A small hike in Lauterbrunnen, the real-life inspiration behind Rivendell

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Note: Due to the recent surge in new COVID cases in Europe, I have paused travelling internationally for the time being. This was the last trip I took, and I plan to remain in Switzerland for the foreseeable future.

On the same day I took the boat tour in Lake Brienz, I also made an unplanned detour to Lauterbrunnen, barely half an hour away by train.

This alpine town is best known as the real-life inspiration behind Rivendell, the tranquil valley of elves from The Lord of the Rings. When J.R.R. Tolkien hiked through the area in 1911, he made a sketch of the otherworldly landscape and deemed it Rivendell. (Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the Tolkien sketch with the real thing.)

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This tray on the train gives a very colorful overview of the broader region. Interlaken is at the bottom, straddling two lakes, as its name suggests. Lauterbrunnen is just 20+ minutes up the road, and Grindelwald (lol) is also close by.

One thing that may surprise many tourists to Switzerland is how industrial it is. Yes, there are many, many pristine alpine landscapes with nothing but grazing cows and gently clanging cowbells, but the following scenario is also extremely common: beautiful, green, lush rolling hills — as the backdrop to a chaotic array of concrete block buildings, cranes, unmanned tractors, shipping containers, and railways under construction. Lauterbrunnen train station is such an example.

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There is a clear and well-traveled pedestrian walkway leading further into the town, with tons of restaurants, cafes, ski supply shops and chalets on both sides.

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From ground level, the terrace outside Chalet Pironnet is an excellent spot to take a picture.

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The Staubbach Falls are a sight that cannot be missed. Literally, it’s right there, gushing down from a height of nearly 300 meters. It looks far away in the pictures, but the base is actually only a 10-minute walk from the train station.

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A peaceful cemetery on the other side of the street.
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One of the tallest waterfalls in Europe, apparently!

The foot path up the side of the mountain is only open during the summer. It was steep at around 50 degrees, but actually didn’t feel like a very strenuous climb. The path was paved with something that had a very defined pattern and texture, which made it easy for shoe soles to grip onto and not slip, both uphill and downhill.

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This was the view about halfway up.

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And then things got scary. By the point I reached a long, empty, dark tunnel that seemed to plunge straight into the mountain, I was alone. I crossed the tunnel — and was abruptly confronted with this, a narrow, cavernous stone path dripping and flowing with excess water that was being sprayed by the falls.

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It was unclear where the path ended and how much further I would have to go. I was scared. I’m generally afraid of heights and the unknown. But it was my birthday and I wanted to challenge myself a little bit. I thought of a quote that I really like from the Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: “You can stand anything if it’s only for ten seconds.” Ten seconds at a time, I told myself.

And suddenly… I was there, at the end!

 

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After that, it was time to head back to Interlaken Ost and then back to Geneva.

 

Got home at close to 10pm. A day well spent in nature.

Expenses

Roundtrip train tickets between Interlaken Ost and Lauterbrunnen: CHF 7.6 (purchased on the spot!)

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