Spending time in the snug valley that cradles Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, left a tattoo on my soul that I don’t think will ever fade. I felt inspired by the raw, natural beauty of the snow-capped mountains with their dramatic inclines, and I felt cozy among the alpine homes that sit like gingerbread houses along the rolling hills of the valley perched high among cliffs. The hum of bubbling, teal streams and the distant jingle of cattle bells were the soundtrack of the weekend, and the air was crisp and clean. While I enjoyed connecting the natural splendor to my reality, I couldn’t help but think about the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It turns out that the author, J.R.R Tolkien, used Lauterbrunnen as an inspiration for the elven domain of Rivendell. The substantial cliffs that cradled the deep valley and the vitality from the streams and lush greenery made me feel like I was also in a safe and magical place filled with tranquility.
My husband and I drove to Lauterbrunnen from Stuttgart, Germany. Even though the drive was 4 hours, the vibrant scenery made it go by quickly. We rushed past rolling hills dotted with tiny homes and farms, lakes with icy blue water, and wild mountains that reached for the clouds. The colors and contrast of the landscape had my husband and me driving with our eyes wide in wonder. We felt we had entered a dream, and that dream gently carried us to our rental in the small town as if on a cloud.
The rental was a spacious apartment for two people and boasted fantastic views of the mountains to the south and Staubbach Falls to the east. After settling in, we took a short walk to town, which was composed of only one main road lined with homes, shops, and restaurants. Despite the misty weather, we spent some time exploring the street. The shops mostly contained specialty grocers, hiking gear, souvenirs, and watches. However, many were closed. We later discovered this was because the locals were resting between the busy hiking season and the soon-to-come ski season. Despite that, we found that there were enough places open to satisfy us, and we felt at home with the lack of crowds.
We found a cozy restaurant at a hotel along the quiet main road for lunch. I ordered the raclette, a dish I had never tried before. I loved the taste of the cheese with the potatoes but found that the amount of cheese given to me was overwhelming by being so rich. It felt more like a cheese dish with some potatoes than a potato dish with cheese on top. From my research online, I wonder if this is the traditional way it is supposed to be served. However, it was still an enriching dining experience.
By the time we finished eating, it was getting dark. We decided to buy an array of chocolates, fruits, cheese, meats, and wine from a local grocer for the evening. We spent the night bundled up on the porch of our rental, enjoying our finds and gushing over how amazing Switzerland is.
The following day, fog slithered mysteriously around the mountains from yesterday’s rain, but the day was full of opportunity. We started the morning in a bustling coffee shop filled with tourists and locals. Feeling pumped from our coffee and pastries, we walked up under Staubbach Falls, the most famous waterfall of Lauterbrunnen and closest to the town. It falls dramatically over a 297m cliff (974ft), and its silver trail is visible from most points in town. While perhaps it wouldn’t be fair to call the walk up under it a “hike” because it only took about ten minutes, it wasn’t a walk in the park either. We wandered up a steep and twisting hillside, through a long tunnel, and under a rocky overhang with slick and uneven stairs. Once we reached the top, we were still shielded from the falls’ curtain by the overhang, so we could soak in the views from the valley and listen to the rumbling of the water. It was an invigorating way to begin a day of exploration.
After that, we weren’t sure if we wanted to go up the gondola we saw from town or up the yellow train we had seen slinking down the hill from the mountains. A visit to the visitors’ office was beneficial in our decision-making. We decided to take the train up the mountain to a town called Wengen. I’m not sure if I should say that Wengen is next to Lauterbrunnen or above it because it can be seen sitting politely at the top of one of the cliffs that border the valley. As we made our 15-minute descent up, the falls and homes of the valley became smaller, and the rays of sun fighting against the fog graced the majestic scenery from a bird’s eye view. I felt as if I were in a painting.
Wengen was much like Lauterbrunnen in that it was small and quiet from the off-season. However, soaking in the views from a higher vantage point was the only entertainment we needed. We simply strolled through the neighborhood, marveled at the peaks brandishing their vigor, and had lunch on a park bench facing the range of the adjacent wave. That evening, we strolled through our own neighborhood, where cows were grazing in small pastures lining the street. In Switzerland, cows often wear bells on their necks so that their owners can find them among the hills and the rhythmic tinkle, similar to the sound of windchimes, followed us all the way home. For dinner, we spent another evening chatting on the porch and eating what we picked up from the grocery store.
My visit to this area was short but impactful. My husband and I are planning a trip back to the region next summer to spend more time outdoors and enjoy warmer weather. Being in a place that connected me profoundly with nature left me feeling elated. I think I will talk to anyone who will listen about the magic of Switzerland for a long time and am inspired to visit more natural wonders worldwide.