Destination Guide: Jungfrau RegionInspiration
Written by Megan Brownrigg // Photography by Samantha Dugon
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism
Whether it’s Bond, Sherlock, or The Hobbit, the Jungfrau Region is stirring with stories. Railways, waterfalls, and mountains interlace here to create a world fertile for the imagination. But the Jungfrau Region is also a place to step outside of the imaginary and ground yourself. This bowl of peaks and rivers sets the scene for any adventure.
A trilogy of imposing peaks meets cosy villages in the Jungfrau Region, whose topography cradles you in possibility. This part of the Bernese Oberland features the Mönch, Eiger, and Jungfrau mountains, guarding the villages of Wengen, Grindelwald, and Mürren, as well as the Haslital and Lauterbrunnen valleys. From living life at altitude with activities like hiking, cycling, and trail running, to eking out lazy picnics in forested corners and soaking up live music in town, a summer in the Jungfrau Region is one well-spent in Switzerland.
THE PEAKS OF THE JUNGFRAU REGION
Modern folklore has it that the Monk (Mönch) guards the Virgin (Jungfrau) from the Ogre (Eiger). So goes the story of the region’s most famous three peaks.
Mönch is the most climbed mountain in the Berner Oberland trilogy, with a proud elevation of 4,110m. For the past 20 years, the height of the mountain has fluctuated by 3m due to variations in its crest of firn – the snow that survives an entire year of melt.
Mönch is often hailed as a great spot for less experienced climbers hunting an initial high-altitude experience. The Southeast Ridge is the favoured route, but the Nollen Route on the opposite side offers a much steeper, icier, and more exposed challenge for the more experienced. The Jungfrau Railway runs through Mönch’s interior as a punchy artery at 3,300m.
Wild horses won’t drag you away from here, but they might say hello. Despite the direct translation to ‘monk’, Mönch’s name came after the münche, or geldings, that grazed at its feet every summer.
The Eiger’s North Face is renowned throughout the world, and climbers have been obsessed with it – and dying on it – for more than a century. At 1,800m, this vertical mile of limestone stands plated in ice for much of the year, although it is now largely ice-free in summer. Full disclosure, its nickname Mordwand means ‘murder wall’. None of the routes to the mountain’s 3,967m summit is simple, but the most accessible is via the West Flank and West Ridge, which is how the peak was first climbed in 1858.
Jungfrau is the highest peak of the three. At 4,158m, it dominates the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The Ordinary Route feels unfairly named, but is a short and relatively easy way to the mountain’s summit. Most climbers hunker down in the Mönchsjochhütte, Switzerland’s highest serviced mountain hut, before their ascent.
JUNGFRAU REGION HIGHLIGHTS
The Top of Europe
It would be remiss to talk about the Jungfrau Region without mentioning its crown jewel: the Top of Europe. Jungfraujoch station sits at 3,454m above sea level and is reached through tunnels carving through the belly of mountains. Part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch, Jungfraujoch forms the lowest pass between the Jungfrau and Mönch, hence its meaning: ‘Jungfrau saddle’. The railway itself is the highest in Europe and was the brainchild of Swiss entrepreneur Adolf Guyer-Zeller, who died 13 years before it was completed in 1912.
Arriving at this pass, you’re in the quiet heart of a perpetual winter. Snow and glaciers cloak every surrounding, even in summer. Feel snow crackle beneath your feet and icy air stroke your cheeks. From the ashen silver of the Aletsch Glacier to peaks that tickle the white sky at 4,000m, any visitor here is ensconced in a real-life snow globe. Aletsch is the largest glacier in the Alps, but even this one is retreating. Visiting it is a chance to bear witness to how this colossal stream of ice should be protected.
Hidden in Jungfraujoch’s frozen theatre of rock and ice is the Sphinx Observatory, an international research station. Although the astronomical observatory itself is not open to the public, its spectacular viewing deck is. The elevator that takes you there ascends 108m in just 25 seconds… we dare you.
Once on the deck, the Top of Europe is perhaps a place best enjoyed in sweet solitude. But there will still never be silence at Jungfraujoch. Even at –20°C, birdsong still pierces the air.
