LAUTERBRUNNEN,Switzerland – Gushing spouts pour water from cracks along vertical rock faces and draw my attention upward through the verdant valley extending beyond town.
A desire to get away from the tourist-filled streets of Interlaken brings me by train to Lauterbrunnen,where a gentle walk through the valley to Stechelberg yields vistas typically found only by extreme adventurers.
While skiers fill the town in winter,summer brings cyclists,hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts – but not too many – to take advantage of glaciated valley's terrain. Wildflowers and grass replace the snow by mid-May when I wander the streets wearing sandals and a T-shirt.
I first find myself beneath Lauterbrunnen's Staubbach Falls,which tumbles 990 feet before bouncing on the boulders beneath. Without collecting into a pool,the water flows into several streams. This view helps me understand why the town's name means “many fountains.”
Runoff from Staubbach joins a river in the middle of the valley,where I find a trail to Stechelberg,which is the farthest town in the valley. The signs tells the length of the walk in time,1½ hours,not distance. I meander along a snowmelt river,through shady fields and past dozens of waterfalls. The trail is flat and smooth enough for wheelchairs.
More challenging trails lead away from the main path. Most follow steep edges of the surrounding peaks.
After 30 minutes,I reach a post of yellow signs,including one pointing to Trummelbach Falls,10 waterfalls inside a mountain.
Stairs lead me to the elevator that takes guests to the cavern. There,Bucky,a native of Corpus Christi,Texas,begins to describe his move to this valley 20 years ago.
“I don't climb,and I don't ski,” says the guide and elevator operator. “I just fell in love with the views.”
Inside,blue and gray waters swirl from smooth,circular openings in the cavern. One fall is named “the corkscrew” for its bouncing,back-and-forth swivel down several rocks.
After an hour inside the misty cave,a reasonably priced café with gourmet sandwiches and snacks beckons at the exit.
The trail continues past many more waterfalls,but the height and volume of Sefinenfall,another 30 minutes along the path,stops me as I watch it fall from the tree line at the top of hundreds of feet of rock.
Paragliders jump from cliffs higher yet. Harnessed to parachute-type gliders,they drift into the fields around me. Next to the mountains around them,they appear miniscule beneath their brightly colored foils.
For those who prefer adventures on foot,trails lead from Stechelberg to Murren,a 1,500-foot climb,and on to Gimmelwald,a mountain town also accessible by cable car.
Most who travel to higher towns glimpse three of Switzerland's most famous mountains,Eiger,Mönch and Jungfrau. Some lifts operate in summer,taking skiers to the few peaks with enough snow for short runs.
The valley includes more than 120 miles of marked hiking trails,almost 40 miles of downhill or sloped bike trails and several cable car lines,according to Tourist Information Lauterbrunnen. Buses also run between Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg.
My hike,lunch,travel to and from Lauterbrunnen from Interlaken,and visit to Trummelbach Falls took about five hours and cost about $30.
In Interlaken,I stayed with my fellow backpackers at the Happy Inn Lodge,Rosenstrasse 17,and took one of the 20-minute trains that depart every half hour to Lauterbrunnen from the Interlaken Ost train station.
The Lauterbrunnen tourist office lists nine hotels,53 apartments,five group lodges and two campgrounds in the town of fewer than 1,000 residents.
The Oberland Hotel is centrally located on the town's main street with rooms starting at about $51 per night. The hotel offers parking,a restaurant serving Swiss and international food and balconies overlooking the mountains. Hostels and other budget accommodations are also available.
Lauterbrunnen Equipment Rental Information
-source: Tourist Information Lauterbrunnen.
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