You may be familiar with Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland. Home to the famously photographed and impeccably pointy steeple located amidst an expansive U-valley, visitors from far and wide come to this Swiss town try their hand at capturing the incredible valley in a single photo. Once satisfied, they continue on their way.
However, what these visitors may not be familiar with is the unassuming village of Gimmelwald, which lies just beyond Lauterbrunnen on the Swiss Alps. I mean that literally – Gimmelwald is located on the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps. From Interlaken, you must get on the front half of a train to Lauterbrunnen, then take a bus to Stechelberg and then take a gondola to Gimmelwald. The inconvenience of getting to Gimmelwald only adds to its charm. (I followed these directions to find my way.)
I, on the other hand, booked my entire Switzerland trip around the dates I could stay at the Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald (even adjusting my itinerary to only allow for one day in Bern before catching the train to Interlaken).
But all that was worth it because Gimmelwald, and paragliding through the U-valley, were my favourite parts of the entire trip.
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The Mountain Hostel: good company and million dollar views
Once you get off the gondola, you’re only a few steps from the Mountain Hostel, quite possibly the cutest hostel I have ever stayed in. If you like luxury and ample personal space; this is not the hostel for you. However, if you like hearty Swiss cooking, big belly laughs and meeting other travellers, you are sure to find a home here.
In the Mountain Hostel, there is a 16 bunk female dorm and a 16 bunk mixed dorm. In these rooms, the bottom bunk bed is directly on the floor and all of the beds touch one another. Roll over too far in one direction and you may inadvertently roll onto your neighbour. See what I mean about personal space? (They also have 6 person traditional dorms if getting cozy isn’t your style.)
There is a large kitchen as well as a small restaurant run by the owners of the hostel. Food is delicious and reasonably priced. If there are other restaurants in Gimmelwald, I couldn’t tell you. No one I interacted with had eaten anywhere besides the hostel restaurant (I’m assuming out of preference rather than laziness, as the village is incredibly small).
There isn’t much to do in Gimmelwald itself, however you could make an afternoon out of staring at the view. The reason you come to Gimmelwald is to paraglide and this is exactly what I hauled myself out here for.
Paragliding: flying through the U-Valley
The take-off point is further up the mountain from Gimmelwald and you have two options to get there. The first way is to take the gondola (boring). The second is to hike (not boring). Unsurprisingly, I opted for the hike. I set off with two others from the hostel and we made our way along the trail.
The trail provided us with stunning vistas to photograph, a waterfall to walk underneath and a severe lack of oxygen. I had never hiked at such an altitude (at 1500 m, it wasn’t even high, but despite that there were several moments I thought I would surely suffocate and die). Maybe the gondola wasn’t so boring after all.
Yet despite my dramatic lungs, at last we arrived at our destination: the meeting point for the paragliding.
My guide was a friendly Dutch fellow whose name I never did pronounce properly. He strapped me into some harness apparatus attached to his own and explained how this would go down.
“We just take a few steps down the mountain and jump.” He said it so casually. Of course! You just take a few steps down the mountain and then jump off the mountain and then somehow you’re flying! This seems perfectly safe. Looking back, I say that sarcastically. In the moment, it made complete and total sense. There wasn’t an ounce of fear in me.
Before taking our few steps down the mountain, he secured a helmet on my head. Again, looking back I think: What the heck is a helmet supposed to do? How is that going to protect me if I fall out or hit a mountain? But in the moment, I didn’t even notice. I was far too excited to get in the air.
We got ready to take our few steps off the mountain. As we started, I kind of slipped in the harness and sank a little further into it, meaning my feet were no longer able to touch the ground. Oh no, oh no, I can’t take the steps, I panicked. I tried to alert my guide but before I could say anything we were already in the air. I guess the steps weren’t really necessary after all.
In the air. My goodness, I had never experienced anything like this before. The weightlessness, the ease at which we moved through the air, climbing higher as the wind picked up and gradually descending as it died down. The wind was perfect today, my guide told me (he even extended my tour by almost 15 minutes because he was enjoying the wind so much).
And the weather really was perfect. A clear day, I could see down the entire length of the valley. There were thin waterfalls down the sides of the mountain that I couldn’t see from the ground. Looking back, I’m so glad I paid the extra CHF 40 to have the whole thing documented with a GoPro. Look at my smile – I can’t think of a time I’ve ever smiled so big for so long (I bet my cheeks hurt when I landed, but I can’t remember because my heart was beating too quickly).
I don’t think I’ll ever be able to articulate the feeling of paragliding. Instead, I’m going to show you more photos so you can get an idea of just how happy the whole thing made me.
Eventually we had to return to ground, although I think I could have done it for the entire day. I walked from the landing point to the gondola with the friend I’d gone with and neither of us could stop talking about it. We took the gondola back to the hostel and spent the remaining hours of the day drinking tea, chatting with other travellers and enjoying the mountain views. What. A. Day.
What you need to know to go paragliding at Gimmelwald yourself
Getting There: As mentioned, you can take a train to Lauterbrunnen and then you must take a bus down the valley to Stechelberg and a gondola to Gimmelwald. I booked my train ticket ahead of time, but I purchased the bus and gondola ticket when I arrived. Follow these instructions.
Where to Stay: Here is The Mountain Hostel (I am in no way sponsored by or affiliated with The Mountain Hostel). It is CHF 45 per night, which is pretty reasonable for the fact you’re in Switzerland and staying on the side of a mountain.
Paragliding: There are a number of different paragliding operators. I went with Airtime Paragliding (again, I am in no way sponsored or affiliated with anyone). I paid CHF 180 for a 20 minute tour (though mine ended up being quite a bit longer) and purchased the GoPro footage for something like CHF 40.
Have you been paragliding in Gimmelwald yourself? What did you think? If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below!