This attractive, shady, lakeside walk of about 1 hour 40 minutes leads to one of the area’s major attractions – the Giessbach falls. Most tourists see the falls from the comfort of the boats that lazily traverse Lake Brienz, but this view is just a partial glimpse that does not do justice to the majesty of the cascades.
The lakeside path is uneven in many places so flimsy footwear is not recommended. And if you want to avoid a steepish uphill walk upon reaching the Giessbach landing stage you must plan ahead, take a boat timetable with you and keep an eye on the time. But more on this later. The falls will be more spectacular if there has been recent rain, but if it has been exceptionally heavy the path may be a little tricky and could even be closed if the local authorities have any worries.Iseltwald can be reached by boat or by the hourly bus service from Interlaken West, which calls at Ost before passing through Bönigen.Next to the boat landing stage is the Strand Hotel, whose terrace looks out over the lake. Early to mid morning it is a haven of tranquillity – the perfect place for a pause before you start your walk.
The walk to the Giessbach boat landing stage follows the shoreline, so ignore any signs to Giessbach that point uphill. At the end of the attractive Iseltwald promenade you join a woodland path that runs alongside the lake, at the foot of a steep, wooded slope. Good views of the lake and the mountain range on the far shore are on offer for most of the walk.
The path is gently undulating for much of its length, though at one point it heads uphill for a short distance to a clearance in the trees, which is set up as a picnic area. Here you can assess your progress as you have reached the half way mark. The path then descends towards the lake, and eventually after passing signs pointing uphill to the Giessbach hotel you reach the boat landing stage.
But to see the falls in all their glory you should ascend to the grounds of the Grand hotel. It is a mere 2 minute journey on the historic funicular that was opened in 1879, and still has two wooden cars from that time.
It is important to bear in mind that the funicular timetable matches the boat arrival times. No boat, no funicular. If a boat is not due you have three options: wait, walk uphill or go back!
The uphill walk will take 15-20 minutes. A bridge sees you safely across the foot of the falls – an awe inspiring experience when they are in full spate, but be prepared for the spray. A well maintained, looping path leads fairly steeply upwards, rising about 110m. When you see a rather imposing wall you are nearly there.
The hotel has a pleasant terrace where you can take refreshment or you can relax on one of the nearby benches. A small kiosk sells simple snacks, ice-cream and drinks.
But it is the falls that you have come to see, and they are there, right in front of you. Fourteen cascades stretch over a height of about 500m, and the best of these are seen from here. A steepish path leads up the side of the falls, and you can safely walk behind the torrent at one point.
The impressive Grand Hotel dates from Victorian times; an 1879 edition of Switzerland Illustrated describes it as ‘a model first class hotel’. It continues ‘Every evening throughout the summer from the first of June, the universal satisfaction vents itself in a brilliant illumination of the falls, which is announced by the ringing of bells and the firing of guns. The cascades are lighted up by all the colours of the rainbow…Those who wish to remain after the conclusion of the spectacle will find themselves well provided for in the enchanted castle, with its brilliantly lighted saloons, those who desire to proceed on their journey may take a charming walk by gas light down to the lake, where they will find a steamer which will speedily convey them back to Interlaken’.
A walk back to Iseltwald via the well sign posted higher path is pleasing enough, but surprisingly the views, with the exception of the descent to Iseltwald, are generally not as good as those from the lakeside path.