Switzerland can certainly tick the box that ‘good things come in small packages’. For a small country it’s a big player – this is home to Rolex, bircher muesli, delicious chocolate, cheese fondue and the uber-cool Rodger Federer. Whatever they do, they do it well. This is a country that encompasses breathtaking beauty, soaring alpine peaks, a plethora of year-round outdoor pursuits, incredible train travel – a country where urban chic melds effortlessly with medieval culture.
The Swiss Alps are considered the most spectacular section of the great European mountain range, and have UNESCO World Heritage status, with stunning glacial lakes and home to some of the world’s highest and most challenging mountaineering peaks. Whether you seek the thrill and adrenaline rush of winter activities in one of the many ski resorts, prefer to hit the trails for scenic lookouts or simply love train travel through spectacular mountain scenery, Switzerland has something for everyone. Travel east across the country from Geneva and you’ll start to experience the majesty of great peaks in sharp contrast to low-lying pastures of lazy cattle and the sound of cowbells clanging around charming villages of wooden chalets and medieval churches.
Nestled in a stunning alpine valley at the foot of the infamous North Face of the Eiger, the bustling village of Grindelwald is a mecca for all things mountaineering and was the base for the first ascent of the Eiger via the west face back in 1858. It wasn’t until 1938 that a four-man Austrian-German expedition team, including the famed Heinrich Harrer, successfully summited from the more challenging and dangerous North Face. Since then top climbers regularly make the headlines on the North Face and can be seen as tiny specks making their way up the rockface.
There is a great deal on offer in the pristine mountainous Jungfrau Region around Grindelwald, a perfect location for exploring with hiking, biking and climbing in summer and skiing the 266km of ski trails, snowboarding, sledging, cross country skiing, curling and ice skating in winter.
Catch the cable car from Grindelwald to the minor summit of Grindelwald First and for those with a head for heights, wander along the cliff-hugging walkway of the First Cliff Walk then step onto the 45m viewing platform above a stomach-churning sheer drop and be rewarded with amazing panoramic views of sheer rock faces, distant lakes and rolling green pastures. First is the trailhead for a host of hikes including the 6km Eiger Trail which leads to the base of the Eiger’s North Face or the ever-popular hour’s hike to Bachalpsee at 2265m, a glacial lake with grassy banks and mountain peaks as backdrop and in summer alive with wild flowers.
More than two million people a year make the once-in-a-lifetime train trip to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest train station at 3454m. Almost surpassing the incredible location, is the fact that this cogwheel railway line was constructed back in 1912 and as the train slowly clunks its way uphill from Kleine Scheidegg, there’s a building sense of excitement and anticipation. Finally arriving at the summit, you’ll be amazed at the sight of the magnificent Aletsch Glacier and a never-ending vista of unfolding alpine peaks.
Climb a little higher to the futuristic glass and steel hub of the Sphinx Observatory named for the rocky crag it’s perched on and made famous by a certain James Bond movie. Be inspired by its 360⁰ views and spectacular setting on ‘the top of Europe’, and enter the Eispalast (Ice Palace) to experience the frozen heart of a glacier.
Other than the usual outdoor pursuits, Grindelwald also plays host to festivals and activities such as the World Snow Festival in early January with its stunning illuminated ice sculptures, the extreme Ski Cross World Cup and the Eiger Bike Challenge with its 1000 participants eagerly pitting themselves against the tough mountainous terrain.
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Whether you’re in search of extreme blood-pumping winter sports and a vibrant apres-ski scene or merely looking to savour a warming gluhwein as you sit and quietly contemplate an incredible mountain vista; or in summer there’s fabulous hiking and exhilarating train journeys – year round, Grindelwald has something for everyone.
New for 2019 – Excellence Class on the Glacier Express. The Glacier Express, one of Switzerland’s most scenic rail journeys, travels the 260km distance between the glamorous and cosmopolitan mountain ski resorts of St. Moritz and Zermatt. The eight hour journey is a feat of Swiss engineering and sees the train pass through 91 tunnels and over 291 bridges and aqueducts. The train has distinctive panoramic side windows and glass skylights to maximise the views. In Excellence Class, you are guaranteed a window seat and sensational view with a gourmet five course meal served throughout the trip. This is a truly spectacular train journey through the Alps and is something not to be missed.