Here’s why Grindelwald should be on your list of ‘winter places to see before you die.’
Grindel what? That was the top reaction when I told friends I was planning to go to Grindelwald, Switzerland. The second reaction was, “Isn’t that Dumbledore’s lover from The Fantastic Beasts movies?”
Planning a trip to work remotely for a month and a half in Europe, from December 2023 to January 2024, gives you 44 sovereign states on an entire continent to choose from. Pinning down which countries to visit for a practical itinerary is crucial. There are flights to consider, trains and buses that connect countries, and parts of the continent that make sense to explore in one trip.
In the end—and after many combinations and changes—I chose five countries and Switzerland was one of them. Basel for the art and flying purposes; Grindelwald for the adventure.
The EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg sits on two countries and is operated by both Switzerland and France—and you can choose which exit to take.
It is one of very few airports in the world that has two borders. Geneva is another one. While Geneva Airport is on Swiss territory, it can be accessed from Meyrin (France) and Grand-Saconnex (Switzerland), which is part of the greater Geneva area. Mexico’s Tijuana airport terminal also has the US side via the CBX Bridge to enter or exit San Diego.
Since I was going to France’s Alsace region first, I took the EuroAirport’s French exit and from there the bus to St. Louis train station (not to be confused with St. Louis-la Chaussee as I did when buying a ticket online). After three days in Colmar, I took the train to Basel, stayed for three days to explore the Christmas markets, the Rhine and Kunstmuseum, and then took two trains to Grindelwald.
Getting to Grindelwald
Switzerland’s train system is like its banking system: it’s designed to work for everyone but it’s expensive. A roundtrip ticket from Basel to Grindelwald costs 150 Swiss francs (P9,882). Since I was staying for six days in Switzerland and in only two places, the six-day Swiss Pass priced at CHF394 (P25,958) wasn’t worth it. If you were staying only a night each in several cities, sure it is, but not if only in two.
Operated by the SBB (Schweizerische Bundesbahnen), the trains run like clockwork. They’ve worked it out to the last detail—that detail being the minimum amount of time you get to change platforms in a busy station and hop on to your connecting train.
If you’re coming from Basel and other parts of Switzerland, your high-speed train will connect at Interlaken Ost in the canton of Bern (not to be confused with Interlaken West), and from there you hop on the regional train for Grindelwald Terminal. Going to Grindelwald, I had six minutes to change trains; going back to Basel, I had exactly four minutes and was unfortunately seated at the part farthest to the underground to get to the next platform.
Within those four minutes, I had only one thought repeatedly running in my head as I half-ran wheeling a squeaky suitcase: Shit, I’m not gonna make it.
But I did make it with about 30 seconds to spare. That wasn’t by happenstance. The SBB engineers probably sat around the table when drawing up the train schedules and said, “How much time will an out-of-shape traveler need to take her luggage from the rack, get off the train, walk fast to the underground and up again on the other side, and get her ass on the next train?”
Unfortunately, I got my ass in the front car of the train, which turned out to be first class. In my haste it didn’t occur to me that it was so much nicer and therefore it must be first class. I just thought, “Well done, you Swiss people!”
When the conductor told me I was seated in the wrong car, she asked if I wanted to pay the fare difference, I said no. Normally, she said, you’re automatically fined CHF75 (P4,950) if you sit in first class holding a second-class ticket. But since I obviously made a mistake and it wasn’t intentional, she said, I just needed to go to the right section, which was five cars down. It felt like a walk of shame: head down, still drunk and aching all over from the exertion.
A tip when traveling solo by train in Switzerland or anywhere in Europe: bring only a small suitcase (I left my big one in my Airbnb in Budapest). In most cities, the train stations are huge and the platforms are on different levels. With only a few minutes to change, expect to be running and panting. You won’t miss your train, but you will feel like you are having a heart attack.
Also, these trains will leave and arrive when they damn well are scheduled to leave and arrive—not a minute later. When my friends Richard and Von stopped by Basel to have dinner with me, they were coming from Zermatt on their way to Zurich. I asked Richard, “What time are you arriving?”
