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!