Lauterbrunnen is one of those picturesque Swiss villages that get featured often in magazines and articles. It comes ready with a natural attraction visible as soon as you get off the train. The cascading Staubbach Falls make for an alluring backdrop to an otherwise homespun main-road of the village. It’s impactful enough to stop a first-timer and take in the sight, a deep breath maybe, and even though the walk to the falls is deceptively long, it is stimulating enough for any visitor on the pretext of excitement and adventures to come.
A valley that creates a stunning contrast with the black steep cliffs on both sides as opposed to the greenery in its depths, the views, of and from Lauterbrunnen, are spectacular. There’s a sense of drama no matter from which direction or angle you examine the village.
Lauterbrunnen is hiker’s paradise. Boasting an astounding 72 waterfalls, it is also one of the busiest train stations in Switzerland as it is one of two stops where everyone wanting to visit Jungfraujoch must change their train for an onward and return journey.
Walking along the main road, smoke emerges from the chimneys of chalets that dot the landscape, giving a false sense of warmth on a cloudy day, and trains serpentine through the hilly areas forming a pretty picture. The Alps, on the other hand, are melancholic as they rise suddenly and majestically breaking the monotony of the green and brown that cover the flatter sections.
Small restaurants, souvenirs shops, and hotels border the road that breaks off into two around the central church of the city – one of the few buildings that stand out. A cable car near the station takes its passengers further up the mountain to what could possibly be one of the most scenic places to live in the world. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a helicopter rise up and fly away, taking those with means, to experience the region from what is undoubtedly a breathtaking viewpoint.
It doesn’t take long before the Staubbach Falls make its presence apparent. The sound reverberates across the valley and grows louder the closer you get to this splendid and yet understated sight. While the falls have a prominent position in the village, there are a dozen falls of different sizes easily visible all around in various directions.
On a bright sunny day, you can hike half way up the Staubbach Falls for scenic views of the valley, but the real fun is when it has rained, and the Falls are at their thundering best, the same hike leaves you wet and revitalised with watery excitement. This hike, getting drenched en-route, remains one of the highlights of our entire trip for my daughter and me.
A short walk further down from the falls is Camping Jungfrau. It’s what you would call a five-star camping ground. Not precisely “glamping” – where camping takes on a luxurious turn – Camping Jungfrau is acres of land that has been converted to suit the needs of any kind of camper. Bring your campervan and park it, pitch your own tents and rough it out, there are hostel facilities for big groups and chalets of different sizes for a little bit more space and comfort.
Traveling with kids, we’d booked a camper-home – size of a campervan but a home with a little patio and a bit more space – and while our initial reaction, as we tried to move around the furniture to fit in our one normal-sized suitcase, was that it is too small a place, by evening we had settled down comfortably. The kids didn’t complain a peep considering they had bunk-beds to sleep on, and endless space outside to play in.
Camping Jungfrau is massive with enough to do for the not so exhausted traveller. A park with swings and slides for the kids, a play area with nightly movies, a TV and games room for adults, and a place to just sit and mingle with other guests, there’s a certain buzz in the air throughout the day. An in-house shop sells everything you may need; toiletries to all types of food (quick meals, veggies, fruits, frozen) and souvenirs including the option of getting your name engraved on a Swiss knife – don’t try to fly back with it in your pocket though.
The camp is always alive with guests coming and going, children running around, people driving in and out and of course, the occasional loud big group which comes with fresh, youthful energy that manages to run through the entire camp like electricity. It is at times like this that the reception area and the restaurant becomes the central hub, loud and full of character.
Camping Jungfrau is one of the most famous grounds in the region, and because of that, it is essential that you book with them well in advance. We tried to upgrade our motorhome to one of the chalets but couldn’t as all were already booked. The staff at Camping Jungfrau – which is run by an elderly and very active couple – is amicable and always ready to help. Besides the basic free Wi-Fi available across the grounds, they have also collaborated with local establishments – such as the iconic Lauterbrunnen Public Swimming Pool – to give discounts to their guests.
Eating in Lauterbrunnen means making the most of petite restaurants that serve local specialities and ooze charm at the same time. Since our campervan came with a kitchenette, we mostly cooked food ourselves, but also enjoyed a wonderful meal at the in-house restaurant of Camping Jungfrau – open to the outside public – Wiedsütbli.
Owing to the popularity of Camping Jungfrau the restaurant gets crowded for dinner. While a reservation is recommended, we lucked out on finding a table as we reached there much before the late night crowds descended upon it.
However, the bareness of the restaurant didn’t last long, and it got busy really fast. The service, as we had experienced earlier at Restaurant Whymper Stube in Zermatt, was incredibly relaxed. It felt like everything had a pre-determined time for its arrival and nothing could accelerate it. From being assigned a table, to ordering the food, having it served, and finally waiting almost twenty minutes for the bill before being told that we had to go to the cashier to pay, we spent more time waiting than eating. I came to realise that this laidback attitude is just how things are in this part of Switzerland, and soon enough one gets used to it.
At the restaurant, having a run through some of the popular eats in Switzerland, I was adamant on trying Rösti while the kids ordered their pet favourites, pizza and spaghetti. As is the case everywhere else in Switzerland – and a great way to save money– the portion sizes, even for the kid’s menu, are huge, and our little order which also included a “small” bowl of French-fries was more than enough for the entire family.
Rösti is a pan-fried, shredded potato disc like patty that is topped with various vegetables, meats, and a runny egg on top. Full of flavours and wholeheartedly warming for a rainy day, it is quite a heavy meal, but enjoyable and straightforward at the same time when done right. While my favourite of the Swiss specialities remains to be Raclette – who can beat the drama of scraping off gooey cheese – a Rösti is definitely a must-have.
Lauterbrunnen has a lot to offer for the adventurous. One of my biggest regrets was missing out on Trümmelbach Falls where a set of 10 glacier waterfalls combine to form a beautiful, unusual sight, but then travelling with children results in making a few sacrifices.
However, the options are limited in Lauterbrunnen if nature trails are not on your itinerary. No taxis, the occasional bus service, and hardly anything else to do other than taking in the beauty of the natural world, Lauterbrunnen can get a little straightforward for lack of a better word.
On the positive side, the village is so central to the region and well connected, that it provides an excellent opportunity for the visitor to truly explore everything that Jungfrau has to offer. Higher up from Lauterbrunnen is the charming elfin village of Wengen, perfect to spend half a day. Else, one can head over to Grindelwald which has, along with Lauterbrunnen, become the new-age tourist spots for those that prefer living in the lap of nature as compared to the comfort of city living like a stay in Interlaken.
There is a certain magnetism that pulls everyone to this part of Switzerland. Living in Lauterbrunnen is exhilarating as it mixes up beautiful places of interest with the simplicity of village life making it a unique destination that every traveller will cherish for the rest of their lives.