Chalet du Lac on the Brienzersee
About 15 years ago, public television aired a charming little BBC movie entitled Hotel du Lac. In it, a middle-aged London writer, following a failed love affair, takes refuge for several weeks in a genteel hotel on a Swiss lake where, of course, she finds more romance. Though the low-key story holds ones interest for the full 75 minutes, it is the images of lake steamers gliding through morning mists, of forested vistas, craggy mountains, and scenes in and around the hotel, that stick in memory.
The film's mood of serenity and charm may inspire a yen for a similar escape. A guess as to its location is the swank Hotel Vitznau on Lake Lucerne, but to try to duplicate the experience of the film's protagonist for a month there would require several thousand dollars.
A worthy, less pricey, stand-in is the delightful Chalet du Lac in Iseltwald, on the Brienzersee, a few minutes from Interlaken.
On the lake's south shore, Iseltwald is a tiny, well-kept village with regular lake boat service, a peaceful harbor, frequent Post Bus service to Interlaken (19-minutes to the town's East Rail Station), and, of course, those blood-pressure-lowering views of lake and mountains. And there are few more quiet hotel locations anywhere in our three countries.
The hotel is typical Swiss chalet, with lots of wood and country charm. On a wide terrace out front are tree-shaded tables that overlook the harbor. On a fine day from this vantage point one could pass an entire morning, afternoon or evening, or perhaps all three, watching the lake, the comings and goings of its boats, the surrounding mountains, and the foot traffic on the lakeside walkway that runs in front of the hotel.
Inside, an unpretentious reception area is flanked by dining rooms. The one on the left and down a few steps is somewhat formal while a turn to the right is toward the livelier and, in our view, more desirable, Stube.
The hotel's food is a big plus. Excellent and down-to-earth, it has made the Stube the village social center and attracts customers from all over the region. After our first meal, we decided to look no farther and dined there four consecutive nights.
Though the Stube is our room of choice there seems to be something of a pecking order in who sits there and who doesn't, with locals perhaps given preference. After being taken to the Stube on our first night, we were surprised 24 hours later to be seated in the stiffer, less jolly, dining room. With but two other tables occupied it made for a rather dull evening. The food and the prices, however, are the same in both rooms. The next two nights we reserved early in the day and were accommodated in the Stube, but not without some knitted-brow consultations with the reservations book.
The four meals were consistently excellent - large portions, well-prepared, and assembled from top-grade, very fresh ingredients. As one might imagine, lake fish is the feature attraction and whether sautéed in butter and scattered with almond slices (Zanderfilet meunire/CHF 32/$24), or in a hearty stew (Felchen Geschnetzeltes/CHF 32/$24), it is first-rate. The Rösti (fried potatoes) is faultless and a small carafe (5 DL/about two-thirds of a bottle) of Swiss Pinot Noir cost CHF 22 ($17). A Stange (small beer) is CHF 3.3 ($2.30) and desserts range from a scoop of ice cream for CH 3 ($2.27) to Grand Marnier Parfait for CHF 10 ($7.58). It is as the hotel's website proclaims: fresh fish, Swiss wines and local beer at a fair price. One could hardly ask for more. Guestrooms are also very much of the genre; rustic and smelling pleasantly of the predominate building and decorative material, wood. Number 7, on the first floor had a low, wooden ceiling, rather small, multi-paned windows, a separate sitting area, a well-lit bathroom and, best of all, a balcony overlooking the harbor.
The price of accommodations facing the lake is about 10% to 15% higher than those with a view to the mountains, but worth the additional expense.
Those traveling by car will find free hotel parking while rail travelers can take the bus which leaves Interlaken's Ost Bahnhof at 38 minutes past the hour for the 19-minute ride to Iseltwald.
Here's an idea for a relaxed one-week vacation, especially for East Coast subscribers. Saturday morning fly to Zürich and board the train at the airport for the two-hour and 40 minute run to Interlaken, and from there the few minutes by bus to Iseltwald by bus. Stay the entire week at the Chalet du Lac, dividing time among long walks, lake boat rides, reading on your room's balcony, and eating well each night in the Stube. The following Sunday, do it all in reverse.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 110-135 ($83-102), doubles CHF 170-210 ($129-$159)
Rating: Quality 15/20, Value 15/20
Things to Do in Iseltwald
• The great Jungfrau Region is just minutes away. A Jungfraubahnen Pass (cost: CHF 165/$127, or CHF 120/$92 for Swiss Pass or Swiss Card holders) includes unlimited access via rail, funicular, bus, and cable car to the region for five days, including the Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest rail station (11,332 feet).
• Ballenberg, The Swiss Outdoor Museum is a collection of some 60 farm buildings—houses, barns, mills, all fully operational - which have been carefully dismantled and brought to this 200-acre site and reassembled. Very authentic. You won't just see a farm house, there will be shoes under the bed and clothes in the closet. In the kitchen the table may be set and bread baking. The garden behind the house grows the same crops as in 1850. In many buildings, Swiss artisans practice their crafts and you can see weaving, spinning, bobbin lace making, wood carving, wool dyeing, tatting, netting and shingle making. There is an alpine cheese dairy, a bakery, a charcoal works, a lime kiln, a small lumber mill and a blacksmith shop. There are rare animals including peacock goats, Appenzell crested chickens and strange, wooly-haired pigs. There's a picnic area and three restaurants.
• The towns of Thun and Spiez, on the adjacent Thunersee, are accessible by lake boat, car or rail and worth a visit. Each has a castle. We rate Thun's, along with its old town, the better of the two.
• The Brienzer Rothorn rail station is just across the lake in Brienz, and can be reached by rail, car or lake steamer from Iseltwald. The ride to the summit of the Rothorn, at 7700 feet, is via rack-railway.
• Take a Daytrip to Bern, the Swiss capital. Walk the arcaded, cobbled streets of the old town. There are interesting shops on Spitalgasse, Marktgasse, Kramgasse, Gerechtigkeitsgasse and Postgasse. It's about 45 minutes by rail from Interlaken Ost and about the same by car.
• Walk to Giessbach. In front of the hotel, take a right turn on the footpath that runs along the lake for the hour and 15-minute walk to Giessbach, site of the Giessbach Falls and the beautiful old Hotel Giessbach. Though the path is mostly flat, most of it is rough and rocky, so wear sturdy shoes. The hotel will make a sandwich to take along for about CHF 6 ($4.60) or you can order lunch on the Giessbach's terrace. Return to Iseltwald via lake boat or walk. If you don't have a Swiss Rail Pass, tickets are sold on board for CHF 7.2 ($5.50). Since they only run every hour or so, check the boat schedule before setting out or take the boat to Giessbach and walk back.
• An easier, shorter walk is to Sengg, a hamlet of about 10 houses above the lake, some with beautiful gardens. In one rather dilapidated building is a pottery shop with interesting pieces. Look for the sign that directs walkers to a view point (Aussichtpunkt) above the lake. Where that path begins, note the immaculate little house on your left, with its brightly enameled green door, and a shiny outdoor red table and chairs sitting on a freshly laundered rag rug. Under the porch is a little cage of ceramic ducks. The exterior is cleaner than the inside of most houses.