Though it's a town that exists solely on tourism, Wengen's storybook setting, traffic-free streets and excellent accommodations make it one of Europe's great hideaways.
If ever there is a convention to pick the most scenic place on earth, we volunteer to make the nominating speech for Wengen. The village sits on a ledge, about 1,500 feet above a most spectacular gouge in the earth, the Lauterbrunnental, a steep-sided, gloriously green valley. Looming above the town is a 270-degree panorama of some of the world's most famous peaks: the Jungfrau, the Mönch, and the Schilthorn, most of which glitter with ice and snow the year round. Arrange them nicely around Yosemite and you have the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Impossibly beautiful is the best we can do to describe it.
There are only three ways to get to Wengen: by helicopter, via train or you can walk from the town of Lauterbrunnen (about an hour and a half). By far the most popular method of transport is the 15-minute train ride from Lauterbrunnen, leaving your car in the multi-story garage near the Lauterbrunnen railway station.
By now you have deduced that Wengen is free of automobiles - oh, there are a few vehicles used for various maintenance chores around town, but essentially the village is blessedly free of auto traffic.
Take advantage of Wengen in the off-season (March to early June and late August to November), hotel prices are substantially lower.
In winter, of course, Wengen is ski country, mostly downhill. In spring, summer and fall, walking/hiking is the major activity.
Within their price categories the hotels we saw in Wengen were uniformly high quality. Virtually every guestroom in town has a view. Some are merely good, many are magnificent.
This is the best hotel we saw in Wengen. The Regina is a rambling, six-story, turn-of-century hotel that young Ariane and Guido Meyer have upgraded to near top-class luxury. Their refurbishments, however, have not broken the hotel's connection to its early days, at least in the public rooms which have a Victorian era feel. The spacious lobby is sprinkled with antiques and the large fireplace wouldn't look out of place in an English country manor. Great high windows and white wicker furniture give the main dining room a bright, winter garden atmosphere.
Guest rooms, nearly all of which have been recently redone, have more city elegance than country charm and all are different. The new sixth floor chambers are especially attractive, though there is no elevator between the fifth and sixth floors. The best in the house is Number 604, a junior suite on two levels with exposed beams, slanting ceilings, numerous skylights and a Jacuzzi bathtub. A slight drawback is that the bedroom is upstairs and the bathroom downstairs. A more traditional double room is Number 508, which is on a corner and has a canopied bed. The cozy "honeymoon room," Number 701, has a skylight in a slanting wall that affords a perfect view of the Jungfrau from the bed. Room Number 214 has a canopied bed and opens on to a very large terrace, perfect for sunbathing. It should be noted the terrace is shared by other second floor rooms.
The Regina is a four-star hotel and offers amenities and services appropriate to that classification.
The hotel's policy of displaying the pictures of local artists in the hotel's corridors is a tip-off that the Meyer family is trying hard to create a special hotel.
So far, so good.
• Hotel Regina, CH-3823 Wengen, Switzerland, telephone 036/55 15 12, fax 036/55 15 74. Singles 111 Sfr. to 173 Sfr. ($77-$119), doubles 222 Sfr. to 346 Sfr. ($127-$239). Prices include half-board, breakfast and dinner. Credit cards.
* Hotel Regina: III G
In the very center of the village, steps from the railway station, is the four-star Silberhorn. In comfort, room space and quality it ranks just behind the Regina.
On the rather ho-hum ground floor entry is the hotel's public restaurant and bakery. Things improve considerably on the first floor, however, where you'll find the reception and a lobby whose centerpiece is a piece of furniture that ratchets up the elegance quotient of almost any room, a grand piano. The best place to be at the Silberhorn, however, is on its spacious terrace where every table has a ringside seat to one of the world's great views.
The hotel's comfortable guestrooms are all similarly decorated and furnished. Many of them have fold-down beds which makes for increased daytime living space.
Number 429 is a large double with superior views of the great peaks and a separate sitting area with sofa and two comfortable chairs. Number 328 is a two-room studio with kitchenette, a separate bedroom, fold-down double bed in the living area. It would be ideal for a family or two couples.
As with most hotels that have only refurbished a portion of its guestrooms, the Silberhorn's newer rooms are worth the extra money.
Hans-Jakob Beldi, the Silberhorn's affable manager, regularly leads guests on half-day walks. The hotel can pack you a lunch.
• Hotel Silberhorn, CH-3823 Wengen, Switzerland, telephone 036/56 51 31, fax 036/55 22 44. Singles 122 Sfr. to 215 Sfr. ($84-$148), doubles 184 Sfr. to 370 Sfr. ($127-$255). Prices include half-board, breakfast and dinner. Credit cards.
* Hotel Silberhorn: II
The best thing about the Falken, other than the Cova family who have owned the hotel since it was built 108 years ago, is its aura of another time. The wonderfully nostalgic lobby, dining room and other public rooms don't look like they've changed much since 1885. No rush to refurbish here; instead the Cova's proudly maintain the hotel's creaky, herringbone wood floors and the handsome old washbasins which were installed in guest rooms long before the private bathrooms. But do not misunderstand, the Falken is well preserved, not a decaying relic.
