Engelberg: Swiss ski resort turns to summer fun
Special to Stars and Stripes
It’s known primarily as a top-notch ski resort. Mount Titlis is a must for skiers dedicated to conquering challenging slopes.
But, a summer visit to Engelberg in central Switzerland promises more fun and thrills, as I recently discovered. If you are visiting nearby Lucerne, hop a train for a quick trip — just 48 minutes — to the mountain paradise. Spend a day, or several days, enjoying a wealth of activities.
Mount Titlis offers exciting — and spectacular — summer adventure. Ride three cable cars to the frozen world at the top, about 10,000 feet. The third is the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first revolving gondola, whose rotating floor affords postcard vistas in every direction.
A large terrace at the summit is busy with tourists and their cameras. There’s more to do than snap photos, however. Take a stroll through the Ice Cave under the glacier. A 500-foot tunnel is carved in the underworld where some 8,450 lamps shine on the icy walls and speakers provide background music. It’s an enthralling, at times dark and spooky, experience. I got confused and wasn’t sure if I was headed in or out.
The Ice Flyer, a chairlift that glides above gaping glacier crevasses to the Glacier Park, is like no other chairlift ride. Look down and around to ponder the awesome forces of nature that have left deep and enormous cracks on the icy surface. Sleds and snow tubes can be rented at the park for summer fun in the snow.
My favorite adventure: the Trotti bike — as exhilarating as sailing down a snowy ski slope. Stand on the scooter-type bike and race down the mountain, soaring around curves and bends, under treetops, faster and faster. I wanted to go again and again.
To rent the Trotti, on the way back down to Engelberg from the Titlis summit, get off the cable car at the Gerschnialp station (4,290 feet), where a rental depot provides the modern version of the old-time scooter, a helmet and instructions. It’s easy to master the simple cycle. The descent to the valley is over a paved mountain road used mainly by hikers. If you are not a speed freak, you can ride the scooter at a leisurely pace and take in the scenery.
Another fun, fair-weather adventure in Engelberg is a torchlight nighttime hike, but food comes first.
Take a taxi from town to the cozy hut restaurant at Flühmatt, about a 15-minute ride. Order the mountain specialty: Älpermaggronen, a rich, yummy concoction of macaroni, cream, potatoes and cheese, all topped with crispy fried onions.
Then, burn those calories by hiking down a path to the valley while carrying a flaming torch to guide you. The hut can provide torches for individuals. A group guide, who will provide torches and lead the way, can be arranged through the Engelberg Tourist Office.
More Alpine hiking, mountain biking, electric biking, paragliding, bungee jumping, golf on an 18-hole course, Devil Biking (riding massive cycles with wide tires and no pedals designed for daredevil descents over rough terrain) and other activities round out the Engelberg summer activity list.
Engelberg is a pleasant mountain town with an array of shops, restaurants, cafes and the Kloster Engelberg, a Benedictine monastery founded in 1120. The present structure dates to 1735. Its Baroque church merits a visit, as does its cheese factory where you can watch the cheese being made. The factory shop offers a tempting variety of cheese and milk products.
During my visit, I joined a group for a hands-on dairy experience at the Gerschnialp farm. It meant a very early morning wake-up call as the farm action gets underway at 5:30 a.m., when 40 cows are milked. It’s all by machine, but you’re welcome to try the hand method. I did. It was easy, but it’s also easy to get squirted by a stream of milk.
Cows are milked twice a day, we learned, and each produces from 10 to 15 liters of milk each time.
At this farm, the milk is used to produce six types of traditional Alpine cheese, as well as yogurt and butter. We witnessed the steps in the cheese production, from heating the milk in huge vats with the addition of a fermentation agent, stirring and stirring (usually two people engage in this tiring task, one on each side of the vat) and pouring it into molds for aging.
The finale of our visit was a treat. In the aging room, lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves of huge rounds of cheese, we had a tasting. Much better than Velveeta.
Know and Go
Contact the Engelberg Tourist Office for details on torchlight hikes, visits to the Gerschnialp dairy farm and more. Engelberg–Titlis Tourismus AG, ++ 41 (0) 41 639 77 12; Engelberg.ch
The Spannhort Hotel and Restaurant in Engelberg (spannort.ch, with English option) offers convenient lodging. Double rooms in summer: 170 Swiss francs (about $185), including breakfast.
A roundtrip ride on the three cable cars from Engelberg to the Titlis summit: 86 Swiss francs. This includes entry to the Ice Cave.
A roundtrip ride on the Ice Flyer chairlift : 12 Swiss francs.
Trotti scooter/bike rental: 7 Swiss francs.
The Swiss train system is excellent. Consider a Swiss Pass for multiple rides throughout the country. The pass is also valid on buses. swisstravelsystem.ch, with English option.
For more information on Switzerland, see myswitzerland.com.