High Mountain Villages in the Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Two Days In The Bernese Oberland

Nowhere else are the Alps so near, so spectacular, so safe, and so accessible as they are in the Jungfrau Region of the Bernese Oberland. There are literally hundreds of possible destinations and thousands of hiking trails but I only had two days, so I chose the two that I’d heard the most about and that everyone, to a person, said were “must sees.”

On day one I caught the train from the Interlaken Ost station, bound for the Lauterbrunnen Valley. At 796 meters elevation Lauterbrunnen is the departure point for some of the most amazing mountain railways in Europe, but Lauterbrunnen itself is no slouch. Almost immediately upon stepping off the train one comes face to face with the awe-inspiring, 300-meter high Staubbach Waterfall, located literally at the southern end of Main Street.

Staubbach Falls streams off high cliff at the end of Main Street in the village of Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

Staubbach Falls streams off high cliff at the end of Main Street in the village of Lauterbrunnen

Staubbach Falls comes into view at the end of town in Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

Staubbach Falls comes into view at the end of town

 Staubbach Falls stream off the mountain in Lauterbrunnen Switzerand

At the end of the town, Staubbach Falls stream off the mountain

At the end of the town proper, the path continued into the countryside. With every step the view changed – to the right was the cascade tumbling down the sheer rock face; to the left was the lush green valley, framed by craggy mountains peaks. Eventually the path branched to the right, leading to the foot of Staubbach Falls. Up, up, I climbed, on a steep gravel path, until I came to a tunnel that had been burrowed into the mountain. At the end of the tunnel metal stairs led further up, ending at a rocky observation platform that had been carved into the face of the mountain. Water cascaded down in sheets in front of the rock window and a sound like thunder echoed to my right. I stuck my head out over the railing as far as I could and saw the main body of the falls cascading down in torrents off the face of the mountain.

Lush green valley in Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen’s lush green valley

Tunnel into the mountain leads behind Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

Tunnel into the mountain leads behind Staubbach Falls

Peeking out from behind the waterfall in Lauterbrunnen Switzerland

Peeking out from behind the waterfall

Instead of returning to town at this point, I continued along the hiking path, destined for the Trummelbach Waterfall. Along the way I passed dozens of smaller falls and walked through flower-strewn meadows at the base of sheer mountains. Crossing over the rapids of a pasty gray river, I arrived at Trummelbach. Nicknamed “the falls inside the mountain,” Trummelbach is a glacial waterfall that is literally enclosed within a mountain. With viewing made possible by an elevator built inside the mountain, a number of tunnels carved into the solid rock, and a series of spotlights, the chutes of the Trummelbach Waterfall are accessible at ten points along its route as it carves its way through the mountain.

Hiking to Trummelbach Waterfall Switzerland

Hiking to Trummelbach Waterfall

Looking back at Staubbach Falls, on the way to Trummelbach Waterfall Switzerland

Looking back at Staubbach Falls, on the way to Trummelbach Waterfall

Crossing a high mountain meadow and river in the Bernese Oberland Switzerland

Crossing a high mountain meadow and river

Wildflower strewn meadow in the Bernese Oberland Switzerland

Wildflower strewn meadow

I have always wondered about underground rivers and lakes – I have a hard time imagining how a body of water can exist totally underground. Trummelbach has given me new insight into the process. The Trummelbach alone drains the mighty glacial melt of the Eiger, Monk, and Jungfrau glaciers. It carries 20,200 tons of boulder detritus per year and up to 20,000 liters of water per second. I took the stairway to the two lowest chutes, the ones that emerge from the mountain just before barreling into the river. I rounded the final corner into a roar of white sound, a blast of ice cold air, and a wind so strong I had to hold on to the side of the rock wall. I was amazed that the entire mountain had not been carried away by this enormous power, but it does explain the gray color of the river water that emanates from the glaciers. The elevator then took me up inside the mountain, where I viewed the remaining eight chutes. Some of them poured out of holes in the rock, others swirled down corkscrew slides, still others were roiling pots of water. By the time I had seen all ten chutes my fingers were so frozen I could barely work the camera and I was happy to come back out into the sunshine.

Trummelbach Waterfall, nicknamed the falls inside the mountain Switzerland

Trummelbach Waterfall, nicknamed “the falls inside the mountain”

Trummelbach Waterfall emerges from the mountain Switzerland

Trummelbach Waterfall emerges from the mountain

By now it was getting late in the day, so I took the bus further up the valley to the town of Stechelberg, where I caught the cable car to the top of the mountain and the car-free town of Gimmelwald. This is no tourist town – this is a functioning mountain village, complete with cows, sheep, barns, and lean-tos filled to the roof with split firewood. People obviously live here year round, as I passed numerous farmers cutting hay and this happy fellow carrying his rake over one shoulder.

Happy mountain farmer in the Swiss Bernese Oberland

Happy, high mountain farmer

The beauty of this village was stunning – what must it be like to live with these view from your front window:

Cable car to the high mountain village of Gimmelwald Switzerland

Cable car to the top

View of Alps from Gimmelwald Switzerland

View of Alps from Gimmelwald

Lovely Gimmelwald Switzerland

Lovely Gimmelwald

High alpine scenery in Gimmelwald Switzerland

High alpine scenery

A hostel in Gimmelwald Switzerland

A hostel at this altitude!

I walked up and out of Gimmelwald, headed for the next village up the mountain, Murren, but the sun started to go down before I reached it and I was forced to turn back because it was getting chilly. I was thoroughly but pleasantly exhausted by the time I got back to Interlaken and immediately fell into bed so I would be ready for the next day’s foray into the Alps.

Train to Grindewald Switzerland

Train to Grindewald

The next morning I got back on the train and again traveled to Lauterbrunnen, this time taking the branch going to the east valley and the mountain town of Grindelwald. Our little train chugged its way up the steep mountain, following the path of a dirty gray glacial stream. Fifty minutes later I stepped off the train to this view:

Grindewad Switzerland is picture postcard perfect

Grindewad – picture postcard perfect

Perfect scenery in Grindewald Switzerland

Perfect scenery in Grindewald Switzerland

Undoubtedly this town is gorgeous – a set designer couldn’t have done a better job of creating a perfect mountain town. For my taste, however, it was a bit too perfect. Filled with crowds of vacationers in designer clothes, shopping for all they were worth, Grindewald fast became a place I wanted to leave. Again I walked up and out of town, passing the local church, with its spectacular backdrop and perfectly manicured cemetery – I wondered briefly what it would be like to have this view for eternity and even thought I might reconsider my wish to be cremated if I could be buried in a place like this – until I thought about how cold it must get in the winter.

Church graveyard in Grindewald Switzerland has a perfect view for eternity

Church graveyard has a perfect view for eternity

For about an hour I climbed up, up, and up – until I finally got tired and retraced my steps to the train. Since I’m leaving tomorrow for historic Venice, Italy I wanted to get back to the hotel early and get a good night’s sleep. There is so much more of Switzerland I did not get to see, but it is time to move on. As I am fond of saying, so many places; so little time.

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