Unlike a river valley which is V-shaped, Lauterbrunnen valley, which was carved out by a glacier millions of years back, is U-shaped. The two sides of the valley are therefore almost vertical and very steep. Exit from this glacial valley is through a narrow gorge. The valley is deep (the deepest in the alpine chain), it is flat, it is wide and it is – well, simply magnificent.
We arrived there in a rather roundabout way. From Grindelwald we took the areal gondola (the longest in Europe) to Mannlichen, high up in the Alps and spend some time there, taking in the panoramic views. From there, we descended into the village of Wengen on the other side of the valley in an aerial cableway and as we came down, we got a bird’s eye view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley, below the village of Wengen.
From Wengen, we took the train, all the way down to the floor of the deep glacial valley, into the heart of the village of Lauterbrunnen.
Some of Switzerland’s tallest peaks, reaching up to 14,000 feet, rise dramatically from this area. The three majestic, jagged peaks of the Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger provide a spectacular backdrop to this magical, deep, lush green glacial valley.
This valley is rarely more than one kilometer in width, situated in between steep, perpendicular bluish limestone cliffs. The valley floor is an amazing place for leisurely walks along a flat surface.
Because of the topography, the valley has numerous waterfalls that plummet vertically from soaring heights. Some of these waterfalls are so high that by the time the water reaches ground level, all that remains of it is a spray. The most famous of these waterfalls is the subterranean Trummelbach, about which I have written at length in another post.
Unlike other waterfalls lining this valley, you can’t see the Trummelbach from the outside. It is underground – rather hidden inside the mountain and you have to enter it through a narrow crack amidst the tall rock face in the valley wall.
It is the largest subterranean waterfall system in Europe – to be precise, a series of ten glacial waterfalls deep inside a mountain, at ten different levels. It drains the melt waters from the mighty glaciers of the Eiger, the Mönch and the Jungfrau mountains (a drainage area of 24sqkm), with up to 20,000 liters of milky, blue-green glacial water storming furiously every second, between solid rock masses.
The Staubbach is another spectacular falls at a height of 900 feet, which makes it one of the highest single unbroken falls in Europe. The waters plummet off the cliff, downwards almost at a 90 degree angle.
Not surprisingly, the Lauterbrunnen valley has been duly celebrated in literature. Goethe’s poem Gesang der Geister über den Wassern (Song of the Spirits above the Waters) was reportedly written while he stayed at the parish house near the Staubbach Falls in the valley. Tolkein is supposed to have hiked from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, which it is said, later provided him the concept and visual model for this sketches and watercolor paintings of the fictitious valley of Rivendell.
While we arrived in Lauterbrunnen from Wengen, from Interlaken Ost, it is a 20 minute train ride, with a regular service.
With sheer cliffs bearing gigantic and soaring rock faces on two sides of the valley, snow capped mountain peaks, 72 waterfalls plummeting vertically from dizzying heights, the Weisse Lutschine river flowing along the valley floor and with scattered little villages, hamlets and meadows, Lauterbrunnen valley was a total take-on, on the senses.
I share with you photographs of the valley, from a series I took from the moving train, as we approached Lauterbrunnen village. I have also added a few photographs downloaded from Wikimedia (with acknowledgement), to give you a fuller sense of the sheer grandeur, magnificence and beauty of the place.
Well, actually it won’t. Photographs simply can’t do that.
So if you want to see a page from a physical geography text book leap into life, you now know what to do; head straight for the Lauterbrunnen valley, in Switzerland.