There is a beautiful Swiss ski resort called Mürren that should probably be better known to skiing fans. It was here that the British more or less invented modern skiing when Sir Arnold Lunn organised the first ever slalom race in 1922 (skiing being a mostly Nordic, cross country or uphill non-competitive pastime until he reinvented it).
A few years earlier his father, Sir Henry, had persuaded the locals to open the railway in winter so that he could bring the first winter package tour here. Sir Arnold’s son Peter was a regular visitor for 95 years, until his death in 2011. When they weren’t skiing, the Lunns started the famous Lunn Poly travel agency, promoting winter holidays in Switzerland.
That’s not Mürren’s only claim to fame. In 1968, in the gorgeous peaks above this small Swiss town, director Peter J Hunt filmed the second 007 film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with the then little-known Australian actor and model George Lazenby.
For both director and star it was their only Bond outing. Lazenby’s fitness for the role still divides fans and critics, but it remains one of the most popular 007 adventures despite the embarrassing attempts by the filmmakers to suggest this was a “groovy” Bond for the 60s, a Bond who sported blue skin suits and Pierre Cardin-style sunglasses.
Lazenby’s operative had to track down the Piz Gloria mountain hideaway of Blofeld, played rather fabulously by Telly Savalas. The film crew bought a half-finished building at the top of the Schilthorn pass and did it up. It has been restored a bit over the years but is pretty recognisable from the film – and you can visit it.
In the Bond yarn it is a private allergy clinic accessible only by helicopter (Fleming, a keen skier himself, got the idea while staying at the Austria’s Schloss Mittersill sports club, which was later closed down by the Nazis during the war and converted into a sinister research establishment). These days you get a gondola lift.
You can walk on the landing pad outside in the area where Lazenby’s Bond enjoys a curling match when he first arrives because he was posing as a businessman with a shockingly bad Scottish accent.
In the area upstairs many of the original features are still there, including the copper latticed wall where Diana Rigg’s Bond girl the Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo fought off and threw a baddie down the stairs. The Contessa is of course the one 007 married before she was killed at the end of the film.
Upstairs is a special Bond museum with a helicopter simulator and, rather bizarrely, a large kilt protruding from the wall. Yes, you can get up close and personal if you wish and even pretend you are him on a special Bond phone, as I did.
Men are greeted with this hilarious message above the urinals:
If you can, get there early and enjoy the James Bond brunch. You catch the early cable car (being Switzerland it leaves at precisely at 8.05 in the morning and if you are five seconds late then it won’t wait) and beat the crowds to the top where you can enjoy the stunning view…
…as well as a plentiful spread of bacon, sausages, waffles, fruit, yoghurt – all the gut-busting joys that any self-respecting spy would avoid in the course of his derring do.
There is also the option of a glass of Bollinger for the more discerning punter, although vodka martinis were not available.
Perhaps that is no bad thing, though. The route down is a steep black run that gets a lot of sun and can ice up in cold weather occasionally making it treacherous. It is a 1,300m vertical with great terrain and views, and you can take it all the way back down into Murren. Wisely I eschewed the morning champagne option and made my way down humming the Bond tune in my head.
The mountains in the area were used for many of the chase sequences which many Bond fans regard as being the best skiing action sequences. In one unforgettable scene Blofeld sets off a flare that causes an avalanche, which Bond just about survives.
Getting to Mürren is quite a trek but is certainly worth the effort. You have to take three trains from Zurich airport, followed by a cable car and then a charming little train that takes you into the village itself. There are no cars – all vehicles are operated electrically – and it has a lovely small-town vibe about it.
And the views are astounding. Towering over the valley are three huge mountains: the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. On the left is the Eiger – meaning the Ogre – with its fabled north face. In the middle is the Mönch, the Monk, who protects the larger mountain Jungfrau, the Young Girl, from the clutches of the Ogre.
The ski area is moderately-sized and the remoteness means the runs are pretty empty, meaning you can enjoy large swathes of red and black runs pretty much to yourself, even at weekends and in high season. The top of the Schilthorn run is 2970m so the snow situation is usually pretty good, even in bad years, and there is an efficient snow cannon system to make it snow-sure.
Other delights include the Suppenalp, a lodge located one third of the way up the mountain, where you can enjoy a fondue followed by a glass or two of Alpenrossli, a local beverage that tastes like an aromatic, apple-y fortified wine. It’s delicious but very strong so perhaps not the best idea to follow it, as I did, with a moonlight toboggan ride back to Mürren.
The peace and serenity of the mountains as you glide down are breathtaking and tobogganing seems to be more of a tradition at Mürren than other resorts I have visited.
The restaurants and cafes are excellent, but those looking for a wild nightlife will be disappointed because it is a small resort. I especially liked lunch at Bistro Birg at the top of the first cable car. Here you can take the Thrill Walk, a very long platform built on the side of a mountain with stunning view. I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with a fear of heights though – many of the walkways are glass-bottomed, and there is a 1,000 foot drop underneath your feet.
For dinner, Hotel Alpenruh has an excellent fine-dining restaurant that serves local Swiss specialties like apple tart alongside salmon ceviche, rump steaks and a superb wine list.
Three other resorts where you can follow in Bond’s tracks…
ST. MORITZ , SWITZERLAND
St. Moritz stood in for Austria in The Spy Who Loved Me and Siberia in A View to a Kill. Roger Moore liked skiing so much that he holidayed for years in the jet-set Alpine resort of Gstaad, Switzerland.
CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, ITALY
This Italian resort starred in For Your Eyes Only. The chase scene sees Moore’s Bond – pursued by a gang of gun-toting moto-cross bikers – ski straight off a ski jump, on and off piste, through the trees then onto the bobsleigh run for a thrilling finale. Moore stayed at the swish Hotel Miramonti, which is the perfect base from which to discover Cortina’s 71 miles of ski slopes.
The Pierce Brosnan film The World Is Not Enough finds Chamonix’s huge and varied ski fields doubling for the Caucasus Mountains in Azerbaijan.
Ben Dowell travelled to Mürren as a guest of Mürren Tourism and the Schilthorn Cableway Ltd. To book accommodation ranging from a self-catering apartment to a four-star hotel, see mymuerren.ch. At the Eiger Guesthouse, a double room starts from CHF130 per night.
At 4-star Eiger Hotel, a double room is priced from CHF 290 per night (prices quoted are based on two adults sharing a room, including breakfast).
To plan flights and rail transfers, go to myswitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre freephone 00800 100 200 30.
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