In Bernese Oberland of western Switzerland, the Jungfrau region is a true sight to behold – home to three of Europe’s most iconic mountains: Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. It’s long been lauded for its looks – Byron praised a “range of scenes beyond all description or previous conception” and Tolkein took inspiration to create various parts of middle earth. The Schynige Platte cog railway has been climbing the mountainside since 1893 and skiing has sturdy roots here – in the 1920s, Sir Arnold Lunn fuelled the downhill skiing craze with the opening of the Kandahar Ski Club.
Interlaken’s the largest town and gateway to the region, occupying a unique position between two lakes: Thun and Brienz. It offers plenty of places to eat, shop and stay – plus a lively pub scene in the evenings. You’re further away from the pistes here, though taking the scenic train or ski bus ride to the valley stations is barely a hardship.
The next biggest base is Grindelwald – at the foot of the Eiger’s formidable north face, with ski areas on either side. You get to stay close to the pistes while still being in a bustling, road-accessed town with facilities like a leisure centre and all sorts of restaurants.
Picture the quaintest alpine village possible and you’ve an idea of the smaller bases of Wengen, Murren and Lauterbrunnen with their weather worn chalets and rugged surrounding mountains.
Lauterbrunnen’s landscape was Tolkein’s inspiration for the elven realm of Rivendell, flanked by sheer cliffs with dozens of waterfalls. Neither Wengen or Murren have public road access – you reach both by railway from Lauterbrunnen which makes them all the more remote and idyllic.
From sunny Wengen, a train takes you up to Kleine Scheidegg and creeps further up to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest train station and one hell of a vantage point. Up amid the ski area (which arguably gives it the best views of the peaks), Murren village accesses the Schilthorn peak with its Piz Gloria restaurant – famous for its role as Blofeld’s lair in James Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Two ski areas join hands to form the Jungfrau area – Grindelwald-Wengen (totalling 155km) and Murren-Schilthorn (51km). In numbers, you have 206km of pistes, altitudes of 796m – 2,970m, 2 valleys, 3 mountain ranges and 45 lifts / railways.
Intermediate level skiers are excellently catered for, with red runs in every sector.
There are gentler offerings for those who’d rather schuss slow and steady, particularly around Grindelwald. Favourites include the ‘slow slope’ in the First sector and two scenic blues from Kleine Scheidegg into Brandegg and Wengen. For anyone of any age needing a confidence boost or pointers on technique, the snow schools in Grindelwald, Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg have an excellent reputation.
Those wishing to challenge their technique have plenty of opportunity – not least the Diresttissima on the Shilthorn which is the steepest piste in the region with an 88% gradient. There’s also the Inferno race course, which leads nearly 15km from the Schilthorn into Lauterbrunnen. The Lauberhorn FIS World Cup Race course can be accessed from Wengen and Grindelwald. The off-piste is incredible and the Grindelwald-First area has two freeride slopes to power down. With a mountain guide in the lead, you can tackle the glorious Blumental bowl.
To keep the grandkids grinning, there’s a snow park in Grindelwald First and a snow fun park at Jungfraujoch.
Those seeking the best snow will find the highest slopes around Murren, while for views, the Schilthorn (the highest peak in the Bernese Alps) is a fine vantage point.
In the bigger bases of Interlaken and Grindelwald you’ll find everything from pub grub to Indian, Thai, Mexican… but don’t let that distract you from the regional delicacies on offer. Naturally a fondue is a staple, and the raclettes are fantastic – look out for the local Grindelwalder Hobelkäse for another cheesy delight.
Rosti is a staple dish in Bernese Oberland (Bergrestaurant Winteregg in Murren serves all sorts, with a side of magnificent mountain views). Meringues are too, which originate from nearby Meiringen.
Not forgetting one of Switzerland’s other fortes, chocolate. The Lindt chocolate shop up at Jungfraujoch does demonstrations and sells all sorts of goodies to fill your pockets with.
It’s hard for restaurants not to be scenic in a region such as this, but for the ultimate sightseeing, book a table at the world’s first revolving restaurant at the top of the Schilthorn.
For a nightcap to end a glorious day, look to the locally distilled Ice Label whiskey, which is matured in the ice caves up at Jungfraujoch.
Where to stay
Where you stay really depends on the kind of holiday you’re seeking – for a proper town, choose Interlaken. If you like the sound of a towny feel but want to be closer to the slopes, go for Grindelwald. For somewhere quaint, quiet and secluded, there’s Wengen, or for somewhere quainter, quieter and more secluded, Murren. Quaint, quiet but not so secluded? Make it Lauterbrunnen which has car access.
Hotels form the bulk of accommodation here, from the cheaper backpacker bases down in Interlaken to luxurious hotels from the turn of the 20th century, up in the mountain villages. You can also find holiday rentals and pensions, with the larger bases offering more food shops and restaurants for those self-catering.
If you’re putting your trip together independently, you can:
Fly to Zurich with SWISS
Get Swiss rail information via SBB
Filter through accommodation on Jungfrau.ch
Alternatively, for some ready-made luxury, SNO have 5-star packages starting at around £1,149 per person for a hotel, flights and rail transfers.
Photo sources: jungfrau.ch, Jungfraubahnen 2019