Stuart Forster reports on a thrilling and insightful boat ride with Jetboat Interlaken in Switzerland.
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Spray is kicking up from the surface of Lake Brienz in Switzerland. The pilot of the jet boat that myself and ten other guests are throbbing along in raises his hand and makes a circling signal with his index finger. We hang on and he throws the open-topped boat into a 360-degree spin.
In unison, we scream with pleasure while water splashes down on us as the vessel decelerates rapidly to a halt.
Switzerland, I thought, was supposed to be a peaceful place. Aren’t summer visits supposed to be all about hearing cowbells jangling gently while wandering through rolling, flower-filled Alpine meadows where cows chomp lazily on grass? It’s proving fun to debunk that stereotype.
Sailing on Lake Brienz
Long wisps of white cloud hang low over the heavily wooded mountains that hem in the 14km long Lake Brienz, one of the two bodies of water on either side of the city of Interlaken in the Canton of Bern. The other, Lake Thun, is best known for the pleasure boats that offer scenic views of the Alps as they ply the route between Interlaken and Thun.
Pleasure cruises are also offered on Lake Brienz—including on an elegant-looking paddle steamer, the Lötschberg, which was launched more than a century ago—but the idea of combining sightseeing with speed made me book a trip with Jetboat Interlaken.
Jetboat Interlaken in Switzerland
Phillipp, our pilot and guide, turns to us grinning and gives us a big thumbs-up gesture.
“Is anyone thirsty?” he asks and pulls out a pewter tankard from a box by his seat. He reaches over the side of the boat and dips it into the lake, filling the tankard and then swigging back a big gulp.
“Anyone else?” he asks, before explaining that the 260-metre-deep (919-feet-deep) Lake Brienz is filled with mountain meltwater of drinking water quality. He then powers up the boat to its cruising speed of 57km/h and we skip across the lake. During the 40 minutes that we’re out, we’ll cover around 38 kilometres (23.5 miles).
Part thrill, part guided tour
Every few minutes, Phillipp pauses the jet boat to chat with his passengers. The vast majority of people aboard hail from India. We’re all dressed in hooded waterproofs and orange life vests.
We idle beneath the Grandhotel Giessbach and Phillipp explains how the turreted hotel was constructed in the 1870s by a French architect, Horace Edouard Davinet. Members of royal families and notable statesmen would holiday at the hotel, which is set among woodland and still an upscale place to stay.
The property overlooks the Giessbach Falls. In total 14 waterfalls cascade from the mountainside into Lake Brienz.
A shower by the lakeside
After telling us about the hotel, Phillipp backs up the boat and it becomes apparent we’re about to get a bit of a shower. We edge in towards the thundering water of the Giessbach Falls and collectively grin and wave for a group selfie, captured on a GoPro camera with waterproof housing mounted on an antenna by Phillipp’s seat. “I’ll send you a link to the pictures after they are downloaded,” he shouts, over the noise of the tumbling water.
After hitting a top speed of 61km/h Phillipp shows his boat handling skills. I peer up at the mountainside as we snake along in a series of curving turns then we loop around in a reverse 360, slamming to a stop.
A palace by the lake
A grand chateau-style building, the Rehabilitation Centre of Seeburg, occupies a wooded peninsula beneath the Faulhorn, a mountain whose summit stands at 2,680 metres above sea level.
“That building over there belongs to the church. It’s for sale at the moment. If you have $14m spare maybe you can put in an offer. Anybody like the idea of living here? Imagine looking out onto the lake each day,” says Phillipp enthusiastically.
We cheer and head back in the direction of Bönigen, the lakeside village where Jetboat Interlaken is headquartered. After peeling off my waterproofs I’ll be taking a stroll to view the centuries-old timber-framed houses at the centre of the settlement. In the meantime, I hold on tight and enjoy the ride as the boat’s acceleration presses me back into my seat.
Travel to Interlaken
A reliable rail service connects Zurich Airport and Interlaken. See the Swiss Railways website for information about the various types of tickets and passes offered for journeys within Switzerland.
If you’re seeking refreshment after the jet boat ride, stop by the Seehotel Bönigen (Seestrasse 22; tel. +41 33 827 0770). The hotel has a cosy bar area with pinewood tables.
Photos illustrating this post were supplied courtesy of Jetboat Interlaken.
Thanks for reading this post about the experience of a boat tour with Jetboat Interlaken in Switzerland. Are you keen to experience destinations like a local? Here’s a post with insider tips on things to do and see in Interlaken.
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A version of this post was first published on Go Eat Do on 22 December 2016.