The view of Lauterbrunnen from Wengen

Hiking in Switzerland: Lauterbrunnen to Wengen

While in Switzerland this spring, the number one item on my to-do list was hiking in the Swiss Alps. After all, everybody wants their Julie Andrews moment. And when you see these photos, you’ll be singing “the hills are alive…” too.

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Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Here’s the background – Lauterbrunnen is a small Alpine village located very near the tourist town of Interlaken, Switzerland. The village itself is quite small, and is known for its waterfalls – 21 of them, to be exact. The town is in the valley, so as you walk down Lauterbrunnen’s only “main” street, you’re surrounded on all sides by rocks, cliffs and mountains.

Just a few thousand feet above sits another small village called Wengen. You can reach it on foot, by train, or by cable car – but there are no vehicles allowed, so you can’t drive yourself up.

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Wengen, Switzerland

Wengen is stunning, with its picturesque homes and lodges, but it’s the view it offers that sold me. So, up the mountain I went – on foot, obviously.

To tell you the truth, I never did find a planned path to get from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen, which is VERY unlike me. But, Rick Steves did it, and he told me that the signage on Switzerland’s hiking trails was incredibly easy to follow. So, first thing in the morning, I headed off in search of a trailhead.

I didn’t find one. And German is not a language you can just “wing it” with. After wandering the town aimlessly for 30 minutes trying to figure out how to cross the train tracks, I found a bridge that took me to the other side of the creek and just started climbing.

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Waterfalls everywhere

Truth time: I consider myself to be in pretty good shape. I’ve always been an athlete. If I had to peg myself on the hiking skill scale, I’d be a solid “intermediate.” This hike had me doubled over, hands on knees, huffing and puffing for air.

My husband? He was doubled over, too. Except he was laughing at me. Thanks, guy.

The thing is, this hike isn’t all that long. It is extremely well-marked once you get across the creek. It’s just a constant uphill climb. First, you leave the main road, where vehicles can still be used. Then, you climb through some farms and fields of wildflowers. After that, it’s a series of (neverending) switchbacks, all the way up the mountain.

But it was SO worth it. Every time I reached a bend in the path, I saw this:

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Or this. Look at that view! It just went on and on with more of the same.

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Stop it, Switzerland, you’re spoiling me.

Okay, so that was incredible. Could have ended my day right there and been happy. Or so I thought. After stopping into a few tourist shops, I asked an English-speaking store owner (she moved there from the States to retire because SWISS ALPS) where the best view was. See, we thought we found it when we were over here:

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Happy faces in Wengen after walking uphill for 90 minutes straight

We were wrong. She pointed us in the direction of an old church, where we saw this:

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Wait, wait – there’s more. My husband, he just knew we could do even better if we hiked a little further around the valley. He was right:

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Panoramics, people. Sincerely, everywhere I looked I was stunned by the beauty. But we were in search of the perfect picnic spot. After a little back and forth, we settled on a hillside a few yards back from the train tracks. Tell me this isn’t the definition of picturesque:

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Add in fresh bread, meats, cheeses and a lovely bottle of rosé, and we had the most beautiful spot for the most beautiful hour. It was the perfect time to take a deep breath, and take it all in. An hour spent like this is the whole reason I travel, and I couldn’t have asked for a better day, a better view, or a better travel partner.

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Euro Trip 2016: The good, the bad, the (not-so) ugly

It’s been less than 48 hours since I landed on U.S. soil after a 13-day trip to Europe. My sleep schedule is off by six hours, and my house is kind of a mess… but I’m SO happy. This was an incredible trip, and one I won’t soon forget.

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In 13 days, my husband and I traveled to 16 cities in three countries. We stayed in two hotels, one hostel, and six AirBNB apartments. We traveled by plane, train, and automobile (in a rental car we lovingly named Hans – because he spoke nothing but German no matter how many buttons we pressed!). We hiked, we toured museums, we swam in the Mediterranean, we ate everything from swordfish to rabbit to lamb, and we probably spent 100 Euro on gelato and cappuccinos alone. <– To be fair, we ate A LOT of gelato, and drank multiple cappuccinos per day. It was just too good to not.

