Lake Saint Leonard is an underground fairy tale. Switzerland

Lake Saint Leonard – Switzerland’s underground lake

The underground Lake Saint Leonard in Switzerland is the largest of the natural underground lakes in Europe, rivaled only by the famous Austrian lake Seegrotte, formed by the flooding of a gypsum mine. Officially, the cave with the lake were discovered in 1943 by speleologist Jean-Jacques Pitar, but locals say that long have known of its existence and even used it to cool bottles of wine, although there is no documentary evidence of this. The study was very simple: a group of scientists in an inflatable boat crossed the pond and landed on the other side of the cave. Only a year later, a topographic survey was made, which confirmed the data on the size. If you believe the data from those years, the water level used to be much higher – the explorers had to duck in their boats to avoid hitting the ceiling with their heads. But after the earthquake in January 1946, the water level dropped, most likely because of the cracks that formed, through which the water escaped.

Saint-Léonard is an underground lake

Underground Lake Saint-Léonard in Switzerland © lac-souterrain.com

Six years after the first official study (in 1949) the cave was opened to visitors, the underground Lake Saint-Léonard can still be seen today. Any tourist can make a half-hour boat ride, it is only worth bringing warm clothes, because the air temperature there rarely rises above 15 degrees, usually about 9-10. It is worth noting that the cave is not open year round, but only from March to October, and tours are conducted in three languages (English, French or German).

Saint-Léonard is an underground lake

Underground Lake Saint-Léonard in Switzerland © lac-souterrain.com

Saint-Léonard is an underground lake

Underground Lake Saint-Léonard in Switzerland © lac-souterrain.com

In 2000, a two-ton boulder collapsed from the ceiling of the cave, but luckily the tragedy was avoided. After examining the grotto roof it was decided to close the cave “for repairs”. For three years work was carried out to strengthen the ceiling, and for this purpose, a special elevator was built that lowered equipment to the bottom. In June 2003, Saint-Léonard was reopened to tourists.

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Saint-Léonard is an underground lake

Underground Lake Saint-Léonard in Switzerland © lac-souterrain.com

Saint-Léonard is an underground lake

Underground Lake Saint-Léonard in Switzerland © lac-souterrain.com

Especially for tourists, the cave was “ennobled”: here you can see a sunken boat and a statue of Madonna, and even feed the trout with special food. In general, there is no natural food for fish in the cave, so it eats only treats tourists. In winter, when the grotto Saint-Léonard is closed to the public, keepers feed it at the entrance.

Saint-Léonard is an underground lake

Underground Lake Saint-Léonard in Switzerland © lac-souterrain.com

Ticket price and operating hours of the Saint Leonard Underground Lake

The lake is only open from March 19 to November 1 (2016 data) from 9am to 5pm (September until 5:30pm). Ticket prices are 10 Swiss francs (€9.2) for adults, 5 francs (€4.6) for children under the age of 15, and children under 5 are free. Individual tourists do not need any advance reservation to visit the Saint-Léonard Cave; tour groups depart every 20 to 40 minutes.

Saint-Léonard is an underground lake

Underground Lake Saint-Léonard in Switzerland © lac-souterrain.com

For those who travel in Switzerland by car, there is free parking in front of the cave, as well as a souvenir store, a small cafe and other attributes of the tourist site. If you travel by public transport, the best way to get to the town of Saint-Léonard is by train to the station of the same name, St-Léonard:

  • From Bern – with one change in the town of Fisp (Visp), travel time is about an hour and a half to two hours.
  • From Geneva with a change in the town of Sion (Sion), about two hours.

Excursion to the underground Lake Saint-Léonard

If you do not want to think about the logistics and organization of the tour, you can buy a private tour (from 190 euros per group), which can see not only the famous underground Lake Saint Leonard, but also a walk through a very beautiful town of Sion. The price of such a tour – from € 460 for a group of not more than 4 people. The guide speaks Russian, English and German. Guide-translator will take you to the place and tell you all the most interesting things about Switzerland and the Swiss.

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Journey to the underground fairy tale |Voyage dans un conte de fée souterrain

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From March 15 to November 1 you can visit the cave near the village of Saint-Léonard (Valais canton) where the largest natural underground lake in Europe is located. | Du mars 15 au 1 novembre on peut visiter le grotte Saint-Léonard dans le Valais ou se trouve le plus grand lac souterrain d’Europe.

