Have you ever had the curiosity to ride a nostalgic, old-fashioned steam engine driven train? For over 125 years the Swiss have provided that opportunity with the Brienzer Rothornbahn, built in 1892. Starting from lake Brienz between Interlaken and Meiringen in the Bernese Oberland, the Rothorn train climbs 5,510 ft (1,680 m) in 55 minutes and has a maximum gradient of 25%. Along the way your eyes are treated to lush rolling pastures dotted with streams, Swiss chalets, and cows lazily munching on the hillsides. At the top there is a path to spectacular panoramic views as well as a hotel and restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating for up to 370. Often there is a herd of Steinbock on the ridge. It is a must do journey!
With a jolt, a grunt, and a chug-a-chug-chug the Brienzer Rothornbahn Steam engine train starts slowly as it gains momentum up the slopes through 5 tunnels. The train steeply rises through a landscape of pastures, mixed forests, rocky ridges and flowering Alpine meadows. As the train ascends, gaze down on Lake Brienz with its aquamarine waters shimmering and dancing in the sunlight. You can see the Grandhotel Glessbach with its huge waterfall crashing down as boats disembark on the dock far below.
The Rothorn peak above tops out at 7709ft (2350m) after a steep but short jaunt up a paved and gravel pathway. The unobstructed 360° views unfold before you dazzling you with sights of the central Swiss Alps, including Pilatus, Rigi, Titlis, the iconic peaks of the Bernese Oberland, and all the way to the Jura Mountains. On a clear day, you should be able to see over 690 peaks; though I never counted them all. Look down on the ridgeline below the viewing platform. You can often spot Steinbock, also known as Alpine Ibex, wild goats of which the males have magnificently huge curving horns.
The best seats on the way up for photos are on the left side as you go uphill. In the warm months of the summer, they open the windows and the fresh air mixed with the moist smell of the team add a piece of character to the ride. Pay attention to the downhill as they often refill the water at Planalp. Keep an eye out though; the conductor might splash you with some!
The steam train is open from early June to late October. Check the schedule ahead of time if you are planning to come. You can also access the peak by the cable car in winter. In fact, during the summer, you can make a multi-transit round trip using the train, cable car, steam train, bus, and boat! There are about a half of a dozen hiking trails from the valley and all the way to the top. You can combine your hiking with the steam train and get the best of both worlds.
The first train during the main season is 8:30 am and the last one coming down from the top is at 5:40 pm. Fares are 60sf one-way, 92sf round trip with discounts for various Swiss Passes. Season passes are available and up to 2 children ride free with an adult. You can also ride for free on your birthday with a valid ID! Special trains occur throughout the season such as Senior Citizen Tuesdays, Sunday Autumn trains, Salon Rouge Dining (a nostalgic open-air wooden car), and the Steam Sausage Cruise.
Wait… Steam Sausage Cruise? (Sausage Cruise) Only in Switzerland. On Wednesdays at 10:00, you can take this special excursion, called the Dampfwürstlibummler, which makes a stop mid-way at Planalp. The conductor cooks sausages in a kettle on the steam engine which is then served with rack-and-pinion-shaped bread and a drink. If you love steam trains and sausages, you’ll wonder why this has not been thought of before!
The Brienzer Rothorn is substantially less crowded than the popular cogwheel train up to Schynige Platte. But still, since there are no individual reservations possible, they recommend coming 30 minutes before you plan to ride. The views are more open on the journey and the breathtaking vista at the top make it more than worth the ride. During busy times they may use a diesel engine so make sure to clarify if you want the steam engine. It is so much fun!