The famous peaks, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, located in the Swiss heartland // © 2011 Switzerland Tourism
Sherlock Holmes fans will surely want to visit Reichenbach Falls, just a few miles out of Meiringen. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited and so impressed was he that he made it the setting of the fictional death of his hero, Sherlock Holmes. In “The Final Problem” Holmes was thrown over the side by his archenemy, Professor Moriarity. Doyle was reportedly sick of writing the Holmes mysteries, but the death of Holmes proved so unpopular with readers that he was forced to bring him back in future novels. There is a plaque commemorating Holmes at the top of the funicular, and a hotel in town is even named after him, Das Hotel Sherlock Holmes.
Scroll down to read about Sherlock Holmes’ connection to the region's Reichenbach Falls
Let's face it -- when most people think of Switzerland, they think of the Alps, especially the Alps in winter. And who can blame them? It's hard to beat those breathtaking photos of the majestic Matterhorn or happy skiers schussing down the slopes along snow-covered mountain chalets. Indeed, Swiss resorts, such as Gstaad and Zermatt, are well-known winter playgrounds for the rich and famous.
But there are other sides to Switzerland. Aside from snow-capped peaks, the country boasts gently rolling farmland, crystal-clear lakes and long, flat valleys. This side of Switzerland is best visited in the off season, from early spring to fall, when the cows are in the pastures, flowers bedeck quaint chalets and the weather is warm. I discovered this on a recent trip to Meiringen, a small town (population: 4,548) in the Bernese Oberland region, the middle of the country. I took a train from the Zurich Airport to Lucerne, then switched to a narrow-gauge local train that dropped me off in Meiringen before heading on to Interlaken, the more well-known town in the area.
But Meiringen is famous in its own right as the place where Sherlock Holmes met his fictional demise at the hands of his archenemy, Professor Moriarity. It is also rumored that the town created the tasty treat known as meringue, which was first prepared in Napoleonís time when the French emperor stopped there on his way to a conquest. Clients can still get meringue in some form at one of the many bake shops, whether they believe the story or not.
In Meiringen, I stayed at one of the many chalets that are available to tourists. Typically, guests are allowed to rent a room in one of them in order to have an unusual on-the-ground view of how the locals live. A warning: Many chalets don't use screens to keep out flies during the summer months.
On this particular trip, I set out on several bicycle routes that crisscross the valley where Meiringen is situated between three Alpine passes, the Grimsel, the Breunig and the Susten. The Swiss have mapped out the routes, and the directions are easy to read. That also goes for the train schedules, which are precise and detailed. Yes, the Swiss are famous for the efficiency of their public transportation system, and it works. It is also extremely user-friendly.
On a typical day, we combined bicycle and train travel. For example, we cycled to Bern, had a long, leisurely lunch and, then, took the train back to Meiringen (we piled our bicycles into the train's baggage compartment, where they hung on hooks). Or we would do the excursion in reverse: take the train out and bicycle back. The idea was to designate a home base where we returned every night.
The Bernese Oberland region is striking, surrounded by three famous peaks, the Eiger, with its forbidding north face, Monch and Jungfrau (Ogre, Monk and Virgin). All are more than 13,000 feet high. The Jungfrau is the highest in this range, and it can be reached by funicular train from Interlaken. The ride to the summit -- called the "Top of Europe" -- is breathtaking. The end of the funicular in a saddle below the peak is billed as the highest train station in Europe.
Another nearby peak is the Schilthorn at 9,744 feet high. Clients can also take a funicular to the top where there is a revolving restaurant. I've done it, and there's nothing like looking out over a 360-degree view with a cup of hot chocolate, even in the middle of summer.