Riding the rails is often a pleasure, enjoying the scenery, listening to music while reading a book, or just staring out the window, watching the landscape change. The view from a train window, is certainly preferable to that of a plane, and driving is not relaxing. Train travel in Switzerland is especially pleasant, the scenery is usually stunning, the trains are comfortable, running like clockwork, and the Jungfrau region just got bumped to my favourite list.
Shortly before arriving at Interlaken on the punctual intercity express, a pain-free, rapid transfer from Zurich airport, the snow-covered, jagged teeth-like peaks of the Alps came in to view, I began to smile.
Interlaken is a lovely town, nestled between two lakes, Thun and Brienz, surrounded by the mountains of the Bernese Oberland. It is a great base for exploring the region, with the alpine town of Grindelwald, the heart of the region is only a short drive away, or better still a short train ride. There are a number of hotels, restaurants, some high-end jewellery, and unsurprisingly Swiss watch shops. There is also a great view of the Jungfrau, especially when the sun is setting.
The hotel provided me with a pass which allows free travel on the buses, a pretty good deal. There unfortunately wasn’t the opportunity to find out if they were as efficient as the trains.
The surrounding mountains make it ideal for parapenting, and there are usually a few flying overhead, using a field towards the east of the town as a landing zone. Watching their multi-coloured wings catch the thermals allowing them to soar high in a clear blue sky is pleasantly distracting. They capture the imagination, having similar freedom to birds. Watching several of them glide into land, most with tourists doing a tandem jump kept me snapping for a while just before dusk on the first day.
It hadn’t been obvious how much train travel would be involved in this visit to the Jungfrau region, but trains are the best way to get around, and were extensively used every day.
Skiers and snowboarders can use their ski pass to ride the trains while it is valid, and will even get 5Chf back when handed it in at the end of their visit. Worth a coffee at the station on the way home. Trains can become crowded at the weekends, as can the slopes, so it’s preferable to visit during the week.
Lovely views of the local mountains including the impressive Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch, genuine alpine chalets, pretty villages like Wengen or Lauterbrunnen, and vast snowfields or glaciers stretching as far as the eye can see. Taking the train offers the opportunity to see them all, usually in comfort, and providing easy access to the slopes for skiers, often able to disembark metres from the nearest piste.
All of the main villages and resorts are linked by the railway network. Skiers, tourists and locals all clamber aboard trains in Interlaken Ost, disembarking in Grindelwald, Grund, Brandegg and Kleine Scheidegg to enjoy the views and a variety of snow sports.
The railway has transported tourists in the region for more than a century, and has the highest railway station in Europe; the Jungfraujoch, the “Top of Europe” at 3454 metres. It offers stunning views, especially over the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the Alps, and an ice palace sculpted into the mountain is an unusual and unexpected visitor attraction. With restaurants and shops, the Jungfraujoch one of the regions most popular attractions.
It seems rare to find a ski region where trains are so important for getting between resorts and the slopes, but having experienced how pleasant they are, I’d suggest more areas should consider improving their rail system.
It was with a heavy heart that I eventually departed, the skiing is excellent, the food tasty, and the scenery spectacular, but one thing is certain, the train was never likely to be delayed!