the care of her mountain-dwelling grandfather.  It became one of the best-selling books ever written.  In passing years, the book was adapted to theatre, television and motion pictures, the most famous of films starring the beloved curly-topped Shirley Temple.

The movie begins on a bright June morning in the beautiful Swiss Alps, south of the Great Black Forest in Germany. The dramatic backdrop nearly steals the first scene as Heidi and her Aunt trudge up a steep path leading to the village of Dörfli dressed in traditional folk costume.  Throughout the movie, views of the mountains are observed, along with endearing scenery viewed outward through the entrance of Grandfather’s cottage.  With the arrival of winter, the snow-capped mountains touch viewers’ senses and capture the spirit of Switzerland.

The Swiss Alps represent one of three main physiographic regions in Switzerland, along with the Swiss Plateau and the Swiss portion of the Jura Mountains.  The northern ranges from the Bernese Alps to the Appenzell Alps are in Switzerland.  The southern ranges from the Mont Blanc massif to the Bernina massif are shared with other countries.  Bernese Oberland, the highest part of the canton of Bern, Switzerland offers stunning scenery year-round.  The snow-capped peaks seemingly extend into the heavens.  Mountainous hues of white, blue and gray meet a foreground of lush forest and rolling green hills.  One may picture Heidi and Grandfather high up on the peaks with views extending as far as the eyes can see.

Gear up for a modern day adventure culminating in a visit to Heidi’s house. Begin your tour of Switzerland in the classic Swiss village of Grindelwald which lies in a green hollow of the Bernese Alps in western Switzerland.  The town is easily accessible from international airports at Zürich, Geneva and Basel or from the regional airport at Bern. It is also reachable by train, auto and bus.  The glacier village of Grindelwald is a famous winter tourist destination and bears a unique cosmopolitan vibe. An abundance of short and long distance trails make skiing and hiking excellent hobbies for all experience levels and attracts a steady flow of visitors to the region. Magnificent vistas of the Wetterhorn and Eiger provide commanding views and dramatic lookout points.  Spectacular views of the north face (Nordwand) of the Eiger emphasize the excitement and danger expert climbers encounter. The dramatic rise has earned the north face the German nickname “Mordwand” which literally translates to “Murderous Wall” for those who have failed in their attempts.  Its reputation for danger is well surpassed by its reputation for exquisite beauty.

In the glacier village of Grindelwald, spend the night in a quiet part of town at the 26-room Hotel Gletschergarten.  Relax in comfort at this scenic chalet-style featuring charming window boxes.  This 4th generation welcoming hotel is run by the Michel-Breitenstein family.  Your hosts are pleased to offer tour and travel information and are attentive to guests’ needs. The hotel is ideally tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the village.  Spacious rooms with balconies provide comfort and present outstanding views of the mountains and sunsets. Not far from the hotel is the Main Street, brimming with shops, restaurants and seasonal outdoor cafés.  Historic churches with bells that toll and museums lend to the town’s charm.  The beautiful mountain backdrop adds a majestic feel.  Notable movies have been filmed in the region including James Bond’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with a chase through a skating rink and Christmas festival, and Clint Eastwood’s “The Eiger Sanction”.   After an adventurous day on the slopes, hiking, or exploring the town, Hotel Gletschergarten provides a peaceful night’s slumber.

Swiss adventures continue aboard the Bernese Oberland Railway, on a 35 minute ride to the quaint town of Interlaken.  The town rests between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and under the triple peaks of the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger Mountains. Interlaken’s ideal location makes daily excursions to nearby towns, such as Bern, Lucerne and Thun, remarkably easy.  The town offers bountiful opportunities for fun.  Stroll along Interlaken’s “Höheweg” promenade which links urban Interlaken West with Interlaken East.  The town is famous for its souvenirs and watches and is a shopper’s haven.  Spectacular views of the Jungfrau are enjoyed from town.  The snow-kissed Alpine peaks contrast with the deep green valley, creatively casting light and dark shadows fit for a painting. The rich mountains offer a plethora of seasonal activities from hiking and climbing to winter skiing and snowboarding.

