If you’ve got a particular proclivity for languages you might just recognise that 'Jungfrau' is the German word for 'virgin'. Given that the youngest lady we saw was hobbling towards the breakfast buffet with what appeared to be the gait of a recent hip-replacement, and the resentful silence she shared with her partner while they slowly gnawed through a baguette and various cold meats made it clear that at some stage in the past they'd been lovers — the exact origin of the name was unclear to us.

Nevertheless, the German lineage should give some hints to what you'll find here. Large cowbells around the necks of large cows who’re eventually served on large plates accompanied by large side-lashings of potato and cheese, washed down by large steins of beer and concluded with the delivery of a large bill. But the real reason for coming here is the large number of hikes in larger-than-possible landscapes. 


Yes, the Jungfrau region is everything you imagined Switzerland to be. Rolling green meadows splashed with Edelweiss, and intersected by sheer cliffs that seem to mock any decent or logical scale. Every way you spin is a postcard — by the end of the week you'll have broken Instagram, all your friends will hate you, and even the most stunning panorama will earn only a half-hearted reach for your camera. 


It should come as no surprise then, that this is a great place to hike. There entire region is sliced by trails, all meticulously mapped and signposted. You're not going off the beaten trail here, but with scenery like this — you won't really care. 

So, where to begin? Well, any boy scout worth his badges will tell you that preparation is key — so grab yourself a map and a croissant, and plot a course. If, howevs, you find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices — here's three of our favourites.

HIKE Nº 01

Lauterbrunnen — Mürren — [Schilthorn — Mürren] — Stechelberg — Lauterbrunnen

Starting at Lauterbrunnen, leave the lazy queuing for trains and cables, and take the trail. Around the centre of the town, look for a sign to Mürren, and head uphill. Right from the get-go you just know this trail means business — there’s no time to warm up the legs, as the first few k's tear violently upwards in a quad-flogging urgency to cover as much vertical as possible. Every step is worth the sweat though, as the path switchbacks through forest, across waterfalls, and opens here and there into alpine meadows with views of the valley. 

Once you've reached the top of the cliffs, savour the stroll as the trail mellows into a pleasant meander along the rail lines. If you're especially lucky, you'll be treated to a passing trainload of patronising waves. 

A few minutes along the ridge and you're in Mürren. From here, there's a few options — but if the weather's fine, a quick trip up the Schilthorn is well worth the detour. Did you know they shot Bond here? You'd never know it — Bond themed signage; Bond themed cable car; Bond themed theme park. Fortunately the panorama of peaks peaking through cloud sure is a sight that's worth the Bond bludgeoning. Pro tip: Squeeze a couple of Rugenbräu's with your bro's into one 360 degree rotation of the restaurant.... which is also Bond themed.

When you've soaked in the scenery long enough (or had about as much Bond as you can handle), take the cable back down to Mürren, change cable, and head down to Stechelberg on the valley floor. By this stage you'll probably be thirsty again, so treat yourself to another Rugenbräu at the cart in the carpark. Don't forget to look up! Not just for the waterfalls, but the surrounding fields are a landing zone for BASE jumpers hurling themselves from exit points in the cliffs overhead. These guys are all kinds of crazy, and crazy is always good entertainment. 

Finally, wander back down along the river to Lauterbrunnen to complete the circuit. Now that you're practically a BASE jumper — having critiqued form for the past hour — grab a beer at Horner, the local BASE jumper's watering hole. Go ahead — have another Rugenbräu. You've earned it.

HIKE Nº 02

First — Bachalpsee — Bort — [Grindelwald]

You know what lights up an Instagram feed? Alpine lakes mirroring mountains and corn-blue skies. Yessir — if you want to get the little red heart beating like your account just ran 5 miles — this here hike’s your boy. 

The quickest access to Bachalpsee is to take the cable from Grindelwald all the way up to First. From there, it's an easy swagger along a well-worn path to the lake. Once you've done what you came to do (taking a few million photos), it's time for the support act (taking a walk through the hills). 

From Bachalpsee, there's a couple of options — but we recommend turning downhill and following a meandering path back to Bort. The first part of the hike leads you down through an open valley with the stage-prop backdrop of the Eiger north face. There's a nice little waterfall to explore about halfway down, then a short road leads you onto a steeply switchbacking trail down through the forest all the way to Bort.

From Bort, you could continue along the trail all the way back down to Grindelwald. Or, you could bloody well grab life and kick it in the crotch. And by that I mean hiring a gravity scooter and tearing through the lower meadows like a banshee. By all means, walk — we're sure the stroll would've been quite pleasant — but you haven't lived until you've ridden the bastard coupling of bike and skateboard at obscene speeds down a hill. Don't listen to the nervous Nelly in the hire station — you can do it in 15.

HIKE Nº 03

Lauterbrunnen — Wengen — Allmend — Wengernalp — Lauterbrunnen

Like the first wander, this one also starts in Lauterbrunnen. From the train station head up the main street towards the sound of bells (either the church or the cows— both lead the right way) then follow the signs for Wengen. 

The trail leads you over the river and into the forest for a relatively civilised push uphill. Don't be fooled though, even when you reach Wengen at the top of the cliffs, the trail continues uphill at a slowly demoralising pitch for the next few hours, all the way to Wengernalp. The Allmend to Wengernalp section of the trail is the real star of this show, rolling along beside and under the Baawald cliffs.

