Fancy exploring the Lauterbrunnen Valley in just one day? If you’re tight on time but still want to visit this Swiss mountain paradise, this guest post by Christina from Explore Now or Never will explain just how to do it!
As an American, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I sometimes dash around on my European travels the way that Europeans themselves just don’t do. I’m a busy freelance writer so I can work from anywhere, but my research scientist husband has to hoard his vacation time to join me!
So if I tell you that our overnight in Lauterbrunnen, one of the prettiest towns in Switzerland, was a complete impulse decision that wasn’t even on the itinerary, you’ll understand how it happened. Actually, we were just wrapping up a two week trip to Italy with a stay at Lake Maggiore and a visit to the Borromean Islands in Italy’s super scenic Lake District when I looked up and saw the sharp snow-covered peaks of the Swiss Alps for the first time in my life. Why not dip a toe into Switzerland?!
Exploring the Lauterbrunnen Valley…By Car!
Next thing you know, I’m google mapping the distance and looking for last minute hotel options in the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Ten years earlier, we’d planned a trip there with our two teenagers and then had to cancel last minute due to an illness in the family. I was completely devastated at the time. So it was a full circle kind of moment for me when I literally saw the Alps in my line of vision a decade later.
In May, when we finally visited, it seemed like Switzerland was still deciding whether it was ready to fully commit to spring weather…a snowstorm one day followed by sunny skies the next. But then I checked the weather forecast to find that the day in question was likely to be the only sunny day sandwiched between a series of impressive looking thunderstorms. So I said a prayer to the weather gods and we pointed the car north.
Driving Simplon Pass to Goppelstein
It was a beautiful and scenic four-hour drive north high into dramatic mountainscapes as we threaded our way through the Simplon Pass, which connects the Pennine Alps and the Leoponine Alps.
At Goppelstein, we took the car ferry to Kandersteg. It was my first experience with a car ferry in a tunnel…and by “ferry,” I mean an open-air train ride through a pitch dark tunnel for fifteen minutes!
Then boom. You emerge into all the alpine majesty of Switzerland’s famous Berner-Oberland, Switzerland’s “highland,” with sweeping vistas and views that made me think I was on a movie set. We wound our way along the shore of the deep blue alpine Lake Thun, past tiny Swiss villages dotted with Romanesque churches.
And finally, we dropped into the gorgeous Lauterbrunnen Valley, rounding a corner to encounter this:
With a waterfall drop of 297 meters (974 feet), Staubbach Falls is one of the highest freefall waterfalls in all of Europe. Located in the center of the Lauterbrunnen valley – and framed by the famous alpine peaks of Eiger, Mönch, Jungfrau, and the Schilthorn, it’s an impressive site to behold.
In fact, we overnighted at the no-frills Hotel Staubbach just across the street from Staubbach Fall, specifically to peak out our window at this amazing natural wonder as frequently as possible. When we arrived mid-day for a quick nap, we listened to the rush of water from the falls punctuated by the tinkle of cowbells and whisper of calling sheep through our open window. Why, Hello Switzerland!
As you might imagine, Swiss cowbells are a whole thing here. They come in various shapes and sizes – some are huge and heavy – and can be quite expensive for the shepherds to purchase. They adorn Swiss cows to mark both the mid-June trek high into the Alps for a summer of cheesemaking and then again during the procession back into the villages in mid-September.
Into the Swiss Alps
After sampling some Emmental and Alpine cheese (Swiss food is THE BEST!) as part of the hotel’s continental breakfast the next morning, we took the funicular (cable car) up to Gruteschalp. It was an incredible (and speedy) 10-minute ride into an Alpine wonderland!
Once we were high in the Alps, we set out on foot for a 90-minute wander. Flat and easy, this hike took us past meadows of snow-covered wildflowers, artistically arranged woodpiles in the middle of nowhere, and jaw-dropping “pinch me” vistas everywhere.
The sound of rushing streams, melting snow and chirping birds were a feast for the senses. As we finally ambled into Murren for a well-earned beer, I nearly burst into “The Hills Are Alive” like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music.
Then we hopped a funicular down to Gimmelwald, a tiny rustic alpine village perched incredibly on the edge of a cliff.
Where we watched the paragliders breezing by. Unlike a hang glider, which is a rigid structure, paragliders consist of just a lightweight harness where the rider sits suspended under the lightweight fabric “wing.” Paragliding might be a bit out of my adventure comfort zone, but it was truly wondrous to watch the wind gently sweep the paragliders across the deep Lauterbrunnen Valley to set them gently on the valley floor.
There is a lovely little hostel here in Gimmelwald which was once a historic private home dating from the 16th century. I think it would make a fabulous base for several days of idyllic hiking in this area. When we spied the sofa and coffee table out front positioned for maximum alpine views, we promptly popped open the backpack for a leisurely picnic of local pears, fresh bread, and Swiss chocolate.
Buttery Italian cheese left over from our earlier market visit and cooking class in Tuscany a few days earlier completed the meal. Steve and I love to rent a car on our European travels so we can collect and stash local foodstuffs from open air markets as we go. The picnics just get better every day!
If we’d had more time, I’d have loved to ride the funicular from Gimmelwald up to the Schilthorn (a 9,748 feet peak!) for breakfast or lunch at Piz Gloria, the revolving restaurant at the top with a serious view … or to have hiked to the glacier fields at Kilchbalm out of Gimmelwald.
Alas, our overnight Swiss adventure concluded after this single idyllic day and we headed back across the car ferry to Lake Maggiore just across the Italian border and ultimately home from nearby Milan.
See you again soon, Swiss Paradise…
Further Reading on Switzerland: