Tuesday 24 May 2016

Torrent Neuf and Interlaken

Switzerland, 20th – 23rd May 2016

Expensive or not, it's definitely beautiful!  Iseltwald village
Every time we’ve mentioned Switzerland in conversation with anyone, we always seemed to get the same response.  “It’s a beautiful country… but expensive.”  We’ve been here over a week now, and while it’s a cost increase on the last few months of living we have found areas where we can control the damage.  Certain things are more expensive (like eating out, where the average main course is 20 Fr+) and fresh bread, fruit and veg, but at least Lidl beer is cheap at 0.90 Fr (€0.82) per litre.  We’re still avoiding vignette roads, and we keep an eye on fuel prices so that when we spotted one that was significantly cheaper than the average we knew to pull in and fill up.  But on Thursday evening after our helicopter entertainment had left, we decided to test a new important area in which we could make savings: Swiss chocolate.

We tested three candidates on the chocolate front; a generic non-Swiss Lidl bar, a 2.30 Fr Lindt bar, and a 0.50 FR Denner (a cheaper Swiss supermarket) bar, all normal milk chocolate.  Matt broke bits of chocolate into similar sized pieces and I had a blind taste test.  I could tell the difference between Swiss and non-Swiss, with the Lidl bar having a slight aftertaste.  The difference between Lindt and Denner was less noticeable; you could just about tell the difference, with the Lindt being perhaps a little creamier and the Denner a bit more sugary, but not a big enough difference to justify the price gap (and Denner actually won the blind taste test!).  Every time we save by not buying a bar of Lindt, we can leave the country with four Denner bars.  Time for a stock up!

After our important chocolate research, the next day we went to check out the walk near our parking, Torrent Neuf.  The walk is only around 6km and follows the path of an old water irrigation channel, making it a flat walk without any physical challenge.  However if you have any reservations when it comes to heights or bridges, then the walk presents a whole new range of mental challenges, as you might be able to tell from the picture below:

Some remains of the old water channel
There are three long suspension bridges during the walk, with the first one you get to being 87m across.  The next bridge is a little longer, and the third bridge doesn’t tell you how long it is but it definitely felt longer again.  The placard by the first bridge had information telling you how many tons the bridge cable, as well as each metal foot section of the bridge, is capable of holding, perhaps to try and reassure users that it’s a sturdy contraption.

Due to the nature of the walk it gets closed during rain or wind, with several gates along the route to bar the path in poor conditions.  The water channel winds around the side of a mountain so to one side you have steep hill and to the other sheer drops.  It’s quite a narrow path, which feels fine when you visit on a quiet day like we did (on a weekday in low season), but there were some tight sections that would leave me very reluctant to visit at a weekend or in the height of summer.  That being said it felt a very different experience to some of the other walks we’ve done, and I’d recommend it to anyone who was in this area of Switzerland, as long as they’re okay with heights!

Beware of Ibex throwing rocks at you, and also artists
placing creepy bear statues just around the corner
A chapel built into the rock near the end of the walk;
Matt rang the bell and it ended up constantly dinging

Unless we paid up for a car-train tunnel (which we worked out to be about 19 Fr more expensive than the extra fuel to avoid it) we had quite a long drive to get around to our next destination Interlaken.  After our walk and some lunch we set off to get most of the driving done before evening, going first through fields of Swiss vineyards and then up into another mountain range (Switzerland is the most mountainous country in Europe after all) before parking up for the night in Boltigen by the side of the road near the village train station (GPS: 46.62788 7.38919), about an hour away from Interlaken.  In the morning we were up and away, (or as close to this as can be achieved when you’re not morning people) by 7am.  We were fuelled partially by the want to get to Interlaken early but perhaps more so by the noise of cars and trucks passing as they set up for some kind of festival next door.  We got away before we outstayed our maximum 12hr timeslot, and carried on further down the road for half an hour, pulling in at another car park to fully wake ourselves up and force some breakfast down.

In terms of vignette avoidance, things got trickier around Interlaken, where the satnav wanted to lead us onto a toll road on the final approach to the town without telling us.  For anyone who is looking to visit Interlaken, I’d like to confirm that despite what technology says there is indeed a toll-free route you can take, but you do need to be very cautious.  The road coming in from the bottom of Lake Thunersee has several sections where it switches to a toll road and you need to divert off and go around.  Wherever this happens there are green road signs and a vignette sign (a green square with a car in) warning you just before the change, but if you’re not on the ball and don’t take the exit you will end up on a toll section, one of which we noticed had cameras immediately at the start point.  Consider your satnav more of a loose guide (ours didn’t recognise some toll sections and also thought some normal roads were toll roads) and stick to the road signs instead, as it’s difficult to end up on a toll-section by mistake as long as you follow the appropriate signs.

After successfully avoiding vignette fines we made it to Camping Alpenblick, which even with ACSI discount came to 28.50 Fr/night (€26/£20) after taxes, but was still significantly less than their standard rate that would’ve been 50 Fr.  It’s earned the top spot as the most expensive campsite we’ve stayed at, just beating our €25.50 stay in Vassiliki during peak season.  That being said, the site (GPS: 46.68040 7.81788) is still cheap by Swiss standards and had some of the poshest bathrooms we’ve seen to date.  Everything was spotless, with no grime around edges of shower curtains or areas needing regrouting spotted anywhere.  In contrast to the many campsites we’ve visited where you wouldn’t dare take your flipflops off in the shower, this one actually had a No Shoes sign outside the cubicles.  There were wall squeegees for each shower and microfiber towels for each sink so you could wipe up after use.