The setting of the 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is now a 360° revolving restaurant. What a sentence.
Schilthorn is a 2,970m peak accessible by cable car from Mürren. Trust us when we say that there are worse commutes than this flight above the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
Panoramic eatery Piz Gloria won its name from the film. Your view for the evening (or morning – they do brunch) will feature over 200 Alpine peaks including Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. On a bright and clear day, you might even snatch a view of Mont Blanc or the Schwarzwald Forest.
Our 007 mission to you: don’t skip the bathroom.
Spy World is also worth exploring if you fancy a go in a helicopter simulator – it’s only natural that you would.
Grindelwald First – Top of Adventure
If ever you need to blend a whole smoothie of adventures into one day, this is your spot. The adventure park atop First Mountain near Grindelwald is reached by gentle gondola, but getting back down quickly ramps up the stakes. You might choose to zip on the First Flyer, float on the First Glider, or test-drive an offroad scooter (Trottibike). Our favourite has to be the Mountain Cart: a hybrid between a go-kart and a sled.
Before you choose your chariot, though, there are things to be enjoyed around the mountain summit. The hike to the lake of Bachalpsee is a rewarding one given the water’s gemstone colour and clarity. For thrills, try the cliff walk to Tissot – a footbridge that clings to the rockface and, at its climax, daringly juts out into nothingness (especially if you try it in soupy fog).
If one day isn’t enough, Berggasthaus First is a great place to flank two days of adventure. It also offers a mean raclette if you’re just passing by for lunch.
In dramatically open landscapes, the villages of the Jungfrau region offer warm bulbs of shelter and scattered magnets of community in the wild.
Grindelwald lies at the feet of Wetterhorn and the Eiger’s North Face. Set inside a glacial hollow, the village is quintessentially Swiss. It’s also a hive of activity in the Bernese Oberland region. Around 300km of hiking trails are accessible from here, and for adrenaline seekers it’s the gateway to Grindelwald First. Seasoned cyclists will have a great few hours meandering up the asphalt road to Bussalp, and trail runners will earn their rite of passage on the Grindelwald Trail 21, where we recommend a pit stop at the Waldspitz mountain inn to debrief on those views.
Once you’re back in Grindelwald village itself, a great spot to dine on the square is Restaurant Kreuz & Post Terrace, or in the sketchbook-cosy Challi Stübli. If you’re looking for somewhere to rest your intrepid head for the night, Hotel Bergwelt has you sorted for a banging breakfast and balconied rooms with mountain views, while Hotel Fiescherblick offers cosy Nordic simplicity just opposite the church.
Only accessible by railway, in many ways this village has managed to defy time. It certainly resists any sense of rush. Set on a shelf – which many refer to as a sun terrace – above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, Wengen is framed by the Bernese Alps, including Jungfrau as its backdrop. Its Alpine views perhaps explain why J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, chose to stay in Wengen. The mountains’ contours are reminiscent of the worlds he went on to write about, and are best admired from the Wengernalp Railway.
The Männlichen hike from Wengen via the Eiger Ultra Trail is one of the best in the region, and allows you to soak up the most enchanting highlights of the Lauterbrunnen Valley in just 5km. As a steep and narrow route, though, it’s no cop-out.
Wengen offers a traditional Victorian-style stay in Hotel Regina, which also houses Chez Meyers, a restaurant regularly hailed for its surprise menus courtesy of the resident chef.
Held in one of the Alps’ most dramatic trough valleys, the Lauterbrunnen landscape is dominated by rock and water. Verdant Alpine meadows melt these edges, whilst its clandestine forests and mountain inns drop you into a fairy tale. This valley has a firm place in the real world, though, as one of the most significant conservation areas in Switzerland.
A land of 72 waterfalls, it’s no surprise that 19-year-old Tolkien found himself exploring here, and the valley is famously reminiscent of Middle-Earth’s Rivendell. Lauterbrunnen is also home to one of the highest free-falling waterfalls in Europe, Staubbach Falls, which inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem ‘Spirit Song Over The Waters’.
