Traveling in the Swiss Alps
Part One of our Alpine Adventure
The Swiss Alps. Just saying it conjures up visions of snow-capped peaks and lush green valleys. Dainty edelweiss and clanging cowbells. Yodeling, milkmaids, leiderhosen and Bond villains. In short, an irresistible combination of stunning scenery and nostalgic kitsch. And the best place to experience these alpine delights is in the Bernese Oberland.
One of the highest sections of the Alps, the Bernese Oberland is located southwest of Zurich in the canton of Bern. It’s most celebrated and picturesque mountains are located in the Jungfrau region. The three major mountains in this particular area are the Eiger, the eponymous Jungfrau and the Monch. Together, they form one the most iconic views of the Swiss Alps. If you squint carefully and you have a lot of imagination you can see how the mountains got their name: according to legend, a maiden (or jungfrau) was kidnapped by an ogre (eiger) and later rescued by a monk (monch).
The town of Murren is the perfect home base for exploring the Jungfrau region. Perched at an elevation of over 5,400 feet, the village has fabulous views of the three peaks (which are all over a staggering 13,000 feet!) and overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley and its many waterfalls below. Murren is bustling with visitors during the winter ski season and summer hiking season. While the town has few permanent residents, it offers plenty of places to to stay.
One little thing however. It’s not accessible by car. So how do you get there?
Never fear, we’ll walk you through it. Starting from Zurich Airport (the hub for Swissair and your likely entry point to Switzerland) head over to the SBB (Swiss Railways) ticket counter. Switzerland has a network of national and private railways, trams and buses as well as funiculars, cableways and cogwheel trains to get you up, down and around Switzerland. If you’re heading to the Jungfrau region, your trip will involve most, if not all, of these modes of transport, so just tell them you are headed to Murren. The ticket agents are polite, helpful and they speak English, and they will put together the most efficient and cost effective way for you to get there based on the time of year.
At the ticket counter, you will probably be advised to buy a half-fare card. This card cuts the fare of all train tickets in half and is a good deal for anyone doing any amount of traveling by train in Switzerland. With your half-fare card, you can purchase your journey at a discounted rate, though after seeing the total fare, it may not seem like it. Swiss trains are some of the nicest in Europe, and also among the most expensive. (To be fair, in order to lay the tracks, a lot of mountain rock had to be blasted and chipped away!) The agent will give you a ticket for each section of your trip indicating the number, platform and time of each train you will taking, as well as when and where to make your transfers. With tickets and bags in tow, off you go! Settle in to your comfortable seat as your train leaves on time (to the minute!) and contemplate a world run with Swiss efficiency. Oh, and if you are a design nerd, don’t miss spotting the iconic Swiss Railway clocks in the stations.
The first section of your trip, from Zurich to Interlocken is on SBB. After this, it is small private railways, buses and cable cars. But don’t worry–that ticket you bought all the way back at the airport is good for the entire journey. Interlaken has two train stations: West and Ost. Trains coming from Zurich and Bern stop at West first before Ost. Trains going from Interlaken into the Lauterbrunnen Valley leave from Ost. When the train makes its first stop in Interlaken, stay put. You are waiting for Ost. You have been warned. Should you get off at the wrong station, don’t fret; just get on the next train. (Learn from our mistakes!)
From Interlaken Ost, there is a small, private train that goes into the Lauterbrunnen Valley. This is one of the most scenic train rides you can be on (and in Switzerland, that is saying something). The train winds its way along a snow-fed river for 45 minutes until you reach the town of Lauterbrunnen, deep in the valley. From here, it is a short bus ride to the tiny town of Stechelberg, where you’ll grab a gondola to Murren. Although this sounds like a lot of traveling and transferring, Swiss Rail makes it incredibly easy to navigate this journey, and the amazing scenery makes traveling a delight. After all, getting there is half the fun!
Continue on to Part Two of our Alpine adventures →