For a really long time, I was fascinated by art including painting, sculpture, architecture and monuments so I traveled to Italy a lot. Recently, inspired by my friend who wanted to explore the area around the municipality of Meiringen, I decided to come back to nature. If you want to admire the genius of mankind, few countries are better choices than Italy but if you want to be amazed by nature, in particular mountains and lakes, Switzerland is certainly among the top destinations. As I mentioned in my post about the World Nature Forum Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch Exhibition, a total surface of 824 square kilometers of the Alps is inscribed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site and is now managed and protected by 23 municipalities in the cantons of Valais (15) and Bern (8). In this post, I’ll recommend you a site which is not only a natural beauty but also closely associated with popular literature – the Reichenbach Falls. It is here that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s detective, Sherlock Holmes, fights to the death with Professor Moriarty, at the end of “The Final Problem“, first published in 1893. If you are a Sherlock Holmes fan, don’t forget to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Meiringen, which was opened on 4th May 1991 (100th anniversary of the death of Sherlock Holmes) in the presence of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and Dame Jean Conan Doyle, the second daughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and exhibits authentic objects belonging to Sir Conan Doyle, from the Victorian era and related to the detective fiction – “Stories of Sherlock Holmes”.
Though not the first fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes is certainly one of the best knowns, with Guinness World Records listing him as the “most portrayed movie character” in history. When I was around the falls and in the museum, the introductions almost convinced me that Mr. Holmes wasn’t a fictional character but a real individual. In fact, his huge popularity and fame made many people believe that he actually existed. Widely considered as a British cultural icon, the character and stories have had profound and lasting influence on popular culture, with the original tales as well as thousands inspired by them adapted into stage plays, TV series, films and video games over the last century.
As you can see from the pictures above, I included three attractions in my one-day trip and the starting point is the town called Meiringen, which is easily accessible by train. From Meiringen train station, where you can walk to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in 5 minutes, there is an urban train called “Meiringen-Innertkirchen-Bahn” running between Meiringen and Innertkirchen and stops at Alpbach, where you can walk to the Reichenbachfallbahn (Reichenbach Falls funicular train station), Aareschlucht West, the west entrance to Aare Gorge, and Aareschlucht Ost, the east entrance to Aare Gorge.
My itinerary was (1) Meiringen -> (train) Aareschlucht West -> (walk through and visit the Aare Gorge) Aareschlucht Ost -> (train) Alpbach -> (walk) Reichenbachfallbahn -> (funicular train) Reichenbach Falls -> (funicular train) Reichenbachfallbahn -> (walk) Alpbach -> (train) Meiringen -> (walk) Sherlock Holmes Museum.
- The reason why I chose to visit the gorge first is that considering it’s a narrow valley between steep rocky walls, the sun won’t shine on it completely, not even at midday. If you like photography and want to take nice photos, it’s a bad situation if half of the cliff is in the sun while the other half is in the shadow. Therefore, I recommend you visiting it either early in the morning or late in the afternoon or even on a cloudy day because the lighting will be more balanced.
- The reason why I chose to visit the museum last is that it only opens from 13:30.
In this post, I’ll focus on the Reichenbach Falls and Sherlock Holmes Museum and as for Aare Gorge, I’ll dedicated a separate post to it.
1. Reichenbach Falls
After getting off at the train stop Alpbach, I walked for around 8 minutes to reach the funicular station. Because there was no clear sign indicating the general direction of the falls, some old couples who probably didn’t have Google Map etc. asked me where to go. My advice is upon your arrival at Alpbach, walk south-west (you need to cross the Aare river) and when you see the fall as you can see in the 1st picture above, just go towards it. One interesting thing was that there were not many tourists although it was a sunny Saturday, but many of them were British, which I could tell from their accent. I guess they were big fans of Sherlock Holmes and wanted to follow the footsteps of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his hero. Now, I’ll give you some practical information and tips so that you can have a successful and smooth visit.
