Everything you have read about Swiss railways is true. They are clean, fast, efficient, run to the millisecond and are more than a tad expensive. The private ones, I mean, the ones that creep up and down the mountains like caterpillars, rather than the pleasingly economical state-funded ones which ply the cities.
Anyway, we had explored the beautiful cobbled streets of Zurich, done some serious hiking in the Berner Oberland, shopped like crazy in Lucerne and Interlaken, and now we were on a mission, namely to scale the Eiger and conquer the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe, as it is branded). What? No, by train, of course.
If you are going to tackle the Jungfraujoch in this way, choose the right day to do it. We didn’t. After paying a cool £70 each, we boarded a train otherwise populated by Japanese touring parties and headed on up towards the highest railway station in Europe. Unfortunately, two thirds of the journey is spent in a tunnel inside the mountain, surreally watching on-board videos of the outside world you can’t see, while stopping at subterranean stations whose sole point is to allow the tourists to look out of a window and admire the view – which, on this particular day was an impenetrable fog of nothingness.
When you reach the summit, even on a good day, it has been turned into something along the lines of a theme park, with restaurants, exhibitions and ice sculptures. On a bad day, such as the one we chose, two thirds of the facilities were closed, which I would have thought would have merited a discount. No chance.
Undeterred, we set out the next day on an altogether more rewarding adventure. The Rigi is a mountain adjacent to the Vierwaldstättensee, an hour’s boat ride from Lucerne. As the boat glides soundlessly into the village of Witznau, the rack and pinion railway is waiting to haul you up to the summit, dropping off post and schoolchildren along the way. And the destination is simply magical.
The reason is that, when you are at the top, you are actually above the clouds. Above you, all is a stunning azure blue, while below, the peaks of lesser summits poke out from the cotton-wool clouds like islands in an ocean. The silence is total and the utter purity of the air you breathe is the most refreshing thing you’ll ever experience.
If you want to, you can stay overnight in this unspoilt paradise, a good idea if, like us, you choose to go out of season and take advantage of the tranquility. Well-signed pathways allow you to walk or sledge your way either all the way back down to the lake’s edge (it will take you three and a half hours) or to one of the tiny stations, where the returning train will pick you up again.
We reckoned that, travelling by Easy Jet from Luton to Zurich, you could be at the top of the Rigi in six hours from Winchester, making this a more than sensible weekend destination. We’ll go again.
Oliver and Birgit Gray travelled with Easy Jet from Luton to Zurich.
From The Hampshire Chronicle