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Switzerland has an illustrious tradition of fine hotels that achieve a high standard of comfort. You’ll also find many small hotels, welcoming inns, and historic hotels throughout Switzerland. But for the Swiss some of the most treasured hotels are hidden away in remote alpine valleys or on mountaintops inaccessible by car. They are a distinctive type of accommodation known as a Berghotel, also referred to as Berghaus or Berggasthaus. “Berg” is the German word for “mountain,” so these inns are “Mountain Hotels” or “Mountain Guesthouses.” If your travel plans in Europe include some hiking in the Swiss Alps, make certain you include at least one night in a traditional Swiss Berghotel.
These mountain inns are beloved by the Swiss--a national institution of sorts. They are simple accommodations in spectacular mountain settings. Berghotels offer both private rooms and one or more large dormitories or a Matrazenlager. They have a large dining room where you can generally order a la carte or enjoy the set menu for the evening meal.
Berghotels are a step up from Swiss Alpine Club huts which rarely offer private rooms. Berghotels are privately owned and operated and usually open during a short summer season. Most Berghotels are over a hundred years old and are typically on the shabby and tattered end of the rating scale, but they are filled with traditional alpine charm and authenticity. They have creaky wooden floors, and a limited menu. Some have electricity others do not. And if not, there will be a candle on your bedside table to provide a flicker of light to read by before you go to bed. You’ll have a basin and filled water pitcher in your room, along with a hand towel, but the shared bathroom is down the hall. And don’t plan on having a shower or tub in the bathroom.
There’s nothing similar to a Berghotel in the States, and probably hasn’t been for over 80 years. They are a uniquely Swiss institution and many Swiss will walk miles on a remote mountain trail in the rain to spend a night at a Berghotel. What makes them so cherished by the Swiss are their breathtaking locations and spectacular views. Many are on mountaintops, by a lakeside, overlooking immense valleys, glaciers, or plunging waterfalls.
There is no directory of Berghotels in the Swiss Alps, and some are unknown to Trip Advisor. Some of them don’t have phones or email and making reservation can be a bit of a challenge. These charming mountain guesthouses are generally known only to locals--and even then only to those who make a point to get up into the mountains. So what we share here is a bit of a secret—a list of our favorites:
The Jungfrau Region is one of the most widely visited outdoor areas in Europe. Each year millions of visitors come by the train and busload to see the glistening peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, along with the highest concentration of glaciers in the Alps. So getting off the tourist trail and experiencing these natural wonders in undisturbed solitude is rare.
The Berghotel Obersteinberg is located in the remote upper Lauterbrunnen Valley, about 3 hours on a steep footpath beyond the last bus stop at the town of Stechelberg. After ascending 2850 vertical feet you arrive at the Berghotel Obersteinberg (5,830), set just at the timberline, leaving some spectacular views unobstructed. The best views include the glaciated west face of the Jungfrau, Schmadri Falls and other towering peaks of the Bernese Alps.
The main building dates to the 1880s and houses the kitchen and a dining room where they serve a wonderfully hearty dinner every evening. On the second floor are several twin-bedded rooms with a bathroom down the hall. An adjacent and much newer building has more rooms with a dormitory in the rear. There is no electricity on site and each guest receives a comfortable bed, a pitcher of cold water and a basin on the counter, and a nightstand topped with a candle. There is a flush toilet on each floor but no shower facilities and no hot water.
Next to the hotel is a small cluster of farm buildings where every morning the farmer makes alp cheese over an open fire from the milk of about 15 cows that graze on the nearby slopes. You’re welcome to watch this purely authentic process if time permits. The Berghotel Obersteinberg is the ideal overnight outing from Mürren or Lauterbrunnen and receives our top recommendation for a Berghotel in the Oberland and Jungfrau Region.
Just 15 minutes down the trail toward Stechelberg from Obersteinberg is the smaller, less well-known, Berghotel Tschingelhorn. It offers the same old Victorian charm as the Berghotel Obersteinberg with one important difference--the power line makes it as far as the Berghotel Tschingelhorn, so they have electricity while Obersteinberg does not.
