How to spend a weekend in the Jungfrau Region, Switzerland's adventure capital

Switzerland’s mountainous heart is a magnet for adrenaline-seekers, who flock to its soaring peaks and misty waterfalls for some of Europe’s most thrilling outdoor adventures.

 Harder Kulm, a viewpoint above Interlaken with Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the background.

Photograph by David Birri
By Kerry Walker
Published 25 May 2022, 11:00 BST

For many, the vision of paradise is a river running through a valley, leading to lush pastures and jewel-like lakes, backed by forests, peaks and glistening glaciers. Nowhere does this better than Switzerland’s Jungfrau Region in the Bernese Alps, where Mother Nature seems to have drawn the landscape with a clean and confident hand — just take the region’s mythical mountain trio, the Eiger (the Ogre), Mönch (the Monk) and Jungfrau (the Virgin), for example.

Here, farmers still bring their bell-swinging cattle down to graze in summer meadows, and dark-timber villages are dwarfed by their backdrop. Where some will take one look at these savagely lovely mountains and shrug in defeat because they appear so impenetrable, the Swiss have harnessed them with zeal. Top-notch restaurants perched in the peaks are putting new spins on classic alpine fare, and hydro-powered trains and futuristic cable-cars glide up to lookouts pinned to mountaintops. 

But perhaps best of all, this is a true alpine adventure playground, whether it’s hiking, skydiving in front of the Eiger or racing through the landscape on a zip-line. Come for a weekend and you’ll get a taster, but you’ll wish you’d stayed the whole week. 

Train driver at Schynige Platte.

Train driver at Schynige Platte.

Photograph by Sebastian Staub

Day one: gondolas & glaciers

Hitch a lift on Grindelwald’s Eiger Express. Launched in December 2020, the new tri-cable gondola breezes past the Eiger’s gnarly north face and within 15 minutes you’re at Eiger Glacier station for a switch to the Jungfraubahn. Since 1912, this little red train has been curling up to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest train station at 11,362ft. Jungfraujoch is the crowning glory of the Jungfrau-Aletsch UNESCO World Heritage Site; stop at the Sphinx observation terrace for views across the 14-mile swirl of the Aletsch Glacier. You’ll need warm layers and boots, particularly if you fancy the 45-minute stomp to Mönchsjochhütte, Switzerland’s highest serviced mountain hut. 

With cowbells jangling, marmots whistling and purple gentian in bloom, summer in the Bernese Alps is pure Heidi stuff. Hiking is the way to go here: Eiger Glacier is the start of the Eiger Trail, which draws close to the mountain’s north face. Largely downhill, the moderately challenging four-mile ramble pulls back the curtain on the waterfall-streaked Lauterbrunnen Valley and a host of glacier-frosted peaks; bring binoculars to spot climbers on the Eiger. The trail picks its way over meadows, streams and scree slopes to Alpiglen, where a gorgeous mountain hut delivers uplifting views and drinks on its terrace in the golden light of late afternoon. 

If you’re lucky enough to snag a room at Hotel Glacier in Grindelwald, you’re in for a treat. Of all the glacier-themed, silver-hued rooms, the ones with whirlpools out on the deck and front-row views of the Eiger are the best. The 28-room boutique hotel has impeccable eco credentials, too, sourcing sustainably, minimising waste and drawing energy from the local biomass plant. Even if you’re not staying the night, try to get a table in the restaurant; local, seasonal ingredients are cooked with flair in dishes like smoked sturgeon with Swiss caviar and kohlrabi, and braised Swiss wagyu with black truffle and egg-yolk praline.

Looking across to Staubbach Falls in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Looking across to Staubbach Falls in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

Photograph by Getty Images

Day two: waterfalls & wellness 

Grab a coffee and a cinnamon bun or a bowl of home-roasted granola at laid-back Airtime cafe in Lauterbrunnen. The Lauterbrunnen Valley itself is extraordinary, with cliffs soaring over 3,000ft above the valley and scores of waterfalls spilling down them. If you only have time for one, walk in the spray of the 974ft Staubbach Falls, which stirred the souls of Lord Byron and Goethe, the latter of whom wrote a poem, Song of the Spirits over the Waters, extolling the torrent’s beauty. To make a morning of it, stroll along the valley to the glacier-fed Trummelbach Falls, which rage and froth into a boulder-strewn gorge, accessed via a series of galleries, tunnels and platforms.

From Lauterbrunnen, a cable-car whisks you up to Grütschalp, where you can take the train along the ridge to Mürren, a storybook Swiss village with log chalets on steep hillsides and views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Weaving through green pastures and spruce forest, the four-mile North Face Trail via Schiltalp is a beauty. Bring a picnic and enjoy incredible views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Bernese Alps. For more of a challenge, clip onto Mürren’s via ferrata. As it navigates a suspension bridge, zip-line and tightrope, the route has heart-quickening views of peaks punching above the valley. Hire gear from a local Intersport and go it alone or enlist a guide.

Evenings in Mürren are as mellow as you might expect in a town rocked to sleep by the sound of cowbells. Sundown is peak-gazing prime time from the terrace of Hotel Eiger, where you can ask the barman to mix you up a zingy alpine glow cocktail (local red Crystal Gin with tonic and orange) as the last sun burnishes the summits. Linger for dinner al fresco or in the wood-panelled Eiger Stübli, with dishes including Zurich-style veal with lashings of mushrooms, onions and rösti, and grilled elk with Armagnac-cranberry sauce and tagliatelle. There’s a spa, too, where you can swim with views of the Eiger, rest up on a sleigh lounger and get a rubdown with birch oil.

