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The International Writers Magazine: Europe Vacations

The Non-Skier’s Guide to Enjoying the Swiss Alps
• Irene Shaland
Photography – by Alex Shaland

Photo: The royal resident of Murren: majestic Jungfrau. With its 4,158 meters (13,500 ft) above the sea level, Jungfrau is the tallest mountain in Europe.

Alps AShaland

The majestic Alps with all their infinite beauty and sublimity were often on my mind as an ultimate destination place. However, though my husband and I are yoga practitioners and amateur ballroom dancers, we are completely non-athletic otherwise. Unlike our many friends, we never took up skiing or mountain hiking.

The Alps So this past spring, during our trip to Switzerland, we gathered all our courage and determination when inserting an Alpine resort into our itinerary. Oh, my, I thought, all this money for just staying in an expensive hotel, drinking overpriced hot chocolate and watching young people skiing… The reality proved to be absolutely different. The two days and two nights we spent in the Swiss Alps was a time of absolute enjoyment. I am convinced that for a non-skier coming to the Alps, the key to enjoyment is choosing the right resort and the right company to assist you with organizing and planning.
Photo: Jungfrau up close and personal as viewed from Schilthorn

We picked Murren and the Schilthorn ltd. Why? There was something in the sound of its name “Murren” that made me think of a dreamy place with mighty mountain picks and a spiritual connection to nature, non-changeable, suspended in time before ski-lifts and tourist crowds. The Schilthorn Ltd., on the other hand, was very real: this is a sixty year-old successful company that owns cable car lines (safety-focused, I thought), hotels and restaurants (customer oriented, my husband added), a famous location where one of the James Bond movies was filmed (renowned and reputable, we both presumed). Both choices proved to be right on the mark.

The people’s company
The Schilthorn LTD is not a travel agency or tourist authority by any means. The company‘s original mission was to create an accessible summit for visitors to enjoy what is called “the Swiss Skyline.” The “skyline” is formed by the mighty Alpine mountains of the Bernese Oberland region, lying directly on the border separating the cantons of Bern and Valais, the French speaking and the German speaking regions of Switzerland. The company is named after a 9,745 feet high Alpine pick, an excellent vintage point to view the surrounding mountains. In 1967, the Schilthorn LTD designed and built the world’s longest aerial cableway. The company founder, Murren- born and raised, Ernst Feuz wanted not only to transport people to the Alpine picks but also to create a unique experience for every visitor to the area to enjoy its supernatural beauty. Knowing this history, the Schilthorn Marketing Department was a natural (alas, non-traditional) starting point for me to ask for an assistance and advice in planning our non-skiers’ trip to the Alps in the Bernese Oberland.

My email was immediately answered. I do not know if the Schilthorn Marketing Director, Nicole, or the Marketing Outreach Specialist, Marco, smiled at my long laundry list of what we or rather I “would absolutely not be able to do” (skiing, mountain hiking, sledding, and even breathing at high altitudes). I expected they would tell me: “Why don’t you stick then to the cities and museums?” They did not. On the contrary, these highly professional experts responded with detailed options of how to explore and enjoy the region, as if my real or imagined shortcomings were the norm for those who come to the Alps.

The timeless resort
Murren, the mountain village of our first choice, was also the one suggested by the Schilthorn Marketing. During the 2015 Easter weekend we stayed there, few hotels were closed and most were full. However, this completely traffic-free little town and a popular ski resort did not give an impression of an overcrowded tourist destination. Even with every table occupied on restaurant terraces, it still resembled the place of my imagination: timeless, quiet, peaceful, romantic.
Photo: Walking along the picturesque streets of Murren
Murren: Shaland

Lit by the bright sun, the three most famous Swiss Alpine mountains – Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau – seemed to follow us everywhere we walked along the narrow winding streets filled with already melting snow. The only grocery store in Murren is a Co-op located at the main intersection. The old barn nearby used to house the villagers’ cows. Before the Schilthorn LTD. unveiled its cable car line in the 1960s, Murren used to have more cows than people, I was told. We walked slowly, admiring the windy little lanes and beautiful woodwork on the houses. Murren does have state-of-the-art sport center, yoga studios, discoes and bars, but if you want to see it as an old Swiss village, this is how Murren will present itself. And I did not feel the 5,413 feet elevation!

