SEE WHY THIS STUNNING SWISS VALLEY INSPIRED LORD OF THE RINGS
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 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