Magnificent peaks tower like white citadels against the brilliant blue sky while the long frosty tongue of the Aletsch Glacier reaches out into a never ending white valley. The view from the Jungfrau Mountain Switzerland takes my breath away.
I’m 3454m above sea level on the southern ridge of the mountain, gazing at jaw-dropping scenery.
Jungfrau Mountain Switzerland
Located in the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region, the Jungfraujoch is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Before 1912, you would have had to be a skilled mountain-climber to reach this height.
Now, thanks to Swiss innovation and engineering, ordinary travellers are able to experience the extraordinary white beauty of these incredible mountains by rail.
Jungfraujoch Train Journeys
The Jungfraujoch journey is an experience on three separate trains – the Berner Oberland Railway, the cogwheel Wengernalp Railway and the Jungfrau Railway.
The Berner Oberland Railway starts from Interlaken, a charming town with picture-postcard views. Interlaken lies on a flat valley floor between the lakes of Brienzersee and Thunersee.
At Lauterbrunnen, we board the cogwheel Wengernalp Railway bound for Kleine Scheidegg.
This train winds past splashing waterfalls and towering trees.
We pass herds of brown-and-white con the sunny alpine slopes. The cows are wearing leather collars and brass bells that jangle delightfully.
For centuries, Swiss herdsmen have driven their cattle up the Jungfrau Mountain Switzerland to graze and produce milk for the world’s finest cheese.
We stop at Wengen – a popular spot for skiing and hiking. A few hikers get off the train. The hikers are armed to the teeth with professional hiking gear, backpacks and walking sticks.
As the train leaves Wengen, it slowly ascends along the narrow-gauge rack-and-pinion track.
The snow-capped Eiger looms ahead while the green valley behind slowly turns into into a miniature Swiss alpine painting.
Once again, we change trains at Kleine Scheidegg for our final leg, a 50-minute ascent on the red-and-yellow Jungfrau Railway.
Built by Swiss railway pioneer Adolf Guyer-Zeller, this rack-and-pinion track climbs at a steep gradient of up to 25 percent.
Guyer-Zeller spent 16 years (from 1896 to 1912) building this railway under extreme conditions. Average temperatures were -8°C and avalanches, lightning, storms and 250-kilometre-an-hour winds were the norm.
Now, the Jungfrau Railway is an international attraction and only one of the many attractions of the Jungfrau Mountain Switzerland.
”The Jungfrau Railway welcomes you on board. Next stop, Eigerwand station,” a voice announces in German, French, English, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.
The train ascends through open terrain and then plunges into the shadows of a long tunnel hewn out of rock.
At the first viewing station of Eigerwand, the floor-to-ceiling observation window provides a romantic view. Swiss chalets are distant dots in the Grindelwald Valley.
But it’s the view from Eismeer Station that provides our first glimpse of the glacier. The sea of white undulating mounds of snow and ice is breathtaking.
Soon the air begins to take on a thin frostiness and there are signs warning about the effects of the altitude.
All around us, people are pulling on warm jackets and caps.
Two and a half hours after boarding the first train at Interlaken, we arrive at the Jungfraujoch’s dreamy white winter fairyland.
By this time, we are feeling slightly dizzy from the altitude and are looking forward to settling in at our window table with sweeping views of snow and ice at the Crystal Restaurant.
Ice Palace on the Jungfrau Mountain Switzerland
After lunch, our first stop is the Ice Palace. The 1000-square-metre ice museum is situated in a cold and slippery tunnel 20m underneath the glacier. It has a constantly evolving ice sculpture exhibition of eagles, bears, penguins and eskimos.
As the glacier moves about half a metre each year, the Ice Palace’s roof has to be regularly altered.
Special equipment is used to offset the body heat produced by the 500,000 visitors each year, ensuring the temperature of the ice walls never rise beyond -2°C.
The warmth generated by the visitors is recycled to heat the restaurants above.
At the other end of the Ice Palace we step out onto a plateau, where we walk among the clouds and peaks, absolutely thrilled to experience the rugged beauty of the Jungfrau Mountain Switzerland.
Higher up on the mountain, there is a 360-degree panoramic view from the glass-and-steel Sphinx Observation Hall and Terrace.
At 3471 metres, the Sphinx is the highest vantage point in Europe and the terrace has the best view of the 22km Aletsch Glacier.
Virgin snow blankets the mountain in every direction and far below husky dogs and people look like ants against the vast snowy canvass.
The glaciers in the Alps are tempered bodies of ice that have worn down mountain ridges and deep valleys by eroding the rock underneath.
This occurred because they contain water and are not frozen solid to the earth.
During the ice age, Alpine valleys froze over and were filled with huge masses of ice, at an average yearly temperature of -22°C.
Deep U-shaped valleys in the high mountains, hollows or synclines in the feeder areas of the ice flows were created.
We walk through a long tunnel out onto the Aletsch Glacier, where there is a hive of activity.
Queues of people wait their turn to slide downhill on round snow disks, skiers whiz past and a couple of beginners fall off their snowboards.
Small groups of hikers disappear into the distance, trekking through remote landscape to reach Monchsjoch, a hut on the Alpine trail.
Exhausted from their morning’s sled activities the team of husky dogs are throwing a tantrum while their trainer battles to get them under control.
Husky sleds were used 100 years ago as transportation during the construction of the railway.
Before leaving, we stand at the large glass windows near the souvenir shop drinking hot chocolate and nibbling on a bar of Swiss chocolate, soaking in the amazing scenery.
Christina Pfeiffer travelled as a guest of Emirates Airline, Tourism Switzerland and Hotel Goldey.
Emirates Airline flies to Zurich via Dubai. The best way to reach Interlaken is by train. The ascent from Interlaken and descent from Kleine Scheidegg can be via Grindelwald or Lauterbrunnen.
The Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel and Spa (tel: +41 33 828 2828) has counted the emperor of Brazil and Mark Twain among its guests. The three-star Hotel Goldey (tel: +41 33 826 44 45) is located by the river and guest rooms have some magnificent views of the Jungfrau Mountain Switzerland.
While in Switzerland, Lucerne is a charming city to spend time in. If you’re after bucket list opportunities in the Swiss Alps or just more information on where to go in Switzerland see Tourism Switzerland