The Niesen is a very striking, almost perfectly pyramidal peak just south of Lake Thun, in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland. It’s not big on the tourist track, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a trip. If you do want to visit, the ride on the 11,502 foot (3506m) long funicular railway known as Niesenbahn can be a lot of fun. At the top there is a 360° viewing platform with stunning views of majestic peaks, including the big 3 – the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau – as well as the Jura Mountains, and the Lakes Thun and Brienz. There is a paved path with 12 signed stations exploring the legends, history, art, geology, and the flora and fauna of the region. There is a little mountain village for the children to play where they can also haul rocks and grind grains to their heart’s delight.
Niesen is known as the “Swiss Pyramid” and rises to 7749 feet (2362m) above the village of Mülenen near Spiez in the Bernese Oberland area of the Swiss Alps. It is a mountain of slate and the crafty Swiss have built an incredible funicular railway to access the peak. It moves up the precipitous incline with metal cables that run around two wheels and join two wagons together. As one wagon ascends, the other descends. The Niesenbahn has a grade of as much as a whopping 69% as it climbs the steep mountain! It is so long there is a midway point where you change trains.
Construction began 1906 without cranes or helicopters to assist them. An average of 200 men worked on the funicular and the Niesenbahn opened a short four years later. The Swiss love their superlatives and the stairway alongside the Niesenbahn is no exception. It is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest stairway with 11,674 steps.
Unfortunately, you can only climb them if you are part of the maintenance team or if you join the annual Niesen-Stairway-Run in mid June. There are several hiking trails from the bottom at Mülenen to the top of Niesen as well as along the valley below. Train for your various sports by running the trails to the top, sending your luggage on the funicular, taking a free shower once you arrive and hitching a ride on the train back down.
In 1856 Hotel Berghaus Niesen Kulm was built 50 years before the funicular. Guests would have to hike the roughly 5600 feet (1700 m) in elevation gain or hire mules or horses. The wealthy would hire 4 men to carry them in chairs up and down the steep incline. The hotel has a restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating for up to 320 that serves local wines and cuisine. They take special pride in their water that is pumped almost 2000 feet (600m) to the summit after it has filtered down through its slopes of slate. There are special breakfast, evening and full moon culinary events to enjoy with all-you-can-eat buffets.
The Niesenbahn operates from mid April to mid November. The first train in the morning is at 8am with the last coming down from the top at 5:45pm unless you are on one of the special evening trips. The journey takes a total of 30 minutes each way and it is an amazing ride. There are a variety of tickets available including a seasonal pass, a hiking ticket, and a discount for a late afternoon trip. Full-price round-trip tickets are currently CHF 57 per person. Swiss Passes are valid for free or reduced fares and if you have a valid ID, you get a free trip on your birthday!
So, if you want to get off the beaten path for an afternoon, go ride the Niesenbahn, take in the spectacular views, watch the children play in the alpine village, and eat some delicious local food. You won’t be disappointed!