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Which Alp is coolest? (1 of 3 within this thread)

We spent two glorious weeks reveling in Switzerland's famed Alps in September. Since we were in the neighborhood, we popped into Chamonix, France, for three nights to check out Mont Blanc, the tallest of all Europe's mountains at 15,781 feet.

We became intimate with three areas featuring Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, and the trio of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. With the efficient (though pricey) mountain trains and cable cars, access is easy for everyone, though the altitude is tougher to adapt to for some.

Important tip: Due to unpredictable/fickle weather, give yourself ample time in each location to enjoy the peaks. During our three nights in Zermatt, the Matterhorn was clearly visible for only about five hours!

Here's how we rank our mountain experiences:

No. 10: Plz Nair in St. Moritz
This was our first mountain top, with glimpses of the town and lakes and marmots, and seemed really high at 10,000 feet. Little did we know how quickly it would be dwarfed.

No. 9: Grindelwald-First, Berner Oberland
Grindelwald is a nice sized city in a pretty valley beneath Eiger, Wetterhorn and Shreckhorn. It’s a bit of a trek to get here, with a train to town, then 10 minute walk to two slow (though very scenic) cable cars going up 3.25 miles. Aside from the mountain views, First (7,110 feet) is designed for fun, with a “thrill walk” and paid activities like gliders and flyers that quickly sell out.

There are numerous hikes from the top, the most popular being the 1.9 mile walk to Bachalpsee (which I did twice. See No. 5 below). It's not quite as easy as advertised: I’m fast and it took me 45 minutes with some huffing.

No. 8: Mannlichen in Wengen, Berner Oberland
This is an easy, short cable car ride from the center of Wengen to Mannlichen (7,687 feet), providing fabulous views of not only Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, but also the splendid Lauterbrunnen valley. We paid a little extra for the "Royal Ride" atop the cable car, which was fun, then took the half mile “Royal Walk” up to the peak.

There is a very popular and beautiful 3-mile walk from Mannlichen to Klein Scheidegg. It's mostly downhill or level and you’re facing the big three mountains (Eiger, Monch, Jungfrau) nearly the whole way. It took us about 1 hour 45 with lots of dawdling.

No. 7: Schilthorn in Murren, Berner Oberland
This easy cable cable from the delightful town of Murren packs up to 100 people at a time; you change cars at the Birg station. Schilthorn (9,744 feet) had perhaps the best views of the mountain range, especially Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau, and more, all lined up at 360 degrees eye level. You can romp around different viewpoints and even out on the mountain ledges, where you can watch the paragliders launch.

Schilthorn was the setting for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with George Lazenby and they milk this lame 007 for all its worth.

Birg thrill walk: this platform jutting from the mountain is really fun with more variety than the one at First, featuring a tightrope, see-through-path, and “tunnel,” all with amazing views.

Tip: Entry was free with the Swiss Travel Pass in 2019 but will change to a 50% discount in 2020.

No. 6: Eiger Trail, Berner Oberland
There are several Eiger trails in the region. The one from Eigergletscher to Alpiglen was 3.73 miles and one of the most exhilarating hikes we've done, all in the shadow of Eiger's infamous North Face. About an hour into the trail, you'll see above you in the distance metal ladders in the rock that climbers use to reach the Rotstock summit on a Via Ferrata (protected climbing route). If I had known, I would have found a guide to take me over this Eiger peak!

The views were beautiful, especially as we could spot the other summits we had been to. We thought this direction was preferable as it was more downhill. It took us nearly 4 hours with a lot of dawdling.

See the top 5 below!

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2 of 3
No. 5: Grindelwald-First to Schynige Platte, Berner Oberland
This demanding, 10-mile ridge walk is described by some as the best day hike in Switzerland so I had to squeeze it in. From Murren, I returned to First and the Bachalpsee (again), then up to Faulhorn, the highest point at 8,800 feet. From there you can see Lake Brienz, along with the Jungfrau area peaks. The trail is extremely rocky and uneven throughout.

Magnificent views came about 90 minutes from the Schynige Platte train station, with the snowy Alps framed by gnarled karst rock, lush meadows and tall pines. Soon you see Lakes Brienz and Thun in the Interlaken area. I finished in 6 1/2 hours, clocking 13 miles. It was a very slow cogwheel back down. I wouldn’t make Schynige Platte a priority with limited time but the views nearby were stellar.

No. 4: Aiguille Du Midi in Chamonix, France
From Chamonix, you can see the needle of Aiguille du Midi (12,604 feet), along with the gentle bump of Mont Blanc, and the Bossons glacier cascading toward town. You take the cable to Plan De L'Aiguille, change cars, then take an elevator to the summit for a magnificent 360 degree view of Swiss, French and Italian Alps, along with the Chamonix valley below.

From Plan De L'Aiguille, there's a nice 3.6 mile hike to the Montevers train under the mountains, mostly downhill. Unfortunately, signage is poor and I missed out on Signal Hill views, and arrived too late to go into the glacier!

Tip: Traveling to Chamonix from Switzerland is included in the Swiss Travel Pass, and the scenery from Martigny to Vallorcine is gorgeous as the narrow gauge train climbs the gorge.

No. 3: Kleine Matterhorn in Zermatt
This is the highest cable car station in Europe at 12,830 feet (just beating Aiguille du Midi in France by 136 feet), with breathtaking views of the Matterhorn and many other peaks. You have to change cars a couple of times depending on how they're operating.
During our three nights in Zermatt, the Matterhorn (14,692 feet) was visible for only about five hours and we lucked out! It was lovely as we passed it with clouds moving in and out, and a little lake at its foot.