- Adults: return CHF 12.- / single trip CHF 8.-
- Children (6-16): return CHF 8.- / single trip CHF 6.-
- Funicular and Aare Gorge combined ticket: Adults CHF 16.-, Children (6-16) CHF 11.-
- Funicular and Sherlock Holmes Museum combined ticket: Adults CHF 13.-, Children (6-16) CHF 8.-
Opening hours (2018):
- 4th May to 7th October: 9:00 – 17:30 (last ascent 17:15)
- tickets for the funicular can be bought from the staff on site directly but can only be paid in cash;
- combined tickets are available at the funicular station, Aare Gorge and Sherlock Holmes Museum;
- if you visit Aare Gorge, the train ticket for Meiringen-Innertkirchen-Bahn is included in the admission;
- once you are at the top funicular station, you have the best view of the 120 m-high Grand Reichenbach Fall, the biggest and highest of the Reichenbach Falls, which drop over a total change of altitude of about 250 meters. Next to the big fall, you should be able to spot a white star, which indicates the site of fight between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty;
- you can hike to the white star, which takes about half an hour, but remember to wear comfortable hiking shoes because certain sections of the trail are not very convenient to walk on;
- if you want to have some meals or stay overnight, Gasthaus Zwirgi is located on the trail connecting the top funicular station and the white star;
- if you love hiking, it’s possible to hike directly from Meiringen to the falls and back, which takes around 2.5 hours but I recommend taking the funicular train at least one way because it felt cool to travel in a nostalgic wooden wagon, which is an exact replica of the original wagon used for work purposes since 1899;
- the train runs rather frequently but just to kill time, you can familiarize yourself (again) with the story of “The Final Problem” by reading the info boards at the lower station.
The Reichenbach Falls are a waterfall cascade of seven steps on the creek called Rychenbach in the Bernese Oberland region and the largest of them is the Grand Reichenbach Fall, one of the highest falls in the Alps and in Switzerland. In my opinion, the best viewpoint to admire the magnificence of the Grand Fall as a whole is the upper funicular station. Curiously, the rock with a hole in the middle divides the main stream into two branches, which then splash on the stone at the bottom. Compared to Niagara Falls between the USA and Canada and Iguaçu Falls between Brazil and Argentina, this fall is certainly much smaller but more elegant. Instead of roaring down like a monster, it jumps like a fairy, lightly and lively without any violence. Because the fall is facing north-west and surrounded by two huge pieces of rock, the sun doesn’t really shine on it, not even at midday, which makes it a problem for photography lovers. In this regard, the fall, similar to Aare Gorge, is an ideal destination for photographers even on a cloudy day. Now, let’s embark on the trail and hike to the place where Holmes and Moriarty fight and fall into the fall. There are several viewpoints on the way and following the sound of water, you will see some smaller Reichenbach Falls which will contribute to the Grand one later.
From the upper funicular station to the first observation deck, where you have an amazing view of the Hasli Valley, the road is rather well-paved and you can manage it with simple sports shoes. Along the way, there are several benches where you can sit and take a rest while feeling the nature closely. As you can see from the 3rd and 4th pictures above, the Aare river is like a belt made of jade dividing Meiringen and Schattenhalb. Its milky and cyan (greenish-blue) water, though not as clear as crystal, is so charming and always fascinates me. When I introduce to you Aare Gorge in another post, you will see how it makes its way through the narrow valley with steep rocky walls. Also from this observation deck, you can see clearly the upper part of the Grand Reichenbach Fall and one of the two branches of the lower part.
From the second platform, you won’t see much of the fall but the mist it causes when hitting the rocks on its way down. The depth shown in the picture doesn’t seem much because I zoomed in a lot to have a better view of the bottom but if you stand there and look down, you will feel the thrill and get an idea of how deep it falls.
By crossing a bridge, which is located at the top of the Grand Fall, you will cross the Reichenbach Falls and from here, you can see some smaller falls. Because the bridge was built a bit far from the edge of the rocks, we can’t look down and see the Grand Fall from top to bottom. However, what we can see is how the water flows its way through the rocks and prepares for its biggest adventure of jumping 120 meters. As far as I know, it’s possible to reach the rocks and get really close to the water, but there was a sign saying that the flow could increase suddenly, which poses potential threat to the adventurers. I don’t recommend going off-trail because trust me, you don’t want to jump 120 meters with the water and end up like Moriarty.
After walking another 5 mins, you will be in front of Gasthaus Zwirgi, where you can have a cup of coffee and some desserts or a normal meal. If you think the previous hiking is just a piece of cake and don’t need to take a rest, please follow the sign which says “Sherlock Holmes Fussweg (Footpath)” and continue the adventure.
