LAUTERBRUNNEN, Switzerland — Coming down Highway 6 from Switzerland's capital, Bern, you turn north into the lovely lake resort of Interlaken.
Turn south and you enter the spectacularly beautiful Lauterbrunnen Valley. Picture this: a box canyon cut eight miles deep into the Alps and never more than about half a mile wide, lush on its floor, steep on its sides, with some 72 waterfalls, and rising above you the snow-capped peaks of the Jungfrau, Eiger and Monch.
Five miles in, the village of Lauterbrunnen is a community of shops, hotels and red-geranium-festooned chalets, many with rooms and apartments to let. Lauterbrunnen is a staging area for higher ski slopes and hiking trails, including these three:
Take a cog-wheel train from Wilderswil to start the Panoramic Trail, which follows the ridge line east. Far beneath you lie Interlaken and its lakes, plied by tiny tourist boats. You circle back across high mountain pastures full of wildflowers and cowbells. Be sure to close the gates behind you.
The Eiger trail crosses the massive mountain's base above the tree line. On this long, easy walk you'll pass snow fields and the trails and ice ladders real mountaineers use. There's a chalet at trail's end, with a pretty garden for a cup of soup or a glass of beer.
You start the Isenfluh trail by driving through a mountain in a remarkable, corkscrew tunnel, then taking a tiny cable car, then hiking straight up. You follow and ford a rushing brook, past a working dairy in high meadowland, to a hut that serves beer and sandwiches.
Almost as important as where you hike is where you unlace your boots afterward. Try the terrace of Interlaken's Oberland Hotel (city-oberland.ch/en), where you can choose your own trout for dinner, or the Hotel Stechelberg (www.hotel-stechelberg.ch) in the tiny hamlet at the end of the valley, where you can relax beneath the trees over good food and wine.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun