Sunday, 11 March 2012

Would I be lying if I said I’ve just climbed the Eiger and the Jungfrau?

I’m just back from a rail trip to Switzerland, which was one of the most spectacularly scenic rail trips I’ve ever done. It took all day to get to Interlaken but it also took most of the day to fly back via Zurich. The difference was that the train journey was hassle free, involved no queues, was spaciously comfortable, allowed for lunch in a Parisian street café and provided some glorious scenery on the way. The return flight was OK but was just boring dead time.

I took the 9.12 Eurostar from St Pancras to Paris Gare de Nord, a taxi, rather than the metro, to the Gare de Lyon & after lunch caught the 14.22 (+1 hour GMT) to Basel. The 17.59 from Basel was a treat with snow and mountains increasing with every mile until we arrived in Interlaken at 7.50pm.

The Swiss railway system is quite superb, trains run through seemingly impossible landscapes and to improbable heights yet is always on time.



The next day we climbed the Eiger and the Jungfrau mountains – by train. The Jungfraujoch is the highest rail station in Europe, on the saddle between the famous Eiger and the Jungfrau mountains at a mind-boggling 11,333 feet.




The Jungfraujoch and the route up to it is a wonder of the modern age, climbing extremely steep gradients and burrowing though the top section of the Eiger. A staggering feat of ingenuity and engineering, with breath-taking views only previously experienced by intrepid mountaineers.




We were surrounded by snow-clad mountains, glaciers stood at the head of valleys, birds circled below and on the valley floor tiny houses were clustered around glitteringly frozen lakes.

The route up to Jungfraujoch is a private rail line so is not included on a Swiss rail pass and costs a pricey 190 Swiss francs (approx £132) but it’s worth every penny for an utterly unique experience.

Next day it was the Glacier Express to St Moritz (included on a Swiss rail pass), famous as the world’s slowest express and possible its most scenic train ride. It has comfortable seats and huge panoramic windows that curve onto the roof so none of the towering landscape is missed. First class passengers dine at their seats but second class have the same quality seats and carriage but without the inclusive meal.




It twists through valleys, across bridges and through tunnels and the higher it gets the deeper the snow. At 6,670 feet it crosses the Oberalp-pass where the snow-capped peaks are dazzling in the sun. After descending down to Chur the scenery gets even better as the train climbs back up towards St Moritz, spiralling through tunnels, crossing deep gorges and across the impressive Landwasser viaduct before eventually hauling into snowy St Moritz at 5,824 feet.

Glitzy St Moritz refuses to be outdone by anywhere else; it has its own mountain top viewpoint on Muottas Muragl. A funicular hauls visitors up to 8,425 feet where there’s an improbable hotel and restaurant (Romantik hotel) with stunning panoramic indoor and outdoor views. Unlike the Jungfrau St Moritz is south facing and gets 322 days of blazing sun so it’s surprisingly hot, although freezing when you step into the shade.

The Glacier Express runs all year but, although its beautiful in summer, its in winter when it becomes magnificent.

I travelled to Switzerland with Railbookers (www.railbookers.com) who booked all the tickets and accommodation as well as the return flight. Their holidays are tailor-made & Switzerland packages start from £699.

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