The Berghotel Tschingelhorn, while at a lower elevation than Obersteinberg is also above the treeline, so the views across the valley are comparable. Because it has electricity and is served by a small freight tram, you’ll find a little more comfort, hot showers, and more variety from the kitchen.
Built in 1830, the Berghotel Faulhorn is the oldest mountain hotel in Switzerland. It’s set on a rounded peak at 8803 feet elevation on a ridgeline overlooking the Brienzersee to the north and the Grindelwald Valley and the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau to the south. Franz Liszt, Mark Twain, Richard Wagner, and Henry James all spent the night here and enjoyed the same commanding views into Germany on the north and the Pennine Alps to the south.
The Berghotel Faulhorn has six private rooms decked out in Victorian style, and a large dormitory. It’s a popular destination for dayhikers who come to enjoy a midday snack and drink on the terrace. By late afternoon things quiet down considerably, and then dinner is served in the small dining room.
The summit of the Faulhorn is most easily reached on a two hour hike starting at the top of the First gondola station above Grindelwald. It can also be accessed from Schynige Platte or Bussalp. On site power is supplied by solar panels, propane gas, wood stoves, and fuel oil. Rain water is captured in barrels and an additional limited supply is pumped up from a small permanent snowfield below the summit. But water is still in very short supply. An overnight stay at the Berghotel Faulhorn is popular option for guests on our self-guided Jungfrau tours.
Eastern Switzerland’s Alpstein Mountains, a subrange of the Alps, and are defined by jagged ridgelines and lofty spires. The mountains rise sharply from the rolling farmland and alpine meadows Appenzell, the most rural of Switzerland’s cantons.
Berggasthauses dot the Alpstein mountains, which makes an inn-to-inn hiking vacation in the Alpstein easy and thoroughly enjoyable. Some of the berggasthauses are set on ridgelines (Staubern, Rotsteinpass, and Tierwies) others on mountaintops (Alter Santis), and one on a cliff face (the popular Äscher).
One that perfectly combines a remote lakeside setting with a high standard of comfort (private rooms with ensuite bathrooms, electricity and hot water are Berggasthaus Bollenwees on the idyllic Fälensee, a deep alpine fjord. The only thing to compare to the setting is the spectacular hike from Hoher Kasten through the Saxer Lücke that brings you to Bollenwees. Bollewees is especially popular on weekends during the short summer season, so make reservations well in advance.
Located in an alpine basin at an elevation of 6020 feet, Engstlenalp was built in the 1860s and still retains all of its Victorian appeal, even though it’s accessible by car and has the advantage of a reliable electric and water supply.
Even though you can arrive by car from Innertkirchen, Engstlenalp is set along a scenic route between Engelberg and Meiringen, and arriving on foot from either side makes your stay all the more welcoming. On the west, you’ll have views of the Wetterhorn in the Bernese Alps and on the east Mount Titlis in the Uri Alps. With entertainment on many weekends and working farms and cheesemaking on site, Engstlealp is has a busier, more lively demeanor than some other Berghotels, but nothing that detracts from it restful and relaxing setting.
Not to be outdone by the alpine tradition of their German-speaking countrymen, the French-speaking Swiss on the western side of the country have some mountain hotels to write home about. They don’t call them Berghotels--just hotels--but the superb mountain settings and traditional hospitality are every bit as charming.
The Hotel Weisshorn sits high above the spacious Val d’Anniviers and gazes down into the Rhone Valley. At an elevation of 7667 feet and above treeline the views are inspiring and watching the mountain weather and sunsets over the Rhone are entertainment enough.
Built in 1883, the wooden structure was destroyed by a fire in 1887. Rebuilt in stone in 1891, the hotel resumed operation but changed ownership several times before being abandoned in 1966. In disrepair, the roof blew off in the storm in 1991. Since then the hotel has undergone continued renovations, while still maintaining its stately appeal--and a view that never loses it’s appeal.
Nowhere are the views better than from the dining room with its panoramic windows. And the cuisine is superb both at lunch on the terrace and for dinner in the dining room. Plan on about a 1½ to 2 hour hike up from St Luc.