This experience taught me a lot, and I’ll post about each destination and activity in more detail later. But, I wanted to overview what I loved, what I learned, and what I’d do differently next time.

First, what I loved: EVERYTHING. Okay, it wasn’t 13 days of constant nirvana, but it was pretty close. If I had to pull out my three favorite experiences, it would be these:

The view of Lauterbrunnen from Wengen

The view of Lauterbrunnen from Wengen

  1. Hiking from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen in Switzerland. Holy panoramic views! Lauterbrunnen is in the valley, and it makes you feel immersed in the mountains, surrounded by waterfalls and green pastures. Wengen is near the top of the mountain, and you can look out into the valley for these incredible views. The hike up was, in a word, difficult. It was 90 minutes of winding up, up, up the side of a mountain, after all. But when you arrive and catch this view? Totally worth it. We spent an hour picnicking just off the trail where we could eat baguettes and drink rosé from the bottle while taking it all in.

    Perfect spot for a picnic in Switzerland

    Perfect spot for a picnic in Switzerland

  2. A day at the beach in VilleFranche sur Mer. The water actually is that color, in case you were wondering. This incredible beach (and adorable town) is about a 3-mile walk from Nice’s Vielle Ville, where we stayed. The views along the way were spectacular, the crystal blue waters and pebbled beach the perfect reward for the work to get there. As was common on this trip, we brought along a bottle of rosé to sip on at the beach. Sensing a theme here? The sun was shining, it was a perfect 73 degrees, and it made for an absolutely incredible day.

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    VilleFranche sur Mer in the south of France

  3. One day in Florence, Italy. This was somewhat unexpected, simply because I didn’t do a lot of planning for Florence. I had three things on my list: the Bardini Gardens, the statue of David, and dinner at Osteria del Cinghale Bianco. The gardens were STUNNING. It was so relaxing to walk through rows of flowers and beautifully manicured green spaces. There’s a terrace with a lovely view of the city, too.
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    The Bardini Gardens in Florence, Italy

    After the gardens, we stopped for gelato (again) and walked through town toward Galleria dell’Academia, where David lives. And we ended up right next to the Duomo. Have you ever seen such incredible detail on a building?

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    The Duomo in Florence, Italy

    After we hung out with David for a bit (quick tip: skip the line by reserving your tickets online in advance – it’s way worth it!), we stopped in at Piazza de Michaelangelo for this incredible panoramic view.

    Florence, Italy

    Florence, Italy

    After the best damn glass of prosecco I’ve ever had (we brought home a bottle, it was so good) we had our authentic Italian dinner we’ve been dreaming about for years. And it was the Best. Meal. Ever. Literally, I’ve never had a better meal. Cacio e pepe, wild boar ragu, sliced sirloin, panna cotta with wild berries, and a cappuccino to round things out. Oh, and a half liter of the house red. I left there smiling ear-to-ear.

    First course: Cacio e Pepe and Wild Boar Ragu with the House Red.

    First course: Cacio e Pepe and Wild Boar Ragu with the House Red.

Now, for a few lessons learned.

  1. Driving a rental car in a foreign country, even on the right side of the road, is stressful. Like, seriously stressful. Why are all the parking garages in Europe so small? No wonder the rep at the Sixt counter looked at us so incredulously when we told her “No, thank you,” on the additional damage coverage. And researching the rules of the road was not on my list of tasks to complete before heading across the Atlantic – but it should have been. Ever heard of a rotary? K, now drive around one every 200 meters. And don’t get hit by oncoming traffic, even though they don’t use signals, ever. This wasn’t your average road trip.

    Trying to put on a happy face as it rained for 48 hours straight. Photo taken in Annecy, France.

    Trying to put on a happy face as it rained for 48 hours straight. Photo taken in Annecy, France.

