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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Grandhotel Giessbach and Giessbach Falls

Met up with Sylvia and Mark's wife, Thea, this morning at breakfast.

Mark and Thea own both the Adventure Guesthouse and the Adventure Hostel down the street.

Thea is an artist whose medium is pastels. For those of you who have an interest, check out her website. She is quite talented.

Have you ever tried a Saturn peach ? They are delicious and quite juicy. I've been having a couple at breakfast each day along with some plums that are grown in this area.

Michael and I decided to take the boat from Interlaken Ost to Giessbach. We wanted to enjoy a late lunch while sitting on the terrace overlooking either the falls or Lake Brienz.

I prefer Lake Brienz over Lake Thun. It is a smaller lake and it feels much more intimate.

Boat turning toward the Bönigen dock.

Quite a bit of wood has drifted toward the beginning of the channel.

The entire village of Bönigen is designated as part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites (part of a 1981 Ordinance of the Swiss Federal Council implementing the Federal Law on the Protection of Nature and Cultural Heritage.)

A few years ago, we had pizza at a restaurant in the brown building. Delicious!

The Rothorn was trying to peak out from under the clouds.

Next stop: Iseltwald.

For a long time, the only access to the village was through a small regional road or by ferry. Since the building of the A8 Motorway in 1988, the village has its own junction.[

Isn't this a picturesque village?

Crossing the lake toward Oberreid

Schloss Seeburg at a distance

The jet boats were racing. No fancy spins today - just speed.

The apartments at the former military base. I would rather face the lake than the railroad tracks.

Little huts to store cheese.

The paddle steamer Lötschberg passes us going to Iseltwald.

Giessbach off in the distance

Observe the boat dock and the tracks for the funicular.

Took the funicular up to the hotel.

The Giessbach rises in the high valleys and basins of the Faulhorn-Sägistal area and feeds the world-famous Giessbach Falls, which plunge into Lake Brienz at the boat station. There has been a footpath leading to and under the waterfall since the 19th century. The 14 steps of the Giessbach Falls have borne the names of Bernese heroes since the same time.

It has been a long hot summer without substantial rain so the falls are not spectacular but there is beauty even with a small amount of water. It's just different.

Looking at the hotel from behind the waterfall.

Because of the falls, moss is found all around. There is a calmness and serenity to this place. If you believe in fairy tales or fantasies, this location would be home to fairies, gnomes.... Look for faces on the rocks, under the trees...

Could that be a leprechaun?

Something moved and when I tried to film it, it stopped moving. Tried to get it a couple times. Spirits?

The Grandhotel Giessbach was built in 1873-74 and is situated in a 22-hectare park and garden area. The Giessbachbahn was opened in 1879, the oldest funicular in Europe that is only used for tourism. It connects the "Giessbach See" boat station with the hotel, which is around 100 meters above Lake Brienz.

Michael and I have always enjoyed the food, some of which comes from their garden, at the hotel. We chose a table out on the terrace looking over the falls.

The view of the lake is beautiful, too.

We both started with the Geissbach Salad Bowl with various lettuces, radishes, cucumber curl strips, carrot curl strips, and some other vegetable curl strips, bread cubes, Sbrinz cheese, cress, and roasted seeds with a marinated dressing. Fresh ingredients! Yummy! Yummy!

For the main, Michael chose the veal meatloaf after Grandmother's recipe. This is not a hamburg meatloaf but an upscale one. It came with a cream sauce, mashed potatoes, carrot, parsnip, squash, and zucchini wedge and roasted onions. Notice the dollop of whipped cream that has melted into the sauce. Yes, this is your grandmother's ultimate comfort food!!!

Sight then taste.

I had the filet of trout from the Rubigenhof with melted almond herb butter, young roasted potatoes, and spinach. Spinach was blanched to perfection. What a nice crispy skin! It peeled away so easily. Nice crunch to the skin.

We shared dishes with each other and couldn't decide which dish we liked better. Both of these dishes are keepers. Before our trip is over, I might like to eat here again.

We had the house wine: the Giessbach chardonnay. Wonderful glass of wine.

The Giessbach Falls were developed as early as 1820 and are a tourist magnet in the Brienz region. Fifty years later, the waterfalls were made even more attractive to tourists with the addition of the Hotel Giessbach. It's no wonder various painters and poets have gathered here, such as Zehnder or Rieter.

Even a funicular was opened in 1879. It is the first single-track funicular in the world. The railway, which is around 140 years old today, takes guests from Lake Brienz to the Grandhotel Giessbach.

As beautiful as the Giessbach Waterfalls are, they have unfortunately been threatened by various projects. On one hand, people wanted to produce more electricity from hydropower in Switzerland during World War II and the Giessbach Falls were intended for this purpose. The power plant is now down by Lake Brienz. The Brienz to Interlaken motorway was also to be built here before it was decided to make a tunnel for it.

