Switzerland's Best Kept Secret
Travel can take you to places that relax you, places that inspire you, places that provide adventure and wanderlust, places that challenge and stretch you, and places that transport you to another time in history. It is rare, though we search endlessly, to find places where all of these come together. Where you can simply sit down and marvel at your surroundings, for hours, or days, on end, never tiring of where you are, and the majesty all around you. Gimmelwald is one of those places.
Perched on the steep hills of the Lauterbrunnen valley, caught between the peaks of the Schilthorn and the “Top of Europe,” the Jungfrau, the views alone will have you murmuring to yourself every few minutes, “I can’t believe places like this exist.” The rocky faces of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountains are laced with waterfalls gleaming as they plunge thousands of feet through mysterious fog and unforgiving rock to the emerald valley below. The legend goes that the Mönch (Monk) protects the Jungfrau (young maiden) from the Eiger (Ogre). You could make up whatever story you wanted about these mountain peaks, nothing could add or take away from their natural majesty.
As you wonder at the size and scale of Europe’s ceiling, farmers are still taking their cows, with heavy bells ringing around their necks, up to the high Alps in summer. Alp cheese can be found for sale in each house, all on the honor system. Just step inside, no need to knock, take as much as you’d like, and leave your change on the table. The sense of trust, honesty, and belief in the goodness of your fellow man is intoxicating, and will incite even more wonder at where the rest of the world went wrong. The community, men, women, and children, still work together to cut the hay on these steep hillsides, a task that doesn’t earn much of a profit, but they believe in nonetheless. Here, high in the Alps, reasons such as keeping tradition alive, caring for the earth, and living in community, are all reasons enough for such work. Children go to school down in the valley now that there are too few for the local schoolhouse. Their dreams aren’t about moving to the big city, but who of their siblings will get to take over the farm when they’re older. Simply walking the single, car-less, zigzagging street is refreshing to your soul.
Though the locals rely on tourism for sustainability today, they intentionally declared their small piece of heaven an avalanche zone. This keeps the large developers away, and the few homes you see in Gimmelwald are still occupied by people who tend the land, along with their cows, and rent out a room or two to happy hikers or travelers who have discovered Switzerland’s best kept secret. The only way to get to Gimmelwald is by cable-car, or steep hike up from the valley floor, and that’s just the way everyone likes it.
The liveliest place in the evenings is the small Mountain Hostel at the bottom of the hill, the only place in town considered a “restaurant” for their pizza and beer, though even without the stunning view it would be worth a visit. Your only options for shopping are either knocking on a farmers’ door for some cheese, dried meat, and fresh eggs, or the Honesty Shop in the middle of town. That’s right, the Honesty Shop is just that, a shop that has no staff, relies on honesty, and trusts that there are still good people in the world who will leave the correct change in exchange for their goods. Can you still believe this place is real?
Gimmelwald is Switzerland’s best-kept secret, one that has been wonderfully hidden and faithfully maintained by its forward-thinking people. Beautifully stuck in tradition, and the simple, pure pleasures of life, it is the perfect place to experience the Alps. In all of our travels, it’s the closest we’ve found to everything being exactly as it should be.
Have we convinced you to add this piece of heaven on earth to your bucket list? Read our guide about a perfect day in this perfect alpine town to turn this dream into your reality.