Here is a mountain lake with a special draw: Lake Lauenen near Gstaad. I have recently spent a summer weekend at Hotel Alpenland nearby, and I never realized how much I actually needed this experience.
To understand what it feels like by the evergreen mountain lake, consider the famous 1982 song by the Bernese rock band, Span. It is entitled “Louenesee”, the lake’s name in the local dialect.
"I weiss no guet wo'n I ar Sunne bi gsässe, wit awäg vom Lärm vo der Stadt. I weiss no guet wie 'n I ha chönne vergässe, dert hinger bim Louenesee."
Why Lake Lauenen is a "must see" destination
The song is about escaping city life and coming up to Lake Lauenen in the Bernese Alps. As this is where you can calm down, spend quality time in nature, recharge and think to yourself: I should be coming here more often!
Perhaps the reason why this song made a splash among the Swiss is a simple truth: it is close to reality. Ever since the song’s release, the idyllic lake surrounded by 3k mountain peaks and green forests has become a destination.
On the last summer weekend of 2020, I take my better half with me to follow the invitation of Hotel Alpenland. This will be our chance to explore the pristine Lauenen valley once more.
Hotel Alpenland is the activity hub of the Lauenen valley
We start our weekend with a relaxed afternoon at the hotel. Alpenland is more than just a hotel to Lauenen, it is the beating heart. They organize events and activities for the guests and locals, there is a buzzing restaurant, and it is the perfect hub for hiking, alpine skiing and cross-country skiing.
As we enter our room, we get enveloped by a fresh scent of wood. By 2020, Hotel Alpenland completed a major renovation and now boasts elegant rooms in alpine modern style. As part of the renovation, much of it involving local craftsmen, the hotel placed importance on the quality of materials.
The iconic Lauenen mountain panorama bedboards are custom-made by local carpenters:
When you hardly have to leave your room to experience a place, it speaks volumes for the location of a hotel. During our stay, we often use the balcony as a vantage point for birdwatching in the nearby moorland meadows.
We never miss those intense sunsets over the mountains from our room's balcony. And one morning, we even witness a small alpine descent in the center of the village… Right from our balcony!
A guided mushroom picking experience at Lake Lauenen
Our Lauenen adventure is as local as can be. Since we have not planned what to do during the weekend, we seek advice from Sonja, the cheerful receptionist. For those booking on the hotel’s website, Alpenland will organize activities for free, such as guided walks, climbing adventures or a visit to the rope park. We are in for a special seasonal activity: mushroom picking with a local.
Meet Christian, a born-and-raised Lauener who knows every nook and cranny of this place.
After seeing the world as far as Dubai and Nepal, he is proud to call the most beautiful place of them all his home. He is a craftsman and as it turns out, Christian was in charge of giving our hotel a new paint job as part of the facelift.
During fall, he supplies mushrooms to Alpenland's restaurant which prides in serving local ingredients. Being a hunter, Christian knows every tree and hill around the area, so we trust him while going off-trail.
Christian has already thought up a path for us. There will not only be mushrooms en route, but also stunning views over the valley and the lake.
Time flies as we talk with “Chrigu” about everything, from the life of Swiss alpine farmers and the Chäseteilete to the pros and cons of 5G or creating an Instagram profile. Our guide might be living surrounded by high valley walls, but he tries to "flatten" the mountains and broaden the horizon by talking to his guests.
The result of our five-hour mushroom safari is 2.38 kg of chanterelles and a few beautiful porcinis. What a joy it was to strike gold!
The best part? That same night, we get to eat our own mushrooms in the form of a risotto prepared by Hotel Alpenland's chef.
Our risotto is accompanied by a Swiss white from Yvorne. For dessert, we go with a local farmer’s ice cream. We sleep sound that night, knowing that our food was locally sourced.
Things to know about mushroom picking in Switzerland
Coming from the north, I love mushroom picking – it allows you to roam free in nature. Here in Switzerland, it is also possible. But it is important to be aware of some things:
- Before you do mushroom picking on your own, make sure to check the amount allowed to pick in your area.
- Learn about the type of mushrooms you want to pick. Some of the most common mushrooms are morels, porcini and chanterelles.
- Be aware that in some cantons, it is not allowed to pick mushrooms during the first 10 days of the month as they let the mushrooms recover.
- After you are finished, make sure to visit the nearest Pilzkontrolle. At no charge or for a few Swiss francs, they will check the weight of the mushrooms and double-check if you have not accidentally picked poisonous ones.
- From September until October is generally the best time to go mushroom picking.
- For mushroom picking, you will need a knife, a cloth bag or a basket, another bag for wild raspberries or lingonberries, sturdy, waterproof shoes and long clothes to protect you from scratches and insects.
- To locate any mushrooms, look for shady, moist areas in or near a forest.
And finally, keep in mind that sometimes, it is that extra effort that pays off...
It is time to take off our hiking boots and go for a swim in Lake Lauenen.
Because really, what could be better than taking a dip after a hot day of walking? My answer: taking a dip into waters with a view!
If you spot people swimming in Lake Lauenen, you will most likely see them with their heads turned around. The background of the lake offers Lord of the Rings-worthy views with a waterfall centerpiece. As a natural power spot in Switzerland, the Swiss have recognized Lake Lauenen as a great place to recharge one's batteries long before Span “discovered” it.
Another way to enjoy Lake Lauenen is to rent a boat from the nearby restaurant.
For 12 Swiss francs an hour, you get a priceless experience. You will glide over the transparent waters with schools of fish underneath, trees and mountains reflecting off the calm surface.
It is close to sunset time and the sun has finally turned mild. It glitters in sparkles across the water, stroking our cheeks. The temperature feels perfect, both physically and mentally. I know at this moment that this will be one of those lasting memories where you return to when seeking for inner peace.
After this eventful day, we once more go out on the balcony. Out here, the sky is so dark and without light pollution, we can see the Milky Way!
The next day is cloudy and rainy outside, so we scratch our hiking plans. Among the many trails, we hear that the hike to Geltenhütte is one the most impressive hikes from here. Imagine passing by a roaring waterfall and walking through an enclosed valley...
And when I check my smartphone, it is still 2020. Time to get back to reality, but there are some awesome little things to look forward to despite the pandemic. In fact, traveling in Switzerland during COVID-19 times can add a bit of luxury to your hotel stay: a rich breakfast served in our room, or the sauna that has been warmed up and reserved for especially for us.
3782 Lauenen bei Gstaad
Phone: +41 33 765 55 66
(For the purpose of this review, Hotel Alpenland has extended two nights in a double room, incl. half board and activities.)