It seems that in Switzerland tourist tax has some form of use to visitors beyond inflating prices; in the case of Interlaken, it gets you a visitor’s card which as well as discounts on some attractions also entitles you to free travel of the area on a large bus network.  We utilised the freebie by foregoing the walk and instead getting a bus from the campsite into Interlaken.

Whoever decided to build a settlement at Interlaken really couldn’t have picked a better location.  It’s situated on the area of flat ground between two lakes (Thunersee and Brienzersee), which are connected by a river with the main town of Interlaken to the south and Unterseen to the north.  It’s all in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains, so the whole place is rather picturesque.  It’s definitely a holiday town today, but feels tastefully done.  There are no tacky high-rises and everywhere is very green, with lots of trees, flowers and shrubbery about.  It’s the kind of place where you can sit outside with a drink and watch the world go by.  The main shopping trade seems to be in the form of chocolatiers, Swiss army knives and expensive watches.  I used to work for a company which among other things was the UK distributor of a major brand of Swiss knife as well as a few brands of Swiss watches, so I had many a nerdy moment spotting product lines as well as pointing out design features on the clocks at the railway station, during which Matt was very patient with me!

Whilst we were splashing out for a campsite, we decided to fully embrace the camping lifestyle by doing all of the things we can’t do when we’re freeparking.  We stuck a load of washing in which was 5.50 Fr a load, but seemed reasonable enough as we could get the clothes airer out rather than having to pay for a dryer.  The outdoor chairs emerged, as did the Cadac BBQ for a round of chicken drumsticks and Bratwürst sausages.  Usually the laptop use is dedicated for important jobs to save power but as we had electricity on tap, I cracked open Photoshop and set to work on a logo design idea Matt had for the website banner.  One thing lead to another and now we’ve given the whole website a facelift, finally replacing what was meant to be a temporary design after a year of use!

We stayed at the campsite for two nights, using the second day to see more of what is a lovely area of the country on the free bus network.  First on the list was Iseltwald, a small village by the lakeside, and second was Wilderswil, a village to the south of Interlaken just before you leave the valley and head into the mountains.  Both were very peaceful places, where the typical Swiss wooden houses were all looked after well and felt like idyllic spots to live.  The wanderlust is still strong in us, but if we were looking for a place to settle down outside of the UK I can see the appeal of an area like this.

After another evening at the campsite getting some outdoor living in, it was time to move on.  We’d had sun scorching weather in Interlaken but it turned off overnight, greeting us with lows of 6 degrees and non-stop rain throughout the next day.  We cut Matt’s hair whilst we still had hook-up and checked out just before twelve, making the short journey into Interlaken for a Lidl stock-up.  Since then we’ve moved north-east, facing another battle to avoid vignette roads until we came to some motorhome parking bays at Giswil.  Beneath the motorhome parking symbol another sign had been erected in German which we ran through Google Translate and were baffled: parking was permitted only during church services and funerals.  We’re struggling to understand how there could possibly be enough demand for motorhome parking for people trying to get to church, but there you go.  We went online to see what else was in the area, which brought us a bit further north to our current spot (GPS: 46.99730 8.30323), a small parking area outside of Luzern overlooking the lake.  We’ve got a great view from our windscreen, but have yet to provide pictures as it’s still raining and showing no signs of letting up yet.

Our next destination has yet to be decided.  We were going to head for Bern but it looks like the only option there is pricey campsites, so we could detour north towards Zurich, or we could crack on east towards Liechtenstein and the south-east skiing area of Switzerland.  Time for some more route planning!

- Jo

P.S. For anyone wondering about my cook less-meat resolution, it’s still going.  I haven’t missed a week yet, and last week we had three vegetable meals in a row and Matt didn’t notice!

The view from our parking near Luzern: the closest town name is Hergiswil


  1. Thanks for posting another fabulous read. It's great to hear your tips and views of your travels. We are hoping to travel Europe in the near future and are gathering up as many blogs as we can to help us plan a fantastic experience. We plan on travelling in a converted VW. Have you come across many people doing this trip in a similar van. We don't have a toilet or shower, but are hoping to make use of as many free camping sites as we can. Looking forward to the next instalment.

    1. Hi, most of the people we've seen travelling long term are in motorhomes or large vans but there are still quite a few VW campers and similar about. We don't know if people in them have just been on holiday or longer term as we've not met any to talk to so far unfortunately.

      We previously had a Vauxhall Vivaro camper so have some experience in smaller vans. It's still possible to get quite a bit of freecamping in but if you can find the space I'd recommend getting a porta potti, it will greatly increase the flexibility of where you can stay. An outdoor solar shower could be a worthwhile purchase too if you'll be spending a lot of time in hot countries, but not as important.

      Good luck with your travels and let us know how you get on, or if you've got any questions :)

  2. Fantastic blog as always , love the new design , we are also are hoping to travel Europe in the future, having all your tip's and information to hand is great .
    Looking forward to your next installment and some more beautiful pictures ☺

    1. Thank you :) Good luck with organising your trip, let us know if there's anything we might be able to help with!

  3. Had a look at 'about us' and now I know who posted this article... I hadn't recognised it at first, with the new website layout. Good job! Oh, wow, those pictures: what a walk! Definitely worth the euros. We will soon be crossing the Channel to visit Cornwall and Devon, and also experiencing expensive camp sites ��... But then again, visiting friends and enjoying beautiful England ... It will be worth it.

    1. Cheers! The Torrent Neuf walk was free which is a bonus. Enjoy your trip to southern England, it's nice down that way, and an area we've still yet to explore

  4. Hi Jo, we visited Interlaken many years ago. We borrowed my in laws caravan and stayed in a lovely campsite with mountain views. Your photos are beautiful and it looks like you had a great time there. I would love to visit it again one day.

    1. It is a very nice scenic area, hope you get back there someday :)