A Weekend Away: Engelberg, Switzerland

Our plan derailed almost immediately.  A few days in Zurich, followed by a weekend in Wengen and the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  Perfect.  What we didn’t know?  The small mountain towns in Switzerland essentially shut down from the end of October until the start of ski season in December.  My initial emails and calls to Wengen, Grindelwald and Murren revealed a total of one open hotel for the weekend.  We pictured empty streets, closed shops and very few open restaurants.     Thankfully, friends suggested a visit to Engelberg and all was saved.   I gathered dinner from the Coop store across the street from the Zurich train station on Friday night…roast chicken, salads, beer for The Mister and a little bottle of red wine for me.  Perfect.  We bought our tickets from the machines in the station and we were off. I was a little disappointed to travel at night and miss the scenery along the way, but…I was more disappointed that I forgot to bring a cup for my wine.  I needed something to wash down half of a very dry roast chicken and ended up swigging out of the bottle when no-one was looking.    Very classy.  One has to make do.

I love the Swiss trains…fast, clean, efficient. It makes you wonder why we can’t have decent train service in the States.  We made it to Engleberg in 2.5 hours with one train change in Luzerne. We rolled our suitcases around the corner from the little station in Engelberg and checked into our hotel, The Spannort. I can’t say enough nice things about this hotel. The front desk was incredibly welcoming and helpful, the rooms were comfortable, and modern with a traditional Swiss vibe.  Best of all was the view when I woke up in the morning!

The Mister and I couldn’t resist a gondola ride to Mt. Titlis, so we walked over to the gondola station and stood in line with the skiers, snowboarders and not-dressed-for-the-mountaintop tourists in heels. The ride to the top is as spectacular as the view from the top.

The final gondola (there are three total in the trip to the top) rotates slowly to provide a 360 degree perspective. The ride up was too crowded to take any pictures, but the ride down was virtually empty and provided lots of opportunity to click away without anyone’s head/skis/fuzzy hat in the way.

The summit station had a “glacier walk”, where you could walk through (you guessed it) a glacier, a movie theater with a short film about the mountain, a few gift shops and two restaurants/cafes.  Was it touristy?  Yes, if you wanted it to be.  The Mister and I spent most of our time outside, watching the skiers hit the slopes and the tourists (clearly some had never seen snow) slide down the small hills in their street clothes and throw snowballs at each other.  We also found a few quiet corners to absorb the majesty of it all…

The ride to the bottom offered a different perspective.  Can you imagine what it would be like to live and work in a place like Engelberg?  I’m not sure I would get anything done. I’d be staring out the window every minute of every day.

We left the gondola and walked back into town to Kloster Engelberg, a Benedictine Monastery founded in 1120.

The monastery offers guided tours once or twice a day, depending on the season.  We walked the grounds, visited the flower shop

and the dairy.  I watched the cheese-making demonstration while The Mister chose a cheese for a mid-day snack.  I also ate some fabulous monastery gelato, which is calorie free since it is made by monks.

The monastery church is open to the public. We happened to walk in during organ practice, which added to the experience.  The spectacular interior took me by surprise after seeing the churches in Zurich.  All are lovely in their own way, but the interior of this church was stunning.

It was mid-afternoon and my gelato was wearing off…time for lunch.  There were quite a few places in town for a meal, but our hotel recommended taking a more traditional “Swiss” gondola to a cafe for a light lunch and a glass of wine.  We walked 10 minutes along a lovely hiking path to the Ristis/Brunni cable car and ended up eating a nice lunch at the restaurant half-way up.  We planned to hike back down to Engelberg, but ended up sitting on the sunny deck for a few hours with a plate full of food and a beer in each hand.  Next time.

We made it down to the bottom (by cable car, I’m embarrassed to say) in time for a long walk in the valley.  We didn’t get very far. We  were distracted at every turn by beautiful mountain vistas, bell-laden, picture-perfect Swiss cows and endless picture-taking opportunities.  We were also inspired by this verrrryyy elderly couple walking home after hiking in the mountains all day.  Wouldn’t that be a blessing at any age?

Things to know:

It is worth investigating the Swiss Pass/Half-Fare Pass if you plan on doing multiple gondola rides and various forms of transportation.  The big, tourist gondolas are expensive!  Check here for options…http://www.swiss-pass.ch/    If you decide the Swiss Pass isn’t a good option for you, most of the hotels will give you a small discount card to use for various venues in town.  Check with your hotel.

Check the weather before heading up the mountain.  Our Swiss friends told us that we had been extremely lucky to have a perfect day on the mountain.  I can’t imagine how disappointing it would be to pay for an expensive gondola ride and not see a thing at the top.

The smaller gondolas offer a spectacular view OF the mountains.  And beer.  And decent food!  Consider these a good option if you don’t have the time/money/inclination to go to the top of Titlis.

The October 31  to December is slow season in Switzerland.  While there were plenty of things  to enjoy in Engelberg, there were still a number of hotels and restaurants closed for refurbishment and/or breaks.  We had everything we needed, but check before you go!

There is a property boom everywhere in Switzerland.  We finally asked someone what the tall, flagged posts were all over town.  They are surveyors stakes.  Everywhere.  If you have the cash, now is the time to buy 🙂