The Swiss Alps – My Happy Place, July 12th
I must admit, even a travel consultant has favorites. Mine are the Swiss Alps, particularly the Lauterbrunnen Valley and surrounding peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. The name Lauterbrunnen literally means “many fountains,” and it fits this special place. Home to 72 waterfalls, all pouring over the sheer cliff walls, this valley is a favorite of nature lovers, base jumpers and families.
This was the part of our travels I’ve been looking forward to the most, and have literally counted the days to our arrival. However, we were greeted by copious amounts of rain, which had been in a holding pattern here for weeks. Though the valley and some activities can be enjoyed in rainy weather, it sounds the death knell for a trip up to the Jungfraujoch, the highest rail station in Europe. When clouds obscure the peaks, the long and costly trip is in vain.
Ever the optimists, Phillip and I shouldered our packs and made our trek through Lauterbrunnen to the hotel cheerfully enough. We made a cozy home for the next 3 days in our wood paneled room, hearing the church bells ringing and breathing in the mountain smell of wood smoke. Ah….we were finally here.
The next morning our hopes for sunshine were dashed as we ate breakfast watching the gray, driving rain through the panoramic windows of our hotel’s breakfast room. Not to be deterred, we inquired about recommended activities for rainy days, and were directed to Trümmelbach Falls, a famously powerful waterfall that has carved its own path through the rock and is now located within the sheer cliff walls of the valley.
We were awed by the falls, but were somewhat confused by the recommendation for a visit on a rainy day….. We left the falls completely drenched from head to toe from the spray and constantly dripping water. When I say “dripping,” I mean a pretty much continual stream, pouring directly overhead. As best I can guess, maybe they recommend Trümmelbach because they figure the rain won’t matter after you’ve experienced the falls.
As we left the falls, we realized the rain had ceased, though the sun still refused to make an appearance. Since we were already wet and keen to make the most of our time, we took the lift from Stechelberg up to Gimmelwald and Mürren, and hiked along the valley’s cliff edge to Winteregg and Grütschalp. Along the way, we stopped to visit a small creamery where local cheese is made and sold, and we enjoyed the free-ranging cattle, tinkling like church bells in the meadow with their distinctive bell collars.
The next morning, I rose early with high hopes of making it to the peaks, but was greeted by the familiar gray pall out the window. Glumly, I went back to bed. Later at breakfast, I was shocked and thrilled to watch the clouds part like curtains over my eggs and bacon. Phillip and I exchanged nervous smiles, threw back the rest of our orange juice, and charged out of the hotel, heading for the train station. Breathlessly we purchased tickets to the Jungfraujoch, almost running in place as we nervously watched the train that was waiting to depart. We made it with time to spare, and were finally on our way!
The train ride up to the top was spectacular in its own right with stunning valley views, but the top was really indescribable. Straddling the ridge between the Mönch and Jungfrau peaks, the Jungfraujoch station commands amazing views of both the glacier fields and valleys below. We stood for long moments, soaking in the newly washed sunshine and panting like goldfish in the thin air. At 10,333 feet, breathing normally is no easy feat.
The train ride down was quiet as passengers meditated over what they had just experienced. It was truly awe-inspiring, and the Lauterbrunnen Valley a fitting base camp for such an experience. The natural beauty, Swiss culture and zest for life is what we came here for, and we found it in spades.
I can’t describe in words what it feels like to come here and taste, feel, touch and see this place. You’ll have to do so for yourself. What I can say is that, of all the places I’ve been, this one takes the cake. There is truly no other place on earth quite like it.