On the second half of the trail, I strongly recommend you wearing comfortable hiking shoes because I remember there was one section which was really rocky and another one which was rather slippery (as you can see in the 4th picture above). Except for those two sections, the rest of the trail is comparatively flat and easy to walk on. I guess you can manage the second half with simple sports shoes as well but most likely your feet will hurt and you will have sore legs the next day. Please note, when you see the signpost as shown in the 2nd picture above, walk in the direction of “Reichenbachfall Schwendi“, and when you hear the waterfall again, you know you are close to the white start already.
Before introducing to you this must-visit spot for all Sherlock Holmes fans, let’s first review Holmes and Watson’s journey in Switzerland in “The Final Problem”. The narrative is mostly based on the information on the info boards next to Sherlock Holmes Museum. In 1891, after spending months gathering evidence, Sherlock Holmes is about to close the case of the criminal mastermind, Professor James Moriarty. However, threats and attacks make Holmes and Watson leave London. They travel by train from London Victoria Station to Newhaven and then take a steamer to France. Continuing by train, they arrive in Geneva. In Switzerland, they spend a week hiking up the Rhône Valley and then progress to Meiringen through the Gemmi Pass and Interlaken. On the Gemmi Pass, a large rock mysteriously crashes down while they are walking on the trail next to Daubensee and Holmes believes they are being followed by Moriarty’s men. Fortunately, they escape. They arrive in Meiringen on 3rd May 1891 and stay at the “Englischer Hof“, today known as the Park Hotel du Sauvage. The next day, as suggested by the hotelkeeper, they decide to take a detour to the Reichenbach Falls on their way to Rosenlaui. On 4th May, Holmes and Watson climb the path to the falls and when they are close, a boy runs up and tells the doctor that a sick English lady who has just arrived needs help. Watson hurries back and that’s the last time he sees Holmes. Upon his return, he realizes that he has been tricked because there’s no sick lady and when he goes back to the falls, he finds neither Holmes nor Moriarty but the detective’s cigarette case, alpenstock and a farewell note. Three years later, in 1894 in London, an old book-seller reveals himself as Sherlock Holmes and explains that only Moriarty died in the struggle at the Reichenbach Falls while he survived. Since then, he traveled in Tibet and Arabia, studied in France and waited for the right moment to return home. After resuming their old business on 221B Baker Street, the old friends solved many more cases until Sherlock Holmes decides to retire and keep bees in Sussex, England. It is said that his interest in nature developed during his stay in Switzerland.
From the ledge, you will see a plaque and a wreath in remembrance of the great detective and in the museum, you will see his cigarette case, farewell note, alpenstock, curved tobacco pipe, magnifying glass and deerstalker hat. All of them gave me the illusion that Sherlock Holmes was a real individual instead of a fictional character. I guess that’s why many people say that he’s a man who never lived but is much more remembered than most of the people who did. I read from the internet that in the past, probably around a century ago, visitors could touch the water of the fall as the ledge was much closer and the fall itself was much wider. Due to erosion of the rocks and contraction of the fall, nowadays, we can’t really get close to it anymore. The plaque commemorates that “At this fearful place, Sherlock Holmes vanquished Professor Moriarty, on 4th May 1891.” and on the ribbons hanging under the wreath, a dialogue between the detective and his arch-enemy in “The Final Problem” is chosen and it reads:
Moriarty: “You hope to beat me. I tell you that you will never beat me. If you are clever enough to bring destruction upon me, rest assured that I shall do as much to you.”
Holmes: “You have paid me several compliments, Mr. Moriarty. Let me pay you one in return when I say that if I were assured of the former eventuality I would, in the interests of the public, cheerfully accept the latter.”
From here, you can hike for 1.5 hours to reach the lower funicular station, which is 15 mins away by foot from the Sherlock Holmes Museum, or return to the upper station and take the funicular to go down. From the lower station I suggest you walk to the museum directly or walk 7 mins to Alpbach train station and then take the train to Meiringen train station, which is 3 mins away by foot from the museum.
