I would be kicking off my European travels for 2022 in similar fashion to my US trip at the start of the year – heading for colder climates and mountain scenery. Meiringen is a small Swiss town nestled in a river valley in the Alps, located between Lucerne and Interlaken. For a number of years it’s been host to the opening event of the IFSC climbing world cup season – back in 2020 I’d planned to attend a few of these, but COVID largely wiped the schedule. 2021’s competition did go ahead, but without spectators; when it looked like this year’s could proceed as normal, I quickly threw together a trip. Due to a clash with another rearranged holiday – a group get-together for a week in Wales – I would only be in Meiringen for the two days of the world cup, sandwiched between some hefty travel days!
Zurich looked like the obvious Swiss entry point; without a direct link from Bristol, I booked into BA’s Club Europe to make a start on my new tier point year. A coach to Heathrow, a long lunch in the lounge, and then an afternoon flight before settling in at an airport hotel seemed like a leisurely way to get the international portion done on Friday.
This week was not BA’s finest hour, with short haul operations particularly hard-hit… Fortunately Switzerland’s COVID restrictions were light enough that proof of vaccination sufficed for entry; I was able to supply this with VeriFly and check in online, so (not having hold luggage) I could proceed straight to security once I reached Terminal 5. We did collect about an hour of delays before departing, but with only a few hundred miles of flying – passed whilst working through an afternoon tea service – this was still quicker than my earlier leg from Bristol to Heathrow.
The next morning I made my way from the airport Hilton to Zurich proper, then to Meiringen via a change of trains in Lucerne. All told, this was two and a half hours or about £40 each way, depending on your tariff of interest. I had expected at least the last portion to be a scenic ride, but snowy weather and a poor seating choice (on the left) meant I had little to see on the outbound. I corrected this on the return, by which point the weather had thoroughly improved, revealing a postcard-perfect Alpine landscape of villages, fields and lakes backdropped by snowy mountains. All of this could be enjoyed through huge windows on comfortable, modern trains; rail travel in Switzerland is always a treat.
Similarly pleasant is Zurich airport, both the terminal itself and the BA/Aspire lounge at Dock E, which as well as a cooked lunch provided an open air terrace with runway views. I flew back to London City rather than Heathrow -this even shorter hop still included a simplified version of afternoon tea, although does that name really apply if scones don’t feature on the menu?
The contrast with the Swiss system was never going to favour British public transport, but having left my plans fluid I got a serious shock at the asking price for a single from Paddington to Bristol, just shy of £120. Rather than waiting three hours for off-peak fares to be valid, I had resigned myself to another coach before a friend came through with a split-ticketing solution that halved the cost of the rail journey. Still, all this messing about in central London meant I only got to Bristol eleven hours after I left Meiringen, requiring five trains, three tubes, and the DLR in addition to the flight…. An hour later, I had got myself re-packed and turned around for a further three trains to Abergavenny, Wales: even by my standards, all this was a bit ambitious for a day!
Obviously the world cup was my reason for visiting, the world’s climbing elite (and fans) seemingly taking over the entire village. No egos or entourages here – it was slightly surreal watching Hannah Meul (pictured) compete, then run into her at the supermarket where we were both in search of lunch… at least one national team was staying at my hotel, and athletes who didn’t make it through to semis/finals joined the spectators (often providing expert commentary if you were nearby).
Meiringen also has plenty of attractions of its own, although April would be a little to early for some of them, such as the Reichenbach Falls. The Aareschlucht, a mile long canyon just centimetres across at some points, was partially open, with through-hiking not possible until May. I’m glad I checked it out anyway – I was assured at reception that the western / Meiringen end had the best scenery, and the experience did not disappoint. The Aare weaves through the village, and I’d already been captivated by its blue-green waters; these are framed even more impressively in the gorge.
Apart from its natural beauty – snow-dusted mountains fill your view wherever you are – Meiringen also seems to be a pilgrimage spot for fans of Sherlock Holmes. The aforementioned waterfalls are the location of the climactic battle between the consulting detective and his enemy, Moriarty. Despite all this being fictional, plaques commemorate these events, Holmes has been awarded honorary citizenship, and you’ll find a hotel, lounge and museum all bearing his name. This last is in a former church, and its main exhibit is a painstaking recreation of the parlour of the house at Baker Street 221b.
At this point, I should admit I know almost nothing about Sherlock Holmes; but the museum made for an entertaining diversion on a bitterly cold afternoon anyway!
For my break of journey at Zurich airport, I stayed at the Hilton, receiving all my benefits as a gold HHonors member despite booking the heavily discounted airline staff rate. In particular, this got me access to an incredible breakfast buffet, that I would have put a far bigger dent in if I didn’t have to be on a train before 8am…
With no chain options for the rest of the weekend, I picked the Hotel Meiringen without too much research. This turned out to be a lucky selection – it had a total refurb in 2020, to the extent that I assumed it was a new build. Rooms are stylish in a minimalist way (expect a lot of wood!), with the bathrooms particularly well appointed – I didn’t find a shower this good anywhere on my recent US tour. There were a couple of typical European features – the double bed is actually two singles pushed together, and breakfast is, well, continental – but the staff were friendly, the location could not be more central, and the price wasn’t bad considering the influx of climbers. I wouldn’t hesitate to stay again if the world cup returns next year.
Also of note is the digital pass the hotel set up for me a few days before arrival, and which I had assumed was some sort of COVID documentation. Instead, it turned out to grant free use of local buses; the train routes to Innertkirchen, Brünig-Hasliberg or Brienzwiler; the Hasliberg Reuti cable car; and the swimming pool and skate park. it also counted as partial discount at various tourist attractions (including the Aareschlucht and Sherlock Holmes Museum). This is an excellent initiative, which it seems several Swiss regions have a version of; other places could do well to copy it!