The funicular headed straight down the steep mountain–trees rushed past, making me dizzy–I clung to the handrail and braced my feet. The youngest riders screamed. The oldest, tourists like me, turned a little greyer.
It wasn’t a roller coaster ride, not in the traditional sense. Rather, the funicular is the only way to access Harderkulm, a small peak above Interlaken in the heart of the Swiss Alps.
What exactly is a funicular? Well, experience tells me it’s a tram car that can go up a very steep incline. But actually, it’s more than that. Also called a cliff railway (I can see why!) or incline plane, the funicular has two tram cars that move in opposite directions on the mountainside. These cars are always hooked to one another with cables, providing a balance like a teeter-tooter, so neither goes careening off down the mountain!
About the Harderbahn Funicular:
- Opened to the public on May 15, 1908.
- Runs from a base station in Interlaken (567 m above sea level), Switzerland, to Harderkulm (1321.31 m above sea level), a peak above Interlaken.
- The maximum gradient of the track is 64%.
- It takes eight minutes for the funicular’s trip in either direction.
- Each of the new (2008) tram cars holds 65 people in three sections.
The funicular’s journey is a long curve that takes visitors through forest and one tunnel to Harderkulm on the mountain, then back again when they’re ready to return.
Take the Harderbahn funicular in this YouTube video from Michel Azema:
What happens at the top?
Why exactly was the funicular built in the first place? Well, it gets you near the summit of Interlaken’s mountain, providing a more than spectacular view of the surrounding peaks and the city of Interlaken below.
The name, Interlaken, literally means between lakes. It’s in an area known as Bödeli, nestled between Lake Brienz to the east and Lake Thun to the west. Switzerland’s longest river, the Aare, runs through the city, connecting the lakes.
From Harderkulm, Interlaken spread out below like carefully placed children’s blocks on well-tended golf greens. While I’m not overly fond of looking over the edge of anything, the railing around the terrace for the castle-like restaurant inspired lots of confidence, so I was able to snap pictures to my heart’s content. Across the valley I got pictures of the summits of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.
A number of hiking trails also leave from the Harderkulm Restaurant, so it’s a popular spot for those who want to challenge Harderkulm mountain the old fashioned way!
Harderbahn Funicular is #26 on my 2012 summer staycation review of the great places I’ve visited in previous years for a few of reasons. First of all, who can resist something called a funicular? It sounds like it just has to be an exciting ride–and it was!
Second, it was my first up-close and personal introduction to the Alps mountains in Switzerland, which turned out to be a real confidence builder for the adventures that followed.
And finally, the view of Interlaken and the alps under the clear blue Swiss sky was unforgettable.
If you go see: http://www.jungfrau.ch/nc/en/tourism/places-to-visit/harder-kulm/experiences/#harder-kulm-mountain-restaurant_251 and http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Europe/Switzerland/Kanton_Bern/Interlaken-691572/Things_To_Do-Interlaken-TG-C-1.html