Wengen ski holidays…
Car free Wengen, reached only by railway - built during the early 20th century - from the Valley town of Lauterbrunnen below, is part of a collection of ski resorts in the Jungfrau region of Bernese Oberland that includes Mürren and Grindelwald.
It was one of the first ever places to hold Alpine ski races and today, the resort plays host to one of the most famous (and longest) downhill ski competitions, known simply as the Lauberhorn, named after the mountain peak where it starts. Accommodation is dominated by hotels, many of them built when tourism started to boom over 100 years ago – it’s a charming place, not considered in the luxury bracket when compared to many other Swiss resorts, but certainly a very comfortable resort to spend a winter holiday in. The skiing is best suited to intermediates, but there’s some excellent off-piste in the right conditions and of course the chance to try the longest run on the men’s Alpine World Cup circuit is a lure for any good skier.
SKIING IN WENGEN
What to expect…
Wengen forms part of what’s known as the Jungfrau ski area – named after the highest (4,158m) peak of the trilogy that includes the Mönch (4107) and the more famous Eiger (3,967). These huge walls of rock dominate the view and form a spectacular backdrop to the far more friendly terrain of the ski area. Part of the areas charm includes a network of mountain railways that can be used by skiers and snowboarders, but a good network of cable cars and modern chairlifts – with a brand new cableway installed for the 2019-20 winter (Grindelwald-Männlichen) has ensured this most traditional of resorts can compete in the modern era too.
"Most skiers and snowboarders will tend to stay within the Wengen-Scheidegg-Männlichen-Grindelwald area during their stay, but there’s some interesting options that are worth the little bit of extra effort to get to. "
LOCAL SKI AREA - WENGEN
There’s two main options when starting the days skiing from Wengen – unless you’re a complete beginner and then the gentle nursery slopes start right in town.
The first option is to take the cable car from the centre of town up to Männlichen (2230m) – a steep climb over virtually sheer cliffs towards the end. Newcomers to the resort will be pleased to hear there’s no skiing back down that side of the mountain, but at the top, a huge bowl opens up with red and blue runs that descend towards Grindelwald. The new cable car that opened in December 2019 whisks skiers back up again either from the mid-station (Holenstein) or from the bottom at Grund, although the lower runs are more limited. The other starting option from town is via the mountain railway to Kleine Scheidegg (2061m) – a slower way up, but providing the train isn’t jam packed (there’s often non-skiers heading all the way up the Eiger on the train), a rather civilised way to get around. From here, there’s several choices – head further up to the Lauberhorn and perhaps tackle the world famous downhill run, or take the more gentle slopes towards Grindelwald. A modern high-speed chair can whisk you up to the Eigergletscher, where there’s some steeper options that can be good on powder snow days. Both of the areas link up via two chairlifts in-between and most confident intermediates will be able to negotiate the whole area with relative ease.
WIDER SKI AREA - JUNGFRAU
Most skiers and snowboarders will tend to stay within the Wengen-Scheidegg-Männlichen-Grindelwald area during their stay.
Over on the far side of Grindelwald, the First area starts with a two stage gondola first to Schreckfeld (1955m) and then onto First (2168m). Above here, wide open blue and red runs start from Oberjoch (2500m) and spread across the mountain that is predominantly south’ish facing. In good snow conditions, it’s possible to ski all the way down to the village but there’s also bus options from further up too. There’s little to challenge the expert skier looking for tough descents here, but it’s certainly very pleasant. Heading in the other direction from Wengen, is the resort of Mürren – slightly harder to reach but worth the excursion for the day. The first stage involves getting the train down to Lauterbrunnen in the valley (the main access point for Wengen) and from there, a cable car to Grutschalp (1486m) and then another train towards Mürren, but get off on the first stop at Winteregg – a chairlift from here takes you into the ski system. The main attraction here is the Schilthorn (2971m), location of the famous baddies lair from James Bond’s From Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Whilst Bond skied down in the dark, fortunately you won’t have to, but even in the daylight, the black graded run is at the top, very steep and in icy conditions, difficult and exposed. This area is also the starting point for the Inferno race, an amateur competition but a tough 15km challenge all the way back to Lauterbrunnen. The fastest skiers would make Bond proud. In fresh snow conditions there’s also some good off-piste that’s relatively easy from the Schiltgrat chairlift.
