Dreaming of a White Christmas
By Justine Tyerman
The Great Snow Goose delivered our Christmas present silently, late on December 25. Tiny white flakes began to fall as we stood on the balcony of our Love Home Swap chalet in the Swiss alpine village of Grindelwald, gazing upward, palms outstretched to catch the precious manna.
I was out there so long, the snow stuck to my eyelashes and began to freeze. A celestial pillow fight of monumental proportions was soon declared and the flurry turned to a full-on blizzard, blanketing the village in white in a matter of hours.
Excitedly we grabbed the remains of the bubbly to toast the White Christmas we had journeyed so far to experience.
In the days that followed, we travelled by Jungfrau Railway to ski at Kleiner Scheidegg, part of an extensive domain linked to Lauberhorn, Männlichen and Wengen by a network of chairlifts, gondolas, trains and massive cablecars. It was a huge novelty to be transported to the ski-fields by cogwheel train. No icy mountain roads, fitting of chains, and walking uphill in ski-boots carrying ski gear, and no driving home at the end of a long day’s skiing. And the one ski pass covers all transport from trains to lifts.
We skied high above the valley and lunched at quaint restaurants at Kleiner Scheidegg, a tiny alpine village with the Eiger (3970m), Mönch (4107m) and Jungfau (4158m) towering above us. A cluster of hotels, chalets and restaurants nestle at the foot of the Eigergletscher (Eiger Glacier), near the railway station where passengers embark to Jungfraujoch (3454m), the highest-altitude railway station in Europe.
The top section of the famous cogwheel railway climbs through a tunnel in the Eiger and Mönch mountains, a masterpiece of engineering finished in 1912 after 16 years of blasting and construction.
We spent an afternoon at the “Top of Europe” where the view from the Sphinx Terrace (3571m) is literally breath-taking – a spectacular 360 degree panorama with row-upon-row of mountain peaks and glaciers stretching across Switzerland, France, Italy and Germany.
We also skied the high-altitude Oberjoch field, delighting in the sunshine, blue skies and stunning mountain views from the opposite side of the valley. The high-speed access lift, the Grindelwald First gondola, was just five minutes’ walk from our chalet.
Skiing was thrilling enough for me but the younger members of our family tried out the First Flyer, an 800m-long flying fox from First to Schreckfeld which reaches speeds of 84kmh. There are four harnesses on cables side-by-side so you don’t have to go it alone. I’m reliably informed the experience is an eye-popping adrenalin buzz . . . and it’s included in the lift pass so you can fly as many times as your nerves can handle.
Keen to fulfil every aspect of our White Christmas fairy tale, we took a sleigh ride buried under layers of fur and sheep-skin blankets, sipping champagne that nearly froze in our glasses. Our driver seemed unfazed by the sub-zero temperatures as his two sturdy horses trotted along the river and around the little village which was even more picturesque at dusk with pretty Christmas decorations suspended from trees, chalet and shop windows and across the streets. The shadow of the mighty Eiger loomed above us and wisps of pink cloud hung in the evening sky, keeping company with a pale sickle moon. It was a magical experience.
After talking about it for decades, Justine Tyerman and family finally met up in the Europe for a White Christmas and New Year, a trip made possible by Love Home Swap, a home swap club which kept accommodation costs to a minimum. She writes of the highlights of a month’s skiing in the French, Swiss and Italian Alps and how the Great Snow Goose delivered the precious white stuff time and again, right on cue.