Berner Oberland: Places to Explore

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Lauterbrunnen

Acclaimed by Lord Tennyson as "the stateliest bit of landstrip," the Lauterbrunnen Valley is often ranked as one of the five most beautiful places in Switzerland (we give it the number-one spot). A Swiss Shangri-la, it encloses a nearly perfect set piece of earth, sky, and water. The mountains here seem to part like the Red Sea as two awesome, bluff-lined rock faces line the vast valley, where grassy meadows often lie in shadow as 1,508-foot rocky shoulders rise on either side. What really set this mountainous masterpiece apart are the more than 70 waterfalls (Lauterbrunnen means "only springs") that line the length of the 3-km-long (2-mile-long) valley. Some plummet from sky-high crags, others cascade out of cliff-face crevasses, while many are hidden within the rocks themselves; the largest, the Staubbach Falls, were immortalized by Goethe, Wordsworth, and Byron, who described them as "the tail of a white horse blowing in the breeze." For scenery supreme, Lauterbrunnen can't be topped.

The relentlessly picturesque panorama opens up as you get off the train. This tidy town of weathered chalets also serves as a starting point for the region's two most famous excursions: to the Schilthorn and to the Jungfraujoch. Superefficient parking and a rail terminal allow long- and short-term parking for visitors heading for Wengen, Mürren, the Jungfraujoch, or the Schilthorn. To save a lot of money on hotels, consider choosing this valley as a home base for day trips by train, funicular, or cable. But don't ignore its own wealth of hiking options through some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in Europe. Several lovely trails line the valley, including the Panorama Spazierweg, which connects Lauterbrunnen with Wengen. Get a map of it (and lots of brochures) from the tourist office on the main street.

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