Alps Train Shaland How to get to Murren
To fully appreciate our Alpine paradise of Murren, I have to describe how we got there. We started early morning from Lausanne on the Lake Geneva taking a train to Montreux. There we decided to catch the famous Golden Pass panoramic train that took us through the French and German Switzerland to Interlaken, a central transportation hub of the Alpine region Bernese Oberland.
Photo: Panoramic train Golden Pass is ready to depart from Montreux.

On the map, Murren seems very close to Interlaken, but we knew that the geology of the region prohibited any ground transportation there. So how are we supposed to reach our Alpine resort?

Marco Zurschmiede, Marketing Outreach Specialist from the Schilthorn Company, graciously sent me detailed directions. From the first glance, his long list of places and times put a fear of heaven into my heart. This just did not seem humanly possible, especially when loaded with luggage. We do try to travel light: one small rolling suitcase and one bag, but at that time they both seemed a hateful liability.

This is what Marco said we had to do. After reaching Interlaken, we had exactly 11 minutes to run from the platform 8 to the platform 2 and catch another train to Lauterbrunnen. On the map, Murren and Lauterbrunnen are so close, their names seem to be written almost on top of each other. In reality, it is a different matter. In Lauterbrunnen, we had 10 minutes to walk from the railroad station to find a bus going to Stecherlberg, Schilthornbahn, where we had a 12 minute interval to walk again, and - all the time dragging our suitcases along - find a cable car station where we would take a cable car going to Gimmelwald. There we had 2 minutes to change to another cable car that, thankfully and finally, would get us to Murren.

In spite of our fears, the entire trip with all these multiple changes turned out to be quick, easy, and almost effortless. Perhaps the nation that turned a watchmaking into an unsurpassed art, also invented punctuality and efficiency and brought them to an unimaginable level of perfection. Before we knew it, we were riding up in a cable car into a world of almost surreal beauty. We were arriving in Murren. And this is when our love affair with Swiss Alps began.

Hotel Alpenruch – the picturesque Murren at its best
I understood why our new friends from the Schilthorn LTD. suggested that hotel. Right at the moment when I began to passionately hate my suitcase thinking that I had to roll it walking through the snow in a transportation-free village, we saw the most charming chalet built of dark pine-tree and adorned with fairy-tale gables with gingerbread-style trim. The sign said “Hotel Alpenruch.” We stepped out of the cable car station and here it was, few steps away was the hotel’s terrace. Standing on that terrace, the hotel seems most spectacularly perched, almost cantilevered, over the Lauterbrunnen valley below with towering mighty mountain trio of great Jungfrau, Eiger, and Monch – above it.
Alpenruch Hotel
Photo: Our charming Alpenruch Hotel is just few steps from the cable car station
Urs, Alpenruth
Photo: Hotel Alpenruh Manager Urs Brotschi makes
every guest feel instantly at home.
Irene Shaland Dining
Photo: The author enjoying dinner at the Alpenruh restaurant that serves excellent regional dishes
No place in Murren has such a gorgeous dining terrace. Inside, Urs, the hotel general manager, met us like his old friends. Urs immediately made us feel at home, made our reservations for dinner and ordered the sauna to be prepared for us in the evening. The Alpenruch panorama restaurant with magnificent mountain views all around it, served excellent local dishes, like rosti and fondue. Our room was simple and spacious and had all the amenities.
The view from our room balcony was simply breathtaking: Jungfrau with her two consorts, Eiger and Monch, seemed to be close and personal, a reach out and touch mirage. From that moment on, I felt a strange surreal connection with this mighty mountain that remained in my mind for weeks after we returned home. Jungfrau, the tallest mountain in Europe, became an incarnation of Mother Earth itself, grounding, calming, and reassuring presence of something impossible to describe but very real to feel. It was an effort to tear myself away from the balcony and step inside.
Photo: View on Murren and Jungfrau from our room’s balcony
Alpine View
Allmendhubel – the Skyline Chill
Allmendhubel We took a 1912 funicular from Murren to Allmendhubel. Allmendhubel is another timeless Alpine enclave, a picturesque spot that, at 6,256 feet elevation, offers a beautiful view of surrounding mountain peaks. A short trip there allowed us to combine an exciting funicular ride, grand views of my friend Jungfrau, and a perfect cappuccino served to us by an attentive friendly staff on the cozy sun-lit terrace of the Allmendhubel restaurant. From our excellent people-watching spot on that terrace, we could see that Allmendhubel must be a particularly perfect destination for walkers and families with children. Photo: Allmendhubel cable car station
Hikers of every age were coming and going, loudly sharing their exciting impressions. I wish I packed a proper pair of hiking boots, I thought. But it felt great just to sit there, not moving anywhere, just watching. Right in front of us, a large fantasy world of a playground with its giant alpine flowers and huge friendly-looking insects attracted many children, even though it was still covered with snow.

