The Ice Palace, a cave made entirely of ice, features ice sculptures. // © 2016 Top of Europe
Feature image (above): If good weather is expected, be sure to head to Jungfraujoch, the so-called “Top of Europe.” // © 2016 Top of Europe
Although I’ve hiked all over the world, I wasn’t prepared for the sheer beauty of the Swiss Alps — nor, might I add, the elaborate trail system that awaited me. The Swiss are master engineers, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the infrastructure on the mountains that allows clients to access hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails with the help of cable cars, trains and lifts. The icing on the cake — or rather, the glacier? Reaching the “Top of Europe.”
Experiencing the Top of Europe
Of the many peaks in the Swiss Alps, the most famous is the Jungfrau. Here, you’ll find Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest-altitude railroad station, which sits at more than 11,000 feet, earning it the nickname, the Top of Europe. Its elevation guarantees snow and ice year-round, which is why dressing for the cold is essential. Pack gloves, a hat and sunglasses, and dress in layers.
Checking the weather is also critical. While there’s no shortage of activities in the area, the Top of Europe is such a special experience that it demands highest priority during a trip, and should be reserved for the clearest day. If good weather is forecasted, drop other plans you’ve made and ogle the view, which looks like somebody dumped an entire jar of marshmallow fluff and smoothed it out with a spatula. In other words, the snow looks pristinely placed between the mountains.
Though there are numerous starting points to reach Jungfraujoch, my trek began in Lauterbrunnen. Here, a cogwheel railway transports passengers on a picturesque ride. It’s about a two-hour journey to the top, but time passes quickly, thanks to the views of mountains, farms and villages.
A transfer to another train is required at Kleine Scheidegg station. From here, travelers ride through the Eiger and Monch mountains and stop twice to see views from inside the mountain, including the famous Eiger North Face, where dozens of climbers have perished.
Once at Jungfraujoch, visitors walk into a large structure that sits above the rocky peaks and glaciers, including the Aletsch, the Alps’ largest glacier. Numerous restaurants and attractions can be found on this mountaintop. Don’t miss slipping and sliding through the Ice Palace, which, as its name implies, is made entirely of ice. Next, head to the Snow Plateau, a large outdoor area where you can walk onto the snow and even start a snowball fight.
You can then decide how clients should descend. Though many people take the train, I rode only to Kleine Scheidegg, where I got off and hiked the Panoramaweg, a beloved trail among the Swiss. It’s not a tough trail, and the views are incredible. About an hour later, I arrived at the Mannlichen lift and was whisked by gondola to Murren, another small village, where I hiked into Lauterbrunnen. The reward? A cold Rugenbrau brew on Hotel Schutzen’s patio.
A Hiker’s Paradise
The ultimate prize for visiting the Alps isn’t the beer, but rather, the hiking itself. There are so many trails — not to mention transportation options — that it can be mind-boggling. But rest assured that no matter what clients decide, they’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views and serenaded by cowbells. In fact, they’ll meet more bovine friends than they could have ever imagined.
Once there, clients can start their hike from Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald or Wengen. Though I only had one full day, I managed to squeeze in several stunning treks. One of my favorites took me to Bachalpsee, a mountain lake accessed by taking a 30-minute cable car ride from Grindelwald to First. From First, clients should follow the signs (and crowds) to Bachalpsee. About 45 minutes later, they’ll reach the lake and more trails.
The adventure doesn’t stop there, though. At First, clients can indulge their thrill-seeking side by doing the new Cliff Walk, which includes a 131-foot-long suspension bridge and circular observation platform. They can also try their hand at the First Flyer, a mountain cart, or glide back down to Grindelwald via a scooter bike. Tell them it’s perfectly accepted to yodel as they go down. They’re in Switzerland, after all, and it’s the perfect way to cap off a trip.
To be close to the mountains, base clients in Lauterbrunnen, which sits in a valley of 72 waterfalls, including the well-known Staubbach Falls. Here, they can easily walk from their hotel to the train station.
Or, book a room in Thun, about 35 to 40 minutes by car to Lauterbrunnen, where they’ll find a medieval Old Town, its scenic riverfront lined with restaurants, cafes and castles.
For booking assistance, try Europe Express.