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Approximate transfer times:
- BERN: 1½ Hrs
- ZURICH: 1¾ Hrs
- Geneva: 3 Hrs
The car free town of Wengen is reached via a mountain railway from Lauterbrunnen, in the valley below, where a large car park ends any further journey by vehicle.
Everything in Wengen is brought up by the train (or helicopter in some cases), which takes around 12 minutes and from there, it’s either a walk or electric taxi to the accommodation. The resort is dominated by hotels which are mostly 3* and 4* star, many of them were built when Wengen started to become a popular tourist destination with the British during the very early 20th Century. The main street is a mixture of hotels, bars and restaurants and sports shops – it has a cosy feel and during winter it’s a charming spot, especially early evening after skiing when it’s bustling with people. There’s a natural ice skating rink close to the Männlichen cable car station too. Whilst Wengen itself isn’t a large town (more like a large village) and the centre is nicely compact, some of the accommodation does spread out significantly, but many of the hotels have their own electric vehicles – similar to old fashioned milk floats – that can whisk you around when required. The word ‘quaint’ was perhaps invented in Wengen (or perhaps neighbouring Mürren), it really is the model of Swiss picture postcard stuff, complete with the odd cuckoo clock here and there. The British have been coming to Wengen for many years – the DHO Club (Downhill Only), formed in 1925 has a club house right in the town centre and there’s also an Anglican church (AKA the English Church) which is especially busy during the Christmas period.
RESTAURANTS & BARS
Many of the restaurants In Wengen are located within the hotels throughout the town and tend to be fairly traditional in their menus, but food is of a high standard and there’s some variation available too.
Da Sina is a steak and pizza restaurant in the centre of town, it’s also a bar. In the nearby Bernerhof Hotel, there’s a choice to eat in the ‘Taverne’, an a la carte restaurant serving fondue, Raclette and Rosti or the Il Canto, serving pizza and pasta dishes. On the other side of the town, Bären has a more modern feel and serves a mix of local and more international dishes. For a special treat, Restaurant 1903, located in the Hotel Schönegg, serves highly refined modern cuisine with Swiss ingredients, whilst their sister restaurant Stübli serves gourmet burgers. If you fancy a change of scene, then Golden India might be worth a visit, where you can fill up on chicken tandoori and Dal Makhani to your hearts content. The Hotel Caprice also has a good Italian restaurant and welcomes non-residents too.
There’s a decent, if not hugely abundant choice of mountain eateries in Wengen, mainly serving traditional food, and most often good quality and for Swiss standards, generally not as expensive as some of the country’s other resorts.
The restaurant at Männlichen is a large self-service affair, with a variety of options – it can get busy at lunch time. At Kleine Scheidegg, the eponymous restaurant is a good option whilst the close by Bellevue des Alpes is worth it for a special treat. There’s several other places located around the ski area – for hot chocolate and apple fritters, stop at Brandegg on the way down to Grindelwald before catching the railway back up again.
If your idea of a true skiing holiday is to party hard after a day on the slopes, then perhaps Wengen won’t be your first choice.
Saying that, there’s always fun to be had – it’s a ski resort – and a good choice of bars both on and off the slopes wait, but in general the atmosphere is relaxed rather than wild. There’s a couple of spots on the mountain including the Tepee at the top of Kleine Scheidegg and The Start Bar at the top of the Wixi Chairlift (the starting point for the Lauberhorn downhill race), but beware, there’s a significant descent back to town from each of these places, although it is possible to take the train back from Kleine Scheidegg. The Männlichen restaurant has a bar named Spycher and from here it’s possible to descend on the cable car to Wengen (don’t miss the last one, otherwise it’s a long ski to Grindelwald and then a long train journey back). Down in town, The Crystal has a pub kind of vibe, whilst the Tanne is warm and cosy and has a Scandinavian feel about it. Rocks Bar is a popular and lively spot from early evening and into the night and Da Sina hits the spot for drinks and food. Later on, Blue Monkey is the place for dancing until the very early hours, but if you want a quieter drink then The Falken is a great option and full of character.
