By Mira Temkin
For those with a real sense of bravado, Interlaken is known as the Mecca for over-the-top sports adventure. Interlaken caters to thrill seekers with whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, zip-lining, paragliding and roping…just a few of the many challenges if you like your exhilaration of the heart-pumping variety. Take a look in the sky and see the paragliders stacked up like airplanes, all gently coming down for a landing in the city’s open field. For the less adventurous, Interlaken offers a delightful blend of urban sophistication with small town enchantment. Walk through the city’s main street, the Hoheweg, and enjoy delightful cafes and shops.
Jungfrau – the ultimate adventure
If you like heights, Jungfrau is your ticket to non-stop excitement. The area’s most popular excursion goes some 11,000 feet in elevation, where snow-capped mountains open to reveal images of a white winter wonderland. The journey starts at the Interlaken Ost train station where passengers board the first of three modern cogwheel rails that take approximately 2.5 hours to reach the top. (The trains run every day of the year.) The cars slowly ascend up the mountain for 20 minutes until the train arrives in Lauterbrunnen where passengers switch trains. Some 40 minutes later, the train stops at Kleine Schneidegg, approximately 6762 feet up. The lookout towers at Kleine Schneidegg provide a glimpse of ice, snow and jagged mountains and set the stage for what’s to come. The last part of the journey takes almost an hour through a tunnel carved out in the rock of Eiger Mountain and then at last, you’ve arrived at the Jungfraujoch, called the Top of Europe, the highest railway station on the continent.
But first a little history of this UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. The Jungfrau region includes the imposing Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains in the Swiss Alps. Construction began on the Jungfrau Cog Railway in 1896 and rail stations were opened by section, the first in 1898. It took another 14 years of construction to complete the railway, which opened in 1912, an amazing wonder and engineering feat. Last year, the railway carried more than 800,000 passengers from across the globe to explore these spectacular mountains.
Up in the clouds
The air is a little thinner up here, but the temperatures are cool and inviting. Where to go first amid the world of eternal rock, snow and ice? How about snow tubing, skiing, zip-lining, dogsledding or snowboarding? It’s a good idea to watch all of the activities first and then decide what you want to do. Take a deep breath and slowly take a walk around and see the top of the mountain from all angles. Stand in awe of the clouds below. (Remember, you’re higher than the altitude when you can turn on your computer in flight!) Or, take the elevator up to the top of the Sphinx Observation Terrace in just 27 seconds flat for panoramic views over the Aletsch Glacier. Yes, those vistas are the borders of France, Italy and the Black Forest of Germany. There are also easier trails for hiking and chairs for relaxing. But hold your breath as zip liners fly overhead.
Head inside and explore the Ice Palace, which lies 30 meters under the surface of the glacier and was created in the 1930s. It beckons with an impressive world of beautiful ice sculptures featuring eagles, penguins and other shimmering works of art. Stop and see the Jungfrau Panorama, a four-minute, 360 degree cinematic experience exploring the majesty of the mountains. Through colorful lights and music, the Alpine Sensation showcases tourism in the Swiss Alps and a tribute to the tunnel workers who built the Jungfrau Railway. Another exhibition, “Little Dreams of Switzerland” is like a magical snow globe come to life.
Feeling hungry? There are six different restaurants up at the top offering authentic Swiss cuisine. The restaurant Crystal presents the best of Swiss and international culinary temptations, all with amazing views just outside the windows. Savor a glass of Swiss wine and rich, creamy cheese fondue. For a quick warm-up, the coffee bar will fit the bill.
Shop on Top, Too
Shop for a Tissot luxury design watch and check out their exclusive Jungfrau design. Learn more about the passionate art of making chocolate at the Lindt Top of Europe Chocolate World. It’s a chocolate lover’s delight, but the hard part will be deciding what sweet delicacies to bring home. Still undecided on what to bring back? Top of the World Cap or mega-varieties of Swiss Army Knives are yours for the choosing.
When it’s time to go home, you’ll take the same journey back. But you’ll be different. You’ve been to the top of the world.
For tickets, ski rentals, and more information, visit www.jungfrau.ch or www.MySwitzerand.com