Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Swiss Waterfalls

The Jungfrau Region in the Swiss Alps is one of those places I've yet to visit yet I really really want to visit. For some reason, the scenery there reminds me a lot of Norway. The following article from the Guardian spells it out nicely...

Moving mountains
Anthony Lambert expericences the sun, solitude and sweet alpine air of the Lauterbrunnental

by Anthony Lambert

The Lauterbrunnental: above the Staubbach Falls, below one of the region’s many the hiking trails

Every hiker knows that feeling of deep pleasure when everything falls into place to provide a perfect day's walking. Glorious scenery, varied terrain, good paths with easy route finding, cool air, sunshine and - dare one say - not too many other people on the path. The beauty of walking in Switzerland, with more than 62,000km of paths, is that you can walk for hours without meeting anyone, despite its popularity.

For urban dwellers, the sense of solitude is part of the attraction of a place like the Upper Lauterbrunnental, an area of alpine farming and forest that was bought in the 1950s by the Swiss League for Nature Protection to conserve its natural savage beauty. In six hours of glorious walking, I met half a dozen people.

I caught the PostBus to the end of its route at Stechelberg, the last village in the valley of 72 waterfalls, and took a gravel track beside the Lütschine river, following the brown Unesco signs that mark themed trails (so well signposted, you can't get lost!). These have been created to introduce visitors to the value of this landscape - its mix of traditional agriculture and forestry working in harmony with nature, its flora and fauna, and points of natural historical interest.

A series of waterfalls flanks the path as it meanders between meadows and skirts the woods rising up the hillside above us. At Schürboden I passed the first station for the herdsmen who still move their cattle in stages from winter quarters in Stechelberg to the highest level in midsummer before reversing the process in autumn. The large wooden hut was put up in 1805 with a loft for storing cheeses, and its facade is decorated with a scene of the annual procession.

With frost still bleaching the colours of the ground, I walked steadily upwards in welcome shade thanks to the immense height of the valley walls. Sunlight picked out first one distant peak and then another, some still thick with snow. Stopping to look back I could admire the extraordinary location of Mürren, its buildings nudging the edge of a sheer precipice hundreds of metres high. Every so often I would pass a farm and its cluster of chalet barns, some protected against avalanche by roof-high banks of earth and rock on their vulnerable side.

The path continues through luxuriant woodland that seldom sees the sun, the ground thick with leaf litter and pine needles. Ferns grow from the decomposing wood of fallen trees or through deep carpets of moss. The purity of the air is reflected in great splashes of lime-green lichen.

Climbing again across the lower valley side, I almost lost the path until I saw a small flash of white and red on a rock, perfectly placed to reassure the walker. By the second herdsmen's station at Läger, in a large meadow surrounded by conifers and dappled patches of heather, I paused to enjoy the silence as I munched pastries and marvelled that natural forces could have created such beauty. The path was flanked by huge peach-coloured mushrooms sprouting through the grass as I dropped into a shady canyon down a twisting path that led to the third station at Im Tal. Back into the woods on the return, I took a detour to the Talbach falls. The noise of the falls was muffled until I breasted a rise and saw the sheer plume of water thundering into a bowl through an extraordinary ring of horizontal stone.

Emerging from the woods I saw a golden eagle circling, but our untrained eyes had failed to spot the ibex that also inhabit the higher rocky slopes of Lauterbrunnental. The sun was still filtering through the shading trees on to the garden terrace of Hotel Restaurant Stechelberg (00 41 33 855 2921), so I stopped for lunch, watching the hang-gliders ride the thermals above Mürren.

To read the original article from the UK Guardian, click here.

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