Wengen has a long toboggan run that can be accessed via the train to Kleine Scheidegg that descends back to Wengen, the convenience of the train making the experience easy and fun.
If you have a whole day free, it’s worth the longer rail journey through the Eiger mountain (the train was built during the Victorian era but it literally goes through the North Face of the Eiger) all the way up to the Jungfraujoch (3,454m) to the highest railway station in Europe. The views of the Aletsch Glacier are spectacular and there’s a series of ice caves too. If you’re lucky enough to be around towards the end of January for the Lauberhorn World Cup race then simply finding a spot to watch along with the thousands of fans is worth sacrificing some skiing time for.
RESORT ACTIVITIES & NON-SKIERS
Despite its isolation and single access point (by train only), Wengen is a pretty good place to be for anyone who doesn’t want to ski or snowboard.
The railway network alone can suck up enormous amounts of time – just jump on-board and head up to Kleine Scheidegg where the spectacular views of the Mönch, Jungfrau and Eiger mountains can be enjoyed over a coffee or a long lunch. Carry on further up through the Eiger itself to the wonderful ice caves and observatory at the Jungfraujoch or perhaps descend to Grindelwald and walk around the historic mountain town. A day trip to Interlaken I worthwhile for the shopping, the tea rooms and perhaps to enjoy some Asian cuisine – during the summer months especially, visitors from all over Asia including India flock to Interlaken. The network of toboggan trails in the area is also impressive and the trains make the ideal uplift solution. Head over to Mürren for the day and take the cable car to Schilthorn, there’s a small 007 James Bond museum at the top celebrating the scene shot here in the movie From Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the revolving restaurant provides the most incredible views of all the famous peaks in the area. Back in town, there’s a natural ice rink with curling and plenty of winter walking trails too.
WHO IS wengen SUITABLE FOR?
Here are the highlights...
There’s a few true challenges in the wider ski area of what’s known as the Jungfrau – the black run from the Schilthorn and some interesting off-piste options in Wengen and Murrin too.
The reality is that the vast majority of terrain is suited to intermediates – with blue and red runs dominating the piste map, many of them relatively easy compared to other resorts. Even the famous (and very long) black graded Lauberhorn run used every year for the men’s World Cup ski race, is fairly easy to negotiate for skiers and snowboarders confident on steeper reds. With the combined areas of Mürren, Grindelwald and Wengen to play with, there’s plenty to keep the very keenest skiers going for at least a week – the area doesn’t have the mileage of the 3 Valleys or the Portes du Soleil, but it certainly competes when it comes to character and charm.
The friendly town of Wengen has been popular with families, especially British ones, for decades.
The DHO (Downhill Only) Ski Club has helped train many junior racers and during the school holiday weeks, there’s several groups out on the mountain daily. Two ski schools, the Swiss Ski School and Altitude provide lessons with English speaking instructors and the nature of the set up – with the car free village, the train network and easy going, mellow atmosphere in town all helps to provide an environment where families can relax. There’s nursery slopes in the town itself and also higher up at the top of Männlichen with a reasonable progression onto blue runs from there. Being Switzerland, there’s plenty of opportunities to sip hot chocolate in cosy wooden chalets too.
Simply walking around the town of Wengen is a rather pleasant experience during the winter months.
There’s no cars and therefore no pollution and not much noise either. The railway network is a wonderful and fairly unique way of getting around the mountain and ideal for pedestrians and those who don’t particular enjoy riding in high cable cars. It’s easy to get to the larger town of Interlaken for the day and even possible to visit Switzerland’s capital city of Bern too. Some of the hotels have spa facilities and there’s plenty of cafes and restaurants to relax in too. Wengen might not have the kind of adrenaline fuelled activities of some of the larger resorts in the Alps, but it does provide a setting that winter visitors have enjoyed for over 100 years.
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MAP OF WENGEN
Find your way…
Here's our map of Wengen showing you the key hotels and apartments as well as some of the main points of interest.