Postcards from Italy

The Top of Europe: Switzerland's Jungfrau Region

If you dream of visiting Switzerland's towering peaks, crystalline lakes, and fairytale-like alpine villages, you can't do better than the Jungfrau Region in the highlands southeast of Bern. Named for the majestic Jungfrau peak, this area offers high-octane skiing in winter, heart-pounding hikes in summer, and some of the most dazzling scenery in Europe all year round.

Top of Europe(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

We recently spent some time getting to know the region for ourselves, and here are our top take-aways:

The Jungfraujoch

The heart of the region is Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch—a trio of summits that forms a striking massif dominating the Bernese Oberland and the Swiss Plateau, one of the most spectacular sights in all the Swiss Alps. One of the highlights of this group of peaks is the Jungfraujoch, the glacier saddle connecting Jungrau and Mönch; reaching an elevation of over 11,000 feet above sea level, the Jungfraujoch is known as the “top of Europe”.

ice-cave-jungfraujoch-switzerland(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Fortunately, this spot in the clouds can be easily reached via the Jungfraubahn, a dramatic alpine railway that connects from Interlaken in Kleine Scheidegg and passes through the long Jungfrau tunnel (making two scenic stops) before arriving at the Jungfraujoch station, the highest railway station in Europe.

building the Jungfraubahn(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Other sights on this UNESCO-listed saddle include the Sphinx observation platform, the Ice Palace, and the Top of Europe pavilion with a number of shops and restaurants.

eismeer-jungfrau(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Alpine Views

One of the biggest draws to the region are the sweeping vistas from its peaks and plateaus. The region is also home to a number of delightful Alpine passes that lie at a lower elevation than the Jungfraujoch but offer equally sweeping views. Many serve as ski area hubs in winter and hiking trail destinations in summer, and almost all are located along the scenic Jungfrau line. Among the most striking are Kleine Scheidegg, offering breathtaking views of the Eiger north face from an elevation of 6,700 feet above sea level and home to the departure station for trains to the Jungfraujoch; and Eigergletscher, named for the Eiger Glacier and home to the final open-air Jungfraubahn station before the train begins its final ascent through a tunnel.

Mönch and Eiger(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Memorable views of the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Mönch peaks can be enjoyed at Schynige Platte, serviced by its own Schynige Platte railway, part of the Bernese Oberland Railway network that includes the Jungfraubahn and other narrow-gauge routes through the mountains. A popular destination for hikers in the summer, Schynige Platte is known for its panoramic hiking trails and flowering high-altitude meadow.

For endless views that don't require an Alpine train ride, head to Harder Kulm via the Harderbahn funicular from Interlaken. From the viewing platform more than 4,000 feet above sea level, you can take in Lake Brienz and Lake Thun and the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. You can also stop in the castle-like Harder Kulm Panorama Restaurant for a meal with a view. Otherwise, the thrilling three-stage gondola ride from Grindelwald will whisk you up the slopes of the Schwarzhorn mountain to First, another scenic perch that attracks hikers in summer and snowboarders in winter. An hour hike from the First gondola stop is Bachalpsee, one of the prettiest alpine lakes in the region.

Towns and Villages

In addition to its panoramic peaks and passes, the Jungfrau Region has a number of pretty towns to explore. Here are four favorites:

As its name suggests, this resort town is set between two lakes: Lake Brienz and Lake Thun (Brienzersee and Thunersee). A stop for travelers on the Grand Tour in the 19th century, today this bustling town is a major gateway for the Jungfrau region and an important trasportation hub. Train journeys to Jungfraujoch most often begin here, departing from the Interlaken Ost station and connecting in Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald to the cogwheel trains that continue the trip to the top.

Interlaken(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

In addition to using the town as a base for day trips into the the Jungfrau Region to hike, ride the rails, ski, or simply soak in the views, Interlaken has a number of excellent chocolatiers and restaurants, paragliding and sky diving companies, (the lively green in front of the Victoria-Jungfrau Hotel sees the occasional landing of a paraglider), and boat rides or scenic cruises on the lakes. Cruises on Lake Thun often stop at the 13th-century Oberhofen Castle on the lakeshore.

Interlaken is where most excursions into the Jungfrau region kick off, but the largest and most important town in the region itself is Grindelwald. Along with Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald is one of the few high-altitude towns that can be reached either by car or by train, and it is an essential junction between the rail lines running from Interlaken and those heading further into the Alps, principally the Jungfraubahn.

Grindelwald(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Though the town overlooks the north face of Eiger and has a charming center with shops and restaurants, it is mainly a jumping-off point to explore the surrounding trails and scenic overlooks. Nearby highlights include First, the Eiger Trail, and the Jungfraujoch.

If you close your eyes and picture a Swiss mountain village, Wengen is probably what comes to mind. This cluster of timber chalets and historic hotels can only be reached via train, but that doesn't put off the international ski-erati, who are drawn by events like the Lauberhorn Downhill and Alpine Ski World Cup each winter. From here, you can hop on the Jungfraubahn to the Jungfrau summit, take a gondola to Männlichen to ski or hike, or visit the Trümmelbach glacier waterfalls to the south, hiking the dramatic underground paths.

Wengen(Photo by CIU Travel via Flickr)

Accessible only via gondola or electric train, this quiet Alpine village at the foot of the Schilthorn peak is considered one of the most picturesque in the Jungfrau region and is a popular stop in winter and summer. The James Bond film, “On Her Majesty's Secret Service” was filmed on the slopes above the village, and the views of Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau from this spot are particularly memorable. From here, the gondola network takes you downhill to Gimmelwald and Stechelberg, or uphill to the peak of Schilthorn, home to the landmark revolving restaurant Piz Gloria.

Related posts:
Travel Tips for Switzerland
Switzerland by Rail: The Glacier Express and Bernina Express
Five Spots in Italy and Switzerland to Put on Your 2019 Radar

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