Jungfrau: At the top of the world in Switzerland
Our New Book
They say every journey begins with the first step. The first step to the top of the world in Europe begins in Interlaken, the popular resort town in the heart of Switzerland. Known for attracting those with an adventurous soul, Interlaken is a Mecca for hand-gliding, bungee jumping, skiing, tobogganing and more. For those who like heights, Jungfrau is the ticket to non-stop thrills and excitement.
But first a little history of this UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. The Jungfrau region includes the imposing Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains in the Swiss Alps. Construction began on the Jungfrau Cog Railway in 1896 and rail stations were opened by section, the first in 1898. It took another 14 years of construction to complete the railway, which opened in 1912, an amazing wonder and engineering feat. Last year, the railway carried more than 800,000 passengers from across the globe to explore these spectacular mountains.
Journey to the Top of EuropeThe adventure starts at the Interlaken Ost train station where passengers board the first of three modern cogwheel rails that take approximately 2.5 hours to reach the top. And, the trains run every day of the year so there's no real off-time.
Or, hop on at the Grindelwald or Wengen train stations. The cars slowly ascend up the mountain for 20 minutes until the train arrives in Lauterbrunnen where passengers switch trains. Some 40 minutes later, the train stops at Kleine Scheidegg, approximately 6762 feet up. The lookout towers at Kleine Schneidegg provide a glimpse of ice, snow and jagged mountains and set the stage for what is to come.
The train allows a few minutes at each stop for passengers to look out through the windows. The last part of the journey takes almost an hour through a tunnel carved out in the rock of Eiger Mountain and then at last, you've arrived at the Jungfraujoch, over 11,000 feet in elevation, called the Top of Europe, the highest railway station on the continent.
Exquisite Scenery in a Winter WonderlandThe air is a little thinner up here, but the temperatures are cool, inviting and refreshing. Where to go first amid the world of eternal rock, snow and ice? Take a deep breath and slowly take a walk around and see the top of the mountain from all angles. Stand in awe of the clouds below. Take the elevator up to the top of the Sphinx Observation Terrace in just 27 seconds for panoramic views over the Aletsch Glacier. Yes, those vistas are the borders of France, Italy and the Black Forest of Germany.
Once inside, visitors can discover the Ice Palace, which lies 30 meters under the surface of the glacier and was created in the 1930s. It beckons with an impressive world of beautiful ice sculptures featuring eagles, penguins and other shimmering works of art. Stop and see the Jungfrau Panorama, a four-minute, 360 degree cinematic experience exploring the majesty of the mountains. Through colorful lights and music, the Alpine Sensation showcases tourism in the Swiss Alps and a tribute to the tunnel workers who built the Jungfrau Railway. Another exhibition, "Little Dreams of Switzerland" is like a magical snow globe come to life
Feeling hungry? There are six different restaurants up at the top offering authentic Swiss cuisine. The restaurant Crystal presents the best of Swiss and international culinary temptations, all with amazing views just outside the windows. Take time to savor a glass of Swiss wine. Or enjoy more casual dining in the self-service restaurant. For a quick warm-up, the coffee bar will fit the bill.
Then, there's the Lindt Top of Europe Chocolate World where visitors can enjoy a free Lindor chocolate ball and learn more about the passionate art of making chocolate. It's a chocolate lover's delight, but the hard part will be deciding what sweet delicacies to bring home. Next door is a shop on top where you can bring home a Tissot, watch, Top of the World Cap or Swiss Army Knife.
Depending on the season, there are more than enough activities to keep your heart pumping. Visitors can hike among the Alpine wildflowers. Or bike down the trail on a scooter bike. Fly down on a steel cable. Or ride the ski lift.
But when there's snow, there's lots of snow ... and an endless array of fun. From ziplining to snow tubing, sledding and skiing to dogsledding, snowboarding and more. It's a good idea to watch all of the activities first and then decide what you want to do. For the less adventurous, there are easier trails for hiking or chairs for relaxing and holding your breath as the zipliners fly overhead.
When it's time to go home, you'll take the same journey back. But you'll be different. You've been to the top of the world.
If You GoThe best way to get to Interlaken is via the Swiss Train System, which is fast, efficient and easy to navigate. Recommended is the Swiss Rail Pass, which gives you access to trains, buses, boats, over 470 Swiss museums and more. Choose from first class or second class with availability from three days to one month of travel. www.myswitzerland,com.
For tickets and more information, visit Jungfrau Tourism
Read more about travel throughout Europe
Have a comment to share? Like us on Facebook - OffbeatTravelCom and post your comment.
Mira Temkin is a freelance writer who lives to travel and discover new experiences throughout the world. Her stories have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, What's Happening, Lakeland Boating, Chicago Upscale Travel Examiner, Jetsetter Extra and Business Travel Destinations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author