Make these engineering marvels your next travel goal
Do soaring bridges, deep tunnels, improbable outlooks and other amazing builds float your boat? From transportation solutions to tourist attractions, you don’t have to be in the United States Army Corps of Engineers to appreciate some of Europe’s superlative construction projects.
Gotthard Base TunnelLocation: Between Erstfeld and Bodio, Switzerland Year of completion: 2016
Technical specifications: This 35-mile twin bore rail tunnel is not only the world’s longest, but at a depth of 8,040 feet, it’s the world’s deepest, too.
What it does: This high-speed rail link under the Swiss Alps was built to revolutionize European freight transportation between northern and southern Europe. Goods formerly carried by hundreds of thousands of trucks a year can now travel by train instead, saving on fuel and cutting CO2 emissions. Fifty or so passenger trains make the 20-minute journey through the tunnel each day.
How to experience: The Gotthard Tunnel Experience in Erstfeld is a two-hour guided tour offering insight on the construction process. A window into the tunnel allows visitors to observe trains rushing by. Tours have been halted by COVID-19, but were previously offered in the German language Tuesdays through Saturdays at a cost of 26 Swiss Francs ($28.80) per adult and 10 CHF for children up to the age of 16. A two-hour English tour was available upon request. An alternative way to experience the tunnel is by hiking along the Gotthard Tunnel Trail, which stretches more than 60 miles and rises to 6,560 feet above sea level. Online: tunnel-erlebnis.ch/en
Millau ViaductLocation: Near Millau, France
Year of completion: 2004
Technical specifications: At 1,104 feet, this is the tallest bridge in the world. Its 1.5-mile length is supported by seven massive pylons.
What it does: This multi-span cable-stayed bridge, part of the A75 motor route from Paris to Beziers, crosses the Tarn Gorge. The route is popular with vacationers traveling between northern and southern France and Spain.
How to experience: What’s ranked as one of the greatest engineering achievements of modern times is a toll bridge. Expect to pay 10.40 euros or so to drive over it in one direction. For a closer look, visit the Viaduct Exhibition at the Millau Viaduct Rest Area, which offers an immersive show, an augmented reality model and pictures of the bridge’s construction. The belvedere overlooking the viaduct offers panoramic views. The display is free and open year round. Online: leviaducdemillau.com/en/viaduct-exhibition
Hammetschwand LiftLocation: Obbuergen, Switzerland
Year of completion: 1905
Technical specifications: At 500 feet, this is the highest exterior elevator in Europe.
What it does: Visitors are whisked up to the lookout point atop the Buergenstock plateau, where they can experience sublime views over Lake Lucerne and the surrounding Swiss Alps.
How to experience: A maximum of 12 passengers at a time can ride this iconic steel and glass elevator to the top of the mountain peak, a panoramic journey that’s over in less than a minute. After taking in the views, visitors can enjoy a meal at the Restaurant & Pension Taverne 1879 or check out the area’s swanky resorts. There’s also the option to hike back down. The attraction is open only when weather conditions permit and closed from November through March. Adult riders pay 18 Swiss Francs ($19.90) for a ride up and back; ages 6-16 pay 9 CHF. To add adventure to your arrival, take the ship across the lake from Lucerne and get off at the Kehrsiten-Buergenstock boat landing. Online: buergenstock.ch/en/explore#experiences
Step into the Void — Aiguille du Midi SkywalkLocation: Near Chamonix, France
Year of completion: 2013
Technical specifications: A 6.5 x 6.5-foot glass viewing box perched 12,605 feet up the exposed face of a mountain in the Mont Blanc massif. Its specially-treated glass can withstand extreme cold and wind speeds of up to 125 mph.
What it does: The box allows visitors to see 3,280 feet of emptiness below their feet.
How to experience: From the center of Chamonix, board the Aiguille du Midi lift, the world’s highest vertical-ascent cable car. After transferring cable cars and reaching the summit, uninterrupted views of Mont Blanc and the French, Swiss and Italian Alps open up. You might have to wait in line a while for your chance to put on slippers and briefly step into the box.
Access to Step into The Void is included in the price of the Chamonix - Aiguille du Midi cable car ride. A round-trip ride costs 65 euros for adults and 55.50 euros for children, and those age 3 and 4 ride for free. Children under 3 are not allowed. Online: tinyurl.com/y4ls9y63