It’s in­spired po­ets and Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien and, whether you walk, bike or jump, this alpine val­ley will take your breath away

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS AN­DREW FENTON

The Lauter­brun­nen Val­ley in the Swiss Alps, could ruin the rest of your va­ca­tion. One of the most idyl­lic and beautiful places on the planet the views are so breath­tak­ing the re­main­der of your hol­i­day — per­haps your next few hol­i­days — will seem like an an­ti­cli­max.

It sounds like hy­per­bole, but I’m not the only one to feel this way: Lord By­ron com­posed po­ems about its beauty and JRR Tolkein was so in­spired he based Lord of the Rings’ el­ven king­dom of Riven­dell on the land­scape. Amer­i­can travel writer Rick Steves barely stops rav­ing about it and it’s full of Steve’s hol­i­day­ing dis­ci­ples, all clutch­ing his guide books.

The name means “many foun­tains” and white wa­ter from 72 thun­der­ing wa­ter­falls spills out over the sheer 300 me­tre high cliff faces that over­look the lush green val­ley.

Choco­late box-style Swiss cows with bells graze in the mead­ows, and if you look up you’ll see moun­tains peek­ing from above the cliff face. They’re im­pres­sive enough un­til you spy even higher moun­tains tow­er­ing 4200 me­tres above them, the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau peaks. The sheer cliffs, carved out eons ago by glaciers, make the Lauter­brun­nen Val­ley a mecca for base jumpers. They flock here to take the cable car to the ridge be­fore hurl­ing them­selves off nu­mer­ous times a day — some with wing­suits to ex­tend the jour­ney. The $14 ticket is a lot cheaper than hir­ing a plane.

I’ve hired a moun­tain bike to tackle the ridge around the val­ley on two wheels and get talking to a group of 12 base jumpers on the way up. Mostly twenty-some­thing guys they keep their para­chutes in sur­pris­ingly small back­packs to take the ex­press route back down. One Aussie tourist ex­plains how he pro­gressed from sky­div­ing to base­jump­ing and saved up all his money for the flight over. “It’s my first day and this is jump num­ber four” he says with a grin.

As we reach the top, and they jump out to get the train to Mur­ren the cable car op­er­a­tor yells “Be care­ful” at them. Sage advice: dozens of peo­ple have been killed base­jump­ing here.

Al­though it makes moun­tain bik­ing seem tame (and sen­si­ble) by com­par­i­son, the ride is no less en­joy­able for it. The awe in­spir­ing moun­tain scenery as seen from the ridge, the gnarly sin­gle track at the end of the val­ley back down to the val­ley floor, and the easy ride along the river to the town has to be one of my favourite rides in the world. I do it five more times dur­ing our brief visit. (I pass the base jumpers again on the way back, hump­ing their packs along the road back into town be­fore they rinse and re­peat.)

There’s plenty of places to stay in the val­ley — the ski re­sort of Wen­gen on the ridge has plenty of ameni­ties, it’s sis­ter town Mur­ren on the op­po­site side of the val­ley has bet­ter views and the tiny, car free farm­ing com­mu­nity of Gim­mel­wald is beloved by Steves. I pre­fer Lauter­brun­nen it­self, with Staub­bach Falls thun­der­ing above the town, good trans­port links and best of all it re­mains be­low the clouds dur­ing the in­evitable bad weather.

And there’s plenty of that — on our first visit three years ago, we ar­rived in the af­ter­noon, had a beer in Mur­ren struck dumb by the in­cred­i­ble view and then re­tired to bed, only to find that was the last time we could see any­thing ex­cept clouds for five days. This time we ar­rived on a blue sky day, chucked the bags at the ho­tel and im­me­di­ately took the train up the moun­tain to Kleine Schei­degg, to wan­der back down an alpine path to Wen­der­alp, mar­vel­ling at the close views of the north face of the Eiger.

The next few days do in­deed pass by in a haze of bad weather so we var­i­ously trek to In­ter­laken (by chance a rock fes­ti­val’s on with The Prodigy, The Hives and The Off­spring), and check out the shops and

View of Mt Lauter­brun­ner Bre­i­thorn and Mt Tschin­gel­horn Pic­ture: Mar­cus Gyger/Tourism Switzer­land

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