Adventure Vacation Guide 2012: Interlaken, Switzerland

Interlaken, Switzerland, is a hotspot on the backpacking circuit and is located in the beautiful Bernese Oberland.

For those that like to spend their time jumping out of planes, diving into canyons, and hiking glaciers, Interlaken in Switzerland is your perfect destination. Surrounded by a diverse landscape of jagged peaks, roaring rivers, snow capped mountains, and lush greenery, it contains the ideal landscape for an array of adventure sports. The area is also world-renowned for its famous hiking trails in the Swiss Alps. And, starting in March of 2012, a brand new hostel will be open to Interlaken visitors.

For those looking for an air-borne adventure, hanggliding, skydiving, and paragliding can all be experienced. If you want a thrill but would rather stay a little closer to Earth, Interlaken has bungy jumping, horseback riding, hiking, ice climbing, skiing, rock climbing, glacier trekking, ropes courses, and mountain biking. There is also a unique adventure sport called Via Ferrata which consists of traversing mountain passes equipped with fixed cables, steel ladders, and ziplines, and can only be done in a few unique regions. And for the water lovers, Interlaken gives you canyoning, kayaking, river rafting, and funyaking.

[flickr image via Fr Antunes]

Switzerland moves to make adventure travel safer

Switzerland has made a move to improve safety in the country’s adventure travel sector by requiring all tour operators to employ licensed guides and carry insurance to cover their clients. The new law doesn’t go into effect until January 1st, 2013, but operators are already taking steps to comply with the mandate. Until then however, anyone can still lead mountaineering, rafting, or canyoneering expeditions.

The new law is in response to a 1999 accident that left killed 21 people, including three guides. The group was cayoneering in Switzerland’s Interlaken region when a sudden storm caused a flash flood through the gorge they were explorering. A wall of water washed the travelers down the narrow canyon, where they eventually drowned. The guides’ lack of experience and training was partially blamed for the fatalities.

Two years later, six employees of the company that organized the excursion were convicted of manslaughter because of the accident. During their trial, it was revealed that they didn’t have any official safety guidelines and that the guides had not been fully informed about the dangers of the weather conditions in Interlaken. For most of the guides, it was their first season working there.

Following the very public trial, the Swiss government tried to pass legislation to improve safety in the travel industry, but the members of parliament were unable to come to an agreement on what exactly should be done. Now, ten years later, they’ve finally been able to address the issue properly.

Over the past decade, the adventure travel industry in Switzerland has implemented its own requirements for outfitters who voluntarily joined a “Safety in Adventure” program. But the new law requires all operators to meet the standards, which include a specified amount of training for employees and insurance that covers the clients while under their care.

These moves should make for a safer environment for travelers looking to get an adrenaline rush, and should help the Swiss tourism industry as a whole. As the adventure travel market grows, and matures, these kinds of regulations are likely to become more common and important, and it is good to see Switzerland lead the way in this area.

[Photo credit: Terra 3 via WikiMedia]

Top ten hostels in Europe

Staying in a hostel in Europe is a rite of passage for budget-conscious travelers making their way around the continent. This is particularly the case for budget-conscious younger travelers. Here are ten hostels across Europe that either receive particularly high user-review grades or are notorious enough in one or another way to be noteworthy.

St. Christopher’s at the Winston, Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Winston presents itself as “an interactive museum of modern art.” However it refers to itself, it is without question one of the most dynamic budget hotels in Europe, with a few hostel-style dormitory rooms on offer. It’s got a restaurant on the premises and a nearby nightclub, and is aesthetically far more exciting that your average hostel.

Långholmen, Stockholm, Sweden. Ever wanted to spend the night in a prison? OK, a former prison? Långholmen is a rehabbed prison located just a stone’s throw from Stockholm’s supercool Södermalm nabe. Fantastic, and not as austere as you might expect.

Good Bye Lenin, Krakow, Poland. Tucked away in a corner of Krakow’s history-rich Kazimierz neighborhood, Good Bye Lenin replays the aesthetics of Polish socialism in a cheery, friendly space. Very atmospheric and fun.

Balmers, Interlaken, Switzerland. In operation for over a century now, family-run Balmers is Switzerland’s oldest hostel. Balmers offers dormitory rooms, private rooms, and tent accommodations. And lots of fresh air, obviously.

Meininger, London, United Kingdom. The Meininger chain of hostels can be found mostly in big cities across Germany and Austria. The London outpost, though not particularly British in spirit, is a welcome, well-scrubbed addition to London’s dreary hostel scene.Oops! Hostel, Paris, France. Far more stylish than your average hostel, Oops! injects a blast of fun energy in Paris’ Latin Quarter. Hotel interiors wizard Philippe Maidenberg is responsible for Oops!’s fresh interior design.

Hostel Archi Rossi, Florence, Italy. One of the best loved hostels in Florence, Hostel Archi Rossi offers free wi-fi, free breakfast, and complimentary walking tours of Florence. Archi Rossi is very close to the Santa Maria Novella train station, too.

Kadir’s Tree Houses, Olympos, Turkey. Near Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, Kadir’s Tree Houses is a sprawling complex of bungalows, cabins, dormitory rooms, and campground. Kadir’s provides a great range of services (laundry and a travel agency, to name but two) and also includes both breakfast and dinner in its nightly rate.

The Pink Palace, Corfu, Greece. One of Europe’s most notorious party hostels, the Pink Palace is a garish temple of hedonism, just possibly the best place in the world to play spin the bottle in five languages. Woohoo!

Hotel 4 Youth, Berlin, Germany. There are two Hotels 4 Youth in Berlin. The branch on Schönhauser Allee gets especially high marks. 133 beds, conical pillows, and a few nice extras (seminar rooms, a pool room) make this a top Berlin hostel. Location in hip, bohemian Prenzlauer Berg is also a big plus.

(Image: foilman / Flickr)

Negotiating the “morning after” at Balmer’s

I laughed out loud at Terry Ward’s observations over at World Hum of young Americans awkwardly negotiating the “morning after” scene at Balmer’s Herberge in Interlaken, Switzerland. Laughed, because when I was a 21-year-old college student on a study abroad trip, Balmer’s was a sacred place – a destination for hordes of other kids just like me, proudly sporting university sweatshirts and perky enthusiasm for the soft-core adrenaline adventures on offer around the town. Ward’s description is a spot-on retelling of my own experience there: waiting for the liquid courage to dance, then getting wasted on beer from plastic cups, running into a new friend at breakfast the next day and having an awkward, stilted conversation about the Italian coffeemaker he’d bought his sister in Italy. I also recall waking up that morning and finding my contact lenses in shriveled corpses on the floor next to my bed; I simply stuck them in solution and popped them back in. Oh, youth.

Like Ward, I have no desire to revisit Balmer’s. On subsequent visits to Interlaken, I’ve stayed at the pleasantly peaceful HI hostel. But I also don’t (totally) regret my drunken couple of nights at Balmer’s. I’m one of those people who hates missing out on any kind of experience, and at the time, a night or two at Balmer’s was what I was after.

Anyone else have a similar experience there?