How to spend a winter weekend in Jungfrau, Switzerland

Pride of the Swiss Alps, the spruce forests, log cabin chalets and world-class pistes of Jungfrau’s peaks are all the more accessible thanks to the new fast-track Eiger Express cable-car.

Published 29 Nov 2020, 08:00 GMT
The Lauterbrunnen Valley

The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a favourite among travellers for its fine intermediate terrain, family appeal and gentle apres-ski scene.

Photograph by Getty Images

If the Swiss Alps are beautiful, the Jungfrau Region is their proverbial icing on the towering cake. Here, vintage trains and futuristic cable-cars haul you up to peaks that are as high as the sky. Spruce forests bristle above eyrie-like villages, with cosy log cabin retreats. Vertical cliffs sheer down to valleys frosted white. And set theatrically above it all are colossal, glacier-capped mountains — among them the legendary triple act of the Eiger (13,025ft), Mönch (13,465ft) and Jungfrau (13,642ft). Such scenery is actually distracting when you’re navigating an Olympic black run or Europe’s longest toboggan track.

There’s never been a better time to visit: the recent overhaul of Jungfrau mountain railways, and the arrival of the tri-cable Eiger Express gondola, launching 5 December 2020, are set to significantly slash journey times to Europe’s highest station, Jungfraujoch. And the Top4 Ski Pass, interlinking four ski regions in the Bernese Oberland, makes zipping from peak to peak a breeze.

DAY ONE: SKI THE SLOPES


Morning

Nothing jump-starts a morning like the view of the Eiger’s north face, set among a host of other summits that graze the 13,000ft mark. Bang in the icy heart of the Jungfrau Region, Grindelwald has grandstand views of that ferocious fang of a mountain. Grab an espresso and rent your gear at Grindelwaldsports, then hop on the gondola up to First station for a mixed bag of long blue and red runs, and freeriding for boarders at the Snowpark. You’ll find more cruisy, above-the-treeline runs with big views in the Kleine- Scheidegg-Männlichen area. Or take it off-piste with a local guide.

If you prefer to just romp around in the snow and have fun, there’s that too. Test your nerves on the First Flyer zip-line, speeding up to 52mph as you whoosh towards the Eiger, or hire a velogemel (a frankly bizarre wooden scooter-bike hybrid thing) for a mad dash back down to the valley.

Afternoon

Post-ski, refuel with lunch at Cafe 3692, a quirkily rustic place set high above Grindelwald. It offers a cracking array of homemade cakes and healthy(ish) day specials prepared with garden herbs and Grindelwald produce.

After lunch, jump on the Eiger Express for a 15-minute ride to Eigergletscher station, which gets so close to the mountain’s gnarly north face, it feels like you’re going to slam right into it. There’s great off-piste for expert skiers, not to mention Oh God (piste 27), one of the region’s most terrifying black runs, with a 71% incline.

From Eigergletscher, head up to Jungfraujoch station, Europe’s highest at 11,332ft. Grappling with sheer rock and ice since 1912, the railway is an engineering masterpiece. It gets busy, but suffer the crowds for the gasp-eliciting views of four 13,000ft peaks and the 14-mile swirl of the Aletsch Glacier from the top.

Evening

Dive back into Grindelwald for live music and an apres-ski schnapps, glühwein or craft beer at the hip Avocado Bar. Then it’s decider time. Do you hit the snow again? If so, this time on a sled on Europe’s longest toboggan track, which locals nickname ‘Big Pintenfritz’. Night sledding is capped off perfectly with cheese fondue at the warm Bussalp Bergrestaurant. Sled rental is included in prebookable packages.

If, you’ve had enough action for one day, wind things down at Alpine-chic Boutique Hotel Glacier — perhaps in the Eigerfacing whirlpool and cosily lit spa. The hotel really captures the mood of the mountains. Amuse yourself over an aperitif from the carefully curated wine cellar before dinner. The menu puts imaginative riffs on seasonal, regional ingredients in dishes like char with cauliflower, cashew butter and edamame, and dry-aged steak with polenta fries.

Grindelwald and Wetterhorn, Jungfrau Region, with grandstand views of Eiger, a ferocious fang of a mountain.

Photograph by AWL Images

DAY TWO: PEAK TO PEAK


Morning

Start early for the 30-minute train ride to Lauterbrunnen, located in a valley backed by sheer rock walls and 72 frozen waterfalls. Airtime is the go-to café for smoothies, freshly brewed coffee and specials like home-roasted granola and sourdough with egg, ham and beetroot hummus. Before getting the cable-car up to Grütschalp, snatch a glimpse of the wispy 975ft-high plume of Staubbach Falls, so ravishing it inspired Goethe to pen poetry.

From Grütschalp, ride the ridge train to Mürren: traffic-free and lined with log chalets, it offers amazing views of the Eiger (‘Ogre’), Mönch (‘Monk’) and Jungfrau (‘Virgin’). At 5,413ft, snow is always realiable. Squeeze in a morning ski: there are tough mogul runs at Birg and Schiltgrat, and easy blues at Allmendhubel — all ridiculously scenic. Or pad powder in quiet exhilaration on the two-mile snowshoe trail to Allmiboden (rent shoes from local sports shops).

