I love big cities, and always enjoy returning to Hong Kong, New York, and Sydney—among many others. But what about those unknown gems that are off the beaten tourist path… those obscure places that are just waiting to be explored by real travelers?
Our new “Mini City Guides” are here to uncover those gems, and we’re looking to our favorite explorers—AONC readers—to give us the inside scoop.
Which accessibly obscure city would you like to share?
Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland — the pearl of the Swiss Bernese Oberland.
What makes it unique?
Lauterbrunnen is the picture in your head when you think about Switzerland. It’s a paradise of towering alps, rainbow-streaked waterfalls (72 of them!), downy-soft wildflower meadows, secluded mountain chalets, snow-dusted glaciers and — lest I forget — hands-down, the prettiest cows in all the world.
It’s a hop and a skip from larger Interlaken, but most of us residents rarely venture outside LB. There’s a self-sustaining ecosystem over here, and we spend our time plying it with hiking boots, BASE parachutes, paragliders, speedwings, skis, snowboards, crampons, and rope.
What makes it special to you?
No place in the world is big-wall BASE jumping (parachuting from a fixed structure) more accessible than it is here, in a rift valley whose soaring, vertical walls are extensively served by trains, cable cars and well-established trails. The specialness goes far beyond that, however — Lauterbrunnen’s magical beauty constantly catches even long-time residents off-guard.
What’s the best place to grab a bite to eat or drink?
Once you’ve had the brownie at Airtime Café — a cozy little coffeeshop on Lauterbrunnen’s diminutive main drag — you’re ruined forever. People who haven’t been to Lauterbrunnen in a decade still ramble on about that brownie. If you live here, you’ll occasionally notice that you’ve been eating one every single day.
Where can you kick your feet up with a great cup of coffee?
Airtime, as well as being a brownie dealer, makes a great mocha. For a better view, hop on the cable car from Stechelberg to the bitsy hamlet of Gimmelwald. There, find a seat on the patio at the Mountain Hostel, order a cuppa and watch the clouds amble over the peak of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch.
Are there any festivities that can’t be missed?
The Jungfrau Marathon, held annually in September, brings droves of steely-eyed long-distance runners hoofing through Lauterbrunnen and up the mountain to Kleine Scheidegg. It’s acclaimed as “the most beautiful course in the world” — and I’d have to agree — but it looks like one hell of a punishing route. We BASE jumpers try to keep the runners entertained by cheering for them from the air.
What’s the best time to visit?
If you’re a skier, aim for February. If you’re a warm-weather aficionado, shoot for late August/early September.
What’s the best way to get around town?
The Valley and its environs are well served by trains, buses and cable cars, all as efficient and sparkling-clean as you’d expect in this efficient and sparkling-clean country. If you’re staying more than five days, do yourself a favor and buy the 99.-CHF month-long pass.
Any other areas around that can’t be missed?
If it’s summertime, head up the cable car to Mürren and have a go at the Via Ferrata that leads from that ski village down to Gimmelwald.
Also not-to-be-missed: remember the mountaintop ski lodge full of voluptuous Bond girls in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? You can hang out there. Head up the Schilthorn mountain for “The 007 Breakfast Buffet” in the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant, then head out to wander around the connecting trails. You’ll remember the 360-degree views for the rest of your life.
Thanks to Annette O’Neil for sharing the beauty of Lauterbrunnen with us!