How to get really high in the Alps...
If you’re not afraid of heights and you’re headed to the Alps this season, there are several ways to get your adrenaline going while enjoying the breath-taking sights of the mountain peaks. Here are a few experiences worth going out of your way to get to in destinations you won’t want to miss, says our reviewer Alison Holmes.
Breaking news – Stoosbahn now open
It’s not that I read the Guinness Book of World Records from cover to cover every year, but when a headline like ‘World’s steepest funicular railway opens to public’ grabs my eye, I sit up and pay attention. That story has shaken up intrepid world travellers, and maybe a few engineers. To put this into geographical context, the railway in question – the Stoosbahn – is about an hour’s drive from Switzerland’s year-round Alpine resort, Andermatt, and a little over 30 minutes from Lucerne.
So if you’re headed there this season, here’s the scoop. Looking like a supermarket packet of Velcro rollers (the kind my gran used to buy), it bustles up and down the peaks from Schwyz to the mountain village of Stoos, which lies 1,300m above sea level. It cost about €45 million (£40 million) to build, so they must be expecting crowds. Best to book early for this with its 1,720-metre track, climbing or descending 743 metres. You stand upright in the cabin as you make your way towards the Alpine plateau at inclines of up to 110 per cent, travelling at about ten metres per second. The whole trip only lasts about four minutes.
In true deadpan Swiss manner, Ivan Steiner, spokesman for the railway, said at the inauguration: ‘After 14 years of planning and building, everyone is very proud of this train.’
Courmayeur and the Valle d’Aosta
As the highest Alp in the range, Mont Blanc, at 4,810 metres, deserves a mention. Especially as, not far from Geneva – about an hour’s drive and through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy – lies the chic resort town of Courmayeur. And here, in the Valle d’Aosta, you’ll find another newsworthy cable car that launched in 2015, deemed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ – Skyway Monte Bianco.
What’s unique is that the cabins all rotate 360 degrees while travelling up and down, offering some magnificent views. The departure point is at 1,300 metres, and the journey reaches its highest peak at 3,466 metres, at Punta Helbronner, from where you can just relax, hike or ski off-piste to the Torino Hut (a refuge) and even as far as Chamonix (in France) if you’re a true adrenaline junkie. Drinking and dining options are available on the cable-car journey (as is a botanical garden), and at midpoint there’s even a winery where some experimental winemaking takes place at 2,173 metres. Building it cost €100 million (£88 million) – staggering, but they had to cross a glacier or two.
Gstaad and the Bernese Oberland
Then there’s beautiful Gstaad’s Glacier 3000, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Geneva, where a series of cable cars ferries passengers up to 3,000 metres. Way up here is the only suspension bridge in the world connecting two mountain peaks: Peak Walk by Tissot. It connects the smaller peak (View Point) with the five-metre higher Scex Rouge. The 107m-long and 80cm-wide bridge offers stunning views over the Alps on a clear day: the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc, the Eiger, the Mönch and Jungfrau are all visible from the bridge, among many others (they’ll give you a map).
Like the cable cars themselves, it’s open year-round, subject to weather conditions, and after you brave it you can enjoy a gourmet lunch (or brunch on Sunday) at the Mario Botta-designed restaurant, aptly named Restaurant Botta, where the views, like the food, are sensational.
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