Mürren and the Schilthorn
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The Schilthorn cable car takes you up to and altitude of 2979m. (©_Switzerland Tourism)
The Schilthorn cable-car from Stechelberg leaps the valley’s west wall to reach the idyllically quiet hamlet of GIMMELWALD, a little-visited spot set among meadows ablaze with spring and summer wildflowers. You have to switch cable-cars to rise further to car-free MÜRREN, an eyrie of a village set on an elevated shelf of pasture which has managed to retain its endearing desert-island atmosphere (in the off season at least).

It’s worth the journey for the views. From Mürren, the valley floor is 800m straight down, and the panorama of snowy peaks filling the sky is dazzling: you gaze across at the blank wall of the Schwarzmönch, with the great Trümmelbach gorge slicing a wedge of light into the dark rock, while the awesome trio of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau are ranged above and behind in picture-perfect formation. From Mürren, the cable-car continues its breathtaking ride up to Birg and on to the Schilthorn summit (2970m; www.schilthorn.ch), where you can enjoy exceptional panoramic views and sip cocktails in the revolving Piz Gloria summit restaurant, featured in the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The trip’s less expensive than that to the Jungfraujoch, and also less of a tourist merry-go-round, but just as memorable. The exposed terrace on the top is, if anything, even more dramatic than the Jungfraujoch, with a wraparound vista of icy peaks all around, from the Eiger to the Matterhorn to Mont Blanc, also offering a clear sight down to Thun and Bern. Fares on the Schilthornbahn are steep, but not outrageous. From Stechelberg to the top is currently Fr.85 round trip, from Mürren Fr.57. Eurailers pay 75 percent and Swiss Pass holders travel free to Mürren and pay 75 percent from there upwards.

Mürren itself was “discovered” by the British in the 1840s, and has a long tradition both of winter sports and of hospitable gentility – some of the first competition skiing in Switzerland was done on the slopes around Mürren. An Englishman, Arnold Lunn, claims to have invented the slalom here in 1922, while the famous “Inferno” amateur downhill race from the Schilthorn peak to Mürren (a descent of 2170m) was held for the first time in 1928, and is still an annual fixture in February.

The Schilthorn cable-car station is at the southern end of the village; at the opposite, northern, end is Mürrenbahn train station, starting point for the cliff-edge train toGrütschalp. Between the two a vintage funicular (Fr.23 return, Interrailers full fare, Eurailers pay 75 percent, Swiss Pass holders 75 percent) rises from between the chalets up to the Allmendhubel meadow. From here, hiking trails connect to the Blumen valley and another 3hr 15min trail leads up to Marchegg, then down into the rugged Saus valley and through the Sprissenwald forest to Grütschalp.

Mürren’s sports centre houses the tourist office (Mon–Fri 9am–noon & 1–6.30pm, Thurs until 8.30pm; July–Sept & Dec–April also Sat & Sun 1–5.30pm; 033/856 86 86, www.muerren.ch), with plenty of information on hiking and skiing routes around the area and listings of the many chalets and apartments. A holiday pass for Fr.130 (May–Nov only) buys unlimited journeys over six consecutive days on all transport on the Mürren side of the valley, including the buses between Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg.

Accommodation in the village is excellent, and service is unreservedly good wherever you go. Almost all places close for April and November. Most hotels will arrange to pick you and your bags up from either the cable-car or the train station, if you’ve reserved in advance. Belmont (033/855 35 35, fax 855 35 31; a) is outside the train station, a modern, well-equipped guesthouse also with some dorm beds (Fr.39), but for cut-price sleeping head for the popular self-catering Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald (033/855 17 04, fax 855 26 88; Fr.16). In Mürren, the Regina (033/855 42 42, fax 855 20 71; a; closed May, June & Sept) has well-appointed, Art-Deco-style rooms; the Alpenblick (033/855 13 27, fax 855 13 91; b) is comfortable with yawning balconies; while the Alpenruh, beside the Schilthorn cable-car (033/856 88 00, fax 856 88 88; c), is simply one of the most appealing little hotels in the whole region – cosy, attractive, friendly and with dreamy views.

Eating, as ever, is a hotel affair, with top billing going to the Alpenruh’s excellent fare. Snacks and Drinks, on the main street, has – incongruously enough – authentic Japanese and Thai food done to order for around Fr.16. For an early morning excursion, many hotels allow you to defer your breakfast until you reach the Schilthorn summit restaurant – and the food’s actually not that bad once you get there.

Above Mürren, a short half-hour hike east brings you up to the Sonnenberg (Tél. & fax 033/855 11 27; Fr.40), a cosy and atmospheric modern inn in the Blumen valley (so-called for its carpet of wildflowers) with, a little further on, the Suppenalp (033/855 17 26; Fr.40), a much older building with simple comforts and simpler rooms.

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