Above: Kleine Schedegg in the Bernese Oberland. The train to Jungfraujoch, with the hotel and mountain featured in the film North Face.
If you plan to enjoy a walking holiday in Switzerland you will need a reliable guidebook such as Landscapes of Lake Geneva and Western Switzerland, published by Sunflower Books. One of the regions covered by the book which you are sure to consider is the Bernese Oberland. For here is stunning mountain scenery, in summer months providing enjoyable walking amidst the mountains with no need for specialist equipment, since there are dozens of mountain paths easily covered by all ages and abilities. These are readily accessed using Switzerland’s superb public transport services which include lake steamers, mountain railways, funiculars and cable cars.
Walkers can holiday in resorts such as lakeside towns Thun, Interlaken or Spiez. Or maybe for a quiet getaway, a charming lakeside village like Merligen on Lake Thun, which offers many superb walks close at hand. And as with all the lakeside villages, it’s easy to take one of the frequent steamers to reach Interlaken, from where there is access to many mountain resorts such as Schynige Platte, Wengen or Kleine Scheidegg. If you holiday here, during your stay do make a point of using the amazing Jungfrau cog railway to travel far up inside the Eiger mountain to Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe. You’ll ascend via a seven kilometre-long tunnel that took over ten years to excavate. It was finally completed in 1912, and you eventually exit onto a snow-covered plateau at a height of 3454 meters (about 11,300 feet).
During the journey through the depths of the mountain the train makes stops of a few minutes each at two stations far up inside the mountain. At each of these stations passengers are permitted to alight and view the snow-covered slopes using panoramic windows that look out from the sheer side of the Eiger. There’s a story attached to one of these viewpoints.
In 1936, when no-one had ever succeeded in reaching the summit of the Eiger via the north face, two German climbers Andreas Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz set out from Kleine Scheidegg in the valley below, aiming to be the first to make the ascent to the summit using this route. The true story is told in Philipp Stoelzl’s spectacular film North Face, which realistically portrays this breathtaking tale of human endurance. The film shows how, as the weather deteriorated, the climbers had to abandon their aim to reach the summit and make their way back down the mountain in appalling conditions, only to reach a point where a vital rope was missing and they could go no further. To attempt to rescue them, rescuers used one of the railway’s viewpoints to reach the precipitous slope where they were trapped.
If you are walking in Switzerland in the Bernese Oberland, be sure to see the film before you go. It’s readily available on DVD and viewing it in advance of your walking holiday in Switzerland will give you much additional pleasure when you travel. You’ll be able to gaze at the places where those events of over 75 years ago occurred and see the locations where the film was made, recalling the thrilling story it told.