We are travelling in three stages from the source of the Aare river to Lake Biel. With a length of 295 kilometres, this longest river in Switzerland flows through wild mountain landscapes, crosses mystical gorges and swings around the Swiss capital in an elegant arc before meandering through the Seeland and into Lake Biel.
You will enjoy the many scenic highlights along the Aare and see something of Switzerland’s most authentic side. We will add to the excitement of this adventure by using different modes of transport along each stage: From the source to Brienz we use public transport, from Thun to Bern we sail in a rubber dinghy and then we cycle from Bern to Biel.
Following the Aare river – stage 1
From its source in the Aare Glaciers to Brienz
From its source in the heart of the glacier landscape at Finsteraarhorn to turquoise Lake Brienz – on the first stage of our journey along the Aare river you will see the mountains up close, cross a dramatic gorge and marvel at a spectacular waterfall. We also follow Sherlock's footsteps and look over the shoulders of some of the woodcarvers in Brienz.
For the first stage, the best way to go is by public transport. This will introduce you to some of Switzerland’s typical modes of transport – post buses, funiculars, ships and trains.
Grimselwelt: Seeking the source
The best way to visit the source of the Aare river is via the Grimsel Hospiz. It’s best to set off early in the morning, take the bus in Innertkirchen to the remarkable historic hotel with the red shutters, enjoy a coffee and cake and prepare for the subsequent 2 hour and 15 minute hike towards Oberaar. From the Grimsel Hospiz hotel, the Oberaar cable car whisks visitors across Lake Grimsel to Lake Oberaar. During the two-section 30-minute journey, experience the breathtaking mountain and granite landscape from a wholly new perspective. From the Berghaus restaurant and inn, the journey then takes 2 hours along the Lake Oberaar to the Oberaar Glacier and back. In this area, the Aare river starts its 295-km journey to Koblenz, where it then flows into the Rhine. Because the source of the river lies inside the glacier, it remains hidden from hikers’ views. However, the view of the dramatic glacier landscape with its jagged rocks, monochrome colours and numerous rivulets, streams and waterfalls is more than ample reward. The Oberaar cable car then transports visitors back to the starting point, the Grimsel Hospiz. Hike to the Oberaar Glacier
Grimselwelt: A pure adventure
It is very worthwhile to spend more than a day in the fascinating Grimselwelt area. There is so much to discover here. Attractions include the mighty dam in the Aare valley built in the 1950’s, and the power station turbines that run at full capacity day and night inside the mountain. The most exciting experience is a ride on the Gelmerbahn funicular. On the short route up to the Lake Gelmersee it climbs a gradient of up to 106 percent. The red little train slowly crawls up the slope – giving you goosepimples as you look down into the valley far below. Once at your destination, the landscape around the Lake Gelmersee is perfect for a leisurely walk, and later, after just as steep a descent, you catch the post bus back to the valley. Gelmerbahn funicular
Innertkirchen: Experience the drama of the Aare Gorge
On its way from the Grimselwelt down to Lake Brienz, the Aare river flows through the Haslital. At the lower part of the valley it has eroded its way through the Kirchet, a rock formation which otherwise would block its path. Over the millennia, the water has eroded a 1.4 kilometre-long path up to 200 metres deep through the rock, known as the Aare Gorge. Today, well-constructed walkways have made this dramatic watercourse through the rock accessible in parts, even for strollers and wheelchairs. The walk through the gorge takes about 45 minutes. The journey back to Meiringen on the Meiringen-Innertkirchen railway takes a mere quarter of an hour.
Meiringen: Walking to the Reichenbach Falls in the footsteps of Sherlock
Strictly speaking, the Reichenbach Falls and the Aare river don’t have a lot in common – apart from both consisting of water. But if you are passing through Meiringen, on no account should you miss witnessing the spectacular roar of the seven waterfalls, which together form a three-hundred-metre-high cascade. Another must is a trip aboard the nostalgic Reichenbach Falls funicular, which has been transporting visitors to these parts since 1899. The view from the observation deck at the top of this raging water spectacle, where once the famous struggle between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Moriarty, took place, is quite spectacular. This is followed by a ride on the Zentralbahn, which takes you back to Brienz in only 11 minutes.
Reichenbach Falls funicular
Brienz: Looking over the shoulders of the woodcarvers
In Brienz, the Aare river disgorges itself into the lake and then continues its way towards Lake Thun. Before boarding the ship and sailing through the picture-perfect scenery to Thun, you really should spend a few hours in Brienz watching the local woodcarvers at work. The woodcarving tradition has been a part of Brienz life for generations now. Woodcarvers were being trained in Brienz back in the 19th century, and their work is exhibited in the Swiss Woodcarving Museum. This tradition is still very much alive in Brienz today, as is evidenced by the various shops in the village, where you can look over the shoulders of these experts as they are working.
Swiss Woodcarving Museum (German)