The first weekend of 2016 was spent in Switzerland, and New Year’s Day was spent on the highest glacier in central Switzerland.
While some people may escape to tropical paradise to warm up, we decided to brave the cold. The Switzerland we saw was incredible and especially the Alpine village of Engelberg and its surrounding mountains including Mt. Titlis. It was surprising to find many activities beyond skiing and snowboarding here. Go on a virtual photo tour with us to see what the Swiss Alps had in store for our family.
We stayed in Lucerne and made the about 35-minute drive to Engelberg. A monk founded this town in 1120 calling it the “mountain of angels”. It’s a charming village that made for a great base to explore the surrounding Swiss Alps.
We were at Engelberg around 9 AM and there were already a few tourist buses in the parking lot. Mother Nature was smiling upon us with the sun shining brightly despite the very cold temperatures. My brother and his family, who live in Germany, met us in Switzerland so it was a great mini-reunion to start the year.
The top of the summit is at 10,000 ft (3,020m) which was quite an adventure to get to. The first portion was boarding an 8-person gondola. (with outside compartments for skis/snowboards) It moved pretty quickly and there were many of them so no waiting involved despite the crowds.
I love that each gondola had a different nation’s flag underneath. The gondola ride was smooth and we were treated to beautiful views of the valley. They didn’t have that much snow so far so it was wonderful to still see the green valley along with the snow capped mountains.
Our first stop was at Trubsee station where there was a snow park, trails and an igloo village (more on that later). Since we were going all the way, we didn’t stop here. As we kept ascending, the views became even more incredible. This was how I imagined the Swiss Alps region to look and it didn’t disappoint.
Our gondola stopped at The Stand ski hut where there was also a restaurant. The last part of our journey to the summit was on the Titlis Rotair. This was the world’s first revolving gondola that rotates 360-degrees during the five-minute ride to the summit. The movements were very subtle. The floors are the ones that rotate. But, they did pack in people.
Tip: Keep an eye out for which side the last group entered. You will be entering on the alternate side. Go to the front of the line quickly so one of you could be by the window. If you miss being by the window going up, make sure you go early for the ride down. Actually, I loved the views going down more.
Mountaintop Views and Activities
The Rotair stopped at the Mountain Station in a big building that housed the shops and restaurants. It took an overall 40 minutes to make it to the top of the mountain. The panoramic vistas were some of the most incredible we’ve seen.
It was hovering in the low 20 °F which is freezing conditions for us from Southern California. Luckily, it wasn’t windy and the sun was out. We were above the clouds and you know that saying where you feel like you’re on top of the world? Well, this was that feeling.
My pictures can’t even do any part of this landscape any justice. Everywhere we turned was stunning and we heard a few “Wows” from our group and strangers nearby. No wonder this was a popular tourist attraction year round. And if you’ve got any doubts on how high you are, there was a pretty big sign up here to remind you.
The Cliff Walk was Europe’s highest hanging bridge suspended by steel cables. It swayed and it didn’t help that my husband was doing some jumping to rattle my nerves. I was just glad it wasn’t windy. Though, this bridge didn’t sway as much or was as crowded as the Capilano Suspension Bridge in Vancouver. It was only a meter wide and 100 m long
It was definitely worth crossing over and would be a very long walk if you have a fear of heights or suffer from vertigo. We didn’t suffer from either condition but it was still a bit nerve-wracking. We couldn’t even see the bottom! They had areas along the bridge to stop and admire the views. There’s even a little spot to smile for the cameras.
The Ice Flyer Chair Lift was located next to the Cliff Walk. While most of the attractions at Mt. Titlis were free and included with the gondola ticket to the summit, this lift charged an extra CHF 12 ($12 USD). This took visitors to soar above the glacier fields and to the ski slopes. It also offers an easy access to Glacier Park which includes snow play, snowtubing and sledding. We didn’t get around to doing this ride but it looked fun and exciting to be gliding over the mountains.
