Discover the magic of Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley

Lauterbrunnen | Photo by Anna Bagiackas.
Lauterbrunnen | Photo by Anna Bagiackas.

Discover the magic of Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley

by Anna Bagiackas
Stripes Europe

When people ask about the most beautiful places to visit in Europe, Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland is often on the list of answers. Nestled in a deep valley ringed with waterfalls, rolling hills and views of the Alps, this Swiss town is truly picture perfect and has lots to offer an active traveler.

And if you’re a “Lord of the Rings” reader, you might get the feeling you’re stepping into Middle-Earth, because author J.R.R. Tolkien was once a hiker in Lauterbrunnen and was inspired by his surroundings, giving the valley the nickname “Sister of Rivendell.”

About 20 minutes away from the larger city of Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen is a small but bustling town filled with local chalets, fields of bell-wearing cows and trailheads on every block. The town is a great base for hikers, skiers and travelers looking for incredible panoramic views of the Jungfrau, Schiltorn, Mönch and Eiger peaks.

Sitting on the valley floor of a dramatic U-shaped crest, Lauterbrunnen is known for its more than 70 waterfalls, including the majestic Trümmelbach Falls. This set of ten glacial waterfalls are located inside the mountain, so they are only accessible via stairs or a tunnel elevator.

You may also travel through Lauterbrunnen if you are en route to one of the Alp resorts, such as Grindelwald for skiing or hiking, or the car-free resorts of Wengen and Mürren. With many forms of transportation available, such as cable car, train, bus and gondola, there are lots of ways to access these different areas of the Jungfrau region.

If you hope to visit, note that the off-season in this area is mid-April to early June and mid-October to mid-December.

Hoping to experience these majestic views—and experience some “Lord of the Rings” magic—we traveled to Lauterbrunnen in early fall. While there were many ways to get up and down the valley and catch views of the surrounding peaks, we decided to spend our day on foot.

Following a Swiss breakfast of fruit, muesli, cheeses and coffee, we started our day early, with the goal of making our way up the valley and landing at the town of Gimmelwald, as recommended by Rick Steves.

We followed signs for Mürren, with the first part of our hike being the steepest as we made our way to the top of the valley. We saw mountain goats and occasional signs for fresh “Alpkäserei” (Alp cheese), where we stocked up on different flavors and aged cheeses from the small refrigerators sprinkled along the trail. We even happened upon a chalet serving up brunch, so we made a pitstop for a Swiss beer and to enjoy some local Swiss accordion music.

The views along our hike were, of course, brilliant. With magnificent panoramas of snow-capped mountains and lush green fields, we could understand why Tolkien and so many others have been inspired by this Swiss paradise.

We made our way through the resort town of Mürren, passing by villas and chalets to make our way to Gimmelwald. This little village seemed so intriguing to us because it is undeveloped due to its rating as an “avalanche zone.” Without the large villas and towering hotels, Gimmelwald felt like the essence of “Swiss mountain village” with worn, wooden houses, bells hanging on the walls, charming flowers and a quietness not found in many of the tourist-filled places behind us.

Bringing us to early afternoon, we were lucky enough to stumble upon Gimmelwald’s own biergarten. We tasted their signature brew called the “Schwarz Mönch” or black monk, which shares a name with the mountainous peak across the valley. Described as “tall, dark and snow-capped” this was a perfect afternoon treat alongside a plate of Swiss meats, cheeses and breads, which would sustain us for our remaining hike.

From Gimmelwald, we began our descent down, which landed us at the southern end of the valley. As we hiked back toward Lauterbrunnen, we stopped at Trümmelbach Falls for a few extra flights of stairs to see the powerful falls. As we walked the last mile back to Lauterbrunnen hang gliders leapt from the top of the valley, cows and goats basked in surrounding fields and bikers and fellow hikers made the last of the day’s sunshine count.

It was a record hiking day for us, with 20 miles under our belts, and we were eager to relax over a pot of fondue, surrounded by the gorgeous landscape and sounds of cowbells ringing and waterfalls flowing.

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