In January 2018, as Storm Eleanor/Burglind wreaked havoc on Switzerland, with heavy rains and dangerous winds, my family and I escaped to a tropical corner of the Swiss Alps: Tropenhaus Frutigen in the canton of Bern. A unique example of Swiss ingenuity, this project uses renewable energy from the Alps to cultivate food products, like bananas and caviar, not usually found in Switzerland.
At the foot of the Bernese Alps, Tropenhaus Frutigen is a special tropical environment supported by thermal energy from the Lötschberg mountain. With the construction of the Lötschberg Base Tunnel, which opened in 2007, came the need to divert rain and melt water from the mountain. At approximately 18°C (64.4°F), this warm mountain water could not be fed directly into existing waterways, as it would negatively impact the spawning grounds of the local lake trout. Cooling the water would have been an expensive undertaking. Instead, this water has instead been cleverly harnessed for the purpose of growing tropical plants and farming sturgeon and other fish.
Tropenhaus Frutigen opened in 2009, welcoming visitors to explore its tropical greenhouses and observe its farm-raised fish. Located about a 7-minute walk from the Frutigen train station, the complex includes a restaurant, exhibition space, fish farm and gift shop. From Tuesday through Sunday, the Tropenhaus also offers guided tours and hosts school groups and corporate events.
My family and I arrived at Tropenhaus Frutigen just before lunchtime, and we headed straight to the restaurant for an early lunch.
Located in the greenhouse gardens, the Restaurant Tropengarten is surrounded by a lush canopy of tropical plants. The menu, which is available in English, features dishes with ingredients grown and raised at the Trophenhaus, such as fresh tropical fruits and fish — sturgeon, perch and zander.
At lunchtime, the restaurant has a very family-friendly atmosphere, and my children enjoyed exploring on their own in the adjacent gardens before our meals arrived. I ordered the three-course menu for CHF 45. With generous portions, I almost could not finish my dessert, a very rare occurrence. The food was fresh, colorful and satisfying, and the servers were attentive and helpful. Here’s what I had:
Kürbissuppe | fermentierter Kürbis | Kürbiskernöl
Pumpkin soup with fermented pumpkin and pumpkin seed oil
Egli-Filets in Tempuramantel | Kokosdip |Süsskartoffel Frites |Portulak
Tempura battered perch filets with coconut dip, sweet potato fries and purslane
Guaven Crème-Brûlée | marinierte Banane
Guava Crème Brûlée with marinated banana
At the Restaurant Tropengarten, you will also find Oona Caviar on the menu, harvested from the sturgeon raised on-site. The Tropenhaus has approximately 80,000 sturgeon. It does not use any antibiotics, medicines or chemical pesticides for its fish breeding or aquaculture.
If you like caviar, Oona Caviar is a fresh, high-quality and premium Swiss product made without additives or preservatives, such as borax. I first tried this extraordinary caviar at Chef Alps 2017 in Zurich. I tasted it from the back of my hand, as traditionally done — which imparts some warmth, but does not affect the flavor. Oona Caviar advises on its website that, “Under no circumstances should silver or metallic spoons be used, as these will destroy the taste of the caviar.”
In addition to tasting this caviar at the restaurant, you can also purchase it at the Tropenhaus shop or order it online for home delivery in Switzerland.
On such a cold, rainy day, we were delighted to explore the warm, tropical environment together after we finished our lunch. Available in English and with a special version for children, the Tropenhaus offers a self-guided audio tour of the greenhouses, the exhibition and the fish farm.
About two tons of fruit are collected from the trees and plants growing inside its greenhouses every year, according to the Tropenhaus website. Some examples of the type of fruit grown in the greenhouses include banana, papaya, mango, carambola (star fruit), guava, physalis, lychee, durian, avocado, pineapple and kumquat.
The tropical gardens in the Tropenhaus Frutigen includes some birds and animals, orchids and several themed trails — coffee, banana and spice.
Tropenhaus Frutigen also has an interactive exhibit that opened in March 2016 titled, “How the fish came to the mountain.” It provides information about the sturgeon raised at the farm and the caviar production process.
Altogether, my family spent about 3-4 hours at Tropenhaus Frutigen, including our lunch at the restaurant. We enjoyed all aspects of our visit there — great food, a tropical climate and fish tanks — my children were captivated by them. It is a one-of-a-kind Swiss food experience for people of all ages.
Tropenhaus Frutigen, Tropenhausweg 1, CH-3714 Frutigen, Phone +41 (0)33 672 11 44, email@example.com.