The other popular attraction and my kids’ favorite area was the Glacier Cave. This natural cave lies underneath the glacier at 66 feet (20 m). It is a constant 29°F(-1.5°C) degrees in here. It was a bit of a surreal experience walking in knowing we couldn’t possibly imagine just how long this cave has existed here.
It was slippery and felt a lot like walking around an ice skating rink without skates. Luckily, there was a railing along one of the sides that was my crutch during our walk through the 492 feet (150 m) cave.
My brother was more than happy to do robot walks and using the floor as a slip and slide with my nephew. Go ahead and touch the walls too! It was fantastic to see the ice crystal sparkle throughout the cave. There were some carved ice art along the way including ones that looked like ice bricks. The kids also found carved out areas to explore and hide. They had a hard time leaving the cave.
The summit area had enough amenities to satisfy visitors up here. The large building housed a few shops including a Chocolate shop filled with some of the finest Swiss chocolates (including Lindt and Toblerone). They also offered samples much to my kids’ delight! There were also a couple of restaurants and yes, expect food to be pricey but with a pretty good selection including a mini Indian buffet and many self-serve options. Though, the best part was looking out into this scene during lunch at the aptly named Panorama Restaurant.
We spent over three hours at the summit including eating lunch. This was one of our views going down from the Rotair. There weren’t as many people going down so most of us were by the panoramic window.
The Igloo Village
Trubsee was the gondola’s last stop before the bottom area. It’s worth a stop since there were many activities here that included skiing, snowshoeing and hiking trails, a snowtube area which unfortunately was closed that day and a snow park for electric snowmobiles.
But, the main reason we stopped here was to visit the authentic Igloo Village or Iglu-Dorf. How could we possibly have passed up this opportunity? It was a bit of a walk from the station to the bottom of the hill and the small igloo village area.
One couldn’t really tell from the outside we were entering an amazing world of ice. I was honestly expecting little round domes scattered around. This igloo village is built every winter and contains several rooms connected by corridors.
We entered the igloo through a small door and were greeted with these fantastic wall decors. They encased snow clothing, ads and even a flower inside these blocks of ice.
There was a bar inside, seating areas and a dining room area. We loved the ice art and creativity found on the walls.
We found several rooms were roped off. It was so interesting to see how they set up these bedrooms. Sleeping bags and fur blankets constituted the sleeping arrangements on a block of ice. It was a hefty price at hundreds of dollars per person to spend the night inside these rooms so I was expecting at least some sort of mattress. Curtains served as doors. I know it’s all for the experience but it really didn’t look very comfortable so I hope it’s at least warm. I would have gladly settled for a nap here though.
We loved that each room we saw had these amazing and creative works of art in ice as headboards. The frogs and butterflies brought a little bit of nature and whimsy inside these walls. I wished there was someone to ask some questions but we didn’t see any staff or guests in here at all. It looked like they offered group activities for guests at night.
These red chairs outside the igloo village to enjoy the views and watch the snowmobilers on the wide-open field were so inviting. There was an outdoor bar here too so one could enjoy the drinks and the scenery at the same time.
The town of Engelberg, at the base of these majestic mountain, is small, charming and wonderful for strolling around. The Benedictine Monastery was an imposing structure in the town. There are still about 30 monks who work and live in the monastery. It now runs schools plus the baroque church that includes Switzerland’s largest pipe organ. Guided tours are available. Don’t miss the Cheese Factory in here for some delicious Swiss cheese and to watch the cheesemakers in action.
Engelberg, its surrounding area and especially the Mt. Titlis region is worth a weekend or at the very least a day trip. One doesn’t need to be a skier or snowboarder to enjoy the many attractions here. Mt. Titlis is a year-round destination but certainly worth braving the cold during winter too. It is magical covered in snow. If you find yourself in Central Switzerland, I hope you take some time to visit.