We spent several days in the Gimmelwald area hiking and mtn biking with our teenage boys and would like to find a similar area. Are the two areas similar or should we choose something close to Zermatt that may be less touristy??
I've been to both. I found Gimmelwald nicer than Zermatt. Zermatt is actually kind of a disappointment and wouldn't recommend it for your purposes.
I would try the Meiringen/Hasliberg area. It is located east of Interlaken, about 12 km east of the Brienzersee (about 30 min drive from Interlaken). This area has a number of biking/hiking trails on both side of the valley, and as the crow flies, is not that far from the Grindlewald area. If you search the 'alpenregion.ch' website, you'll find lots of information. My husband and I were there for 10 days in late Sept 05 and did about 5 days of agressive hiking. There is lots of different kinds of accomodations = apartments, little pensions, small hotels, etc. so it depends on what you want. This area is not as touristy or built up as the Gimmelwald/Lauterbrunnen area -- pluses and minuses, depending on what is important, but there is still lots to do in the area.
= Ballenberg out-door museum (definitely worth some time)
= Brienz Rothorn Bahn (steam train up to summit, and an amazing choice of hiking routes down)
= Reichenbach Falls (Sherlock Holmes faime)
Zermatt is nothing like Gimmelwald; it is a much bigger, fancier, and more expensive resort-type place. If you want someplace non-touristy and similar to Gimmelwald, I would suggest Bettmeralp, whick is closer to Brig than Zermatt, but to the east. It is another car-free village, perched on a bench high above the Rhone Valley, with views to the south across the valley to the Italian Alps. It is a very small and quiet village, but with a lot to offer in the way of hiking and biking. Our teens loved it there, and pronounced the hike up over the ridge and along the Aletschgletscher "the best ever". Check out the village website at www.bettmeralp.ch Coose English, and "summer", and you will see some photos, as well as hiking and biking suggestions. From Brig, you take the train to Betten (15 minutes), then ride a huge cable car up 4000 feet.
Let me know if you would like lodging recommendations there.