If you are fortunate enough to take a trip to Switzerland, and can make time for a trip to the “Top of Europe,” the 13,000-plus-foot-high Jungfrau, you really must. It takes a full day to reach it from Interlaken, making several train changes to gradually ascend this steep peak, but it’s certainly worth it.
We left from Interlaken Ost station at about 9:30 a.m. for a train to Lauterbrunnen, from which we in turn climbed to Kleine Scheidegg by train, making a change from Swiss rail to the privately run Jungfrau cogwheel rail system there. The story of how this railway was built could take a book, but basically, it starts with the dream of a man named Adolf Guyer-Zeller, who won the concession to build the railway back in 1894 and employed hundreds of laborers, mostly Italians, to begin the arduous work of blasting the tunnels through the mountains. The Kleine Scheidegg section of the railway opened in 1898; the Eigerwand station in 1903, but financial problems delayed the official opening of the final station on the Jungfraujoch to 1912. Finally Europe’s highest-altitude railway opened at about 11,000 feet after 16 years of construction—and the then-staggering cost of 16 million francs. So, in fact, the Jungfrau Railway is celebrating its centenary this year.
With that amazing cost, it’s not surprising that to take the round-trip from Lauterbrunnen or the alternative town of Grindelwald today can cost nearly 200 francs. Perhaps to make it more worth your while, you can also find an Ice Palace boasting several large-scale ice sculptures (and preparing you for the freezing temperatures at the top) and dine at one of several restaurants here—including a Café Bollywood, an indication of how many Indian tourists (many of whom have never seen snow or ice before) make the ascent to the summit.
And once they arrive, they can stare out over the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in the Alps, have their photos taken beside the Swiss flag at the top, and revel in a feeling of euphoria at having made it. On the day we ascended, it was certainly cold enough to make me wish I’d brought my gloves along, but I couldn’t complain as I took in the panoramic views. It wasn’t quite a clear enough day to see to the Black Forest of Germany, which is a possibility here, but I still definitely felt I was at the top of the world.
Descending back to the real world, we dined on pork shoulder roast with rosemary at the restaurant Chalet before strolling the streets of Interlaken at night and saying farewell to this city to head to our next stop, Lucerne.
My room at the Hotel Montana.
I had been to Lucerne once before, but I certainly didn’t stay then in a place as luxurious as the Art Deco Hotel Montana (which is ascended by its own small funicular!), our next base of operations. As you can guess from the name, this hotel, which is actually more than 100 years old, boasts the Art Deco style, meaning a lot of white, black and gold colors, with wood floors in the rooms, a day spa and a delightful terrace restaurant, Scala, where we ate lunch (pork again, but wonderfully prepared) overlooking the lake of Lucerne.
In front of the Chapel Bridge.
Baroque-era Jesuit church.
The interior of the Old Swiss House restaurant.
No sooner had we finished dining than we were whisked off for a tour of the city’s Old Town, learning a brief history lesson as we strolled the old wooden Chapel Bridge, bedecked with flowers; stepped into the Baroque-era Jesuit church (taking in a tantalizing rehearsal of a classical concert scheduled for later that night), and having a brief tour of Lucerne’s striking KKL structure, a center for culture, conventions and cuisine designed by architect Jean Nouvel. This would have been worth several hours on its own, but that was impossible as we were scheduled for dinner at the Old Swiss House, a Lucerne tradition and one with a Florida connection: a daughter of the Buholzer family, which owns the restaurant, married none other than August “Gussie” Busch Jr., owner of Anheuser-Busch, and there is a replica of the Old Swiss House at Tampa’s Busch Gardens!
We didn’t eat the restaurant’s famous wiener schnitzel, but dined memorably on veal and potato rosti while surrounded by antiques and ambiance. Time for a brief look at the famous nearby Lion monument commemorating the Swiss mercenaries who died during the French revolution, and then off to bed.
Next up: another cog railway ride, this one to Mt. Pilatus.