Diccon Bewes: Great Swiss train trips – Jungfraujoch
This is one Swiss train trip you can’t afford to miss, despite the high price tag.
Starting in Interlaken you can go via Grindelwald or Wengen (or up one way and back the other) to reach Kleine Scheidegg, the beginning of the line up to Jungfraujoch. This is a place that is rarely quiet. In summer it’s full of walkers (mainly Swiss) setting off or returning from bracing hikes at the foot of the Eiger; in winter the boots are attached to skis and snowboards and other forms of torture. And all year round, half the world comes to eat, drink and change trains. Next stop: inside the Eiger.
The train is packed but with barely a Swiss voice to be heard among the United Nations that is our carriage. No wonder the announcements come in multiple languages, with the Japanese little-girl Heidi voice making everyone (except the Japanese) smile. Two stops on the way up let us clamber out and see the views from windows cut into the rock face. These days, there’s plexiglass to stop the gales coming in and people jumping out, though sepia photos show that earliest visitors got the open-air effect. And don’t worry, the train waits for everyone to be back on board before setting off again.
After 50 minutes inside the mountain, it really is quite a shock to the system to step out into the open air at Jungfraujoch, 3454 metres up. The light is blindingly bright and views literally breathtaking, although that probably has more to do with the thin air. My feet feel distinctly heavier than my head so it’s slow progress around the viewpoints; all the better for taking photos. And looking out over Europe’s longest glacier, I’m very glad I brought a jacket. It might have been over 30c down in Interlaken, but up here it’s a refreshing 2c.
For me, the trip up to Jungfraujoch isn’t just about the panorama from the top, which is as wonderful as you’d expect, but there are plenty of places in Switzerland where you can be wowed by the views. Neither is it about being up at Europe’s highest train station, which makes some people giddy with excitement. For me it’s the trip itself and all that it took to achieve that. Thanks to the vision of Adolf Guyer-Zeller (who sadly never lived to see it completed) and the guts of his workforce (30 of whom died on the job), we can take one of the world’s most extraordinary train rides up inside one the world’s most famous mountains.
And if you want to make the trip complete, on the way down get off at the first station after the tunnel (Eigergletscher) and hike the last part along the new Eiger Walk. The gentle 45 minutes downhill to Kleine Scheidegg (June to October only) are a great way to stretch the legs after the train ride, get some fresh air that isn’t too thin to breathe in deeply, and of course enjoy the amazing views all around. You can even sit and dip your feet in crystal cool water. While you do that, look up to see where you were standing earlier: a tiny point on the saddle between two giant mountains. That’s when you truly realise what those men achieved 100 years ago.
Diccon grew up in Britain but now lives in Bern. He has spent the last seven years grappling with German grammar, overcoming his innate desire to form an orderly queue and exploring parts of Switzerland he never knew existed. And eating lots of chocolate. He is the author of the bestselling book Swiss Watching.
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