Pronounced somewhat like ..Las VEGAS, the hotel community of Weggis is tightly nestled against the nearly 6,000 ft Mt. Rigi, along the northeastern shores of Lake Lucerne. Driving into the area two days earlier, after touring the Dolomiti mountains and Neuschwanstein Castle, we stayed at the remote location on the east side of Lake Lucerne because it was cheaper and offered a more restful atmosphere. Normally we would have chosen center city though the morning voyage into Lucerne by boat added to the sense of adventure.
Waking early for the next leg of our trip, I remember eagerly watching the MeteoSwiss weather report on TV as we dressed and readied to hit the road. The forecast had not changed as the development of afternoon storms was still predicted for the Alps.
We were scheduled to stay that evening at the Hotel Wengener Hof in the mountain resort of Wengen. Our goal for late afternoon was to hike from Männlichen to Klein Scheidegg along which route we would experience the awesome views of Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau. By the way, cars are not allowed in Wengen and the mountain top town is reachable only by cog wheel train. As for its pronunciation, my wife and I loved saying to each other …Veeeengin.
Hearing the weather report, my anxieties ramped up knowing that we had to reach the mountains before arrival of any storms. Switzerland is not cheap, and I envisioned our next stop as being a beautiful Julie Andrews type of singing-on-a-mountain-top day. Or, it could end up with us sitting in some unknown restaurant looking out at stormy weather in wonderment of what could have been. My goal was to reach the Lauterbrunnen car park by noon.
Heading out and being no more than 45 minutes into our drive around Lake Lucerne, something went wrong. Passing the city and maybe a few smaller towns, somewhere in the middle of nowhere our navigation system suddenly came alive. It ordered us to take the third exit at the next round-a-bout. Problem? We were traveling an Autobahn grade highway and there was no round-a-bout in sight!
An exit sign appeared ahead and not knowing what to do, we took it and crossed the highway as if a round-a-bout had existed. Driving maybe ten minutes in God only knows what direction, the navigation system alerted us again that we needed to turn around and go the other way. At that point I was imagining my mountain views melting away in the dismal rains I had read about in travel forums. You would not believe how many people seek ideas on what to do when their Alps trips turn to rain. Anyhow, making the correction and reaching the point where things first went wrong, we were told once more to turn around! At that point Christina pulled out her cell phone and soon we were back on track using Google Navigation. We lost an hour.
Once more we became lost. Seeing signs for Bern and areas within France, I knew we had gone too far. We turned and eventually found our way to the correct exit leading to the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The views at that point were not immediately exciting. We were on a meager two-lane road heading off into lower elevation mountains. But, while looking ahead, in the direction of our remaining 20-minute drive, the occasional curve gave view to the whitest of peaks I have ever seen. Framed by the narrow and shadowy valley walls, the triangular peak of Jungfrau, known as the top of Europe, jutted proudly from the skyline ahead. The mountain was brightly lit by the sun, which was thankfully still visible!
Lauterbrunnen is known as the land of waterfalls. Numerous falls drop along nearly vertical valley walls to the green and flat pastureland below. One such fall actually cascades within the mountain which attraction is a must see. Another fall provides a scenic backdrop as it drops behind the town. Though arriving late, we drove fifteen more minutes beyond Lauterbrunnen deeper into the box canyon to the end of the road. It was pretty cool to stand at the exact point where the green fields turned into the towering Jungfrau which stood before us.
Turning attention to reaching our hotel, we then headed back to town and parked near the train station. Thank goodness we had prepacked smaller luggage for that evening’s one-night stay. We took a short walk from the parking deck to the train station where we caught a 30-minute scenic ride to Wengen.
About Wengen, it is situated on a gently sloping plateau or bluff about half-way to the top of the mountain ski area known as Männlichen. From Wengen one must take a gondola the remainder of the way to the top. That, or hike a strenuous 3,500 vertical feet over a matter of several miles. More about Männlichen later.
Once off the train in the town of Wengen, we bounced our roller luggage behind us as we strolled the main street towards our hotel. Our stay was near the Evangelical Reformed Church which location offers one of the best views of the valley below. Note that the photo at the top of the page was taken from this viewpoint.
