IF ZURICH IS an Armani suit preoccupied with counting its billions of banked Swiss francs, Interlaken is its laid-back and sporty sibling twitching with a go-go outdoorsy vibe. It’s also a place where you’ll see street sanitation workers using a handdrawn cart and a straw broom straight out of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to sweep up any tiny bit of litter.
“I love Interlaken,” Nico says. “Frankly, Interlaken is a playground. Beautiful … simply beautiful. You noticed this?”
It’s hard not to notice. Arriving via Rail Europe train (perfectly on time, of course), we notice paragliders soaring far above us as we walk to our hotel. As they swoop and circle against a backdrop of spectacular mountains, we pass kiosks and shops all offering the opportunity to get out and play.
Canyoning. Glacier walks. Skiing. Sledding. Hiking. Biking down a mountain. Rafting. But quite possibly the coolest of all is something called zorbing. Zorbing requires a mental leap back into childhood, then stepping into a giant transparent plastic ball and rolling down an Alpine meadow at speeds of up to 32 mph.
In the you’re-here-to-have-fun atmosphere that envelops Interlaken, zorbing actually seems like a rational thing to do. Nico enthusiastically agrees with my assessment.
“Yes!” he exclaims. “That’s the spirit of Interlaken. Nobody comes to Interlaken to sit in a hotel room. It would be a sin, I believe.”
Interlaken lies in the shadow of Jungfrau, the 13,462-foot peak that cuts into the Swiss sky like a razor’s edge, and Nico seems pleased when I tell him that we made it to the summit. The fact that we did so via the Jungfraubahn cog railway rather than with crampons and ice axes doesn’t diminish his verve.
“You made it to the top, right?”
“You got off the train halfway up and had authentic hot chocolate, right?”
“You walked on top of one of the prettiest mountains in the Swiss Alps, right?”
“And you got off the train again on the way down and ate lunch” in one of the picturesque villages that dot the mountainside?
“Then you can go home and say you truly experienced Interlaken!”
We drink to that too.