At the top, the Matterhorn was mostly shrouded while Breithorn (13,661 feet) was prominent, with many hikers winding their way up (only 2 1/2 hours to summit!). Also called the Glacier Paradise, Kleine Matterhorn has a nice ice cave, and offers skiing year round.

Some say the Gornergrat train in Zermatt has the best views of the Matterhorn and other peaks. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy the day I went up to see much.

No. 2: Jungfraujoch, Berner Oberland
This well marketed destination ("Top of Europe") gets some bad press for being over commercialized but we thought it was splendid (just ignore the shops at the end). No other summit allowed us to interact with the pristine glacier and snow like this.
But be sure to acclimatize yourself for the altitude.

There are 9 "tour stops" in a loop including the elevator up to the Sphinx viewpoint and the plateau at the other end. The best experience is to go out the entrance to the Monchsjoch hut, which has exquisite views with far fewer people. Only a handful make the surreal 1.25-mile hike across the Aletsch glacier to Monchsjoch, the highest occupied hut in Switzerland at 11,975 feet. Crisp air, serene silence, virgin snow, icicles and crevasses. Wow. It took me 51 minutes.
• Tip 1: Seat reservations are only $5 each way and worth it considering the crowds we experienced. Sit right.
• Tip 2: The train stops at the Eismeer station inside a tunnel for five minutes. They're not explicit but you're encouraged to pop out and take pictures of the gorgeous glaciers through panoramic windows.
• Tip 3: To our surprise and disappointment, the Lindt chocolate shop at the end does not give free samples, but you get a Thank You chocolate on your way back down on the train.

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3 of 3
Which was our top Alpine mountain experience from two plus weeks in Switzerland and Chamonix, France?

The Panoramic cable car to Helbronner, Italy, from Chamonix, France
We were enthralled by views at Aiguille Du Midi (No. 4). But when we boarded the Panoramic Mont Blanc cable car, we were in awe. The slow 3-mile ride through the Mont Blanc massive goes over the Geant and du Tacul glaciers in the White Valley, with views of Swiss, French and Italian Alps. We couldn't crane our necks quickly enough to absorb the stupendous beauty of the untouched snow, blue ice, deep crevasses, jagged cliffs and soaring peaks. Then we realized we were seeing people down upon the glaciers, hiking in small groups, silhouetted upon the snow.

The cable car ends at the Helbronner station, where a doorway serves as the border between Italy and France (nobody asked for our passports as some have noted elsewhere). There are several viewing platforms, all featuring Mont Blanc front and center, and the town of Courmayeur, Italy, far below (you can take the rotating gondola down). Clouds came through but moved pretty quickly.

This amazing journey near the end of our travels was indisputably the top highlight of all our Alpine mountain adventures.

Click here for our commercial-free top 200 images from Switzerland and Chamonix, France.
https://photos.app.goo.gl/5fdXkoVah4BkdMMm7

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8889 posts

Useless fact of the day: The "coolest" place In Switzerland is not in the Alps, it is La Brévine in canton Neuchâtel, in the Jura hills.
La Brévine is famed for being the coldest place in Switzerland. Not much tourist-wise to see there though.
Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Br%C3%A9vine

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15578 posts

I was told that Andermatt was the coldest place in Switzerland. But then that was from a hotel owner in Zermatt.

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908 posts

I enjoyed the report and pictures. I spent the end of May in Murren & the Lauterbrunnen Valley area for the fist time and really enjoyed it. It is someplace I want to return to in the future.

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182 posts

Totally bookmarking this trip report, thank you for posting it.

Posted by
660 posts

I, too, am bookmarking your report to help in our planning for September 2020. Not sure if you are older or younger than us. I do know that we wouldn't take on a 10-mile hike so, good for you! I like your comment about building in ample time at each spot to accommodate fluctuating weather. We found that to be true in Ireland this last September.

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613 posts

The Alps are generally thought of as a mountain arc from Mt Ventoux in France to the edge of Austria's Great Hungarian Plain, about 750 miles. The OP's trip covered a small part of that.. While it is a good list of what's to see in that area, it omits a lot in Switzerland and in the Alps in France and Austria. There are several reasons to prefer the Alps in France and Austria.

1] The food is better in France and Austria
2] Everything costs less in France and Austria
3} Its easier to deal with bad weather in Austria. When in the Alps, we plan two parallel itineraries, one for good weather (the Alps), and one fro bad weather (towns, cities, and museums).

4] Wine is better in France
5] beer is better in Austria.

Now I'm going to list some top Alpine sites in France and Austria without checking the spelling. I'll come close.
1] The best single sight in all the Alps: Gosausee, Austria.
2] second best sight: the north face of the Eiger from Klineschneidegg and the Oratory at Chazelet, France.

France: I'm partial to the region around the Col de la Croix de Fer and Col de Galibier; the region between these two passes and Lake Geneva, the Col de Isserain where its an easy climb to the top of an Alp.

Austria: Gosausee, Dachstein, Wilderkaiser, Kraunertal, Inn Valley, Oetztal, Felbertauren pass, Grossglockner road, the Iron Mountain, Silveretta road, Salzkammergut.
Some bad weather sights: Innsbruck, Salzburg, Wilhering, Bad Ischl, Hall in Tirol, Feldkirch, Admont, Steyr, Lofer, Soell, St Johann in Tirol, St Florian, Lienz (NOT Linz), Bad Ausee

Germany: both good and bad weather: east of Fussen and south of Munich.

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6 posts

Great report! I haven't been to Alps, but I hope I'll go there next year. So, I'm glad that I've found your post. Thanks!