Catch a ride on a mountain lift or railway for the best views of Europe’s peaks and lakes. Here are a few you can find across Austria and Switzerland.
Gondolas, cable cars and chairlifts can be the quickest – and most scenic – route to the top of the mountains, combining a relaxing ride with 360-degree views.
If it’s the scenery you’re after, the Zwölferhorn cable car is a classic. Its original primary-coloured cabins rise up from St Gilgen, giving spectacular views of the Salzkammergut, Austria’s Lake District. With some areas dubbed UNESCO World Heritage sites, the region is a canvas of turquoise lakes and chocolate-box towns, sheltered by the Dachstein Mountains. At the top of the lift, you can soak up the sun and the views from the terrace, or stroll through woodland and pastures on the looping Illinger Alm trail.
Zwölferhorn cable car
The Schlossalmbahn gondola was built in Bad Hofgastein back in summer 2018. Anyone eager to stretch their legs can be whisked to the Schlossalm summit in minutes, to find a network of hiking trails at their feet. For families, gentle routes will give kids a chance to burn some energy, and capture their imaginations as they try and spot the eagles, mammoths and cows carved into rocks along the way.
For a first-class day out, take the round trip to Lauterbrunnen’s Schilthorn peak on the series of four cable cars. View-seekers can count the tips of over 200 mountains, including the famous Big Three – Eiger, Jungfrau and Mönch. Or you can watch the scenery swirl around you as you dine in the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant, famous for its role as the villain’s lair in James Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But the most dramatic view is on the descent. The final cable car down to Stechelberg drops over the edge of a cliff – get a spot at the front of the cabin to watch the ground fall away into the valley below.
Schilthorn cable cars
Long before lift pylons started popping up, mountain railways were the tried and tested method of reaching the peaks. And on these trips, the journey is often the star of the show, not the destination.
Holding the title of ‘steepest cogwheel railway in the world’ with a gradient of 48%, Lucerne’s Pilatus Railway is an engineering marvel. The train takes 30 minutes to glide over valleys and past meadows, and scale the sheer rock face up to the Pilatus Kulm. At the top, follow the Flower Trail to learn about Alpine flora, or pick up some speed and whizz down the summer toboggan. Pilatus is also the legendary home of dragons – these days, the friendly dragon Pilu carries on the myth in his adventure playground.
The Jungfrau Railway in Interlaken might not claim the same non-stop views on the way up, but what’s at the end of the line is certainly worth the trip. After winding through 9km of mountain tunnels – stopping at viewpoints along the way to give glimpses of the valleys far below – it emerges at the Top of Europe, 3,500 metres high. Gaze over glaciers and the infamous north face of the Eiger from the Sphinx Observatory. Then venture deep into the Aletsch Glacier, the longest in Europe, to explore the glistening tunnels and sculptures of the Ice Palace.
While Switzerland may be more well-known for its flawless train network, Austria has plenty of mountain railways of its own. The Schafberg is the steepest cogwheel in the country, with cherry-red train cars clack-clacking up to 1,783 metres in 45 minutes. At the top, you’re greeted with uninterrupted views of Lake Wolfgang and Austria’s Lake District, and a range walking paths for those who want to stretch their legs. Perched on the summit is Austria’s oldest mountain inn, the Hotel Schafbergspitze, where you can dine on roast pork and kaiserschmarrn. On the return trip, the train’s engine car acts as a braking system, leading the passenger cars back down to St Wolfgang.
Head to the heights on your next Lakes & Mountains holiday. All aboard!
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Published: May 3, 2019
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