Photo: Snow-covered playground at Allmendhubel: view from the Allmendhubel restaurant’s terrace
View from Allmendhubel restaurant

Allmendhubel has its famous Flower Trail, an entertainment for all ages and levels of athletic abilities. this twenty-minute walking loop offers great mountain views year around and some 150 types of alpine flowers in summer. In July, the Schilthorn Company co-sponsors the Lilibiggs Children’s Festival packed with activities and featuring a large area for family campsites nearby. I heard people at table next to us discussing another event, also sponsored by the Schilthorn Company: the most grueling Triathlon I ever heard of: 3 kilometer swim across Lake Thun, followed by 97 kilometers of biking, then running up the mountain… too terrifying to continue eavesdropping, I thought. Better to do what I can do best: chill out. I turned around me and saw the sign: the SKILINE CHILL. How appropriate! Indeed, in our super-fast lives of never ending deadlines and overbearing stress, Alex and I could not imagine a better place to stop running. It felt strangely and wonderfully comfortable: just sitting on the Allmendhubel restaurant’s welcoming terrace, sipping our drinks and giving our hearts and minds to the grand surrounding mountains.

Schilthorn: The Skyline View

On our second day in Murren we decided to go to the summit whose name graces the cable car-owning company: Schilthorn.

Cable Car Cables No, we did not become skiers overnight; just wanted to get as close and personal with the Alps as was only possible. Marco from the Marketing suggested hiring a guide to take us around. We met Justine Edde at the Murren cable car station. A beautiful and vivacious Parisienne who fell in love with the Swiss Alps and made Murren her home, proved to be a highly-knowledgeable professional, sensitive to our needs (best photographic points for Alex) and limitations (no climbing for me). Photo: Leaving Murren and approaching Birg, where passengers change cable cars on the way to Schilthorn.
Together with Justine we took the Schilthorn cable car that smoothly and effortlessly carried us and a crowd of skiers and hikers first to Birg and, after a quick change of cars, to the almost 10,000-foot high summit of Schilthorn. The journey was a true visual treat. The car was suspended between the bright blue skies and sparkling white mountains, while it was breathtakingly gliding through the air, past frozen waterfalls and sheer rock faces, to the Piz Gloria station. We immediately went to the panoramic platform. The view was so astoundingly beautiful, it was almost surreal. Photo: Owing its name to the 1969 James Bond movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Piz Gloria revolving restaurant is perched on the Schilthorn summit. Schilthorn Restaurant

Jungfrau loyal consorts Eiger and Monch lined up on the horizon and my darling Jungfrau herself looked as imperial as ever but even more stunning that early morning. For us it was the most personal ultimate mountain experience. I could stay there forever in my silent mediation on the power of the Alps over our souls, but Justine reminded us about our breakfast reservations.

James Bond saves the Schilthorn
The impressive breakfast buffet was served in the world’s first revolving restaurant. While we ate our waffles, the solar-powered restaurant slowly rotated around its axis and, the Alps were floating by. Sitting at your table, you make full circle in 45 minutes. Then I noticed the cut-out silhouette of James Bond with a hand gun. “Ah, yes,” said Alex who, as a life-long James Bond fan, had already read the complete story. “You see, in the 1960s, the 007 was doing his usual saving-the-world stuff but one year, in 1969, he did something else: he saved the Schilthorn cable car company from bankruptcy.” The Schilthorn’s cable car station and the restaurant adopted their name “Piz Gloria” from the sixth Bond movie villain’s headquarters. We headed to the interactive exhibit called “Bond World” to learn more.

In 1967, due to unforeseen technical difficulties (after all, the Schilthorn aerial line was planned to provide easy access to some of the most challenging ski slopes in Europe) and staggering budget overruns, the cable construction had to stop with no future insight. But that was when Hubert Frochlich, the production manager of the new Jams Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” was location-scouting in France and Switzerland. He came upon an unfinished revolving restaurant on the mountain pick in Bernese Oberland near Murren and fell in love with the panoramic scenery. So the producers financed the remaining construction of the restaurant and the cable car, provided electricity and numerous service jobs for villagers, enabling James Bond, played in this movie by George Lazenby, to rid the world of a monstrous evil genius who planned to sterilize global food supply through his brainwashed “angels of death.”

