In the late 1960s, a location scout was traipsing through Europe looking for a suitably dramatic mountain location for the next James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A casual conversation with a hotel concierge brought his attention to the thrillingly theatrical scenery of the Schilthorn. The future of the mountain and Bond was sealed. But it would take a little Swiss ingenuity and Bond-esque dealings to finally create what can only be described as the most dramatic movie set of all-time.
Before tourism hit the Bernese Alps in the mid 19th century, it was the exclusive domain of serious mountaineers and daring scientists. Railways opened it up to sightseers who came in increasing numbers, including a teenage Tolkien where a hiking holiday across the Alps gave flight to his imagination. Eventually, a summit cableway was installed finally giving the public access to the stunning Schilthorn vistas. Construction on a revolving restaurant had been halted but the producers behind the new 007 project saw its potential as the perfect setting for the secret HQ of Blofeld – Bond’s arch-enemy – and his ‘Angels of Death’, a troupe of lethal henchwomen, including a young Joanna Lumley. In the original book, Ian Fleming gave it the name Piz Gloria and it stuck. In exchange for shooting rights, the film company agreed to finance the completion of the restaurant as well as the installation of a helipad.
Their prescience paid off in spades. The Schilthorn provides a stunning backdrop for some of the most memorable scenes in the entire Bond movie canon. At almost 3000 metres above sea level, one impressive revolution of the Piz Gloria restaurant presents diners with jaw-dropping panoramic views of the surrounding mountains – the monumental Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau to the east and even the distant Mont Blanc way out west. This year sees the celebration of the 50th anniversary of both the movie’s 1969 release and the opening of the restaurant, a truly symbiotic partnership.
Aside from the seriously life-affirming views, Piz Gloria contains an inventive range of experiences designed specifically for Bond lovers. The interactive Bond World 007 museum has masses of memorabilia from the movie, hair-raising helicopter and bobsled simulators plus an enormous cinema screen showcasing the best scenes from the film within the context of the mountain. Once outside, the sheer scale of the Alpine scenery will be imprinted on your memory forever. There are few words that can truly encapsulate what it’s like to stand on top of this icy world.
The Skyline viewing platform juts out over the valley and is kitted out with viewing cylinders that let you pinpoint certain aspects of the mountain range just like the opening credits of a Bond movie. The Bond Walk of Fame runs along the ridgeline and is dotted with intriguing displays of autographs, handprints and anecdotes from cast and crew. To experience the stunning scenery in more solitude, there are three comfortable shaded outdoor lounges further along the ridge offering a peaceful, meditative vantage point and an excellent spot for a selfie.
Be sure to nab tickets that combine return journeys from Stechelberg with the James Bond Brunch. You could also try the 50th Anniversary Special lunch which includes a 007 Burger, cappuccino or hot chocolate, access to the Bond Cinema and a morphing photo and souvenir at the Top Shop. The ultimate part of the experience is getting to sip your complimentary martini (shaken not stirred) as the glorious views slowly orbit in front of you.
This being Bond World there is no limit on adrenalin-charged experiences. Skiers can descend to the Birg mid-station on the same piste Bond star George Lazenby sped down during the famous ski chase scene. It also happens to form the first leg of the Inferno, the world’s largest annual amateur ski race. Whether by ski or cable car, the exhilaration continues, particularly for those with a head for heights. The Skyline Walk extends out over an electrifyingly high precipice. Follow this up with the 200 metre-long Thrill Walk, which clings to the cliff face and includes net bridges and glass flooring that truly tests the nerve of any special agent. Afterwards, Birg’s stylish bistro will more than help to achieve some degree of equilibrium. At nearby Allmendhubel families can spend a whole day exploring the adventure playground and mountain flower trail and it has a splendid terrace restaurant that serves traditional Swiss fare.
Whether flushed with a Bondian glow or seriously chilled out from simply spending time up on the Schilthorn’s peaks, the village of Mürren gives ample opportunity for replenishment. This is where the Bond cast and crew retired after a hard day’s filming and quite probably the location of their notorious late-night poker sessions, with tales being told of Telly Savalas (of Kojak fame) allegedly separating George Lazenby from his earnings in a single sitting.
For more than a century Mürren has been a hub for winter sports, boasting over 50km of ski runs and now offering climbing and hiking tours more suited to the milder seasons. In the summer, an easy 75-minute hike from Grütschalp cable car station back to Mürren village passes through mountain forests, along idyllic valley streams, past waterfalls, with an optional pitstop at Winteregg restaurant to nibble on their range of rösti before moving on. The notorious Grütsch trail is situated north from the town and is a dream for hard-core mountain bikers where a cable car takes riders to the top of the peak, leaving them to descend the sheer 3km trail and repeat as necessary.
Mürren is totally car-free so the air is empty of noise and exhaust fumes. Taste buds can be sated at numerous restaurants and cafes, from Tham’s serving Asian cuisine to the wonderful Hotel Eigerrestaurant with fish specialities and vegetarian options. Hip, vegan-friendly Café Liv serves homemade beetroot soup, cheesecake and deeply rich coffee in a laid-back, friendly atmosphere. If you missed out on grabbing a souvenir on the mountain top stop by the Mürren branch of the Skyline shop to pick up your James Bond memorabilia.
For those looking to prolong their stay, Mürren has a surprisingly large number of hotels and hostels to choose from. The cosy three-star Hotel Alpenruh beside the cable car station provides light and airy rooms and a spa. For possibly more romantic, secluded accommodation there’s the 170-year-old Pension Suppenalp, lying one kilometre outside of the village; closer to the ski and sled slopes and surrounded by acres of floral meadows in the summer.
Finding your way to Bond heaven is pretty straightforward with Bern being the closest airport or hop on the hour-long train ride from the resort town of Interlaken, the main transport gateway to the mountains and lakes of the Bernese Alps. From there it takes an hour to reach Mürren via a combination of train, bus and cable car, and Piz Gloria is another short cable-car ride away. For those wishing to drive, head for Stechelberg (about 18km from Interlaken) where you can park and continue to Mürren and Schilthorn via cable car. Bond creator Ian Fleming once admonished readers to “Never say ‘no’ to adventures”, so, however you choose to arrive at Schilthorn there’s no doubt the great author would approve. www.myswitzerland.com ◼
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© This article was first published in June-July 2019 edition of World Travel Magazine.