Read more about this wonderful region in Switzerland that is impossibly beautiful and tremendous fun (and it’s not all about skiing)! It’s ridiculously easy to get to Zurich from London, only a 75-minute flight from Heathrow. From there I travelled on the superb Swiss Rail system that saw me speed to Interlaken. I stayed at the Metropole Hotel, which was large and comfortable. My room had a stunning view of the mountains and the Ice Magic yearly attraction offering ice-skating, curling and importantly plenty of gluhwein (the lovely hot wine served here infused with sugar and spices). It tastes great and keeps you warm – What’s not to like?
You can skate your figure of eight from 10am until midnight and hang out in the sheepskin-adorned bar between pirouettes, or as a surreal alternative as I did and have a fondue in the Igloo Restaurant. Pumped up with air the inflatable walls formed a giant igloo nice and warm inside with cracking food and wine on offer.
The warm melted cheese with hunks of bread washed down with a local white wine (for digestive purposes you understand) made a hearty meal on a cold night. The igloo is really an inflated tent kept up with air, it’s was fun and children will warm to the idea immediately as well as warm up instantly if the skating gets a bit cold.
All was going well with the fondue until I learned about a local custom. If you have the misfortune to allow a piece of bread to fall off your fork and into the fondue etiquette dictates that you have to run around the igloo naked as a forfeit. I did have such a mishap but fortunately no one was looking (or maybe they were turning a blind eye) so I retained my dignity although the exercise would have been good for me to burn of some of that cheese!
The next day I travelled to Grunewald or the ‘The Top of the World’ as they call there. Again I used the train system which as I have noted before runs like clockwork. In just an hour I am at the station, a more perfect spot surrounded by perfect Alpine snow you could not imagine. It was simply beautiful. Traditional wooden buildings and spectacular mountain views were everywhere I looked.
I checked into the Gletschergarten Chalet Hotel. It’s been in the same family sine 1899 and still has a friendly old-school atmosphere. It was comfortable and warm and run smoothly by Gabriela and Gerhard Michel-Breitenstein (they have a brilliant ceramic bench connected to the heating system that you can sit on to warm up your nether regions after a day on the slopes).
Grunewald is a small village in the Jungfrau region with access to 160km of pistes, 30 lifts and an altitude of around 2500m it has much to offer. The Eiger is here and dominates the skyline. First climbed in 1858 it took until 1938 for anybody to successfully climb the north face. These days it’s possible to climb the mountain (if you’re skilled enough) in a little over two and a half hours.
This is a location that can work for summer as well as winter with trekking, mountain biking, hang-gliding and parasailing, picnics and of course that brilliant railway system that can get you up the steepest mountains in no time. In fact Jungfraujoch Europe’s highest railway is here too.
I checked out the newly opened First Cliff Walks by Tissot. Wrapping itself around the mountain face I gingerly walked the route with nothing separating me from a 4000m-drop but a metal grid. Not for the easily scared but a brilliant view of the surrounding mountains. It finishes with a 40m-projected platform with a glass floor and wall at the end (just to add to the drama). If this might prove all too much then there was a lovely restaurant just round the corner to provide a nerve steadying glass of gluhwein if needed.
The village offered plenty of distractions from altitude as I walked around I came across an ice carving competition. This international annual event is a serious business. All the carvers I saw were busy working away and creating (on the whole) very impressive sculptures, musical notes (Italy) proved popular, and a perfect geometric shape (Germany) and the finished three days early Swedish effort, which was a giant and impressive globe with cracks running through it.
The other side of the valley was of interest to many skiers as it offered the world famous Lauberhorn downhill run. 15km of pure terror open to amateurs it is probably best left to those with more experience than me. Many ski it but at a non-professional speed and have the time of their lives. You can even have your picture taken at the start (where they keep the poles up) and you can play at being Karl Molitor or it might bring out your inner sangfroid and you might make a record time.
The train that took me up into and through the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch station made regular stops to disembark and make the most of the views through large windows in the rock. I wondered at the perseverance and tenacity needed to dig such a tunnel. The rewards were clear to see at the top (although there was a bit of a white out, like being in a movie where you can’t see your hand in front of you). An ice palace has been carved through the rock with ice walls and floors it was a bit slippery but great fun to walk through the various corridors and passages and come across a family of penguins (made of ice of course).
The altitude did take my breath away so be prepared to take it slowly when you’re up there. Fortunately there was splendid restaurant on hand (isn’t there always in Switzerland) where I had a beautiful lunch, as this is the highest railway station in Europe they have thrown in a few other ‘highest’ options. How about the highest watch shop or the highest Lindt chocolate factory (definitely worth a visit) and I even had a special passport stamped to say I had been there.
The Jungfrau region of Switzerland has so much to offer, I saw more snow than I have ever seen, fantastic distractions like ice skating, and cliff walking and of course the robust and plentiful food that was available just where I needed it (usually at the top of a mountain). It doesn’t matter what time of the year you visit this part of Switzerland has something for everyone in the family.
Please visit: www.jungfrau.ch for more information.
Return flights from London to Geneva with SWISS are available from £82
Return flights from London to Zurich with SWISS are available from £82
Return train transfers from the airport or border railway station directly to destination are available with the Swiss Transfer Ticket, which is priced at 141 CHF (£98)
Hotel Metropole **** in Interlaken. Prices pppn start from 141 CHF (£98) per night for a Standard twin room. www.metropole-interlaken.ch
Chalet-Hotel Gletschergarten *** in Grunewald. Prices pppn start from 200 CHF (£139) for a Standard Twin Room for 2 people including breakfast. www.hotel-gletschergarten.ch
Ice Magic Interlaken: Admission to ice rink 9 CHF (£6), skate rental 9 CHF (£6) www.icemagic.ch
Jungfrau whole area 3-day ski pass prices start from 198 CHF (approx. £137) for adults and 99 CHF (approx. £69) for children. Grindelwald-Wengen area 3-day lift pass starts from 170 CHF (approx. £118) adults and 85 CHF (approx. £59) for children.
For holders of a Grindelwald-Wengen Sportpass valid for at least three consecutive days, there is a 50% discount on a rail ticket for the routes Eigergletscher – Jungfraujoch or Lauterbrunnen – Schilthorn.
Register for a Jungfrau Winnercard, http://www.jungfrau.ch/en/tourism/ski-area/jungfrau-winnercard/register-now/ for FREE.
Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe railway ticket starts from 60 CHF return (approx. £42).
New First Cliff Walk by Tissot – a summit attraction at First-First
The thrilling new First Cliff Walk summit trail is guaranteed to give you butterflies. The narrow cliff-side walkway, suspension bridge and a vantage platform offer spectacular and unnerving views out towards the Eiger and down the extreme cliff face. Via a spiral stairway visitors can reach the First sun terrace, from where a 45-metre-long vantage platform provides breath-taking views of the mountainous surroundings. The First Cliff Walk is free to visitors.
Return flights from London Heathrow to Zurich cost from £130 with SWISS. The ‘skier friendly’ airline will carry skis or a snowboard and up to 23kg of luggage included in the price.
For more information on skiing and railway journeys in the Jungfrau please visit: www.jungfrau.ch