If you look hard enough you will notice that there is more than snow squirrelled away in the Swiss Alps. Hidden between the mountains are small picture perfect villages and Lauterbrunnen is one of these.
Situated in a valley between 2 sheer cliffs, this quaint little place with its chocolate box houses is a travellers dream. This is a remote village to be sure with one shopping street, a church and one road in and out, but this only adds to its charm.
I stepped off the coach with snow falling hard around me and dusk fast approaching to stare open-mouthed at the powdered houses stretched down in the valley in front of me. A far cry from the Parisian city I had visited the day before. I longed to explore the unknown streets but was promptly told by hostel staff member that with the current snowfall rates, walking at night was not recommended and so I turned my attention to finding my room for the night.
The hostel booked consisted of log cabin rooms, perfect for an authentic snow lodge stay, made only slightly less favourable by the restrooms and shower rooms being in a separate block a short walk outside away. Also available to guests was a heated clubhouse with a restaurant/bar area and a dance floor. The food here is a simple and tasty menu of local dishes at a very reasonable price served by friendly staff.
Tip: Be aware of the amount of alcohol in your drinks. As a fellow traveller advised me that night, the local wine is much stronger than you think!
I arose the next morning and drew back the curtain to find a fresh thick blanket of snow covering everything in site. Approx 2 foot of snow had fallen that night and was still drifting down as I made ready and headed out with a room mate for my activity of the morning, a visit on the Jungfrau.
Now, a quick word about the temperatures here. I visited Lauterbrunnen at the start of February and the warmest it reached was -5 degrees centigrade. This temp was at the bottom of the mountains. So whatever clothes you think you need, add another layer of leggings, socks and jumper and you will probably be closer and wear thermals too. Extra gloves will also help you here.
The Jungfrau mountain region is a skiers paradise and home not only to the highest train station in Europe but also to the highest chocolate shop. The journey up takes an hour by train and a return ticket costs approx 24 euros. Included within your ticket price, you will receive a Jungfrau passport to keep (lots of helpful and historical information in here) and some free Swiss chocolate.
When you reach your station, take a moment to sit down somewhere inside and adjust to the altitude. You are over 11,000 feet up!
Once you can manage it, you will find shops full of souvenirs and chocolate galore, restaurants, an ice palace and an observation deck, all free to look around. Take your time to appreciate this well-made centre. The ice palace is very impressive and why not have a go at the outdoor ledge. I managed about 12 seconds, just long enough for a blurry photo. After a couple of hours, we again boarded the Jungfraujoch train and descended the mountain, eager to explore the village itself.
Walking the paths in the valley amongst the traditional Swiss-style houses and lodges with flakes of silent snow floating down against the backdrop of the silver-grey mountains, it was easy to see why tourists return to Lauterbrunnen time after time. It is here you can truly learn to love the snow with opportunities for sledding, skiing and snowboarding and even the occasional snowball fight with the local children. The shops are well stocked with Swiss goods and the local people are friendly and happy to share local information. If the village shops do not have what you need, anything more can be obtained from a short car or bus journey to the nearby town of Interlaken.
We spent a happy afternoon wandering the streets until the village church bell striking the hour reminded us that darkness would soon be upon us. Turning to venture back up the hill, we realised how tired and achy we were from our day of walking. Slow and steady was the name of the game here and it took us a good hour to get back to the hostel, arriving as the dark was really drawing in and heading straight to the clubhouse for a traditional Swiss dinner of rich cheese and beer fondue followed by steamed pudding and custard. I have dreams of the fondue even now, it was a satisfying end to a very enjoyable day.
Its a place i remember fondly despite the considerations you have to make for the cold and I would heartily recommend Lauterbrunnen with all it has to offer as something a little bit different for the traveller in you. Its not every day you can say you visited the village Tolkien is thought to have based Rivendell on…
A few little tips:
Clothes – I cannot recommend thermals enough if you visit here in the Winter season. Keep your extremities warm. If you’re that unsure look at what the locals are wearing and then add an extra layer.
Footwear – Many people were seen venturing around Lauterbrunnen in everyday boots, even suede ones. These just won’t cut it in the type of conditions they experience here, so unless you want to be slipping and sliding through the icy streets, wellies or boots with good grip are what you need. I wore hiking boots and still slipped a bit. Look after your feet.
Hydration: It may seem a strange thing to mention while you’re cruising round a town of frozen water, but the cold can be very distracting. You will be using a lot of extra energy while exploring and playing in the snow, so some small snacks and a bottle of water will go a long way to keeping you fuelled up.