Nestled on the shores of Lake Brienz is the 40-room Seehotel La Terrasse Bönigen, an Alpine hotel run by the Hohermuth & Budd families.  The hotel is located in the center of the Jungfrau region of the Bernese Oberland.  The garden terrace overlooks the uniquely turquoise blue waters of the lake.  Guests may relax and dine, while outstanding mountains views draw the scenery upward.  Tastes of international and seasonal cuisine are part of the dining repertoire.   The hotel is within close proximity to the public pool and a bus may be taken downtown.  The rooms are cozy and clean and provide a rustic feel to complement uninterrupted natural mountain and lake views.

To gain unique perspectives of the lake and land, take a 1.5 hour ambiance filled boat ride from Interlaken Ost (East) to the wood carving and violin making village of Brienz.  Leisurely stroll the Hauptstrasse (Main Street) by foot and view the gently sloping roofs of authentic log Swiss chalets in this laid-back lakeside town.  Visit the internationally known shops of the woodcarvers and witness exquisite works of art.  Enjoy the numerous sculptures and carved road signs in town.  Walk up a small hill to the local church for prayer and to view the church’s magnificent hand-carved woodwork fashioned by local talent.  Take in panoramic views of the town, lake and mountains from atop the hill.  Those interested in music are encouraged to visit a Swiss violin Making School on the town’s previous main road (Oberdorfstrasse 94).  Nearby hiking trails put nature at the footsteps of those seeking off the beaten path explorations.

Spend an overnight at the charming old world Grandhotel Giessbach, high above Brienz, in a room which overlooks a dramatic cascading waterfall scene.    Guest of the historic 70-room hotel may ride the funicular railway to ascend to the hotel.  The transport, largely in its original condition, travels a 377 yard-long ascent between the hotel and its own boat pier, Giessbach-See.  The roughly four minute railway ride takes passengers over bridges, alongside waterfalls and through pristine woods.  The hotel structure’s lack of contemporary scheme preserves the rustic charm of the historic 1870’s built hotel.  It was first owned by the Hauser family of Zürich, one of the great dynasties of the hotel industry.  The facility and countryside traditionally served as a meeting place of high society, with poets and philosophers offering great praise of the region.  Fading fame and disrepairs temporarily closed the hotel.  Swiss ecologist Franz Weber purchased and gifted the 22-hectare estate (54 acres) to the citizens of Switzerland.  The hotel became a founding member of the Swiss Historic Hotels.  The gift of time at Giessbach is to be celebrated.  The castle-like hotel in the colder months is reminiscent of an idyllic scene in a snow-globe.  Discover indescribable white covered mountains, snowy forests and wintry alpine meadows.

Just outside of Brienz is Swiss Open Air Museum Ballenberg. This must-see museum is located on a 164 acre site.  Explore over one hundred architectural and traditional buildings of the country.  The structures are separated by regions (cantons), with most interiors allowing visitors to walk inside. Witness demonstrations of rural and local crafts from the 14th to 19th century and learn the history and tradition of cheese making.  Stroll the property and see old farmhouses, traditional gardens, fields and a plethora of farmyard animals, set against a backdrop of beautiful mountain scenery.  Let impressions of bucolic life in rural Switzerland come to life in a visit to this culturally rich museum.

From Brienz, head to the predominantly German-speaking city of Lucerne (Luzern) via a 90 minute train ride.  The town ranks amongst the world’s prettiest cities.  Explore the beautiful bridges of Lake Lucerne to see the world-famous Chapel Bridge and Water Tower.  This oldest wooden covered wooden footbridge in Europe spans the Reuss River and is named for the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel.  The restored bridge contains interior paintings which date back to the 17th century.  The Musegg Wall and nine towers are historic fortifications built in the area from the 13th century and remain widely intact.  See the Lion Monument, an image of dying lion carved out of sandstone rock which serves as a memorial for the mercenary soldiers of central Switzerland who died in the French Revolution.  Visit numerous places of worship including the Jesuit Church, the first large Baroque church built in Switzerland north of the Alps.  By day, enjoy downtown pedestrian zones and view houses with painted facades which date to the 19th and early 20th century.  The area is rich in culture, evident in a large array of museums, artistic and musical venues.