There are various ways to get to the Giessbach waterfalls.

One is by public transportation. A boat runs several times a day from Interlaken or Brienz to the “Giessbach See” station. From there you can either walk up about 60 meters or take the 140-year-old funicular.

By car you can get directly to the parking lot of the waterfall. Unfortunately you can only buy a day ticket for 10CHF, but you have the waterfalls to yourself very quickly.

Another option is a 1.5-hour hike from Iseltwald.

We chose the boat and funicular.

One of the most famous images of the Giessbach Falls is from the bridge that runs behind the waterfall. From here you can see the Grand Hotel Giessbach and the Brienzer Rothorn.

The Grand Hotel Giessbach has a history that goes back more than 100 years. Well maintained, the hotel has even been voted the most beautiful historic hotel in Europe. The restaurant alone with its panoramic terrace overlooking Lake Brienz and the Brienzer Rothorn is worth a visit.

The special feature, in addition to a fantastic view of the mountains and the lake: the terrace is in the immediate vicinity of the Giessbach. The oldest tourist funicular in Europe also runs down from the hotel.

Grand Hotel Giessbach's fascinating history

"Around 1817, Johannes Kehrli, the schoolmaster from Brienz, makes the Giessbach accessible to the first strangers. He lays out a footpath from the lake and entertains visitors musically with his family.

Kehrli, in 1822, built a simple wooden house and entertained the weary with milk, bread, cheese and a glass of his own cherry or plum water.

At that time, 1822-1854, the strangers are usually rowed across the lake to the Giessbach by young women. The most famous among them is Elisabetha Grossmann, known as the "beautiful boatwoman".

Kehrli died at the age of 81 in 1854. His descendants sold the land for 70,000 francs to Conrad von Rappard, a former member of the Frankfurt parliament who had fled to Switzerland after the failed revolution of 1848.

Together with his brother Hermann, in 1857, Conrad von Rappard has a new hotel built, which opens on July 1. They commissioned Eduard Schmidlin from Württemberg to design the park. As a gardener and botanist, he is a proven expert, and as a former revolutionary, he is politically of the same mind as Conrad von Rappard. With his family, Eduard Schmidlin also takes over the management of the hotel.

As early as January 1858, the Rappards sell the Giessbach site to the Vereinigte Dampfschifffahrts-Gesellschaft für den Thuner- und Brienzersee (United Steamship Company for Lakes Thun and Brienz), founded by the Knechtenhofer brothers, for a price of 300,000. Problems with the company's own screw steamer, which is allegedly hardly maneuverable, and public unwillingness to charge an entrance fee to visit the waterfalls may have tipped the scales in favor of the sale. Eduard Schmidlin remains at the Giessbach as administrator with his family.

In 1870, after initial difficulties, the administrator Schmidlin is extremely successful and makes the Giessbach famous. The fact that young women entertain the strangers, including Schmidlin's daughters, is often praised in the travel literature of the time: „The Hotel am Giessbach deserves its reputation. Hundreds hang around in the building and in its immediate vicinity, and yet one feels comfortable. One is never annoyed there by the crowd of waiters who run around in tailcoats and use their artisanal complimentary tailoring as a foil for their natural impudence. Two very young, picture-perfect girls provide service in the dining room; other female servants are their maids. As aloof as fairies, as simple as children, as elegant and distinguished as princesses, these lovely apparitions float through the hall, comparable to the damsels who in times long past served the noble pilgrims and the traveling knights in their fathers' castles.“

The Kurhaus is expanded several times and is regularly fully booked. Due to increasing conflicts with the landlords of Interlaken, the shipping company finally sells the Giessbach to the Hauser hotelier family.

The Hausers in 1875 immediately set about expanding the facilities and commissioned the eminent hotel architect Horace Edouard Davinet to build the new grand hotel with the character of a French baroque palace.

Herringbone parquet floors

In order to make it easier for arriving guests to reach the hotel in 1879, hotel director Karl Hauser-Blattmann applies for a concession for a cable railroad from the ship's landing stage up to the hotel in 1878. On July 21, 1879, the Giessbachbahn goes into operation. It is a pioneering work of the engineer Roman Abt, a student of Nikolaus Riggenbach: the first single-track funicular railroad with a switch in the middle, the so-called Abt'schen Weiche, which allows the crossing of two wagons.

In 1879, a beer hall is opened. It survived until the late 1920s.

A third, simpler hotel was opened in 1880 above the old one, the Pension Beau-Site. It was demolished in 1926.

On October 4, 1883, a fire destroyed large parts of the hotel, but by July 1884 it was reopened, in the Swiss wooden style, with a completely different roof.

In the old hotel, the Kurhaus, a water sanatorium is established in 1886.

