Welcome back to Ask a Local, a series of posts in which I interview locals all over the world about what to see, where to go, what to eat, and how to fit in in their city or town.
Today, in celebration of my new Switzerland guide, where you can find 350 pages of interviews like this one, I’m happy to introduce you to Julie Paterson, an entrepreneur, tour leader, and outdoor enthusiast who spends half her year in Interlaken, Switzerland (and the other half leading tours in wild places like Africa).
Hi Julie! First, tell us about you.
I am a Kiwi nomad who has been spending the summers in Switzerland for nearly 20 years now. My “other” summer (the northern hemisphere’s winter) I spend leading tours to exotic destinations like Morocco, Egypt, India, or Africa.
When I’m in Switzerland, I work in adventure tourism in Interlaken, a lively summer tourist town, for a company that organizes rafting, canyoning, bungee jumping, and other crazy adventures. For the rest of the year, I run my own com-pany taking women-only tours to all sorts of destinations, from Morocco to India and anything in between.
When I have free time, I head for the hills, mountain biking, hiking, sea kayaking—really, doing anything that involves nature and exercise.
What should first-time visitors to Interlaken make sure to do and see?
I definitely recommend hiking: It’s so easy to find your way around the Swiss mountains, the trails are great and well sign-posted, and there are restaurants or huts all over the place so you don’t have to carry a lot.
Another favorite activity is canyoning: It is something you can’t do everywhere in the world and there are different levels to suit everyone. Also, it’s interactive and you feel like you have personally achieved something at the end of your trip.
For something less active (if you want it to be), go to Gimmelwald. Stay the night or even just for lunch. It’s a classic Swiss mountain village, complete with cows, geraniums, and a stack of huge, glacier-covered mountains to stare at while you eat. It’s breathtaking.
Finally, hire a mountain bike and ride from Interlaken up to Lauterbrunnen. Its nice to travel the slow road, to be off the trains, and to smell the forest, hear the river, be in the moment, and take in the scenery as the mountains open up before you.
What are some of Interlaken and the region’s hidden gems?
Grab an e-bike and ride up the mountain to Beatenberg from Interlaken, across to Sigriswil, and along the lake back to Interlaken. It’s a nice workout and will take you through gor-geous towns and great scenery on an interestingly narrow, winding road.
Go on an overnight hike. Leave your main luggage at your accommodation, take just what you need for the night (drink bottle, snacks, money, camera) in a daypack, and go stay at one of the many mountain huts in the area. You can buy food at the hut and blankets are provided, so you don’t need anything really. Nothing beats a night under a starry sky high up in the mountains. [Editor’s note: for most alpine huts, you’ll need to book ahead, so plan a bit before you go.]
Where should people stay while they’re visiting Interlaken?
Spend a night or two in Interlaken and get your fill of adventures. Then head up to Gimmelwald or even to a mountain hut for a night in the mountains.
Where are some of your favorite places to hike or walk?
In addition to Gimmelwald, I’d recommend taking the train from Wilderswil to Kleine Scheidegg and hiking from Kleine Scheidegg to First and then on to Grindelwald. You will be walking toward stunning mountain views all day. Take a good lunch, as this is at least a five-hour excursion.
Another nice hike, which takes a couple hours one-way, is from Grindelwald to the Bäregghütte (hut). Take the cable car to Pfingstegg and hike to the hut. Have lunch in front of the glacier or, better still, stay the night and enjoy the serenity of the mountains.
What dishes or drinks should people try here?
The area is also known for its meringues with cream. And if you’re staying put for the night, get yourself a coffee with some schnapps in it. These have different names, from pflümlischumli to kaffeefertig, and they can all be a nice nightcap.
What are your favorite three bars or restaurants in the area?
Switzerland is not known for its culinary delights and figuring out where to take my foreign friends for dinner is always a dilemma. That said, I do frequent The Three Tells, an Irish pub with outside seating (at Hauptstrasse 49 in Matten, a suburb of Interlaken). It’s great for an evening beer in the sun.
Another personal favorite is The Ox, which has good food and good service (address: Marktgasse 10). And my third pick would be Das Bierhaus (at Postgasse 3) for a great selection of beers, ciders, and other drinks.
Switzerland has a reputation for being expensive. Any budget tips?
You only live once. Pay the credit card bill off when you get home and enjoy! (Okay, okay, if you really want some tips, note that one of the cheapest restaurants in town is Hooters, which is more of a family restaurant here in Interlaken because of the prices, rather than a sleazy bar like in the US.)
What’s the best way to meet locals and make friends?
Go to the metro bar at Balmer’s (at Hauptstrasse 23 in Matten) where locals are looking to meet.
Where are the best places to take an iconic photo of your town/area?
Hike up the Harder Kulm. This is the closest hike to Interlaken and offers great views over both lakes and the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau peaks.
Anything else you want to share?
You’ll find something to do for everyone and, in the evening, when the sun is setting over the mountains, there is no better place to be than the big park in the middle of town watching the Jungfrau’s glaciers glow pink as the sun goes down.
Love this? Get 99 more interviews in my new guide: Switzerland: 100 Locals Tell You Where to Go, What to Hike, & How to Fit In.