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An unmissable afternoon excursion begins in the nearby village of Stechelberg, the base station of the Schilthornbahn cableway. From here a cable car swings up to chocolate-box villages like Gimmelwald and Mürren, perched like eyries on a ledge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley and peering across to Eiger's fearsome north face. The treetops and mountain faces seem startlingly close as you cable-car past, up to the 2,970m Schilthorn which is crowned by the revolving restaurant of Piz Gloria. Bond film directors chose this as the hideaway of 007's arch-villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in the movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service. You can see why: reaching over a spine of 200 peaks from Mont Blanc to the Black Forest, the 360-degree panorama is pure drama. Stay the night up in the mountains in Gimmelwald or Mürren, or down in the valley in Lauterbrunnen.

Day three: Swiss time travel
It is a 15-minute train ride from Lauterbrunnen to the village of Wilderswil, where a little red train has been crossing between pine and peak to the 1,967m plateau of Schynige Platte since 1893. Looking like a full-scale model of a fastidious Hornby collector, the train evokes an unhurried and romantic age. As the rack-railway coils languidly uphill, there is almost something artistic about the way the scenery unfolds: wildflower-flecked meadows give way to thick forest, which opens to reveal broad views of lakes Brienz and Thun, splashes of turquoise in the valley below. After 50 minutes when it finally arrives at the top, the picture is complete: the snowy bulk of of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau dominates the horizon once again.

Show up in anything but walking boots at Schynige Platte and you will attract a few strange looks. This counts among Switzerland's best hiking territory. Serious trekkers catch the first train up here to embark on the 15km, six-hour Faulhornweg hike, which negotiates scree-strewn slopes to the knobbly summit of the 2,681m Faulhorn (“lazy rock”). In business since 1832, Berghotel Faulhorn is the oldest mountain hotel in the Alps and a scenic spot for a drink before the final two hours of the walk. The ice-shrouded peaks of Wetterhorn (3,701m), Schreckhorn (4,078m) and Finsteraarhorn (4,274m) soar above you as you approach the end of the trail at the cableway station, where gondolas glide down to the resort of Grindelwald in 17 minutes.

If you are pushed for time, opt instead for the local two-hour Panoramaweg circuit hike and a visit to the Alpengarten gardens where you can brush up on your Alpine botany and glimpse purple trumpet-like gentian, hot pink alpenrosen and snow white, start-shaped edelweiss flowers.

Make it happen
The valley town of Lauterbrunnen and the mountain resorts of Wengen, Mürren and Grindelwald are good bases for exploring the region. Campsites, hostels, bed and breakfasts and hotels are listed on Jungfrauregion.ch. The six-day Jungfrau Railways Pass and the money-saving Swiss Pass are worth considering if you are planning lots of rail travel. Taking the first or last train to Jungfraujoch is cheapest, with a return ticket costing 90 Swiss francs from Kleine Scheidegg. Always check mountain weather before you set out -- no mountain trip is fun in the fog or rain.

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© 2012 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘To the top of Europe by Swiss rail’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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