Mürren – Switzerland

When B.’s parents announced last January that they’d purchased tickets to visit us in Germany, we were both pretty giddy with excitement. Not only were some of the coolest people in the universe coming to see our new home and share in the delights of our adopted country, they were also eager to get acquainted with some of our new “neighbors” (aka France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Belgium). After several moments of sheer panic (ohmygodweneedtocleanourhouserightnow), the giddiness took hold and B. bolted for her laptop. It was time to plan a roadtrip!

We started researching new places to visit that very afternoon, and quickly determined our first destination. Despite many years of living and traveling throughout Europe – and a deep love of and connection to the mountains – we had somehow never managed to visit Switzerland together (although T. had previously enjoyed a weekend rafting and casino trip “with his bros” in Interlaken). It took all of two seconds into a Google Image search to decide the time for a family visit was now.

Sadly, now wasn’t really an option, as the move to Germany had depleted a great deal of our savings, and this trip was *supposed* to be for B.’s parents. So we waited, patiently(ish), and continued research and trip planning. It was in the course of this research that B. discovered what would ultimately become our “base camp” while in Switzerland – the beautiful and enchanting Lauterbrunnen Valley. While we don’t want to delve too deeply into Lauterbrunnen here (as it more than deserves its own post!), J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, among other fantastic literary works) described the valley – which he visited and sketched in 1911 – as the inspiration for Rivendell, the dwelling place of Elrond Half-elven and his people. That’s right, friends – we were going to Middle Earth.

Rivendell_illustrationthe-lauterbrunnen-valley-switzerland Source: Tolkien Tourism

It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that we (B. especially) were incredibly excited when her parents finally arrived in March of last year, and we hit the road for Switzerland. This post documents a single day on our Swiss adventure, in the charming and utterly breathtaking alpine village of Mürren.

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Mürren – a traditional mountain village in the Swiss Alps – is the highest continually inhabited settlement in the canton of Bern. Nicknamed ‘Dorf auf der Mauer’ (the Village on the Wall), Mürren is perched on a terrace at 1,650 meters (5,413 feet) above the turbulent waterfalls and craggy rock faces of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The small but charming village – founded by Walser migrants from nearby Lötschental in the mid-13th century – retains many delightful elements of its Walser past, including the design of houses and unique local dialect. Today, Mürren is famed for its commanding views of three towering alpine peaks – Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau – as well as its transport links to the world-renowned summit of the Schilthorn.

While the village has its roots in farming, winter sports have played an important role in Mürren’s history since the first British tourists arrived in 1911. During the First World War, 600 wounded British prisoners of war stayed in the village pending repatriation; some – the least ill and gravely wounded – played an active part in the development of local ski runs and hiking trails. The International Inferno Ski Race was established in Mürren in 1928; today, the Inferno – which includes cross-country, giant slalom, and downhill components – is the longest amateur ski race in the world. The village is a popular base for recreational winter sports of all kinds. The region of Mürren-Schilthorn features 53 kilometers (32 miles) of prepared ski and snowboard pistes, toboggan runs and a network of winter walking trails (there is also off-piste skiing, although guiding is often needed and strongly recommended). Within the village, a large sports center complex includes a 25-meter swimming pool, sports hall and fitness room, as well as a café and information center. The village also hosts a large skating rink and separate curling rink, converted into a mini-golf course and tennis court, respectively, during summer months.

Mürren has its own school, two churches, and belongs to the political commune of Lauterbrunnen. While the village has fewer than 500 permanent residents, hotel occupancy exceeds 2,000 beds.

Although unreachable by any public road, Mürren provides excellent transport links to nearby communities and winter sports venues. The village station is the terminus of the Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen-Mürren, which consists of an aerial tramway and narrow gauge railway, connecting Mürren to the town of Lauterbrunnen. A series of cable cars known as the Luftseilbahn Stechelberg-Mürren-Schilthorn (LSMS) also provides transportation from Mürren to the villages of Gimmelwald and Stechelberg, as well as the summit of the Schilthorn. At the summit, a revolving restaurant with phenomenal 360-degree views (Piz Gloria) served as the principal filming location for the James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Mürren is also the terminus of the Allmendhubelbahn, a 104-year-old funicular railway connecting the village to the popular ski runs of the Allmendhubel.