Warmed by the summer winds flowing northward off the Mediterranean Sea, the building skies ebbed and flowed with the continual passing of clouds and sun. Making it to the hotel, where, upon being cordially greeted, we were shown to our fifth-floor room. We had our own little balcony where the cool breeze and warming sun added much relaxation to this once in a lifetime experience. It was great! What an escape from the summer heat we had left back in North Carolina! The entire morning had been spent in the car and now, being about 2 pm, we decided to take a well-deserved nap before heading up to the top from which point we planned to hike back down by way of Klein Scheidegg.
Awakening and at ease, upon stepping out on the balcony, I was greeted with clouds and peppering rain. My heart sunk knowing that our only sight of sun-lit mountains may now be a thing of the past. However, journeying forward and before reaching the lift station, nature again greeted us with sunshine. The second chance assurance was welcomed and made for an even greater day. And yes, there were more brief showers. Though to our delight, we would learn that the clouds and their shadows punctuated the constant change of scenery. With each passing minute nature demanded us to stop and take notice of something yet unseen. Every view was new and the clouds, sun, and rain were all part of that rhythm.
And about the gondola, our visit was in the first week of summer operations. The gondola had just opened for the season after being retrofitted with something new. Passengers could now pay an additional five dollars to climb a stairway leading to a railed viewing platform where they could make the ride atop the car itself. Wow, my wife and I were the only ones onboard and of course we gave it a try. We felt like Leonardo DiCaprio proclaiming King of The World in the movie Titanic! No more cagy feelings from being pinned up while forced to see the world through scratched window panes. The unobstructed view and overall experience was fabulous.
About Männlichen. Upon reaching the lift, we learned that the trail leading to Klein Scheidegg had not yet opened. Snowpack along a north facing wall still buried a section of the trail making it impossible to hike. At that moment it was truly a bummer though how could one complain as our being where we were was an amazing opportunity .
Disembarking the gondola, the lift operator reminded us of something that I did not hear. The message later turned out to be important.
We walked the area noticing how others moved about quietly in awe. Their words were carried away by the gentle breeze that swept the mountain top vista. Everyone was trying to absorb it all while seeking some magical viewpoint and photo opportunity. It was a difficult task to improve on the vastness of perfection we saw before us. In time we came to realize that no camera made will capture the image better than what is naturally created in the mind’s own eye. Photos are great, but best of all are the memories they stir.
Hiking the grassy meadow along the Männlichen Royal Walk, we slowly made our way to the pinnacle. Much of the time was spent wandering here and their chasing every visual nuance we saw. The grass was deep and green. The landscape was filled with an inordinate enormity of flowers recently released from the grip of last winter’s snow. Dandelions were everywhere with their puffy heads as big as tennis balls. Nature even called upon us to crawl the ground where we inspected many other flowers of the like we had never seen.
And of the cows we had hoped to see …they had not yet made it to the top. We were at the place showcased in numerous episodes of Rick Steve’s TV series of travels in Europe. From his shows, we learned that every year cattle farmers from as far away as Lauterbrunnen walk their small herds to summer on the grassy meadows above. As the trail remained blocked with snow, their annual journey up the mountain was yet to come. Also, every fall, a return trip ends when a fair like atmosphere envelops the town of Wengen as the annual parade of herds arrive home from their summer stay up top.
Walking to the cliff’s edge, looking below, we were graced with the sight appearing along the cable way towards the village of Wengen. And peering further down-slope, we could see the waterfall dancing like a whip along the rock cliff as it found its end behind the quaint town of Lauterbrunnen. The whole of the valley was visible with mountains equal to those we stood upon rising beyond. And even further yet, in the hazy expressions only displayed in context of distance, appeared Interlaken and Lake Thune shining like a ribbon of silver in the afternoon sun.
Turning our heads and walking the mountain ridge in the opposite direction, one’s eyes are greeted by the distant alpine town of Grindelwald. Way down below and being nearly 15 miles away, the town sits at the end of a sister box valley to that of Lauterbrunnen. And cloaked in clouds, rising from the edge of this valley town, were the three great mountains. Mönch, Eiger and Jungfrau stood before us occasionally showing themselves from under the ghostlike movements of velvety clouds.
My wife and I had recently seen the Eiger Sanction, and yes, there we were with the mountain standing before us. And as for Jungfrau, known as home to the highest rail station in Europe, you could catch glimpses of that facility shimmering in the bright but sinking sun. How wonderful it was to see these things, knowing too that trains ascended the great mountain by way of tunnels carved deep into the hard rock. There was so much to take in and we were at the right place and our time was good.