When you reach Wengernalp, you're at your halfway mark, but from here it's quite literally all downhill. Just past the railway station take a turn and start a slow loop down towards the forest that runs along the top of the cliff.

It's worth noting here, that if you experience mild vertigo, as I do — and by that I mean that I once crossed a city footbridge on my hands and knees, whimpering, while school kids, mums with strollers, and an elderly pensioner with a walker sauntered by — be warned that this walk is the embodiment of that phobia. At various vantage points along the way my companions leant over the edge of the earth to take photos, while I blazed a new trail 30 metres inland.

Sheer drops aside, it's a lovely trail that goes by quite quickly (especially with your eyes shut to slits). Soon enough you'll find yourself back below Wengen and on the same path down to Lauterbrunnen. High five your buddies, high five yourself — you just owned walk no. 3.

The Details


Where

Lat 46.536784 Long 7.962596

Jungfrau region, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

 

When

Winter

Go in winter (November – April) for snow sports, and some soggy hiking at the lower elevations around the Thunersee and Brienzersee lakes.

The ski-accessed area is massive and varied — with something for everyone, from trails to backcountry. 

 

Summer 

In summer (May – October), the region re-opens as a buffet of action sports — much like Queenstown in New Zealand, but much more expensive.

White water rafting, canyoning, mountain biking, climbing, paragliding, and base jumping are a few of the dishes on offer, and you'll be able to hike all but the highest peaks. 

We did the trip in May and had a real mixed bag of weather — from baking in thirty two degrees at the start of the week, to freezing in blizzards and negative five by the end.  


TRAVEL

Air

Unless you're European, chances are you'll be arriving by air — and almost any old airline will do. Except Etihad. You'll need those precious legs for hiking, and whoever ordered the Etihad fleet had scant regard for the limbs of the budget-minded adventurer. The closest international airports are Zurich and Geneva. If you're looking at any sort of stopover, Zurich is by far the better city.

RAIL

Whichever city you fly into, the easiest option is to hop a train to Interlaken. The ticket'll set you back more than a few francs, but the views are grand, and the wi-fi surprisingly speedy. You'd better be using that internet for posting your photos though.

Road

For more flexibility — rent a car and be free as birds. But beware! Unlike their German neighbours, the Swiss are far more reserved on the road. Speedlimits are less like suggestions here, and more like orders. They're also heavily enforced, so expect certain and hefty punishment if you're naughty enough to let the needle creep north.

WATER

There's something great about floating around a lake under mountains. Luckily, there's a couple of lakes and plenty of ferries accessing various small towns. Heck, it doesn't really matter where they're going — jump on, kick back, and soak up the sights.


STAY

LIVE IT UP

Want luxury hotels, easy access to adventure sports, shopping, lots of food options, pampering, and nightlife? The town of Interlaken nestles between two scenic lakes and provides a great access point to the mountains via hire car or regular trains, without sacrificing choice or creature comforts. 

Low-key

Want a quieter base up in the mountains you can access by car, and walk straight from your door and into some decent hills?

Lauterbrunnen and Gindelwald are two great options. Both have good access to trails right from your door, a couple of decent restaurants, a couple of shops with the basics, and accommodation ranging from backpackers to hotels, apartments and chalets.

Both are also mind-blowingly beautiful. Grindelwald sprawls under the sheer north face of the Eiger, while Lauterbrunnen is wedged between sheer cliffs punctured by seventy two waterfalls. It's your choice — but, seventy two waterfalls, people... Seventy. Two. Waterfalls.

We chose Lauterbrunnen, and didn't regret it. We also chose an apartment (Edelweiss Apartments) with a kitchenette, and certainly didn't regret that either (See Eat, below). 


EAT

Eat out

There's plenty of options if you're staying in Interlaken, but once you're in the mountain towns the pickings get slimmer. The best bet here is Swiss cuisine, but dare I say it — there sure is a thing as too much schnitzel. Yes, around about day three you'll be feeling sluggish as a bear in early spring, and although they're heartily portioned — mountain schnitzel don't come cheap. 

Still, local cuisine is always an itch that should always be scratched at least once. Here's a couple of our favourite food finds.

Huesi Bierhaus, Interlaken: Hearty pub grub with a great selection of local beers. Hit it at happy hour for a good vibe. [Website]

Hotel Oberland, Lauterbrunnen: Honest, home-cooked Swiss fare. Thoroughly recommend the schnitzel, followed by a nap. [Website]

EAT IN

Of course, the wilier devils among you will be wondering whether self-catering would be a sensible solution — and indeed it is, if you've booked accommodation with a kitchen.

There's Coop supermarkets in Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, Mürren and Wengen to stock up.

Is it worth it? Well, I'm no economist — but let's use beer as a case study for cost.

Pub: USD$50 for a round of 3 x beers (I'm still not sure how this is even possible). 

Supermarket: USD$10 for 8 x 750ml cans.

The same's true for lunch. You could pay mountain prices for mediocrity — or you could stop by the local Coop or bakery to grab some bread, cheese and meats for a picnic with a view. There's nothing better than Gruyère sliced by a swiss army knife under the sun in an alpine meadow. 

Nothing.