It’s never too early to plan a summer break at the Top of Europe
Adrenalin isn’t only for the young I told myself firmly, feeling like a pent-up Derby runner in the starting stalls. In front of me, a high metal gate was poised to spring open at a word from the First Flyer operator; above me, nothing but the clear mountain air over Switzerland’s Jungfrau Region. And below … well, I wasn’t sure what was below apart from a zip wire and a great deal of empty space!
I glanced across at my young companions and found all three looking slightly apprehensive. But we needn’t have worried. As the door sprung open and our harness seats were propelled into thin air down parallel wires, we all screamed in delight rather than terror. It was all huge fun.
So much fun in fact that I had to try all the other thrills offered in the small hamlet of First, high in the mountains above Grindelwald. In little more than an hour, I travelled upright along the metal Cliff Walk that clings to the rock face; horizontally beneath the First Glider which soars up the mountain backwards then down again; and seated again for the downhill journey by mountain cart.
But if all that sounds a tad too energetic, there are plenty of less hair-raising options when you holiday in the Jungfrau Region around Interlaken, deep in the heart of the Bernese Oberland. Travel to Europe’s highest station, the Jungfraujoch – catchily dubbed as Top of Europe and hollowed out of a mountain peak. Watch the sun set over the Alps from Harder Klum, perched on a ridge above the twin lakes of Thun and Brienz. And hike the circular trails of the Schynige Platte to enjoy panoramic views over lakes and mountains, plus an Alpine Botanical Garden.
For someone like me who loves mountains and snow-covered scenery but doesn’t ski, this proved the perfect destination for a summer break. People do ski here, but summer is peak season and visitors come from all over the world between April and October to enjoy green and white slopes in the same holiday.
I flew from London-Heathrow to Zurich with Swiss Air for my early October break, but a flight to Basel is another option. Then simply hop on a train at the airport, sit back and enjoy the unfolding panorama as the mountains loom ever closer. A Swiss Transfer Ticket takes foreign guests by rail from their airport or border railway station directly to their holiday destination and back within one month – second-class tickets cost 146 CHF (£114) and can be bought on line at www.sbb.ch/en.
I soon discovered that Swiss trains run as efficiently as the country’s legendary clocks and watches. Announcements are given in English too so there’s very little potential for missing your connection. I really enjoyed the scenic journey from Zurich, changing trains at Bern and then Interlaken with minimal waiting around. From Interlaken, a Jungfrau Travel Pass allows visitors unlimited travel on the local rail network, with passes available from 3-8 days, from 180 CHF (£140) per person.
Independent travellers can find full details of what to do in the area, how to get around, and how to book on www.jungfrau.ch/en-gb. The area is also served by a number of UK tour operators including Silver Travel Advisor partner Inghams.
Visit between May and October and at lower levels, you can cruise glacial lakes, hike across grassy slopes beneath glaciers, and test your nerve on those summer adrenalin activities. But at Jungfraujoch, 3454 metres above sea level, the mountains are forever white. To one side, the Eiger towers over Grindelwald; to the other, the Jungfrau looks down on Wengen and Lauterbrunnen.
And between them, the Jungfraujoch offers a combination of attractions that include Lindt Swiss Chocolate Heaven; the world’s highest watch shop, beloved by the many Asian visitors; and an ice palace cut into the glacier. No journey here is wasted, even in adverse weather when winds can swirl snow around the observatory. Huge viewing windows look out onto peaks and glaciers, so nobody need miss the view, but if like me you are blessed with blue skies and no wind, you can take the lift up to the al fresco Sphinx Terrace; step out onto the glacier plateau below; and even follow the well-trodden glacier trail to Switzerland’s highest mountain hut.
I stayed over in Grindelwald at the Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof where single rooms with a luxuriant queen-size bed start at £206 on a half-board basis. The decor is Alpine, the food delicious and the beautiful indoor pool offers Eiger views. If that’s not enough, the train terminates quietly and unobtrusively just a couple of minutes’ walk from the front entrance.
I also enjoyed dinner one night at the Hotel Belvedere on the other side of the tracks, reached on foot by an underpass. In fact nothing is far away in Grindelwald, including the gondola which quietly swooshes passengers up over the Alpine chalets to those all-action activities at First. And if you’d rather watch others test their nerve than test your own, just enjoy the ride up and watch the fun from the stable environment of the restaurant terrace over a mug or glass of your favourite liquid treat. Clear Alpine air with minimal personal effort!
Book trusted Meet and Greet services at all major UK airports through Silver Travel partner Holiday Extras. As a guide, a week at Heathrow in November cost £66.90 for eight days.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Inghams Lakes & Mountains