Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Schilthorn, Swiss Alps

As promised, I have brought home many great tips and ideas from Europe.  Here is my favorite of all the day trips that we took over there.  This is the Schilthorn.  You may ask what that is.  It is a mountain, approximately 9,000 feet high in the Swiss Alps.  National Geographic calls this #12 on it's list of secret journeys.  I thought it was kind of funny that I bought this magazine almost immediately after returning home, and there it was, #12.

How do you get 9,000 feet up to the top of an Alp?  It's easy actually.  You take four gondolas to the top.  You can walk it in seven to eight hours, but I thought that the gondolas were a lot quicker, at about 45 minutes, and a lot more scenic.

Okay, so where is it and how is it done?  There are several ways, believe it or not that you can journey to the top of the Schilthorn.  My recommendation is that you take the package deal that you purchase in Stechelberg, a village in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Bernese Oberland.

The Lauterbrunnen Valley is a tiny parcel of land in the valley between several of the biggest Alps.  It's deep, narrow, and comes to a dead end in the village of Stechelberg.  From there, you can climb.  This little village, about 12 kilometers from Interlaken, deep in the Alps, is where you catch your first gondola.  There is a nice woman at the ticket booth who will sell you your package deal to go all the way to the top of the Schilthorn for 98.60 CHF.  If you have a child with you, she will suggest something that is not posted.  She will sell you a junior pass for you child that not only costs a mere 30 CHF, but will work on most of the trains and gondolas in the country for a month.  That's a good deal.

I have to say, I've taken trains up mountains.  The gondola route is so much more dramatic and the views are staggering.  Once you start up the Schilthorn, your first stop is Gimmelwald.  It's one of the many cliff villages in the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  There are maybe three cars in Gimmelwald.  I'm not sure how they got there.  I'm sure the stories must be awe inspiring.  In Gimmelwald, you switch to the next gondola.  Now, each one of these gondolas holds about thirty people, give or take a few.  They all take around 5 to ten minutes of travel time, and you spend about five minutes waiting for each one.

Murren ( sorry I can't print umlauts here) is the second stop along the way.  It's a wonderful little village that I recommend you stop to see on the way down.  When going up a mountain for that view at the top, never stop to see things on the way up.  Alpine weather is similar to the weather here in New England, and I learned  long time ago to get up the mountain while the viewing is good.  You never know when the weather will change.  You can see the other stuff on the way back.

The third stop is called the Birg.  I suppose that there is a day where you can see from here, but our day was not it.  We did not stop at this place.  There is a snack bar, an observation deck, and a gift shop for those who choose to stop along the way.  Once again, do it on the way down.  That's an important tip.

The stop at the top is the Schilthorn peak.  The building is called Piz Gloria, and it is a rotating restaurant.  It turns 360 degrees every hour, so if you go there to eat, which I highly recommend, stay for your hour and get the full view.  It's a fun way to eat lunch.

There are three separate observation decks around Piz Gloria.  There is the main one that is attached to the building, and there are two lower ones on opposite sides, to gain a different perspective.  Why is this multi perspective view important on the Schilthorn?  It's because of it's diverse views.  The Schilthorn is surrounded by deep valleys and then more Alps.  It's a very dramatic view that you can't get on other mountains.

The views are some of the most amazing that I've ever seen from a mountain top.  Also, here the views are always changing, because every time a cloud goes by, it's a whole new viewing ballgame.

Mountain views and good food are nice, but  Piz Gloria and the Schilthorn have something else going for them.  They're a very famous location.  This is the only place that I know of that you can get shot at by James Bond.

James Bond World opened in June of this year and is a tribute to all things Bond.  It has a movie specially made for the location, a bobsled simulator, a part of a helicopter to fool around in, and a lot of Bond displays.  It may seem like an odd location for such a thing, but it's really not.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service, was filmed largely on this location.  George Lazenby played James Bond for his one and only performance.  Diana Rigg was the lovely Teresa, who became the only Mrs. Bond in history.  Telly Savalas was probably the most proficient Blofeld.  James Bond World does focus on this film and it's actors, but it pays tribute to all Bonds.  The restaurant at Piz Gloria has also been preserved just as it looked when they filmed the movie.  It's a lot of fun, and a one of a kind experience for visiting the top of a mountain.

Once you have finished your visit to the top of the Schilthorn, it's time to consider all your options for the trip down.  You can enter or exit your trip at any of the gondola stops along the way.  There is also the path that you can walk all the way down.  Remember, the walk is long.  It is beautiful, but it is long.  Be prepared for that.  There are many places to stop all along the way.  In the winter, this is skiing land.  Murren claims to be the birthplace of Alpine skiing, and they have a lot of places where you can check out this theory in wintertime.  In the summer, it makes for some great hiking.

We chose to get off in Murren and walk to the next gondola at Gimmelwald.  The walk would take us right along the cliff that falls to the valley's bottom in Stechelberg.

Murren is a beautiful village that is set up for tourists.  This place is full of hotels, restaurants, and ski shops.  There are virtually no motor vehicles, because it sits on a cliff, so you can walk the streets and just take it all in.

Gimmelwald was on the other end of our walk, and it was yet another beautiful little cliff village.  This village had a very interesting little shop called the Honesty Shop.  They weren't joking.  No one watches it.  You go in and shop, buy what you want by leaving your money in a box.  They trust you.  I loved that.

In between you have the most amazing forty minutes or so of views you've ever seen in your life.  I couldn't stop staring and taking pictures.  There was nothing that wasn't worth taking a picture of.  It's the best walk you'll ever take.  Promise.  At the end of the walk is the last gondola that takes you back to the valley to Stechelberg.  It's one of the best day trips ever.

I know that it seems impossible to run off the the Bernese Oberland, and you probably have no clue where Lauterbrunnen is.  I'm going to spend a little time over the next few weeks, and I'm going to teach you what I found out on this journey.  You don't need a travel agent.  You don't need a tour package.  You don't need an interpreter.  You can do this on your own, and as I discuss all the wonderful things to do in the Bernese Oberland and other parts of Switzerland, I will be taking an entry here and there to provide tips for the traveler as to how to have a great trip all at your own doing.  I hope you will enjoy all the advice as well as the stories of the great places that are waiting for you to visit.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love to hear thoughts about the places in this blog. Feel free to converse on what you read. Check out my other locations and enjoy the ride.