When we were planning a trip to Switzerland for this past June, I researched the country quite a bit and decided that we absolutely must visit the Berner Oberland and check out the breathtaking beauty of some Alpine villages. I was inspired by Rick Steve's episode on Switzerland (you can see a clip on his YouTube page HERE), and after much debate between staying in the larger hub town of Interlaken, the tiny car-free Gimmelwald loved by Rick Steves, and the waterfall valley village of Lauterbrunnen, we chose Lauterbrunnen.
Lauterbrunnen is a short train ride to Interlaken, and a base for several gondolas and excursions. It was the ideal place for us, we loved it, and seriously think it is the most spectacular place we have ever been. This tiny valley town has incredibly steep cliffs on either side, an enormous waterfall with a path to walk up and under it, as well as several smaller ones, views of snowcapped peaks, some great little hotels and restaurants, a few shops, a playground and cemetery, and cows! It is easy to figure out where to go and what to do in Lauterbrunnen, there is a Tourist Information Office that is very helpful and gives out maps and sells tickets to every excursion. Andrew, age 5, had the best quote about the spectacular beauty of Lauterbrunnen, "I wish I could keep looking at this always."
How to get there?
In Switzerland there is a network of trains which are considered "sightseeing trains." These trains have huge windows and go through areas of spectacular scenery. The train ride from Lucerne to Interlaken is part of one of these scenic routes, and it WAS a really cool train ride with views of valleys, villages, mountains and waterfalls around every turn. There is a regional train that goes from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen. You can also drive, the hotels in Lauterbrunnen have parking, unlike some of the higher altitude towns which are accessible only by gondola or funicular and are car free.
Where we stayed...
We researched housing options in Lauterbrunnen and wound up booking at Chalet-Hotel Rosa through booking.com. It was reasonably priced, very centrally located, and we had a huge room with a private entrance with a double bed, bunk beds, and a crib for Hailey. There is also a cozy common room that we spent some time reading and drawing in. The people who run Chalet-Hotel Rosa are all English speakers from the UK, and are incredibly kind and helpful. Breakfast was included and was incredible!!
Things to do...
There is SO much to do in and around Lauterbrunnen. The town itself is gorgeous and walkable, and the waterfall is amazing, and the playground is really sweet. We had three days here and this is what we chose...
There are two huge peaks easily accessible from Lauterbrunnen, we decided on the one that was at a slightly lower elevation of almost 10,000 feet above sea level. It was accessible by a series of incredibly fun, fast moving gondolas with altitude meters and takes you to a lunar landscape with snow, even in the end of June. It was cloudy the day we were there but we could still get the feel of it. There is a rotating restaurant from a James Bond movie, but it felt a bit fancy for the kids so we just walked around for a bit.
Murren is a car-free town accessible by gondola from Lauterbrunnen, we stopped there after our Schilthorn excursion. This village is adorable, totally scenic, and very walkable. There are some tiny main streets, fields of wild flowers, and gorgeous views everywhere. We really liked it, and happened upon a very delicious Chinese restaurant run by the nicest couple, called Tham Kok Keong. We sat outside and people watched and devoured the freshest Chinese food ever.
Gimmelwald....Also through the network of gondolas that make the Schilthorn trip possible, one can pop up to Gimmelwald. Rick Steves has really put this tiny town on the map, and for good reason. It would be a bit quiet and remote for us to actually stay there, but for an afternoon it was a perfect place to visit. Gimmelwald is so amazing because it is so authentic and untouched. There are cows with cow bells everywhere, and only a handful of tiny shops, and almost no people. It is a true Alpine village, and is very special. We love fancy cheese and purchased some homemade cheese from a family's garage (on the honor system) and checked out an unstaffed curiosity shop (purchases also made on the honor system). There are some restaurants and hotels, and a really neat little playground. It was a memorable afternoon and we are so glad we visited.
St. Beatus Caves
It rained one of the days we were in Lauterbrunnen. So, we asked the lovely staff at Chalet Rosa and they suggested taking the train to Interlaken and then a bus along the edge of the lake to St. Beatus-Holdel Caves. This was a great suggestion. The bus trip was beautiful and dropped us off at the base of the steep path that leads to the caves. I brought the Ergo carrier for our two-year-old as I had read that the caves were not exactly stroller accessible or toddler friendly. We had to wait a while for the English/German tour, and had a snack at the more casual of the two restaurants at the cave entrance. The tour was delightful and the caves are spectacular. They were created partially by water so you can see the waterfalls, lakes, and beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. My kids were fascinated by the colorful history of the caves, they were resided in by stone age peoples, housed a dragon that was expelled by a Saint, who then lived in the caves. As a bonus for little ones, there is even a dragon themed playground. This was fun, fascinating and interesting, and a great rainy day activity.
Other things to do...
There are tons of other day trips, excursions and adventures to be had from Lauterbrunnen and the easily accessible Interlaken. Other mountains, museums, car free towns, hikes, gondolas, funiculars, etc. One could easily spend a week or more in this region.
We loved our time in Lauterbrunnen! It was a great Alpine experience, very family friendly and memorable. Absolutely awesome.