Switzerland's Jungfrau, Schilthorn, and Lauterbrunnen Valley
Jungfrau Region, Switzerland
The valleys south of Interlaken hold some of Switzerland's top alpine scenery, as well as impressive lifts to get you to the top of dramatic peaks with ease.
Complete Video Script
Whether traveling by train or by car, mountainous Switzerland has fine infrastructure, and you can get nearly anywhere in the country in just a few hours.
The Berner Oberland is a particularly scenic region. Its Lauterbrunnen Valley, which stretches south from the city of Interlaken, is a wonderful springboard for some of my favorite Swiss Alp experiences.
Lauterbrunnen Valley, with its vertical sides and flat bottom, is U-shaped — a textbook example of a glacier-shaped valley. While the main town, also called Lauterbrunnen, sits on the valley floor, neighboring towns hang on cliffs high above.
Lauterbrunnen means "loud waters" — an apt name. Waterfalls plummet from cliffs all along the valley. Staubbach Falls — one of the highest in Switzerland — drops nearly a thousand feet. The valley — with its riverside trails, traditional farmhouses, and chorus of surrounding peaks cheering you on — is a magnet for nature lovers.
Towering high above are the icy Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger peaks — named for the legend of the young maiden (Jungfrau) being protected by the monk, or Mönch, from the mean ogre, or Eiger. And perched on a saddle between two of those mountains is the Jungfraujoch station — and that's where we're going…by train.
From the valley floor, a cogwheel train takes tourists and mountaineers alike on this ear-popping journey.
As we gradually climb, the views continually unfold. Eventually, we arrive at Kleine Scheidegg, a rail junction at the base of the peaks. For well over a century, this has been the jumping-off point for rock climbers attempting to scale the foreboding North Face of the Eiger.
Kleine Scheidegg has souvenir shops, hearty food for hikers, and rustic 19th-century hotels — a reminder that tourism is nothing new here.
With the craze for social media these days and with millions of people from countries with emerging economies now able to afford that dream trip to Europe, famous destinations like this can be really crowded. Do what you can to minimize the crowds. Arrive early, arrive late — it really helps.
Continuing our journey to Europe's highest train station, the ingenuity of Swiss engineers is apparent as we climb the railway they built back in 1912. Amazingly our train tunnels through the Eiger on our climb all the way to the Jungfraujoch.
Think about it: The Swiss drilled this tunnel through solid rock — it's four miles long. This train is smooth. And they did it a hundred years ago. Why? To show off their engineering skills and to celebrate nature.
Halfway up, the train stops at panorama windows. While expert rock climbers can exit here into an unforgiving world of ice and air, sightseers get their thrills by simply marveling at the icy views.
Continuing up the tunnel, from here the train's cogwheels earn their keep. You emerge at 11,000 feet — the Jungfraujoch. Spectacular views of majestic peaks stretch as far as you can see. Cradled among these giants, you understand the timeless allure of the Swiss Alps.
The Jungfraujoch [station] is like a small resort perched on a mountain ridge. From the highest viewing point, you can see the Aletsch Glacier, which stretches about 10 miles to the south. While shrinking with the warming global climate, it's still the longest glacier in the Alps. The air is thin — people are in giddy moods.
The station is a maze of shops, restaurants, and amusements. A tunnel is actually carved through the glacier to a cavern of ice sculptures — an especially big hit for visitors from lands where ice is a rarity. Outside on the glacier, people enjoy the scene. From here, many venture even higher as a snowy trail leads to more mountain thrills.
But, for me, I'll call this good…and savor the sense of accomplishment I get when climbing to 11,370 feet before lunch.