On July 15, 1911, the Giessbach establishment is sold to the Lausanne businessman Ferdinand Grillet. Under the management of Lüzza Bazzell, a native of Sent in the Lower Engadine, the hotels are extensively renovated and equipped with the latest technical facilities, for example hot water heating.

In 1912, the newly founded A.G. Hotel Giessbach takes over the facility.

The outbreak of the First World War in 1914 put an abrupt end to the Belle Époque. The Giessbach hotels were forced to close. Hard times followed after the war. The hotels resumed their operations, but the management changed almost every year.

However, Director Robert Lips, who also managed the Grand Hotel Brissago, stayed from 1923-1926.

The new road to Giessbach is opened in 1924 to automobile traffic.

From 1939- 1945, during the Second World War, the Giessbach remains closed.

After the war, 1947-1949, the hotel was to be demolished and a power plant built. At the last minute, the hotel was sold to Fritz Frey-Fürst, who had already helped the Bürgenstock hotels to flourish again. He reopened the hotel in 1949 as the Parkhotel Giessbach.

1949-1960 saw a swimming pool and a tennis court built as new attractions.

In the 70's, historic hotels are hardly in keeping with the spirit of the times. There are plans to demolish the Parkhotel Giessbach and replace it with a Jumbo Chalet.

Since 1966, the hotel had been running at a loss; the poor financial statements were covered by the profit of the power plant belonging to the hotel.

This economic situation was not only negative, it also caused the owners to postpone further investments. Thus, the planned modernization of the building was not carried out. It was planned to demolish the turrets, gables and balconies and to gird the hotel with a system of continuous balcony bands.

At that time, the hotel had only a few rooms with bathrooms; it was an establishment with floor bathrooms. The halls and vestibule looked used up and slightly shabby with their cream-colored paintwork.

In 1979, the owners, cousins Erwin Frey, owner of Elektrowerke Reichenbach, and Fritz Frey, owner of Hotel Bürgenstock, announced that this would be the last season of the old hotel. In the fall, they said, the house will be definitely closed, demolished, the rubble will be used to fill the depression between the hotel and the fall, and a new hotel will be built in the form of a large, beautiful chalet with a lot of wood. The project had been designed in collaboration with a founder of Ballenberg, Gustav Ritschard.

Advocate Rudolf von Fischer, a long-time guest and friend of the old hotel, immediately founded the "Giessbach Working Group", which brought together experts from all possible fields. It set out in a study the importance, the added value and the possibilities of the old hotel.

In long arguments, the owners of the Giessbach sought to badmouth the old house: The supporting structure was rotten because of the constant humidity; the time of the old hotels was over, the few guests got lost in the empty, oversized halls with the creaking parquet floors and, moreover, the Giessbach had a permanent problem: The waterfall was like a defective cistern that nobody could stop.

In 1981, the owners submitted the demolition application, which forced monument preservation and protection organizations to object to it.

As a result, on a cold July Saturday in 1981, there was a big debate in an empty, high-chairs hall between the owners, the communal and regional politicians and the Giessbach Working Group. The mood was frosty, as was the temperature, and one member of the council of the cantons made the statement that they had thought that the Bernese bailiffs had been driven out in 1798, and now they were coming back...

A drôle de guerre of 3 years ensued. The house was closed and barricaded, an eerie silence reigned at the Giessbach, in the press pro and contra were opposed, the canton commissioned an expert opinion, the Working Group was looking for finances. This proved to be difficult, the Bernese banks and companies were reluctant, the BLS promised only 50,000.

In 1982, the Working Group found the saviors of the Giessbach in Franz and Judith Weber, who, with their charisma and powers of persuasion, were able to turn the mood in the community of Brienz and the region around for the better and, in the form of nationwide campaigns, raised the funds for the purchase, modernization and restoration of the house and the park. Unfortunately, the power plant could not be purchased.

In June 1984, after four anxious years, the hotel could be provisionally reopened; from then on the house was open in summer, and in the following five winters it was built, restored and furnished. In the summer of 1989, the hotel could be definitively opened. The thanks of the region and the public went first and foremost to Franz and Judith Weber. Without them, the planned Jumbochalet, for which the funds would never have been raised, would not be standing at the Giessbach today, but a bratwurst stand. The empty hotel would have been vandalized and demolished long ago as an eyesore like the cable car. Not imaginable, but this is not fantasy, but realistic observation, there are enough such examples. Their idea to ‘give’ Giessbach to the Swiss people and thus keep it intact for all time met with an enthusiastic response from the population."

The rescue made the Hotel Giessbach a flagship in whose wake numerous historic hotels have been reappraised, valued and restored."

Took the funicular back down to the dock to catch the boat going to Brienz.

The Lötschberg just left the dock and was heading to Interlaken.

Looking back toward Interlaken

In 12 minutes, we will be in Brienz where we will take the train back to Interlaken

What's a hot tub boat? Interesting rental.

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