  2. The weather doesn’t care that you planned your entire trip around hiking some of the most beautiful trails in the world. I’m an eternal optimist, so I just assumed that Mother Nature would do me a solid and make it sunny and bright on my hiking days. And my beach days. And my touristy days. Hence, my lack of a plan B when it rained buckets in Chamonix, and Annecy, and Cinque Terre. Here’s where flexibility and positivity comes in handy – because you can either sit and wallow or go find a new adventure. And that’s just what we did.
  3. You don’t have to speak the language fluently – but trying your best goes a long way. I speak zero German, very rough French, and not a bit of Italian. I found that in Switzerland, I could get through most interactions with “guten tag,” “danke” and a smile and a nod, but we didn’t eat out much, and spent nearly all our time in the mountains. In France, avoiding conversation was much harder. I tried my best to order food or make dinner reservations with my rusty language skills, and I found that it did make a big difference in my interactions, and in the service we received.
Pisa, Italy

Pisa, Italy

What would I do differently? Not much. I’d consider doing the whole trip by train, for sure. And I’d probably pack more pants and long-sleeved shirts because it’s chilly at night when you’re on the coast, even in June. But I consider every moment a piece of what made my trip the incredible experience that it was, and honestly, sometimes the best moments are the ones that you don’t plan on at all.

Tips For Planning Your Own European Tour

First-time European traveler? Trying to save some cash by not working with a travel agent to plan your next trip to Europe? From one planner to another, here are a few tips from my own experiences that may help you along the way.

Choosing your destinations may be the hardest part of the entire trip. My advice is to begin with a broad, general idea of what you’d like to see, and explore the surrounding areas. Have you always dreamed of seeing Paris, but haven’t thought much further? London is a few hour’s Chunnel ride away, and the French countryside is gorgeous, too. Switzerland is stunning, and the public transportation is one of the absolute best – tour Zurich, Lucerne, Bern and Montreux and do it all by train. Did you realize that Italy is bordered by France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia? The most incredible thing about Europe is that you can experience so many cultures in so little time. With such well-connected public transportation systems and roadways, you’ll be amazed at the adventures you can pack into a 10- to 15-day tour.

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From there, honestly, what’s worked for me is to start a Pinterest board dedicated to the trip. Do some research online, visit travel blogs, look at other travel-themed pin boards, and just start gathering those can’t-miss locations and experiences. You can pare down later on – for now, go all out!

Use a Pinterest Board to collect travel ideas

After you’ve figured out a loose list of locations, one of the next things you’ll need to tackle is, when? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. In many European countries, August is the busiest month for tourists. Attractions and museums will be crowded, hotels will be booked full, and your price for lodging, travel and dining can end up through the roof. If you’re not visiting for the weather, consider an off-season month. Or, look at late May, early June, September and early October for the best of both worlds – you can expect less rain in most areas, as well as fewer tourists than in peak months.

What season should you travel in?

Next up, it’s time to buy a plane ticket. Where should you fly into and out of? If you plan to visit many cities and countries during your tour, consider flying into one airport and out of another. As I planned an upcoming trip to Switzerland, France and Italy, I knew it would eat away at my days if I backtracked to be able to fly round-trip. To find the best prices on airfare, I tried multiple combinations and eventually found that flying into Zurich and out of Rome was the most cost-effective combination. I didn’t initially intend to visit Rome, although it’s always been on my list, so it was a nice way to justify adding one extra day on the tail end. Because, it’s Rome.

Planning Your Own European Tour

Quick tip: plane tickets overseas, to Europe in particular, generally don’t drop in price the closer you get to your travel dates. I’ve found that the lowest prices were available 10-11 months before my travel dates, and my research after the fact backed that up. By six months out (when I finally accepted that prices weren’t going back down), my ticket was an additional $350.

A few other tips for planning your European Tour:

  • Pay special attention to Sundays and holidays. Train travel can be affected, as many will run on a restricted schedule on those days. Plus, many restaurants and attractions may be closed or have limited hours.
  • Prioritize expenses. What’s most important to you – food, souvenirs, museums, luxury accommodations? You can save on some to splurge on others. But just remember, this is vacation. I’m a firm believer in choosing a few key experiences to indulge in.
  • Plan for delays. They’ll happen, whether it’s missing your train or lingering over a delicious meal longer than expected, and that’s okay. If you’ve budgeted more time than you think you’ll need for a particular attraction or section of the city, your itinerary will remain intact.
  • Relax and enjoy. The best advice I can give for planning your very own tour of Europe is to embrace the unexpected. If planning makes you more comfortable, then plan as much as you can. But allow yourself to enjoy the little moments and small discoveries you make along the way.