Destinations

Adventures in the Alps

The Weekly’s Laura Weaser finds adventure in the Alps..

Arriving in the small Swiss village of Lauterbrunnen, with its rolling green hills, sheer cliff faces and snowy peaks, it’s easy to think you’ve somehow misread your travel directions and ended up back in New Zealand.

But even for a longtime South Island resident, who has seen New Zealand landscapes at their best, there’s something awe-inspiring about this postcard-perfect view.

Nestled in one of the most impressive valleys in the Bernese Alps, with a population of just over 2000, Lauterbrunnen is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. At the beginning of autumn, the climate is remarkably similar to New Zealand – misty and a little cloudy in the morning, before giving way to glorious sunshine by the afternoon.

The wood veneer walls and beige shades of the linen in a hostel room at the Schützenbach Backpackers& Camping hark back to 1970s ski cabins, and a majestic view of a nearby waterfall from the bedroom window only adds to the sensation.

Like many country towns, there is only a main road with a few cafés and shops (of course, a Swiss army knife and watch shop is buzzing with activity).

But that’s the beauty of Lauterbrunnen – the houses are like something out of a fairytale, piled sky-high with decorated wooden shutters on every window and a flower box that’s in full bloom.

On a clear day, a train ride up to Jungfrau, the third-highest point on the Alps, offers spectacular bird’s eye views of the world below.

A 45-minute train ride through the Elger and the Mönch mountains is a great way to see the scenery on your way up to the Jungfraujoch-Top of Europe. Located 3454m above sea level, you can snowboard, ski, toboggan or simply observe from a plateau.

While it’s a beautiful sight to see, if your time is limited, you may prefer making the most of your short stay by hiring a mountain bike, as I did.

A half-day hire of four hours was enough to get a taste of Swiss life, heading out from the small settlement, deep into the valley where the Trümmelbach Falls lie.

This is one of the wildest glacier ravines in Europe, with 10 waterfalls hidden within the mountain. Take the stairs all the way to the top, or cheat and ride the tram within the mountain to a halfway point to begin your trek to find all 10.

The sheer power of the water cascading through the rocks is a sight to behold and truly showcases nature’s beauty.

As you walk through the dark and damp caverns, it feels like something out of a fantasy novel and there’s an air of mystery about the Trümmelbach.

A picnic at the base of the falls is the perfect way to dry out, before taking the tram up to Mürren, a quaint hillside settlement of just 450 which offers gorgeous valley views.

From here you can also

head up to the summit of the Schilthorn and the famous revolving restaurant Piz Gloria – the principal filming location for the James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

As you cycle through the narrow roads, locals happily greet you and are more than helpful if the maze of hillside paths leaves you confused.

A steep descent on the other side is a test for first-time mountain bikers, particularly as there are a number of gravel roads, but the peaceful atmosphere – interrupted by the occasional jangle of cow bells – and fresh mountain air are a distraction from the fear of slipping tyres.

Adrenaline junkies may prefer a step up from the scenery and are well catered for. Skydiving, base jumping and canyoning are all popular, but expect to shell out the big francs for the risk-taking activities.

As for a me, a cup of hot chocolate (made with real Swiss chocolate), followed by a beer that had been chilled in the local stream, seemed a much better way to see in the evening as I watched the sun set over the snowy summits.

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