Afternoon

Warm up with a hot chocolate on a terrace back in town, then get your ski groove on again, and hop on the cable-car to 9,744ft Schilthorn. Its revolving restaurant has sensational 360-degree views of the Bernese Alps. The mountain was the backdrop for the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. For the full-on 007 effect, confident intermediates can leap into the void on the ultrablack Direttissima (No. 9), a beast of a piste with an 88% incline. Boarders, meanwhile, can slide over to the Skyline Snowpark. Schilthorn is the starting point of January’s Inferno Run, an almost 10-mile hell-for-leather race down to Lauterbrunnen, covering 7,119ft of vertical. Ski it if you dare.

Otherwise, content yourself with the views that extend all the way to Mont Blanc and the Black Forest on clear days. On the way down, take a stroll along the cliff-hanging Thrill Walk at middle station Birg.

Evening

Behind Hotel Jungfrau, a gondola has been coolly reborn as Gondelbar, where apres-ski drinks are in order, but curb consumption if playing the classic Swiss ‘hammer the nail’ game. On your final night, handsome chalet-style Hotel Eiger is the special spot to stay, where pretty much everything overlooks that fabled mountain: the nouveau-rustic rooms, the pool and hot tub. The timber-clad restaurant’s huge picture windows face the peaks, which glow pearl-white in the blue dusk. The food is throughly Swiss, with starters like Grisons barley soup piquing the appetite for heartier mains like Bernesestyle sliced veal with rösti.

A train ride through the Lauterbrunnen Valley, backed by sheer rock walls and 72 frozen waterfalls.

Photograph by AWL Images

Six of the best ski resorts in Jungfrau

Whether you’re after challenging World Cup downhill runs, non-ski activities such as sledding, snowshoeing and winter hiking, or a lively apres-ski scene, the Jungfrau Region has it all.

1. Wengen
Reached solely by train, 4,183ft Wengen looks as if it’s cupped in celestial hands: gazing up to the giants of the Jungfrau massif and down to the Lauterbrunnen Valley. A favourite with British travellers for its fine intermediate terrain, family appeal and gentle apres-ski scene, experts can tackle the World Cup Lauberhorn downhill race course. Reliable snow is, of course, a plus.

2. Lauterbrunnen
Famous for the rugged splendour of its cliffs, waterfalls and adrenalin sports (ice-climbing in winter, BASE jumping in summer), Lauterbrunnen is in the valley but gives you speedy access by train or gondola to all of the major resorts and slopes in the Jungfrau Region. There’s also a generous sprinkling of cafes, restaurants and accommodation.

3. Grindelwald
Grindelwald spreads far along its main street. Though not as pretty at first blush as Wengen or Mürren, it’s still charmingly Alpine, and the Eiger panorama is unbeatable. Skiing is good (lots of intermediate cruising runs above the treeline), and it’s set to get even better with the arrival of the new Eiger Express. There are lots of sleeping and eating choices too. 

4. Mürren
The icing on the Alpine cake, car-free Mürren is the winter wonderland dream, with cute log chalets, tremendous views of the Jungfrau massif, and a laid-back air. Gentle blue and red runs, hairy black runs (at Schilthorn) and nonski activities such as sledding, snowshoeing and winter hiking are all part of the impressive standard offering here.

5. Gimmelwald
Dinky Gimmelwald is the stuff of snowglobe scenes in winter — much calmer and less touristy than other resorts. It’s a proper escape, yet just a snowball’sthrow from the slopes in Mürren and at Schilthorn. Its handful of chalets include sweet and simple Esther’s Guesthouse — book the attic room, the pick of the bunch, which has a slanted roof for stargazing. 

6. Kleine Scheidegg
The Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau lord it above Kleine Scheidegg, a snowsure resort at 6,761ft above sea level, where you can slide straight onto some of the region’s most fabulous slopes, not least the World Cup Lauberhorn run; Jungfraujoch is a train ride away. Places to stay fill up in a flash here in winter, so it’s wise to book well ahead.

Top three mountaintop restaurants


1. Bergrestaurant Brandegg
The north face of the Eiger peers over the shoulder of this mountain tavern, which you can reach on skis (on the Kleine Scheidegg– Grindelwald piste), by sled (Eiger Run) or by stomping along winter hiking trails. Come for sharing platters and apple cake by day, and good old-fashioned classics like rösti and fondue by night.

2. Bergrestaurant Kleine Scheidegg
This mountain mainstay has heart-stealing views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau from its terrace. The food includes Alpine macaroni with bacon and Grindelwald mountain cheese as well as goulash. There are outdoor pop-ups for slope-side snacking.

3. Berggasthaus First
This rustic mountain inn is pinned to the tippity top of First, at 7,220ft. The terrace views are a knockout and the food is decent, too, playing up regional produce in hearty breakfasts, sharing platters, and traditional Swiss grub like bachalprösti with fried egg and raclette cheese.

How to do it

Take the Eurostar to Paris, then connect with TGVs that reach the major Swiss cities in three to four hours. raileurope.com

The Jungfrau Region’s biggest transport hub is Interlaken, two hours from Zurich Airport and an hour from Bern.

Double rooms from £235 at Hotel Eiger; £247, at Boutique Hotel Glacier; and £117 at Esther’s Guesthouse.

For more information, visit myswitzerland.com

Published in the Winter Sports 2020 supplement, distributed with the Nov/Dec 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

Find us on social media

Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

Read More