Top five Alpine views

1. Schynige Platte
The views unfold little by little as you creep up the mountain on the narrow-gauge railway from Wilderswil to Schynige Platte, just as folk have done since 1893. For views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, as well as lakes Brienz and Thun, strike out on the six-hour trail to the village of First via the knobbly peak of Faulhorn. 

2. Brienz Rothorn
Ride Switzerland’s only steam-powered cogwheel train through forests and meadows to the summit of 7,709ft Brienz Rothorn for knockout views of startlingly turquoise lakes Brienz and Thun. Pick a clear day and you can, they say, count 693 peaks from here. 

3. Schilthorn
Jungfraujoch may be higher, but the eyrie-like summit of Schilthorn, at 9,722ft, is equally dramatic, with views all the way to Mont Blanc and the Black Forest on cloudless days. Have brunch in the revolving restaurant, Piz Gloria, or hop in the cable-car down to Birg’s gravity-defying Thrill Walk. 

4. First Cliff Walk
Jutting out into the void, this steel walkway wraps around near-vertical cliff faces at First above Grindelwald. Birds, such as alpine choughs, ride on the updraft and even use this perch for take-off and landing. From here, walk on to Bachalpsee, a cobalt lake that serves as a mirror to the Bernese Alps. 

5. Wengen
Brits have been raving about Wengen’s heavenly views since Edwardian times and with good reason. Sit on the bench in the churchyard to gaze up at the colossal peaks of the Jungfrau massif and down to the sheer-sided, waterfall-splashed Lauterbrunnen Valley. 

Top three mountaintop stays

1. Berghotel Faulhorn
At eye level with the ibex, this hut at 8,795ft is blissfully remote. Hoof it over rugged terrain from First or Schynige Platte and you’ll have earned the right to kick back on the terrace and eat your own weight in fondue. Digs are simple, with bunks and cold water to wash in, but with epic mountain views and sunrises, you’ll hardly care. Half-board from CHF76 (£62). 

2. Berghotel Schynige Platte
Stay at Schynige Platte to be the first on the hiking trails in the morning. The rooms are big on traditional charm, with vintage pine furnishings, while other stargazing-themed rooms come with night-sky projectors. Try chamois and boar in the restaurant or on the terrace overlooking the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Doubles from CHF269 (£219), half-board. 

3. Berggasthaus First
Hiking trails start right on the doorstep of this mountain hut at First, with rooms putting a modern spin on chintzy Swiss fabrics and colours. Alternatively, stay in the dorm beds in a converted chapel. Terrace views are sublime and the menu is a ‘greatest hits’ of Alpine classics. From CHF87 (£71), half-board. 

A cable-car passes over the Thrill Walk, Birg.

A cable-car passes over the Thrill Walk, Birg.

Photograph by Alamy Stock Photo

Right on track 

Launched in spring 2022, the 186-mile, 20-stage ViaBerna passes through Bern’s UNESCO-listed heart and along the shores of Lake Thun, before taking in the Jungfrau Region on the walk from Schynige Platte to First.

Four more ways to get outdoors

Using Interlaken — Europe’s biggest extreme sports hub — as a base, you’ll find no shortage of ways to get the pulse racing, whether it’s on water, land or in the sky.

On the rocks
Towering above Grindelwald, the peak of First is fantastic fun in summer. A cable-car hauls you to the summit, where you can hurtle towards the Eiger on zip-lines at up to 50mph. Descend the mountain a little to Schreckfeld to pinball down the slopes on a chunky go-cart, as the forests, meadows and peaks whizz past. Stop at Bort and switch to a trottibike, a Swiss take on a scooter, for the speedy ride back down to Grindelwald. 

In the sky
If ever you’re going to jump from a helicopter, do it in style in front of the Eiger’s notorious north face: a view enjoyed by only the most committed, hardened of rock climbers. After a 15-minute scenic flight to the top of the summit, you’ll freefall for a slow 45 seconds before the parachute opens and you glide noiselessly down to Grindelwald, the Jungfrau’s parade of peaks and glaciers all around. Flights are available on weekdays and mornings are best in summer. Good weather is essential. 

On the water
A plunge in the region’s gaspingly cold, turquoise lakes and rivers is truly invigorating. Interlaken is the base for some top-notch watersports; here you can white-water raft on the foaming rapids on the Lütschine River, right in the Eiger’s shadow, or dive into a nearby canyon to abseil, jump and slide down waterfalls. If you prefer something gentler, kayak or standup paddleboard to placid lakes Brienz and Thun, never lovelier than when the day fades into a pastel dusk. 

On ice
The snow glare, the ethereal blues, the sun breaking above horn-like mountains — a two-day summer hike across the 14-mile Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alps, is unforgettable. This adventure heads properly off-piste, with a night in the spectacularly perched Konkordiahütte at 9,350ft. The only prerequisites are a head for heights and the ability to walk for six hours with a backpack, at times as a roped team. 

How to do it

Interlaken, the regional hub, is two hours by train from Zurich Airport. Alternatively, TGVs run from Paris to major Swiss cities in three to four hours.  

Jungfrau Railways three-day ‘Top of Europe Pass’ offers unlimited travel on all mountain transport from £202. Hotel Eiger has double rooms from CHF289 (£235), B&B. 

Hotel Glacier has double rooms from CHF319 (£260), B&B. 

Published in the June 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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