The spectacular Jungfrau Region is named after a grand triple-peaked ridge – the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – which crests 4000m. Switzerland’s most popular mountain railway, celebrating its centenary in 2012, trundles south from Interlaken before coiling up across mountain pastures, and tunnelling clean through the Eiger to emerge at the Jungfraujoch (3454m), an icy, windswept col just beneath the Jungfrau summit. Touted relentlessly as the “Top of Europe”, it’s a scenic but very long journey (2hr 20min from Interlaken, with two changes to progressively smaller trains) and also extremely pricey; it’s only worthwhile on a clear day, for the spectacular panoramic views from the Sphinx Terrace (3571m) to Germany’s Black Forest in one direction and across a gleaming wasteland to the Italian Alps in the other. Bring your sunglasses.
The cable-car ride up the Schilthorn (2970m) gets second billing, but is in fact quicker, cheaper, offers a more scenic ride up, and has better views from the top. A return trip from Interlaken takes six hours to the Jungfraujoch, or four hours to the Schilthorn (both allowing an hour at the summit). Taking the first train of the day (6.30am) brings discounts on both routes.
The most beautiful countryside is the Lauterbrunnen valley, overlooked by the village of Mürren, which makes an excellent base for winter skiing and summer hiking, as does Grindelwald, in the next valley east. Interlaken is the region’s transport hub, but the sheer volume of tourists passing through can make it a less than restful place to stay.