Picture Switzerland in your mind, and you are likely to see snowcapped peaks with bits of green pastures that cows graze upon. There is a variety of transports which can bring you to the peaks — funicular rail, cable car and small gondolas.
Riding up Mount Pilatus
Mount Pilatus is a resort which you can access using a cogwheel railway, which is recorded as the world’s steepest of its kind, a cable car and a gondola ride. Construction at the resort began in the 1860s with the Bellevue hotel, before the railways had been conceptualized. Work on the railways began in 1883, with the planning of a steam powered monorail. It was finally completed in 1889, allowing passengers to climb to 7,000 feet high Pilatus Kulm in the steepest cogwheel train ride in the world.
Today you can take a gondola from Lucerne-Kriens to Frakmuntegg in 18 minutes, and then from there take a cable car all the way to the top in 5 minutes. Or you can ride the train which hugs the steep slopes of the mountain in 30 minutes. On a mistless day, the scenery is stunning, offering a panoramic view of the Lake Lucerne and the town below.
At the top you have a choice of dining facilities, the most spectacular being the Panorama Restaurant. Opened in 1999, the restaurant has large windows opening to a view of the scraggy pinnacles all around, and a drop down view of the valley below. Alternately, you can choose to dine outdoors on one of the sun terraces, and feel the direct breeze of the mountain air.
The heights of Jungfrau
For the highest railway in Europe, you can take a ride up the Jungfrau Railway. The idea for a railway up to the peak of Jungfrau was first conceived in the 1860s, but construction only commenced in 1893, when a plan based upon proven cogwheel railway technology became feasible. The ride passes through two tunnels under Mt. Eiger and Mt. Monch. At the peak, which is about 11,000 feet or 3,454 metres high, you exit at the highest railway station in Europe. As a tip, take the first train of the day, as this is the cheapest fare and the mist is least likely to be thick at this time.
Named as a World Heritage Site, the peak of Jungfrau offers visitors the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in Europe. In 1934, a mountain guide started hacking the ice inside the glacier and this eventually became the Ice Palace. Ice sculptures here include animals, cars, people and even a bar, all housed in vaulted rooms and chambers. Entrance is free, and offers visitors something to do when the view of the mountains is not clear. The Jungfrau, however, does not actually provide accommodations at the peak — all visitors are day trippers.
The view from the top is dominated by three mountains, the Eiger, Moench and Jungfrau (Ogre, Monk and Virgin). Above the station, there is an observation post known as the Sphinx. At 3,571 m, this is the best vantage point from the Junfraujoch area (pictured above). If you take the early train, make a trip straight to the sphinx and take in the views before the crowds come.
If you prefer to view the three mountains from afar, you can take the Schilthorn cable car to Piz Gloria. There, you can enjoy the scene of the three giant mountains from a revolving restaurant which was featured in the James Bond movie, “On her Majesty’s Secret Service”. You can also take in the views of the northern wall of the Lauterbrunnen Valley below.