This year for our winter vacation my family chose to travel to Switzerland and selected Jungfraujoch resort for its accessibility via public transportation. In fact, we came all the way from Berlin, Germany, hopping from one train to the next. After changing in Interlaken, a small rack-train took us all the way to Grindelwald, a quaint village nestled in the Bernese Alps. This train runs every 30 minutes between Interlaken and Grindelwald. It almost looks like a streetcar, but for travel in Switzerland, it has the necessary addition of skis and snowboards racks: in fact, locals don’t drive up the mountain to go to the slopes, they take the train!
Once in the village, we discover its charms. Grindelwald is completely surrounded by high peaks looming benevolently overhead. All around, a multitude of large chalets dot the landscape, some are hotels and stores while others, a little farther afield, are still working farms. We hear cows mooing, and their bells ringing, before we see them. It has snowed recently and the entire landscape is blanketed in soft powder. Some trees seem covered in white foliage, scintillating in the sunshine.
Skiing and Snowboarding
The Grindelwald-Wengen-Mürren resort is rather large and offers perfectly groomed slopes, with difficulties ranging from blue to double black. Despite visiting the resort during Swiss school vacations, there were barely any lines at the lifts, except for the morning gondola. In the Wengen area, slope #27 offers some challenges with up to a 71% incline. Good snow conditions, and no muggles guarantee speed and fun! The Lauberhorn run, used for downhill world cup competitions, is also a must for good skiers coming to this resort. What thrill to zoom down this slope, in the tracks of so many prestigious athletes!
Hiking and Sledding
The Jungfrau area is especially well equipped with hiking and sledding trails, another reason Switzerland travel is so popular. Pedestrians, some bringing a sled along, take gondolas and trains with skiers and riders. And they’re off to their own adventure. Sledding downhill, quite fast on some trails, is really exhilarating, but can also be terrifying at first. Many of the trails are indeed rather steep and it does take some practice to maneuver the sled skillfully.
Train Ride to the Top of Europe
From Kleine Scheidegg, hordes of tourists board the Jungfraubahn to get to Jungfraujoch. Plan to get there early to enjoy the landscape in relative solitude.
Views from the summit are breathtaking. Overawing peaks tower above the observatory and the visitors. Below our feet, the large expanse of the Aletsch Glacier appears infinite. Hues of white, grey and blue softly meet. During a snowy day, it is impossible to tell where the sky begins and ends. We are completely surrounded by whiteness and cut off from the rest of the world.
First Flyer and First Glider
A couple of modern attractions lure visitors to the First side of the resort. In the wintertime, the First Glider is open for a few hours everyday. Imagine taking a ride with all your bulky snow-sport equipment, including your skiing boots, imagine getting securely strapped under the glider and suddenly taking off! After the first qualmy moment as the glider leaves the platform and speeds backwards toward higher altitude, an incredible sensation arises in us. We are really flying, rushing through the air like birds. In the distance, the snow-covered mountains glisten in the sunshine, while under us the ground scrolls at top speed. An unforgettable experience!
Almost every restaurant in the area offers fondue, a typical Swiss dish. In Grindelwald, we chose a tasty fondue with bacon, at the Hotel Restaurant Bellevue-Pinte. While we were sipping Swiss white wine, baskets and dishes arrived: bread, boiled potatoes, freshly grilled bacon, and pickled spring onions and sliced pickles. Finally, our waitress set a large dish of melted cheese above the burner.
This particular fondue recipe calls for a lot of white wine, in addition to the cheese, and the wine flavor is distinct. Now, the fun could start: dipping ingredients in the cheese, losing some of them and experimenting with flavors. A perfect treat after a long day on the slopes! Amazingly enough, we still had room for dessert: ice-cream and crème caramel.
Of course, one cannot come to Switzerland without an appetite for chocolate. We did gorge ourselves with different types of chocolate bars, with fancy flavors unknown in the rest of the world. So many delicacies to choose from and to try…
Staying in the Swiss Mountains in Style
There are many old, gorgeous hotels in the area, located in all the different villages. Hotel Regina in beautiful Wengen is one of them. In the winter, fluffy snow covers the surrounding evergreens and the hillsides. The hotel, like many others in the area, exudes antiquated charm, inside and outside. It is a reminder of the times when tourists came and stayed for weeks or months in a hotel. This hotel also has restaurants, especially Mary’s Café, an excellent lunch option.
Some hotels are even more remote and offer a truly astounding experience. They are reachable by train – don’t miss the “stop by request” on board when you hear your destination called. Once well-settled at one of these out-of-the-way hotels, guests can also reach it directly on their skis or on foot. After an exhausting day on the slopes, one may relax and have dinner or a warm drink by a fireplace, completely secluded from the outside world.
Notes: Although the Jungfrau ski area isn’t particularly crowded, you may want to check the Swiss school vacation calendar in order to avoid Swiss families coming here during “ski week”.
The Jungfraujoch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many tourists come here, especially in organized tours. If you plan to go, make your reservations early, and get up early to go the Jungfraujoch observatory.
Spending a week in Switzerland during the winter is a magical experience. Snow softens the landscape, clear skies and sunshine enhance the peaks. Despite the snow-sport accommodations, wildlife abounds and it isn’t unusual to see chamois walking in the snow, near the tree lines. Breathtaking views, charming housing and transportation, delicious cheese and chocolates make this trip an unforgettable experience.