He messaged, “ETA 5:32 pm.” Then he added, “Who are we kidding? We know we’ll arrive exactly at 5:32.”
Of course they did.
Mt. Eiger from the village center
Hemingway, who once lived in a Swiss chalet in Montreux, was right. The hotels in Switzerland, especially in the Swiss Alps, are “built on the cuckoo clock style of architecture.” He was also right when he said it’s a “steep country much more up and down than sideways.”
That elegant prose notwithstanding, you get both at Grindelwald. Located in the Bernese Oberland, Grindelwald is surrounded by several mountains: Eiger, Männlichen, Jungfrau, Faulhorn, Schwarzhorn, Wellhorn, Wetterhorn, Mettenberg, Schreckhorn, Lauteraarhorn, Agassizhorn, Fiescherhorn, Lauberhornand Mönch (the highest).
If Zermatt has the famous Matterhorn, Grindelwald has Mt. Eiger in the Bernese Alps. The mountain is the village’s logo, it’s what draws people to Grindelwald. A view of Eiger from your hotel room is a difference of a few thousand pesos more—and it’s worth it.
You can see Mt. Eiger from anywhere in the village. Some of the best photos I took during my three days there are from my hotel room balcony and the bus parking lot in town.
Eiger is the main pointy thing in the alps that looms over you, all 3,967 meters of it. It makes you feel like you parachuted into the middle of a winter storybook that children read at Christmas in front of a fire while sipping hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows.
From Grindelwald Terminal, you can go to Holenstein and Männlichenn for P2,565 (above) or Jungfrauhoch or the Top of Europe for P11,450. More chalets from the edge of the villageThe author on the cable car
Looking at the snow-capped alps and below them the chalets nestled in the valleys, flickering yellow when evening settles, you’re suddenly in the middle of a winter postcard where snow hangs on leafless trees and your boots make crunchy sound on the snow-covered streets. It’s as far removed from life in the Philippines as it can be—and it’s worth experiencing for a few days.
From Grindelwald Terminal, you can go to Jungfrauhoch, nicknamed the Top of Europe, or the highest railway station in Europe. It costs CHF174 (P11,450) and will take half a day to see all the attractions, which include the Sphinx observation deck to see the peaks of Eiger and Mönch, as well as the whole Aletsch Glacier (the largest in the alps); go skiing, sledding and ziplining at the Snow Fun Park even during summer; visit the Alpine Sensation or the 250-meter-long walkway that connects the Sphinx Hall and Ice Palace with ice sculptures and an enormous snow globe at the end; and shop all the Lindt chocolates you want, among other things.
I didn’t do Jungfrauhoch (did I mention it costs P11k?), but the staff at my hotel recommended that I take the cable car to Männlichen mountain (CHF39 or P2,565) from Grindelwald Terminal, which makes a stop halfway at Holenstein. The cable cars can accommodate 10 people, but since it wasn’t the weekend, I had one cable car to myself going up and down.
From here, you have magnificent views of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. I don’t do winter sports, but the mountain has a restaurant on top at 2,230 meters, which gives someone not skiing something to do.
It was a cold but sunny day, a perfect day for skiers who were gracefully navigating the slopes. Even from a distance, you can hear their skis carving elegant arcs in the snow amid such breathtaking scenery.
If you do winter sports, you can spend a week in Grindelwald and it would probably still not be enough to play on the slopes. If you don’t, three days is just right in winter (in the summer, when snow gives way to green grass, hiking and climbing Mt. Eiger are popular activities). The small village center is what you might expect from a village: a supermarket, limited cafes and restaurants (most are in hotels), a sundries shop, one or two boutiques, a gas station, and a parking lot. All around is breathtaking beauty.
And that’s the word for Grindelwald: breathtaking. Sitting on my balcony just watching the winter landscape, the fog slowly lifting in the morning or the trains making their way uphill into town, I would catch my breath at the beauty of it all.