- - Monday, March 23, 2015

Riding the train up to the 11,371-foot Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest point accessible by railway, I fell madly in love — like the moment when Michael Corleone first laid eyes on Apollonia Vitelli in “The Godfather.” Scarlet, a wonderful St. Bernard, accompanied me on the ascent.

Disembarking at Kleine Scheidegg, one of my trainmates pointed to Hotel Bellevue des Alpes, offering, “That’s where Clint Eastwood shot part of ‘The Eiger Sanction’ and the crew stayed.”

This was Scarlet’s last stop, and before I switched trains to continue my Jungfraujoch jaunt, the St. Bernard stuck her snout into my jacket pocket and sniffed bread. Once the final crumb was devoured, Scarlet was gone with the wind.

During the 80-ish minute Jungfrau ascent, I also encountered New Delhi newlyweds Megha and Sumit Verma, who were making a motion picture pilgrimage as fans of the 1995 musical romance “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge,” made near the Jungfrau.

En route to Jungfraujoch, the train wound through the Eiger and Monch, briefly stopping at the 9,400-foot Eigerwand, behind the Eiger’s North Face, and 10,368-foot Eismeer (or “Sea of Ice,” referring to Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier) stations, where passengers briefly disembarked to enjoy views from picture windows blasted into the mountains by hardy workers in 1903 and 1905.

A fanciful multimedia, audio-visual exhibition during the journey’s final leg was built to commemorate the centennial of the railway’s 1912 completion to Jungfraujoch. The indoor complexes here also include the Ice Palace, filled with icy handmade sculptures, eateries such as Restaurant Bollywood, reasonably priced souvenir stands, luxury watch boutiques and an ersatz chocolate factory attached to a Lindt chocolate shop.

By far what’s best at the continent’s highest-altitude train station is the snowy splendor of the great outdoors surrounding the Top of Europe.

River of ice

From the observatory, completed in 1931, I behold the 14-mile-long, 46-square-mile Aletsch Glacier, the Alps’ largest ice sheet. On sunny days, the unbroken vista of these snow-clad hulks extends beyond the Bernese Oberland to France and Germany.

Mark Twain explained the “disease” of “Alpenism”: “There is no opiate like Alpine pedestrianism the spell which people find in the Alps, and in no other mountains — that strange, deep, nameless influence, which, once felt, cannot be forgotten the Great Spirit of the Mountain breathed his own peace upon their hurt minds and sore hearts, and healed them before the visible throne of God.”

Indeed, the Swiss Alps can cast an absolutely enchanting spell. But immersed in this frozen fantasyland, aspiring Alpenists need to keep their wits about them and beware of blasts blowing 42 miles per hour.


After tackling the Alps, some self-indulgence is in order — and Interlaken’s five-star Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa is just the ticket. This year is the sesquicentennial of these luxurious lodgings, formed in 1865 when two hotels were united in holy hotel matrimony and visited by the eponymous queen.

With its three ballrooms featuring ornately painted ceilings, sweeping staircases, chandeliers, marble hallways, plush curtains and a view of the titular Alp, the Victoria-Jungfrau is suffused with Old World charm.

My sore muscles were soothed at the spa, which features saunas, whirlpool baths, steam baths, a Roman-style pool and 10 suites, where therapists work their magic on couples or individuals. After cleansing myself in a shallow tiled tub, I selected a minty-smelling oil with eucalyptus for a relaxing aromatherapy treatment.

With its restored Belle Epoque elegance, Jungfrau Brasserie offered a feast for the eyes and palate. After a green salad with light balsamic dressing, I devoured the main course, delicious duckling with celery puree and rosti — scrumptious Swiss roasted potatoes. My dessert was Gute Luise, a mouthwatering pear parfait dish, plus a light, heavenly creme brulee with goat cheese.

Between two lakes

I strolled through Interlaken, so-called because it’s between two scenic lakes, Brienz and Thun. The village is a melange of the medieval and the touristy.

Across a bridge stands Unterseen, where the Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, scenes of the Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks-produced 2001 HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” were shot. Because Switzerland was neutral during World War II, much of its traditional architecture survived the war’s ravages. It remains a peaceful land.

That night, I dined at Victoria-Jungfrau’s Italian eatery, Quaranta Uno, enjoying minestrone soup, eggplant stuffed with pasta, chicken simmered in a savory sauce of tasty red onions, zucchini, red peppers and olives, crowned by a creamy tiramisu with vanilla gelato.

This was my third trip to the Top of Europe, but I know someday the Jungfrau will cast its Alpine spell on me again, when, like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Part III,” I’ll say: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

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