Our recommended single is Number 19 and a roomy double is Number 10, on a corner with the herringbone floors, oriental rugs and, sorry about this, shocking orange furniture.
Music is an important part of life at the Falken. There is a separate music room where regular concerts and recitals are sponsored by the owners.
During the summer months the front of the hotel is a vine-covered arcade and on the lawn guests sit at tables under massive old chestnut trees. At the side of the building is a small stage for folkloric shows and a grill for outdoor barbecue parties.
When someone surreptitiously stooped to smell flowers on a table in the dining room, Andrea Cova conveyed his entire philosophy as a hotelier when he said sharply, "They are fresh, this is not a plastic hotel."
Like its owners, the Falken has character.
Herr Cova offers a 10% discount off the rates below if you book directly with the hotel.
• Falken-Hotel, CH-3823 Wengen, Switzerland, telephone 036/56 51 21, fax 036/55 33 39. Singles 115 Sfr. to 140 Sfr. ($66-$97), doubles 190 Sfr. to 280 Sfr. ($131-$193). Prices include half-board, breakfast and dinner. Credit cards.
* Falken-Hotel: II G
Simple but beautifully maintained rooms. We were truly amazed to learn that the carpets, walls, ceilings and furniture are all circa 1978, a testimony to the sort of house kept by Ms. Marion Prevost. In a country of extraordinarily clean hotels, this one stands out.
Every hotel in Wengen is quiet but this one, at the far end of the village, is especially so.
Since the Alpenruhe is at the north end of the village, and slightly above it, most guest rooms look out over the town and on to the mountains. Unfortunately, many rooms are somewhat small and none we saw had sofas or easy chairs. Ask for room Number 25, one of the few with the original hardwood floors still not covered with carpeting. It has a re-done bathroom and is on a bright, pleasant corner. Our second choice would be the large double, Number 45, which has a splendid view. For a single, try Number 43.
The Alpenruhe, which does not accept groups, offers excellent value.
• Hotel Alpenruhe, CH-3823 Wengen, Switzerland, telephone 036/55 27 44, fax 036/55 27 77. Singles 91 Sfr. to 118 Sfr. ($63-$81), doubles 176 Sfr. to 236 Sfr. ($121-$163). Prices include half-board, breakfast and dinner. Credit cards.
* Hotel Alpenruhe: II $
This two-star hotel on the main street of the village offers low cost lodgings provided you are amenable to walking down the hall to the bathroom. Rooms with private bathroom facilities are so small that it is worth the small additional cost to move up substantially in space and quality to the Alpenruhe or the Falken. For the most part, the Bernerhof's rooms are small and plain with a tiny shower and toilet built into one corner of the room. Wash basins are in the bedroom. Rooms are clean but the furniture is a little beat up. Most, however, come with television, something you don't get at the Alpenruhe.
Our recommended doubles are Number 307 or Number 209, which is smaller but has better furniture.
A very pleasant single is Number 101, on a corner with many windows.
The hotel has no elevator.
Number 207, which would accommodate a family of four, has a real bathroom, opposed to the tiny boxes installed in most other rooms that have private facilities.
We had a light but satisfying lunch at one of the Bernerhof's sidewalk tables; good soup and outstanding salad (11.5 Sfr./$8) of chopped wurst and fresh vegetables.
• Hotel Bernerhof, CH-3823 Wengen, Switzerland, telephone 036/55 27 21, fax 036/55 33 58. Singles 90 Sfr. to 112 Sfr. ($62-$77), doubles 180 Sfr. to 224 Sfr. ($124-$154). Prices include half-board, breakfast and dinner. Credit cards.
* Hotel Bernerhof: I
Altitude 1,275 meters/4,183 feet
Approximate distances from:
* Basel 138 km - 86 miles
* Bern 54 km - 33 miles
* Geneva 147 km - 91 miles
* Interlaken 20 km - 12 miles
* Zürich 101 km - 63 miles
* CH-3823 Wengen
* Phone: 036/55 14 14
* Fax: 036/55 30 60
* Jungfraustrasse 38
* CH-3800 Interlaken
* Phone: 036/22 26 21
* Fax: 036/22 57 16
Roundtrip train fare from Interlaken to Wengen is $8 second class, $11 first class. Swiss Pass holders ride free between Wengen and Interlaken. The Eurailpass, however, will get you only as far as Interlaken. The parking garage at Lauterbrunnen costs 7 Sfr. ($4.80) per day in summer and 10 Sfr. ($7) in winter.
A one-day ski pass for the Kleine Scheidegg - Männlichen area is 48 Sfr. ($33) for adults and 24 Sfr. ($17) for children. A three-day pass good for the entire Jungfrau region is 126 Sfr. ($87) for adults and 63 ($43) for children