2. Sherlock Holmes Museum
The Sherlock Holmes Museum in Meiringen was opened on 4th May 1991 (100th anniversary of the death of Sherlock Holmes) in the presence of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and Dame Jean Conan Doyle, the second daughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and exhibits authentic objects belonging to Sir Conan Doyle, from the Victorian era and related to the detective fiction – “Stories of Sherlock Holmes”. Its absolute highlight is the living room of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson on 221B Baker Street, London, which is carefully arranged according to the clues that can be found in the stories. To be honest, this is probably the smallest museum I’ve ever been to and yet one of the most concentrated, making full use of the limited space. As you can see from the 1st picture above, the museum is located in the English church, which was built for the British who were having holidays in Meiringen. Next to it, we see the Park Hotel du Sauvage, which is mentioned as the “Englischer Hof” by Conan Doyle in his “The Final Problem“. First I’ll give you some practical information and tips and then I’ll introduce to you some items exhibited in the museum which I found interesting and impressive.
- Adults: CHF 5.-
- Children (6-16): CHF 3.-
- Swiss Museum Pass and Raiffeisen Card holders: free
- Funicular and Sherlock Holmes Museum combined ticket: Adults CHF 13.-, Children (6-16) CHF 8.-
Opening hours (2018):
- Winter (30th October 2017 – 29th April 2018): Wednesdays and Sundays from 13:30 to 17:00
- Summer (30th April 2018 – 4th November 2018): daily from 13:30 to 18:00
For information about discounted admission fees for groups or special opening hours for holidays please click here and click “Opening hours, prices”.
- included in the entrance fee is the rental of audio guide, which is available in German, French, Italian, English, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese, Spanish and Russian and lasts around half an hour;
- the combined ticket is only available when the Reichenbachbahn is in operation;
- tickets can only be paid in cash;
- the museum is very small so sometimes it can be crowded, but don’t worry, up to 20 people are allowed inside the museum at one time.
Before entering the museum, let’s first take a look at the statue of Sherlock Holmes in contemplative mood, which was completed by John Doubleday in 1988 and portrays the great detective a few hours before his final and fatal encounter with the Napoleon of Crime – Professor James Moriarty at the Grand Reichenbach Fall. On the statue and the plaque next to it are sculpted clues, most of which are symbols. With keen observation, it is said that one can compile a complete list of all the sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. How many can you recognize? I guess even for huge fans of the detective fiction, this is a big challenge. From the statue to the museum, a path is surrounded by info boards (as you can see in the 3rd picture above) which narrate briefly “The Final Problem“, the “resurrection” of the detective and his retirement.
In total, there are 5 audio guide points in the museum and the first one is in the church, where you can take a seat and listen to the story of “The Final Problem”. In the middle, a few info panels introduce the adventures of Sir Conan Doyle and his hero in Switzerland and walking around, you will see a few display cases in which letters from Conan Doyle addressed to various people and a travel card by Julian Wolff showing the trip of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in Europe are exhibited.
Now, let’s go back to the entrance hall, where the ticket desk is located, and stop at the staircase leading to the basement.
Now you understand why I said that the museum was highly concentrated. By going down a few steps, you can start listening to audio guide No.2. This section is mainly attributed to the life and career of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (I was surprised when I learnt that he was born in Edinburgh, where I studied for two years), where you can see his first manuscript; 5 stamps featuring Sherlock Holmes issued by the British Post Office in 1993; a sketch called “The Old Horse” by Conan Doyle himself depicting his lifework. It’s interesting to see how he rates “Sherlock Holmes” in comparison to his other achievements; an etching showing the Stonyhurst College in 1882, where Sir Conan Doyle was educated and met his schoolfellows who were called Sherlock and Moriarty and so on.
Now, let’s go to the basement. Before entering the space with four display cases, you should see the famous illustration by Sidney Paget showing the struggle between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Grand Reichenbach Fall, originally published in The Strand Magazine in 1893. In the doorway, the original certificate of re-affirmation of honorary citizenship conferred on Mr. Holmes by the Community of Meiringen on 8th May 1987 (the detective’s 100th birthday) is displayed.
Besides the four display cases, in this room, a map and a drawing on the wall are also interesting. The map of Switzerland shows the route followed by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in 1891 from Geneva to the Reichenbach Falls and the architectural drawing was made by the architects John and Sylvia Reid particularly for the museum. Based on the textural references and their thorough research, they not only reconstructed the famous living room, which we will see later, but also recovered the plan of the entire building, which was built in 1760.
