Gail and I have just completed another portion of the Via Francigena pilgrimage which started in Canterbury and will eventually take us to Rome. This year, we walked 575 kilometres from Tergnier to Gy in France. Although we planned to walk about 40 kilometres further to Besançon, an unfortunate fall that severely limited Gai’s ability to walk, cut our journey a tiny bit short.
However, we had also planned a post-walk holiday that would take us from Besançon and through Switzerland by train, before returning home to Winnipeg. We resolved to continue with our plans, as carefully and as slowly as Gail’s ability required, minimizing our walking and using buses, trams and trains wherever possible. Here’s a day-by-day account of our progress.
Notes from the mountain side:
Three trains, one bus and two cable cars take us from urban Bern to the mountain village of Mürren in the Berner Overland district of Switzerland. We start our day at 540 metres above sea level on a balmy late fall morning in the country’s capital and arrive noontime at our 1,638 metre perch under a crisply cool blue sky. We have lost the constrained views of the city and found endless views over craggy, snow-tipped mountains.
With a full-time population cracking barely 400, Mürren swells to 4,000 souls in search of alpine hikes in summer and downhill skiing in winter. We arrive between the two seasons. The village is pleasantly quiet now and we share the car-free streets—there is no road access to Mürren—with a small number of tourists taking in the last two days before guesthouses, hotels and most other village businesses close, waiting for the snow and skiers to arrive late December.
After checking in at the Eiger Guesthouse, we head off for a late lunch. A funicular takes us 300 metres further up the slope to Allmendhubel, an alpine lookout featuring a good restaurant with jaw-dropping vistas over mountains and valleys.
Allmendhubel was the appetizer for next day’s excursion to the Schilthorn summit. Two long (and very expensive) cable cars escort us on a near-vertical journey that almost doubles our elevation to an ear-popping 2,970 metres. The dense clouds surrounding us hold little hope for the promised panoramic views.
We have arrived at Piz Gloria.
A bit of recent history is required. Starting in the late 19 C., various projects have attempted to make Schilthorn accessible to tourists. In 1962, construction began on a network of aerial cable cars to take visitors from the Lauterbrunnen Valley to the Schilthorn summit. Shortly after completion in 1967, an ambitious project to construct a rotating restaurant on the summit commenced but soon stalled due to significant cost overruns. Coincidentally, producers for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the latest James Bond movie, were looking for suitable film locations and came upon the struggling Schilthorn project as the perfect set. They agreed to finish the project on the condition that the film company had design control. Filming took place in 1968 and in 1969 the rotating restaurant opened to the public. Piz Gloria derives its name from the mountain-top hideout described in Ian Fleming’s 1962 novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. That name remains associated with the Schilthorn overlook.
Today, Schilthorn—or Piz Gloria—is as much a movie fandom site as it is a panoramic view point. Admittedly, Gail and I are here for both.
Tucked below the restaurant is Spy World museum. That a movie of modest importance can result in such a well-planned, engaging and thorough interpretation of its singular subject either boggles the mind or is the source of endless fascination. I’m afraid Gail and I dip into the latter camp.
After our exhaustive two-hour tour in the windowless exhibition space, we rise to the rotating restaurant level. Behold, the clouds have parted! From the observation deck, we are treated to a full-circle sunlit panorama of a hundred mountain peaks. But time to eat. Our reserved window-side location revolves twice while we munch on fire-branded 007 burgers followed by frothy cappuccinos emblazoned with cocoa 007 logos.
I would like to think that we left the world of movie spies and villains as we descend to Mürren but, though there are no visible reminders, in 1968 the village became the headquarters for film production. Locals mixed with an entourage of Bond girls, stars Emma Peel, George Lazenby and Telly Savalas and a supporting crowd of supporting actors and production crew. Exciting days, indeed!
It’s late afternoon and Gail has, once again, pushed her wounded leg to its limit on our tour of Piz Gloria. She needs a rest. I return her to our guesthouse and depart for a quick walking adventure of my own. My destination is Gimmelwald, a tiny mountainside village just thirty minutes away down a steep single-lane road. It rains steadily as I wind my way around verdant pastures, each with a cow or two picturesquely positioned on the steeply sloped landscape. Cow bells clank all about, each with a unique pitch and random rhythm, each contributing to a mesmerizing chant that accompanies me along the way.
You can listen to my recording of their music in the soundtrack below.
Gimmelwald is everything Schilthorn is not: a quiet, traditional village with old log houses and barns randomly scattered along a narrow, winding street. Yes, there are guesthouses and several tourist stands offering homemade goods and crafts—some are unstaffed and operate on the honour system—but it’s clear that this is a farming community, unchanged over decades, if not centuries, of working this impossibly vertical land.
I wish Gail could have come here. I hope she enjoys the photos and soundtrack.
Read on to view the day’s photos and soundscape.
Click the images below to view a full-screen slideshow.