Come nightfall, unwind in one of 41 guestrooms at the luxurious Grand Hotel National Luzern, just a ten minute walk from the train station and a five minute walk to the historic quarter.  The hotel is situated on the shore of Lake Lucerne and offers high quality service and boasts an English speaking staff, an indoor pool, sauna, fitness center, coffee shop, bar/lounge, casino service, spa services and more.  The historic hotel was built in 1870 by César Ritz and Auguste Escoffier.  Elegant rooms include Italian marble floors, walls covered in silk wallpaper, and the finest of furnishings.  From the hotel, one can see the famous Rigi, Stanserhorn and Pilatus mountains and the highest peaks of central Switzerland.  A lakeside balcony view is optimal.  Lucerne’s city nightscape becomes a breathtaking bounty of glistening lights which bounce off the lake, earning it Paris’s similar moniker “The City of Light.”

Depart Lucerne via train and head south of Lake Lucerne to Altdorf.  Arrive in the Lower Reuss Valley, in the Uri Region, where hamlets rest on the high terraces above the little town.  Altdorf has a stately parish church.  Seated above the town is the oldest Capuchin convent in Switzerland dated to 1581. Enjoy a guided tour through the streets of the town and visit the Tell Monument, a tribute to the Swiss national hero.  Visit the History Museum Uri to discover exhibitions displayed in a neo-Gothic museum.  View religious pieces of art, including portraits of Pope Pius X and Pope Pius XI.  In the center of picturesque town of Uri Altdorf sits the House for Art Uri.   Featured there are works of Swiss and international artists from the region. If you’re fortunate to be in town during one of Altdorf’s festivals, appreciate great folk or modern music or theatre performances of the famous Tell Festival.  Delight in regional food and taste the Uri Alpine cheese, a regional specialty, to absorb the true flavor of the Alps.  Altdorf is a hiking and biking paradise and yellow signs mark the area’s landmarks.

The hotel Zum Schwarzen Lowen is a welcoming hotel in the heart of the village of Altdorf near Town Hall Square. This fully renovated 16-room hotel was built in 1509 and features updated and stylish décor.  The rooms are spacious and amenities include concierge, luggage, laundry and room service.  The Goethe-room is where the famous German writer and poet and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe stayed on his third visit to Altdorf Hotel at the Black Lion in 1797.    The hotel restaurant features a wide selection of international cuisine.  Adult guests may enjoy a glass of fine wine or single malt whiskey in the comfortable lounge area before heading to dinner.  Get a good night’s sleep to head on to your next adventure to the Graubünden region.

A roughly hour and a half drive to Ober Rofels, Maienfeld, delivers you into Heidi Country.  Though the village of Dörfli is fictional in “Heidi”, it is understood that Johanna Spyri incorporated visions of small hamlet towns bearing likeness to those she visited as a child.  Johanna Spyri writes “From the old and pleasantly situated village of Mayenfeld, a footpath winds through green and shady meadows to the foot of the mountains, which on this side look down from their stern and lofty heights upon the valley below. The land grows gradually wilder as the path ascends, and the climber has not gone far before he begins to inhale the fragrance of the short grass and sturdy mountain-plants, for the way is steep and leads directly up to the summits above.”  Ober Rofels is a picturesque dwelling bearing great likeness to Spyri’s description.  It has genuinely become known to the world as Heididorf (Heidi’s village) where an old house has been made into a museum named Heidhaus (Heidi’s house).  The hearts of those who embrace Spyri’s story will discover immense pleasure in visiting the charming yet no-frills site.  Those who step foot upon the land will gain insight into what it was like to live in a Swiss Alpine home over 100 years ago and to rekindle the true spirit of Heidi.


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Joan A. Suess
6 years ago

Dear D.J. Wilson,
I just read this wonderful account of your trip or just your info sharing about the area of Switzerland. My husband and I are spending 2 weeks in Aug.
this year at Murren and Aeschi. We will be doing day walking tours on our own. I have always loved the movie and story of Heidi so plug in the name
of Ober Rofels to find out where it was located. I glanced down the list of sites offered to look at and chose yours as the first. I have now made
copy of it and hope to take a day and travel there by train if possible. We will not be renting a car on this trip. I hope to connect with your site
after our trip and share some facts if possible. Thank you for sharing your experience of Switzerland on this site.

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