The Bond World exhibit proved to be a real fun for all ages, even a not-so-passionate Bond fan like me. The grateful Schilthorn Company created various interactive games, entertaining role-playing and even a simulated helicopter ride, while focusing on seven key scenes in the movie that take place around the summit.

Birg platform – the Skyline Thrill
Justine invited us for another ride in a cable car, this time, about one-third of the way down toward Murren. We arrived in Birg, an intermediate station, where in summer of 2014, the Schilthorn Company unveiled its Skyline Walk, rightfully called “the Skyline thrill.” We were standing on a viewing platform with a see-through floor that seemed to be cantilevered out over the dizzying void below. I felt I was walking on air and the see-through floors made me stop breathing. “If you inhale and open your eyes,” suggested Alex, “you might even enjoy the view.” I did and was instantly rewarded, first by unobstructed view of the majestic ragged Alps across the valley, and then, when I forced myself to make a few steps and shake a hand of a smiling young man that Justine introduced to us as Jt. Holmes, a world-famous BASE jumper. Jt. had a film crew following him: they were looking for the best spot for him to jump from.

Justine, a competing BASE jumper herself, explained to us that BASE jumping stands for wingsuit flying from a fixed structure, with an acronym standing for four categories of that structure: buildings (B), antenna (A), span (S), and earth (E) standing for a mountain cliff for example. Someone next to me added that BASE jumping is significantly more dangerous than skydiving from a plane and in the U.S. it is regarded as a fringe extreme sport. “Goodness, what a THRILL!” I thought.

Gimmelwald where the Swiss fairy-tale past comes live
“There is something very different I want you to see,” said Justine. We boarded a cable car once again, went back to Murren, only to change into another cable car that took us to the station called “Gimmelwald.” We exited the station and found ourselves in a different world indeed: a quaint charming village with a cow trough in front of every neat house, and nothing but clean mountain air between the tiny village and the huge rock face of Jungfrau. That was an archetypal Switzerland of our imagination.

Justine told us that before tourism picked up, Gimmelwald was one of the poorest places in the country. The villagers gathered hay by hand and survived on government subsidies and few visitors. However, most of the 120 residents of Gimmelwald stubbornly resisted modernization, citing an “avalanche-zone” building code that prohibited modern development. And this is how the people of Gimmelwald continue to live: they know neither frantically hurried life-style of modern cities, nor cut-throat competition for tourists of many resorts around them.
Photo: Gimmelwald shopping experience
Gimmelwald Swiss

There are a couple of guest houses in Gimmelwald, but the village population stays the same year around. Their houses are never locked, and if someone is in need for a piece of cheese or a bottle of fresh milk, there are few little barns around the village with refrigerators in them and a note telling the visitor how much money to leave in the little tin box placed on the windowsill for the wares they want. The children go to school in Lauterbrunnen. To get there, they take a super-modern Schilthorn cable car. But the village of Gimmelwald continues to exist in a timeless world that seems centuries removed from Geneva or Zurich.

Irene & Alex Shaland We returned to Murren to enjoy once again the panoramic view from our welcoming hotel’s terrace. Next morning we needed to catch our Glacier Express train from Brig to Chur to discover other breathtakingly beautiful places of Switzerland. Then, we would return to familiar world of Luzern, Bern, Basel, and Zurich – the world of big cities, historical architecture, and great art museums. To do that transfer in time and culture, we had to catch a cable car to Stechleberg at 6:55 AM; there, in less than 10 minutes we needed to get to the station and board a train to Interlaken, run from one platform to another in 5 minutes, catch another train to Spiez, then in 13 minutes change to a train to Brig, where the world-famous panoramic train Glacier Express awaited us. Simple and easy: nothing to worry about. We were after all – in Switzerland
Photo: Back in Murren: the author and the photographer pose in front of Jungfrau on the Alpenruh’s panoramic terrace

To read about Irene and Alex Shaland, go to
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The author and photographer express their sincere gratitude to the Schilthorn Company LTD. and the Alpenruch Hotel for the unique and wonderful experience in Murren and vicinities these companies provided. Specifically, our heartfelt thanks go to Nicole Abegglen and Marco Zurschmiede (Schlthorn Co.), Urs Brotschi (Alpenruch Hotel) and Justine Edde (mountain guide), whose expert knowledge of the area and strong professional focus on customer helped to turn our first encounter with the Alps into a pure magic!

To learn more about the Schilthorn LTD: and Alpenruch Hotel:
© Irene Shaland July 2015 -- Global Travel Authors –

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