Reaching the top of Männlichen, a viewing platform had been arranged just so people could get a better view. It made me chuckle as that whole idea struck me funny. Who needed a platform as the view was all about and everywhere! On the other hand, it was nice to sit a spell with my wife, taking in all that we had seen. We absorbed it all, anticipating clouds with their shadows racing across the landscape below. In one-minute we were cloistered in passing banks of cloud only to be suddenly released into brightness with an unopposed vision of all that the Almighty says is good.
I cannot say enough about the beauties we saw. All I could think was …what if it had rained? We would have never known. Seeing is knowing, and in all of this, my wife and I took the time to spread out in the deep grasses near the upper reaches of this great place. We laid there for what seemed to be an hour, resting, holding hands and talking about what we were seeing. Everything was good and perfect. And then my wife noticed something out of place.
Truly alone, all the people we had earlier seen were now gone. Looking downward towards the lift station, the gondola was no longer running. It was after 5 pm and the lift had closed. The mountain, for all practical purposes, was closed. I could not imagine it being so as we were nearing the golden hour. This was rightfully the time of day when nature shows its best. We were in trouble and yet, we were at a place of peace.
We walked our way back towards the lift station knocking on all the doors that were now bolted. We saw a trail sign and realized we could hike back up Männlichen and then down the 3.500 ft of elevation covering several miles of unknown wilderness. It must be steep and I had no map or plan to study. Also included in the equation was my heart. Having recently undergone ablation surgery for afib, my need to take medication was critically important. Normally I carry an emergency dose on my key ring, though this time it was empty from being used the day prior. My much-needed medicine was stored in luggage back at the hotel.
Continuing to explore the mountain top, a small ski lodge had not yet transitioned to be open for summer. Workers were likely staying there and possibly others, though from outside, the place appeared to be deserted. We circled the building before eyeing someone inside who came to our aid. We stood there for ten minutes discussing possible options with one being the hiking trail down to Wengen. That idea was not advised and quickly shot down. We were told that coming up from Grindelwald, there was a small road which could be used. And once reaching Grindelwald, we could catch the train to a small town nearer to Interlaken where we would then transfer to another train running to Lauterbrunnen. And, from Lauterbrunnen we would catch the little cogwheel train we rode earlier. Below is map showing our plan.
We were told all of this was doable that evening with the aid of Regio Taxi Service that could carry us down to Grindelwald. That is if a driver could be reached who was willing to make the nearly 15-mile trip up the mountain. Agreeing to this plan, the lady pulled a phone number from behind the counter and made the call. Heck, it was only money, but in return we had the chance to see this place in a way many tourists never will. Witnessing the falling sun and coming on of evening was worth every penny spent. And one nice thing, paying with credit card, we were shielded from the pain of seeing dollar bills flow from my wallet much like the water fell from the mountain below.
We waited outside, at ease watching the sun set. It took a little over thirty minutes and then, coming up the distant roadway, we could see the taxi slowly winding its way up the mountain (above). The lady driver pulled up and in memory of the experience, I asked and was granted approval to take the photo below.
Our taxi ride down the mountain was an experience in itself. The driver was very friendly and listened to Bavarian yodeling music most the way down. She quietly sang and yodeled along with what was playing. She showed real appreciation and talent for the unique genre of music. And of this experience, how often does one get to hear yodeling whilst riding down the mountain in a taxi!
We passed all sorts of barns and homes distinct to the region. After explaining what we needed to do next, our driver dropped us off at the train station at which time she encouraged us to hurry as the approaching train would soon be leaving. We boarded the train as the sun began to set behind the mountain we had just descended. Reaching the connecting station known as Zweilütschinen, we waited at the remote location for thirty minutes for the next train heading to Lauterbrunnen.
Finally back to Wengen, we enjoyed a plate of cheese and potato raclette and cold Swiss beer. What a day! And now making it to our room, the remainder of the evening was spent on our little balcony watching the last glow of day disappear from the tips of distant mountain tops.
It was a day I’ll never forget and then for the next day, we planned to see the underground water fall and views from the other side of the valley before picking up the car for the ride south into Italy. Our next night’s stay was scheduled for Varenna, a little lake front town on lake Como. That is a story meant for another day.