In 10 minutes the regional train took me from the capital of Valais Sion to the village of Saint-Léonard. Bathed in the generous rays of the May sun and drowned in the lush blossom of the orchards, Saint-Léonard itself seems to have grown out of an alpine fairy tale. Myriads of cozy chalets dot the alpine slopes covered with soft emerald May greenery. Peace and joy of renewed nature could be felt in the clear morning air. Gardens and vineyards alternated one after another in an endless line of blossoms. Local villas have original names: “Jolly Finches” (Gai pinson), “Jolly Spring” (Gai printemps), “Romantica” (La Romantica). The village is clearly in the mood for a serene spring.

The entrance ticket cost 10 francs. Luckily for me, at the entrance of the cave the minimum number of tourists necessary for the tour had already gathered: two old German men, a middle-aged married couple, and a Spanish mother with her teenage son. The helpful guide asked us in which language to conduct the excursion: we agreed that the descriptions of local beauties would be presented in German and French in parallel. The boat set sail from the shore, like a boat of Charon, and the journey into the underworld began.

Lake Saint-Léonard was discovered by speleologists in 1943. At that time, the water reached the ceiling and flowed out as a cascade at the exit. In 1946 there was an earthquake of magnitude 5.6 on the Richter scale and the water level dropped, which allowed three years later to organize a visit to the lake by tourists. The average depth of the lake is 4 m, the greatest depth is 10 m, length – 300 m, total area – 6000 sq.m. The water is clear as a crystal, the temperature of the water is +6 C in summer and +9 C in the air. In winter, the water level is slightly lower, which makes it impossible to conduct excursions by boat.

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As soon as we set sail, the temperature plummeted, and everyone rushed to put on their jackets. The cave was mysteriously dark. I leaned over the side of the boat and dipped my hand into the water, peering at the bottom in the light of the sparse spotlights (they were placed where the water barely seeped from the vineyards above the cave, forming miniature streams). Trout swam up to the boat and the guide threw them a few handfuls of dry fishmeal food. The trout were intentionally thrown into the lake for the amusement of tourists, no food is found here and the fish feeds solely at the expense of visitors. In winter, during the dead season, the trouts swim up to the outlet and get their legitimate food.

Despite the ghostly atmosphere, a sense of peace, comfort and peaceful silence encompassed. “The air here is as clean as in an operating room,” our guide told us. – Because there are no dust particles in the underground cave. The guide went on to say that, according to the theory of a French physicist, there are particularly energetic places in nature, and Lake Saint-Léonard is not the least of these. To my flurry of questions, the guide graciously provided comprehensive answers. The ceiling is attached with special structures – huge screws. At the entrance, they are especially striking for their massiveness – these are the so-called active fixings, each bearing a weight of about 150 tons. Each year, geologists check the vault and give instructions on where to replace the mounts. Without their permission it is impossible to open the tourist season. In the middle of the way we found ourselves in the Great Hall, 13 meters high.

Not far away from the water protruded the bow of a submerged boat: “You will no longer ride on this boat – I spent yesterday on this boat the last tour,” – winked slyly, whispered the guide. “Were you with the tourists at the time?” – I asked. “No, alone!” – followed the simple-hearted reply. Fables! Probably flooded on purpose for greater mysticism. The inventive guide showed us on the rough vaults of the cave and the Hare, and the mammoth head, which gradually turned into a horse head as the boat progressed, and finally turned into a bison.

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At the far end of the lake we tucked into an underground beach, the only one in the world where the sun’s rays never penetrate. Behind the beach we could see the grandiose rockfall that had capped this part of the lake back in 1946. And above the beach rose the statue of Madonna (Notre-Dame des Gouffres), illuminating the underworld by the light of her unquenchable lamp, as a reminder of the eternal and beautiful…

The walk took about 30 minutes in total. Everyone was captivated by the miniature lake and the helpful guide. On the surface, the May sun showered us with heat, as if from an oven, so sensitive was the temperature difference. As I said goodbye to my fellow travelers in the underworld, I remarked to the old German woman, “Il fait chaud ici, Madame!” – She smiled, probably recalling her school years with French, and replied, “Il fait chaud, oh ja, ja!”

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