The Swiss village is so beautiful it wants to charge visitors a fee to enter

In Instagram posts and YouTube videos, the Swiss village of Lauterbrunnen in the canton of Bern looks stunning. Cow-dotted pastures are surrounded by the Heidi huts and shaded by soaring peaks, and a waterfall cascades down the rock face at its edge, sending sparkling rainbows into the air. Zoom out a bit during the summer, though, and you’ll see what social media doesn’t include: the tourist crowd that has led the place to consider taxing day-trippers who arrive by car.

Online, Lauterbrunnen is regularly called “the most beautiful village in Switzerland” and this has resulted in an explosion of visitors, causing traffic jams on the only road into town and queues on the paths leading out. its center towards the best views. “It was always busy in town,” said one hotel manager The Telegraph. “However, since the pandemic is over, the number of visitors has definitely increased”.

Lauterbrunnen joins a growing list of popular spots that may have fallen victim to their own success – from Venice to Kyoto. And just like them, he is looking at ways to minimize the impact of over-tourism.

A panoramic view of the Lauterbrunnen valley and Staubbach Falls in the Swiss Alps, Switzerland

The village, in the canton of Bern, is being overrun by 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 visitors were capped at 20,000 per day last September) or Bali (which introduced a new tourist tax. in February 2024). “I don’t believe we have ‘overtourism’, as discussed in cities like Venice,” says Marc Ungerer, CEO of Jungfrau Regional Tourism.

But like other places suddenly thrust into the social media spotlight, Lauterbrunnen’s size means it struggles to cope with the high number of visitors – as well as their behavior once they get there. “During the peak summer season, it gets a bit crowded along the village road, because the road is not very wide and there is only one path,” admits Tom Durrer, Lauterbrunnen’s resort manager. “However, the municipality is planning to create a second path and widen the road.”

Half an hour’s drive away on the shores of Lake Brienz, Iseltwald (population, 415) faced similar problems when it was catapulted to stardom after its picturesque pier featured in the Korean Netflix series. Crash Landing on you. The resulting tourism explosion saw coach tourists clog its roads and footpaths, leading to the authorities charging a £5 selfie tax to take photos of the structure.

Tourists walking in the village of Lauterbrunnen, canton Bern, SwitzerlandTourists walking in the village of Lauterbrunnen, canton Bern, Switzerland

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

The proposal for a tourist tax in Lauterbrunnen is seen as a way to discourage day visitors, who come to take photos and then quickly leave, creating traffic jams and littering without benefiting the local economy. However, “the legal basis for such a tax does not yet exist,” says Ungerer. “Initial clarifications are currently underway. Therefore, it is far too early to estimate what such a tax would look like or how it might work”.

It’s a delicate balance in a place where much of the population of 2,400 depends on tourism for income. After all, Lauterbrunnen was popular long before it became Instafamous. When European travel began more than two centuries ago, Wordsworth and Lord Byron were among those inspired by the surrounding mountains and the 72 waterfalls in its valley.

In the 19th century, an enterprising local entrepreneur built Hotel Staubbach, on the edge of the village with an incredible view of the Staubbach Falls. Soon, an abundance of hotels and guest houses for weary travelers created a booming town that only became popular when its railway line was electrified. Now, Lauterbrunnen is easily accessible from the resort town of Interlaken, as well as being the gateway to the car-free villages of Mürren and Wengen.

Still, it’s easy to see why some locals are getting tired of the tourists. In a country where rules and order are highly respected and the natural environment is highly respected, rumors of people taking photos in private gardens and playing football in the local graveyard are frowned upon. Meanwhile, Switzerland’s famously insular resentment lives next door with endless streams of holidaymakers. After the 2023 summer season, the website reported that residents gathered at a crisis meeting organized by the regional leaders: the mood was helpless.

It’s a shame because Switzerland has many lesser-known (but equally beautiful) villages with plenty of space to wander. More than a quarter of the country’s population lives in rural areas according to World Bank data, although its cities are small (none of them have more than 400,000 inhabitants). This means that you are never far from a small meadow-trimmed town, where ancient barns edge geraniums perfectly-tended hills and ducks and chickens wander holdings that segue to seas of wild flowers.

Les Plus Beaux Villages de Suisse is an organization dedicated to publicizing rural settlements in incredible locations. Among them is the sun-soaked Soglio, a maze of narrow marooned alleys appearing in the rippling, forested Bregaglia Valley near Italy. Meanwhile, in the slightly better known Saint Saphorin in the French-speaking Vaud region, vine terraces zigzag above the tangle of medieval streets and sparkling Lake Geneva below, backed by dusty snow mountains. Beauty may be subjective, but it’s hard not to be blown away (just do it and tell everyone on TikTok).

Passengers disembarking at the train station, Lauterbrunnen, Bernese Oberland, SwitzerlandPassengers disembarking at the train station, Lauterbrunnen, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

The town only became popular when its railway line was electrified,’ writes Hyde – Alamy

Back in Lauterbrunnen, tourism leaders admit that “social media has helped [the village] get to know him better,” says Durrer. But they also hope it will help preserve it for the future. “It’s an important means of communication to influence positive visitor behavior,” he says.

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

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