For trail runners wanting to dig their toes in, the Lauterbrunnen Obersteinberg Classic Loop runs 19km from the town of Stechelberg. Meanwhile it’s an attractive walk to Kleine Scheidegg mountain pass (where the restaurant serves delicious dishes), but this still takes a juicy four hours, so for a leisurely wander we recommend heading to Trümmelbach Falls just outside the village.
Given its bowl-over beauty, Lauterbrunnen is a great spot to explore camping instead of hotel stays; Camping Jungfrau and Camping Breithorn are both strong options. While you’re based in the village, take the train ride to Wengen, or enjoy a gentle hike down the valley to Stechelberg.
Lying at the foot of the Schilthorn, Mürren is now forever entangled with the glamour and mystery of 007. Despite this, it maintains a cosy anonymity, largely thanks to it being another car-free location peppered with wooden chalets. If the location itself doesn’t relax you enough, the Alpine Spa Mürren certainly will.
A favourite biking trail in the area is the 15.7km Rotstockhütte loop, which begins from the Schilthorn station and makes for a swift climb, but offers a satisfying prize of homemade cake at the hut halfway round – as well as spectacular views from the ridge. There’s also the Mürren Via Ferrata, which cheekily dangles you down into Gimmelwald. If you fancy going the other way instead, the Allmendhubel funicular will carry you a peaceful 500m to the tiny hamlet.
Foodies without a bike should venture to Hotel Jungfrau for Malaysian specialties, and to Cafe Liv for a tasty vegan snack. Meanwhile, the family-run Eiger Guesthouse is famed for its fondue, thin-crust pizza, and homely rooms. Travellers looking to meet kindred spirits on a budget can also enjoy the dormitory experience at Gimmelwald Mountain Hostel. Gimmelwald itself is a postcard-pretty place, with Europe’s first village honesty shop to complete the vibe.
Home to the scene of Sherlock Holmes’s final case before he tumbled down the Reichenbach Falls with his nemesis Moriarty, the Haslital has long been etched in legend. Just as Conan Doyle’s words have left their impressions here, so too have the icy glacial waters that have chewed gorges into its sheer rock faces. Slightly further afield, at Aare Gorge, a bright blue ribbon of water cuts through a secretive corridor of rock with surging clarity.
For those wanting a heightened perspective, the Alpen Tower sits above Haslital and offers a 360° panorama over 401 peaks in the Bernese and Central Alps. The Sustenhorn, Grimsel region, and Finsteraarhorn frame one outlook; Lake Brienz, the Rothorn, and Jura shape the other. Bringing it back down to earth, the Rosenlaui Valley is the place to get your pine fix. Hiking around here, you will be privy to meadows brindled with rivers and wildflowers.
The Haslital plateau stands on the Hasliberg mountain, which is a springboard for some incredible hikes. Horizontweg is a great route combining the Alpen Tower and the meadows of Engstlenalp and Tannalp across 10km. The Sonnenweg route, meanwhile, tumbles down 5km from the Alpen Tower and is a great shout for families.
When you get the munchies, the village of Meiringen is the place to head. The Bahnhöfli Restaurant and Pizzeria will fill your boots and can be found in Hotel Meiringen, which is known for its friendly staff with a strong knowledge of the area. And Rössli Restaurant is the place to go for a steak – even if you’re Australian, apparently.
The Jungfrau Region is a centre for events from international races to understated markets and world-class music. In the sporting arena, offerings include the SWISSMAN Xtreme Triathlon in Grindelwald in June, and the Eiger Bike-Challenge in August. For something gentler on the knees, music is also a huge thing here – which is no surprise given the stunning natural amphitheatres these valleys create. At weekends, just ask around to find an intimate folk gig in the local area. If you’re a rocker lucky enough to be here in summer, head to the famous mountain village of Grindelwald where the Eiger Rock Festival is held.
Written by Megan Brownrigg // @brownriggmegan
Photography by Samantha Dugon // @samdugon, John Summerton // @johnsummerton & Matt Green // @mattgreen_sfm
Film by Summit Fever Media // @sfm_films
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism and Jungfrau Region