When I dream about Switzerland (which is often), there is just one image that comes to mind. Green meadows; greener than anywhere else in Europe, on rolling hills. Towering in the distance are jagged and snow covered mountain peaks, a steely grey, piercing a flawless azure sky. Happily grazing on the meadow, enjoying some of the highest standards of living in Europe, is a cow, a bell jangling merrily from its neck as it chews the cud. A wooden chalet is situated nearby, and in my dream, this is where I emerge from on a crisp, sunny alpine morning.
So when I went through Switzerland last year in a campervan I was constantly on the lookout for this dream landscape. However I wasn’t too successful finding it. At least, not all the stereotypes were there. But this week I was rewarded – with this;
To get these views, Richard and I got the train from Bern to Lauterbrunnen via Interlaken. Then we hiked for an hour and got the cable car up to the ridiculously picturesque village of Gimmelwald. Gimmelwald is a tiny settlement located in the heart of the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps. It was from here we were going to base ourselves for some serious hiking the next day. We were going to conquer… the Schilthorn. *cue dramatic music*
We set off from the hostel early because we had heard that the weather was supposed to be better in the morning than the afternoon. Gimmelwald is situated at around 1300m, and the mountain summit was 2970m. The route to the top meandered up through pine forests, bucolic green hillsides, jumbled rockfields, and finally barren scree. Near the top there were even isolated patches of snow! We passed crashing waterfalls, serene glass-like lakes, precipitous outcrops of stone and occasionally the odd cheerful hiker. The last time I did any hiking, let alone exercise, was 2012, so I appreciated all this stunning scenery whilst gasping what felt like my last breaths and wiping several gallons of perspiration from my brow. Nevertheless I enjoyed myself immensely, my scrawny legs rising to the challenge and taking me up without much complaint. About halfway up our views were obscured by cloud, so here’s a few before and after;
We reached the summit in 3 hours. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a view, but unbelievably there was a gift shop and a revolving restaurant at the top. It is possible to ride the cable car right the way up (for a small fortune), so whilst I stood there, lungs weezing and legs shaking, geriatric Americans bought £200 watches and ate 3 course dinners around me. Which was a bit absurd, especially when one woman exclaimed with malevolent glee that it was supposed to be even harder going down than walking up. I’d only asked for a picture but obviously she thought it necessary to also ruin my life.
We ate our lunches and also discovered the Bond museum in the basement. The mountain top structure had actually served as the baddie’s lair in the 1969 James Bond film “In Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, so there were some really cool (free) interactive exhibits there. We learnt how the epic ski chases were filmed, had a go in the bobsled and saw the avalanche that the crew started on purpose with dynamite. Really awesome! It was sort of the last thing I expected to find at the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps but that’s the thing about Europe; you never know what you’re going to see D=
We descended through the cloud and got hailed on a little as we skidded down muddy paths and clambered over slippy boulders. The weather was indeed worse so there weren’t so many views. Rich tortured me with some riddles and I was getting impatient to be in the hostel. The descent took just over 3 hours and by the time we stumbled back into Gimmelwald we were pretty knackered and all I wanted was a lie down. Unfortunately we had already checked out of the hostel. We checked the train time tables and found much to our chagrin that a train was leaving from Mürren in half an hour. Mürren was an hour’s walk uphill from the hostel. Nevertheless we attempted it…
Miraculously we made it, which I count as one of the greatest physical achievements of my life. Near death, I descended the mountains on adorable little trains that meandered through the valleys. The views were reliably incredible, but after that last half an hour, I couldn’t really appreciate them. In fact I would be content if I never saw a mountain again…