I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in German-speaking Switzerland. I had visited Switzerland for a few days right after graduating from high school, and had fallen in love with it — specifically, with the area around Zermatt and Saas Fee, in the canton of Valais — so I was utterly delighted when I opened the envelope containing my mission call and found that I would be going to . . . Switzerland.
I was never assigned to Valais (no missionaries were, during my years), but I did spend seven months of my time stationed in Interlaken, the principal town of the Berner Oberland region. And that area remains my favorite spot on the globe. (My apologies to Valais, but a transfer of affections definitely occurred when I saw the Bernese Alps.)
Anyhow, I love the place. I love the entire Berner Oberland. I love the two principal lakes, the Brienzersee and the Thunersee. I especially love the area up toward the Eiger, the Mönch, and the Jungfrau:
Grindelwald, for instance, is breathtakingly spectacular:
But the most beautiful place on the planet, beyond any reasonable dispute, is Lauterbrunnental, the valley of Lauterbrunnen, along with the towns of Wengen and Mürren located atop the cliffs on either side of it:
The etymology of the word Lauterbrunnen is somewhat debated. It may mean either “many fountains” or “pure fountains.” Both meanings are entirely appropriate.
From the moment I first saw Lauterbrunnen, I connected it with the valley of Rivendell, the site of Elrond’s house in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I continue to be a great lover of Tolkien’s work, and, of all the places described in his pages, the two elven outposts of Lothlórien and Rivendell appeal to me most. When I saw Lauterbrunnen, I realized that this was precisely how I had envisioned Rivendell. I go there whenever I can.
So I was delighted, to say the least of it, when I learned just a few months ago that Tolkien had hiked in the Lauterbrunnen area in 1911, and that “Rivendell” was actually inspired by Lauterbrunnen. In fact, Tolkien’s “River Bruinen,” which runs very near Rivendell, pretty obviously takes its name from my beloved Swiss valley.