Our journey to Mürren began with a dazzling sunrise in Lauterbrunnen – a pleasant surprise, as we’d been greeted with very cold temperatures and thick cloud cover on arrival the previous evening. After grabbing tea, coffee and pastries at the Airtime Café (a lovely, vibrant spot – and the only place in town serving breakfast in March!), we enjoyed a short walk down main street toward the small station of the Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen-Mürren (BLM), located directly across the street from the larger station serving the Berner Oberland Bahn (to Interlaken) and the Wengernalpbahn (to Grindelwald and Kleine Scheidegg). After purchasing four round-trip tickets from the friendly gentleman at the customer service desk (automated, multilingual ticket kiosks were also available), we joined a very long queue of skiers prepared to board the aerial cable car to Grütschalp. While we were prepared to settle in for a prolonged wait (the queue included at least 40 people, plus all their gear!) we were thrilled to discover that we ALL fit in the first cable car that arrived 10 minutes later!

The brief (4 minute) journey from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp was utterly breathtaking. The views of the valley and surrounding alpine peaks truly speak for themselves!

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As soon as we disembarked the cable car in Grütschalp – now at an altitude of 1,487 meters (4,879 feet) – we found a single electric train car waiting to transport us the remaining 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) to Mürren. Through most of its length, this narrow gauge railway line offers sweeping views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau (Europe’s highest peak) across the depths of the valley below. We’ve had the tremendous fortune to experience some of the world’s most scenic train rides – from colonial Cusco to the Incan city of Machu Picchu on the Orient Express, from Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland on the famed Royal Scotsman, and from Mainz to Koblenz, Germany through the Rhein River Valley – and can say without hesitation that none matched the stunning beauty of this 14-minute journey through the Alps. Although no words (or even photographs) can truly do it justice, magical is the most apt description we can find. It truly took our breath away!

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For ski and snowboard enthusiasts (and in the summer, for hikers), the train also stops briefly at Winteregg station, approximately 5 minutes after leaving Grütschalp. Here, most of our athletic companions left the train to take advantage of the station’s chairlift.

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We were both excited and terribly disappointed when the BLM train reached its terminus in Mürren, and our enchanting rail journey came to an end. As we didn’t have any particular destination in the village (other than simply wandering through it and exploring sites of interest), we followed the lead of our fellow passengers and set off on foot in the direction of Mürren proper.

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{No loud noises or dodging cars here; with the exception of a handful of small motorized vehicles transporting goods, Mürren’s lovely streets are delightfully car-free!}

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We passed numerous hotels, chalets and restaurants on our walk, all positioned to take advantage of the stunning landscape. We peeked at a handful of menus along the route – as we intended to eat lunch in the village – and found that most were pretty expensive. But holy cow, look at our view – we certainly got what we paid for, and then some!

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The village more or less ends (with the exception of prepared ski and snowboard pistes, toboggan runs, and hiking trails) at the Luftseilbahn station, where a series of four cable cars provide transportation from Mürren downhill to Gimmelwald and Stechelberg and uphill to the summit of the Schilthorn and Piz Gloria. At the time of our visit, tickets to reach the summit cost approximately €80 (roughly US$90) per person, which frankly far exceeded what we wanted to spend. More than satisfied with the views from Mürren itself, we stayed in the village, enjoying several mugs of glühwein while watching the skiers and paragliders from the comfort of a small café in the station.

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We also cat-watched, as we so often do…

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After lunch, we retraced our footsteps through the village on our way back to the BLM station. Although clouds had begun to streak across the brilliant cerulean sky, the views were no less spectacular on our return journey. In fact, we think they only got better!

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We can only imagine how beautiful Mürren is in the summer months (although Google gives us a pretty good idea!). As avid hikers (or one avid hiker, and one husband that literally goes the extra mile to keep his wife happy!), we look forward to returning in June or July to explore more of the village and surrounding area. It’s a truly breathtaking place that deserves a spot on every adventurer’s bucket list.

Thank you for joining us on our journey! – B. & T. June

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Next week’s journey: Drachenfels Castle, Germany

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