SPOOKY, almost, to be celebrating 150 years of Alpine skiing in the place where it all began and to bump into the great-grandson of the man who inspired it.
Granted, Mürren in Switzerland is quite a small village, but it is one of the most iconic skiing destinations on the planet and attracts skiers, boarders and scenery-lovers from every corner of it.
It certainly attracted me, after years of visiting glam neighbour Wengen and never quite making it across the enormous, deep glacial valley to reach Mürren, steeped in history and also famous for the towering 2,970 metre high Schilthorn and it’s revolving summit restaurant, the Piz Gloria of James Bond fame.
After catching an early cablecar and cog railway train to the car-free village from our base at Lauterbrunnen, we shuffled into the Schilthornbahn cablecar for the two-part ascent to the top with company sales manager Alan Ramsay, a genial Scot and ace skier who has been happy to call Mürren home for the last 24 years.
Clutching skis and sticks and jammed together in traditional sardine style, Alan greeted a (very!) close fellow passenger with a smile and introduced me to another long-time winter resident and friend, died-in-the-wool skier Stephen Lunn, grandson of Sir Arnold Lunn, whose memorial bust stands outside the village railway station and who is revered as the man who invented the first modern slalom in 1922, founded the legendary Kandahar ski racing club in 1924 which in turn launched the incredible 10-mile Inferno ski race for amateurs in 1928 and staged the first World Championships in 1931.
Sir Arnold’s father before him, prominent Christian Sir Henry Simpson Lunn, had organised the first inclusive tours to Switzerland in winter, starting the trend for British visitors to combine a religious/health retreat with winter sports, and went on to establish holiday giant Lunn Poly as well as the Alpine Ski Club, a gentleman’s club for ski mountaineers.
Jump forward in time to Stephen’s father, Peter Lunn, and we find a man who was famous as an MI6 spymaster in the Cold War (more shades of Bond!), but who always made time to ski, he led the British team way back in the 1936 Winter Olympics, competed regularly in the Inferno until he broke a hip in a car crash at the age of 90, and still carried on skiing until a year before his death at 97.
Now fast-forward to Stephen himself, sporting a ski resort perma-tan and raring to go on a gloriously sunny day, who is certainly a chip off the older family blocks and is no slouch on skis, either. It was pretty obvious there would be no way we could keep up with him on the crisp morning snow over the glorious terrain he knows like the back of his hand and our excuse for not sticking with him for a while longer was that we were stopping off at the cable car changeover station and restaurant at Birg, where we were told to expect a thrill or two without needing skis.
We said farewell to Stephen, who was intent on blasting back down towards the village in the near-perfect conditions, and wandered onto the sun terrace at Birg, where the sun was indeed beating down, to take in the stunning views across to the awesome mountain trio of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau stabbing into the blue, cloudless sky.
Then came the promised thrill taking a few steps down from the terrace to the newly-constructed Skyline Walk, a cantilever platform extension with a floor of steel mesh and glass panels, suspended over a heart-thumping vertical precipice.
Yes, it IS a thrill and well, well worth the ride. And to paraphrase a current, rather peculiar TV ad for bio yoghurt, it’s almost guaranteed to encourage the acceleration of intestinal transit.
Rather wobbly legs took us back to the cable car station for the final, breathtaking link to the PizGloria made all the more dramatic by James Bond theme music, much to the delight of chattering groups of Japanese tourists.
Arrive at the top station and you find that everything lives up to the hype with the highly-entertaining Bond World 007 experience, as you step behind the scenes of the classic film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and even step into some of the memorable scenes, which you can also catch in the 40-seat in-house cinema. Among the hands-on attractions, you can climb into the cockpit of one of the helicopters used in the film and simulate a swoop on the mountain, then jump into a bobsleigh, grab a pistol and watch a video of yourself hurtling down the ice in a hail of bullets.
Outside, the view is far, far better than any movie, but then you must have a cliche snapshot amid the snow with a life-size cut-out of 007 star George Lazenby.
After drinking in the stunning views from the terrace, where the suave spy and the bevy of Bond girls played curling in the 1969 movie, it was time to go inside the unique Piz Gloria restaurant where they also cavorted, relaxing in a window seat as the whole outer section revolves to give diners an amazing 360-degree vista over some of the most drop-dead gorgeous scenery you could ever wish for, with the Eiger, Mönch and Jungrau and 200 other peaks.
Lunch over and a delicious gulaschsuppe, too, thanks Alan! – and you can emulate Bond on skis if you feel up to it, with the blistering black run from the top joining the Inferno piste, among others, for the run back to Mürren. Given enough snow, you can follow in Bond’s tracks and ski all the way to the valley bottom and the delightful village of Lauterbrunnen, where our base was at the family-run Hotel Silberhorn, within sight of the astonishing Staubbach Falls and its close-on 1,000ft cascade down the valley wall.
Pure chance, but staying at the same hotel was good friend and ace hairdressing boss Tony Winder, whose fearless wife Karina has skied from the top of the Schilthorn at considerable speed, down a gradient which I certainly wouldn’t tackle and which again brings to mind the words of that certain TV advert.
They stayed in ‘Grandma’s room’, a beautifully-kept time-capsule retained by owner Barat von Allmen in memory of a much-loved family member; while I had a modernised room which is part of a rolling programme of refurbishment at the chalet-style hotel. No-nonsense meals were in the traditional, timber-rich Gletscherstuba or airy conservatory overlooking the village – check it out.
Change of scene the next day as we had rain rather than snow, so we headed a few kilometres along the road to Meiringen in the Haslital area where a local patissier invented the meringue around the year 1600 aiming to gain some altitude and walk through the white stuff on the protected Schwarzwaldalp area high above the Hasli valley floor. Hey presto! Within minutes of setting off up a winding, narrow lane with guide Emil, it was on with the snow chains. Then a few more minutes and we could barely see the road as we reached the Schwarzwaldalp Hotel at 1,450 metres.
That didn’t deter Emil, who led us off for a spot of winterwandern through the almost knee-deep powder across meadows and around mini-chalets on stilts used for maturing and storing farmhouse cheeses – a joy on our last morning.
Back to Meiringen and there was just time to visit a life-size statue of Sherlock Holmes, no less, and savour a surprise link to where we started.
The story goes that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, having decided to kill off his legendary detective hero, was enjoying winter sports in the area with a friend, who suggested the nearby Reichenbach Falls as a suitably-dramatic backdrop for a showdown with Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty.
His chum? None other than Sir Henry Simpson Lunn.
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