The Swiss village that is so beautiful it begs visitors to enter

In Instagram posts and YouTube videos, the Swiss village of Lauterbrunnen in the canton of Bern looks idyllic. The Heidi-style chalets are surrounded by meadows of cows and shaded by towering mountain peaks, while a waterfall tumbles down the cliff face at the edge, sending sparkling rainbows into the sky. Zoom out a bit during the summer, though, and you’ll see what’s not on social media: the crowds of tourists that have led the town to consider imposing a tax on day trippers who arrive by car.

Online, Lauterbrunnen is regularly referred to as ‘Switzerland’s most beautiful village’ and this has led to an explosion of visitors, causing traffic jams on the only road into town and queues on the paths that wind from the center to the best views. “It was always busy in the city,” said a hotel manager The Telegraph. “However, since the pandemic is ‘over’, the number of visitors has certainly increased considerably.”

Lauterbrunnen has joined a growing list of popular places that may have become victims of their own success – from Venice to Kyoto. And like them, it is looking for ways to minimize the impact of overtourism.

Panoramic view of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and Staubbach Fall in the Swiss Alps, Switzerland

The village, in the canton of Bern, is flooded with visitors – Getty

With visitor numbers peaking at around 6,000 per day according to some reports, Lauterbrunnen doesn’t get as busy as tourist hotspots like the Acropolis (where visitor numbers were capped at 20,000 per day last September) or Bali (where a new tourist tax was introduced). in February 2024). “I don’t believe there is ‘overtourism’ as discussed in cities like Venice,” says Marc Ungerer, CEO of Jungfrau Regional Tourism.

But like other places that have suddenly found themselves in the social media spotlight, Lauterbrunnen’s size means it struggles to cope with the large numbers of visitors – and their behavior once they get there. “During the summer season it gets a bit busy along the village road because the road is not very wide and there is only one sidewalk,” admits Tom Durrer, Lauterbrunnen resort manager. “However, the municipality plans to lay a second pavement and widen the road.”

Half an hour’s drive away, on the shore of Lake Brienz, Iseltwald (pop. 415) faced similar problems when it was catapulted to stardom after its picturesque pier featured in the Korean Netflix series. A crash landing on you. In the resulting boom in tourism, coaches clogged the roads and alleys, prompting authorities to impose a £5 selfie tax to take photos of the structure.

Tourists walk in the village of Lauterbrunnen, Canton of Bern, SwitzerlandTourists walk in the village of Lauterbrunnen, Canton of Bern, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, which has a population of 2,400, receives up to 6,000 tourists per day – Alamy

The suggestion of a tourist tax in Lauterbrunnen is seen as a way to discourage day trippers, who come to take photos and then quickly leave, causing congestion and mess without benefiting the local economy. “However, the legal basis for such a tax does not yet exist,” says Ungerer. “The first clarifications are currently underway. Therefore, it is far too early to think about what such a tax might look like and how it might work.”

It’s a delicate balance in a place where many of the 2,400 residents depend on tourism for their income. After all, Lauterbrunnen was popular long before it became Instafamous. When European travels first began more than two centuries ago, Wordsworth and Lord Byron were among those who drew inspiration from the surrounding mountains and the valley’s 72 waterfalls.

In the 19th century, an enterprising local entrepreneur built Hotel Staubbach, on the edge of the village with fantastic views of the Staubbach Falls. Soon a stream of hotels and guesthouses for weary walkers created a thriving town that only became more popular when the railway was electrified. Now easily accessible from the seaside resort of Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen is also the gateway to the car-free villages of Mürren and Wengen.

Still, it’s easy to understand why some locals are getting tired of tourists. In a country where rules and order are supremely respected and where the natural environment is highly valued, the rumors of people taking photos in private gardens and playing football in the local cemetery are disgusting. Meanwhile, the notoriously isolated Swiss hate living next to endless streams of holiday guests. After the 2023 summer season, the website reported that residents gathered for a crisis meeting organized by regional heads: the atmosphere was one of helplessness.

That’s a shame, because Switzerland has many lesser-known (but equally beautiful) villages with plenty of space to wander around. According to World Bank data, more than a quarter of the country’s population lives in rural areas, while its cities are small (none have more than 400,000 inhabitants). This means you’re never far from a hamlet of meadows, where old barns lined with perfectly manicured geraniums wind their way up the hills and ducks and chickens roam small farms that open into seas of wildflowers.

Les Plus Beaux Villages de Suisse is an organization dedicated to highlighting rural settlements in incredible settings. Below this is sun-drenched Soglio, a maze of narrow alleys seemingly hidden in the rolling, forested swell of Italy’s Bregaglia Valley. Meanwhile, in the slightly better-known Saint Saphorin in the French-speaking Vaud region, the wine terraces zigzag above the maze of medieval streets, while Lake Geneva shimmers below, backed by snow-capped mountains. Beauty can be subjective, but it’s hard not to be blown away (just don’t tell everyone on TikTok).

Passengers get off at the train station, Lauterbrunnen, Bernese Oberland, SwitzerlandPassengers get off at the train station, Lauterbrunnen, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

The town only became ‘more popular when the railway was electrified’, writes Hyde – Alamy

Back in Lauterbrunnen, tourism leaders acknowledge that social media “has helped [the village] to become better known,” says Durrer. But they also hope it will help preserve it for the future. “It is an important communication channel to influence the positive behavior of visitors,” he adds.

Other places facing similar problems have different ideas. In spring 2023, the Italian resort of Portofino introduced ‘no waiting zones’ with fines of €275 in areas where selfie-taking tourists had blocked the streets and caused traffic chaos (these zones will remain in force until October). As another summer season begins in Lauterbrunnen, some residents may be wondering if it’s time to refocus the lens.

Leave a Comment