Thursday, November 7, 2013

My Secret to the Greatest Vacation Ever...Switzerland

I'm writing this, because I've been all over, and I've seen a lot of things.  I like Europe.  That's a fact.  I like mountains.  I like small towns.  I like a good view.  This entry is about the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Alps in Switzerland.  This is the most beautiful place on Earth.  You may want to contact me and tell me how wrong I am.  If you haven't been there, then you might be wrong.  The above picture is the view that I got to wake up to every morning from Hotel Staubbach where we stayed while we were inside of this amazing postcard.

These were three of the six cows that lived outside our window in the yard at our hotel.  They were some of the happiest cows I've ever seen, and that says a lot because I grew up in farmland in the Midwest, and I saw a lot of cows over the years.  I did have a theory that cows in Switzerland are happier, because most people eat pork and lots of cheese.  Therefore, the cows do not have anything in the world to fear.  These guys love to pose for the tourists.

This is the town of Lauterbrunnen.  The name means many fountains, which is accurate.  All it has to do is sprinkle, and there are dozens of ephemeral waterfalls all up and down the valley.  Even when it's dry there are three notable waterfalls in the valley.  There is the falls by the gondola that goes to Gimmelwald and the Schilthorn.  There is Staubbach Falls, which is the glory of the town of Lauterbrunnen.  Then there is Trummelbach Falls.

Trummelbach Falls is a marvel.  It starts hundreds of meters up inside the cliff that borders the valley.  It's a tourist attraction and has been made so that people can get a good look at all of it.  When you arrive, you go up inside the cliff on a lift.  When you get out, you are almost at the top of the falls.  You walk up a little bit, inside of the mountain.  Then you start seeing all the amazing sections of this raging waterfall.  The upper half is inside of the mountain.  The lower half you can see from the outside.  There are nice safe steps and railings everywhere, so it's family friendly.  It is a beautiful waterfall, and for 10 chf per person it's a bargain.

So, the view is great.  But there are several other things going on around Lauterbrunnen.  For example, I've written about going up the Schilthorn and seeing the views, walking through Murren, and playing around in James Bond World.  It's a great day trip while you're there.  The thing that amazed me was that there were so many little towns in that valley.  Most of them were up on the edges of the cliffs.

Kleine Scheidegg is that halfway point on the cog railway ride up to the top of the 12,000 foot high Jungfrau.  I'll write another entry to cover that. This place should be deserted most of the year, but it's  not.  It's a fully functioning town with restaurants, stores and hotels.  It's also a popular spot with the ski crews in the winter months, because there are a few resorts up there at around 8,000 feet.  It is the only way to the top of the mountain, so they always have people buzzing through and around this tiny little upper Alpine village.

Another one of these amazing towns is Wengen.  It is the first stop on the way to Jungfraujoch, and it is a very popular tourist destination.  It's a fully functioning town with no vehicles, save for a couple of utility vehicles that never leave this beautiful little village.  There are hotels, stores, restaurants and all kinds of tourist things all over this little burg to keep the locals and the tourists occupied.  The people who actually live in this tiny town, keep there cars in garages at the train stations in Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen.

On the opposite side of the valley we have the town of Murren, and it's claim to fame as being the birthplace of Alpine skiing.  Is it?  Who knows, but it is an extremely popular winter spot with skiers and other winter enthusiasts.  This place also has some of the best views I've ever seen.  It hangs over the valley in just the right place to get the best views of all that the valley has to offer.  Once again, there are only a couple of vehicles floating around this town, so the only way there is by gondola on this side of the valley.  The Wengen side has trains and the Murren side has gondolas.  They all operate on a Swiss rail pass, so it's good.

A short walk or a short gondola ride from Murren is Gimmelwald.  Once again the town is tiny, the view is amazing, there are no real vehicles.  There are farms in Gimmelwald.  There are cows and goats and fields of grass for the animals.  There was even a field of what looked like potatoes up there.  This is also the place for anyone who wants to para sail.  These guys pack up there chutes, take their Swiss Pass and catch the gondola in Stechelberg, and jump right off the cliff by Gimmelwald.  I said that it rained people in that valley, because there was always someone para sailing off of that cliff.

 Here's the one that no one will tell you about.  This is Isenfluh.  This place is on the other end of Lauterbrunnen straight up a cliff.  There is a separate gondola on that end of town that will take you up the cliff to this tiny village.  There are also walking paths that can take you all the way to Murren and Gimmelwald on the other end of the cliff.  But Isenfluh is different.  There is a road up there and you can drive there.  You have to go through a windy long tunnel that takes you up inside the cliff, but it's up there and it's beautiful.  They have all the great views of the valley, hotels, restaurants, stores and cars.  It's the best of it all.

But what's the allure of Lauterbrunnen?  Maybe it's the grand old Hotel Staubbach that we stayed in.

Maybe it's the fact that everything is small town and beautiful, even the cemetery.

Maybe it's the quiet of the town, or the restaurants with their great food, or the shops where you can buy just about anything, or the local attractions that are all a must see, or the way that they even wish you well when you leave.  The place and mostly the people are something that you won't encounter anywhere else.  I met a woman named Katrin.  She worked at our hotel and she was one of the most amazing people I had ever met.  She was from Estonia, and she decided that she never wanted to leave this valley after she'd visited.  Now she lives there and she loves it.  People from all over the world visit this place whether they wish to hike, ski, jump off a cliff, or just look at the amazing views that are the valley and the mountains around.  I would have liked to have stayed longer.  I could have stayed forever.  Lauterbrunnen is the most beautiful place in the world, and everyone should not only see it, but experience it.  I don't recommend many places with this energy.  I don't tell many of my favorites at all.

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