Switzerland by rail and the Jungfrau experience

Zoe Dawes's picture

“We’ll be arriving at Interlaken in ten minutes so you’d better finish off that drink and get your stuff together.”  I recently went to and around Switzerland on a superlative-laden trip organised by Railbookers.  There’s possibly no better way to travel around Switzerland than by rail.  Apart from the timetabling genius of so many trains hurtling around the country amidst avalanches and ice and still being on time, there’s the smart carriages and quirky railways that make even the least anoracky passenger quietly happy.  I had travelled from St Pancras on the Eurostar to Paris and been smoothly transported across France to Basel on the Swiss border.  A short wait and then the first Swiss train south past tiny villages with toytown church spires pointing up to the mountains and finally into Interlaken station.  The journey had taken nine hours and had simply flown by in a blur of frosty fields, sunlit hills, efficient stations and very decent vino …


Interlaken Ost

Alpine village from the window


Lugging my suitcase (including a VERY chic pair of snowboots from that well-known ski-wear designer, George of Asda) off the train onto the platform at Interlaken, I was astounded to see a huge star high twinkling above us in the night sky.  I mean a REAL star, you know, one of those you get at the top of a Christmas tree, not one of those teeny ones in the Milky Way.  Ever-helpful Swiss guide, Martina, said it was actually on the roof of a restaurant at the top of small mountain, but as i couldn’t see the mountain, it simply looked magical and seemed a good omen for the trip.  Opening the bedroom curtains the next morning, the glorious sight of sunlit, snow-laden Alps towering over the town augured well for the next, very special train ride.


Eiger and skis

Eiger and skis


original Jungfrau train

original Jungfrau train


One of the great railway journeys of all time, starts from Interlaken Ost – the Jungfraujoch to the ‘Top Of Europe’.  Three charming little trains take you through the loveliest of Alpine scenery, past pretty wooden chalets, tiny stations, speedy skiers, sturdy toboganners and hardy walkers to the station beside the summit of the Jungfrau.  For all facts fans, here goes:

•    At 3454m Europe’s highest-altitude railway station in the heart of the Alps

•    It’s the longest cog-wheel railway in Europe

•    The railway was finished in 1912 so is celebrating its centenary this year

•    The route climbs beside and through the North Face of the Eiger – a stunning sight

•    The 22km Aletsch Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the longest icestream in the Alps, begins on the slopes of the Jungfrau – you can walk inside it from the station

•    The restaurant has the best view of the Jungfrau any non-climber could wish for

•    Up to the Sphinx Observatory platform (3573m) which is surrounded by three iconic mountains – the Eiger 3970m, Mönch (Monk) 4099m, and the Jungfrau (Maiden) 4158m as well as the Aletsch Glacier and on a clear day you can see across the Alps to the Vosges and the Black Forest

•    700,000 visitors visit 365 days a year, in just about every weather condition


Zoe Dawes, Switzerland



We had been warned to take care as altitude affects breathing and I felt as if I was walking through treacle inside the visitor centre, but outside in the fresh air at the Observatory I soon felt better and could appreciate the awesome sight of this spectacular scenery backlit in diamond-sharp winter sunshine.
Travelling down the mountain was equally delightful as the little cog-wheeled engine took it at a steady pace past the menacing Eiger North Wall into picturesque Grindelwald.  Back in Interlaken, I could still feel the icy, crisp air from the mountains and hear the echo of the few hardy black crows which had managed to make the flight to the top of the Alps with us.  It’s a journey I’ll never forget and hope one day to do all over again …


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For more information on taking your own rail trip, please see railbookers.com




Zoë Dawes, ‘Britain’s Best Travel Blogger’ in 2011, is a travel writer based in NW England. Read more in her blog The Quirky Traveller





All photos courtesy and copyright Zoe Dawes