In the same room, four display cases exhibit objects of the Victorian era and related to the stories of Sherlock Holmes. For example, you can see:
- uniforms of the City of London Police in the 1890s and of Kantonspolizei Zürich in around 1912;
- Sherlock Holmes’ silver cigarette case, note to Dr. Watson written on three sheets torn from a notebook, and alpenstock, which rests on a stone brought from the Reichenbach Falls;
- Sherlock Holmes’ three hats: the deerstalker hat, which is the most famous but never mentioned in the stories and only shown on eight occasions in the original illustrations; the black silk top hat, which is worn by Holmes in nine of the stories; and the homburg hat, which is worn by Holmes in no less than 22 occasions (the statistics were collected and analyzed by Mr. D Martin Dakin);
- many objects related to Dr. Watson as a sportsman and his service in the British army;
- a bust of Sherlock Holmes which was modeled in wax by John Doubleday and conforms to the characteristics described in “The Adventure of the Empty House“;
- the magnifying glass and calabash pipe, which together with the deerstalker hat are traditional symbols of Holmes;
- contemporary Sherlock Holmes correspondences. In 1932, the Abbey National Building Society moved into new headquarters (Abbey House, 219–229 Baker Street, London), which it occupied until 2002, and for many years it employed a secretary charged with answering mails sent to Holmes at that address.
- stamps featuring Sherlock Holmes issued by the British Post Office and stamps featuring the Reichenbach Falls issued by the Swiss Post Office and so on.
Behind the wall, you will find the highlight of the museum, that is to say, the carefully arranged living room of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
This is a rather small space but you can sit on a bench comfortably while observing the living room and listening to audio guide No.5. This is the first time that an authentic recreation of Holmes and Dr. Watson’s living room has been made and its size, proportion and architectural elements are in accordance with the details written by Sir Conan Doyle in his stories. Even the furnishings are genuine pieces from the Victorian era such as the oil lamps, which the detective and the doctor preferred to gaslight, the gas-burning chandelier hanging from the center of the ceiling, the wallpaper, etc. If you look at the room from the big opening, you will be standing in the doorway with a double door which is normally closed and separates the living room from Holmes’ bedroom. If you look at the room from the small opening, you will be standing on the landing of the first floor.
The room freezes a sunny afternoon in London around 1895 and is featured with its usual untidiness and Holmes and Watson’d recent departure, which can be seen from the discarded violin and “The Times” newspaper dropped carelessly on the chair. As described by Conan Doyle in “A Study in Scarlet“, this is a “large airy sitting room cheerfully furnished and illuminated by two broad windows”. To the left of the fireplace, we see an 18th-century bureau bookcase on which Dr. Watson sits and writes the stories while to the right (of the fireplace) stands Holmes’ cheap washstand with the chemical corner. On the shelf above it, we see Holmes’ commonplace books, in which he keeps his newspaper cuttings and case notes. On the fireplace are photographs of the famous Irene Adler and Watson’s late wife Mary Morstan and on its hearth lies the slightly bent poker from “The Adventure of the Speckled Band“. In front of the hearth is the bearskin hearthrug on which Dr. Thorneycroft Huxtable dramatically collapsed in “The Adventure of the Priory School“. If you are a Holmes enthusiast, I’m sure you’ll find many objects familiar in the room. If not, which I think is very unlikely, just admire the room as an excellent example of a middle-class residence in London during the high Victorian period.
After visiting the fall where Sherlock fights and falls with his archenemy – James Moriarty and seeing the certificate of his honorary citizenship of Meiringen, his footsteps in Switzerland and in Europe, his personal belongings such as the calabash pipe, magnifying glass, alpenstock, hats, cigarette case, etc., and his living room shared with Dr. Watson on 221B Baker Street, London, do you believe he is just a fictional character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? It’s the truth but one that is certainly hard to believe. No wonder lots of people say that he’s a man who never lived but more real than many who did. Also included in my trip of the same day was the Aare Gorge, and if you are interested in geology or simply the beauty of magnificent cliffs and cyan streams, you can read about it in another post.