Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
Mount Schilthorn in southern Switzerland, with the iconic Piz Gloria at its peak, has a special status for fans of the James Bond novel and film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. With the film celebrating its golden jubilee, now is a good time to unleash your inner Bond nerd and visit Blofeld’s hideout. I made it to the top earlier this year and here are some tips.
‘You like the ski-ing, or the bobsleigh perhaps?’
007 isn’t the only reason to come to this part of Switzerland. There’s plenty for mountain walkers and skiers (depending on the time of year) and tourist destinations such as Jungfraujoch, Männlichen and the Reichenbach Falls. Even Schilthorn is known for its extreme winter sports.
That said, if you are a fan of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service then you will want to spend some time in Lauterbrunnen. That’s the location of the railway station at which Bond meets Irma Bunt. You’ll recognise the kiosk Campbell stands outside, the ramp that Bunt’s horse-drawn carriage takes, the junction where Tracy does a big U-turn and also the place where Bond is shot at when trying to contact London – though the phone box has long gone. There are plenty of places to eat and drink and a small selection of shops offering souvenirs and food.
‘We’ll head him off at the precipice’
Don’t underestimate how long it takes to move across the Alps. For example, to get from Wengen to Piz Gloria takes the best part of two hours.
Wherever you’re coming from, you’ll probably pass through Lauterbrunnen, from which there are two routes which meet again in Mürren: the first involves a (frequent) bus to Stechelberg and a cable car via Gimmelwald; the other involves a cable car to Grütschalp and a mountain railway ride across to Mürren. The latter is more picturesque but Stechelberg cable car station is another OHMSS location (where Bunt says goodbye to the Angels of Death) so that’s what we chose. You can buy through tickets to Stechelberg or Mürren from the rail station wherever you’re staying.
‘Now, up into the alps’
We were fortunate or unfortunate enough to go on a day when the clouds were low and visibility pretty non-existent. Indeed, the ticket office asked if we were sure we wanted to go up. This may sound shallow but personally I was quite content with our non-view. That may not be the case for less OHMSS-obsessed members of your party for whom the spectacular views would have been a major part of the experience. The Piz Gloria app does show you what you’re missing which is either helpful or massive trolling: you decide. The upside was that there were few queues for cable cars or within Piz Gloria itself.
‘Teresa, don’t forget my birthday next year’
Your cable car ticket includes the attractions at Piz Gloria, Birg and Allmendhubel. If it’s your birthday and you have your passport to prove it, your ticket is free, saving you over CHF100. However, once you have shown your passport you can, clearly, no longer claim to be Sir Hilary Bray, as is the practice of many visitors. There are other packages including food and drink.
‘I’ve seen them advertised, I tell you!’
Birg and Allmendhubel include non-Bond attractions such as the Thrill Walk and the Skyline Walk. Birg is from where Campbell tries to catch the cable car to Piz Gloria – and you will too, though you will be more successful! You could probably spend half an hour or so here, more if you stop for a bite to eat.
‘I’d still like to get to the top’
We were in Piz Gloria itself for between 3 and 4 hours and didn’t get to see everything. There’s something here even for the most knowledgeable fan. Bond World, the museum, is excellent. You can sit in a helicopter and be ‘filmed’ on the bobsleigh and be photoshopped in to stills as George Lazenby or Diana Rigg. But there was also enough serious information that was new to me. There is a small cinema with short behind-the-scenes vignettes on a loop: again, these are relatively rare and definitely worth a trip.
‘Do not kill me Mr Bond, at least not until we have had a drink’
The obligatory martini or champagne is, of course, available (though we did not notice whisky and branch water). We dined in the revolving restaurant which has enough original features to feel authentic even if every surface has a 007 logo. The food was OK, bearing in mind the altitude, and the service attentive. I think they have missed a trick by not offering Steak Piz Gloria – what Bond eats in the film.
‘This never happened to the other fella’
I’ve mentioned that the weather was against us so we spent very little time outside – just enough to lie on the floor and pretend to be Bond storming the mountaintop, sliding along the snow, and to take a 007 gun-barrel shot. The Walk of Fame and view lounges were closed. I am not sure that we would have had time to make the most of these.
‘The authorities will hear about this!’
This summer, we understand, the area most equivalent to the old helipad has featured a folklore show, on the hour, every hour, involving yodelling and whatnot.
‘We have certain rules that must be observed’
The expensive merch on offer includes some rather good jackets in the style of Blofeld’s henchmen, t-shirts and so on. There was a book I rather fancied about the mountain itself pre- and post-OHMSS, but it was, sadly, in German only. You can send postcards from the mountain, should you need to contact London.
‘You feel the air sickness?’
Piz Gloria is famous for its, er, interactive toilets. With special effects both visual and audible, everyone has a different story about what happened in there. It’s immersive!
‘Not ground: ice’
In conclusion: reasonably priced for the time you spend up there. Get there as early as possible. There is plenty for non-OHMSS fans – especially if the weather is good – but if you (correctly) believe that the sixth Bond film was the best then you are really in for a treat.
And here’s other OHMSS coverage on Cafe thinking: my review of Charles Helfenstein’s excellent book, and the strange tale of the lost scene on the Post Office Railway.