Our third and final day in the Swiss Alps was massive in every way. This is the longest post I have ever written, and this day I had the most number of photos from any single travel day. This blog post has certainly taken some effort! The morning was spent getting up to Schilthorn, famous for its views that span many countries and as being the setting for a James Bond movie. We also visited the beautiful village of Mürren and spent the afternoon sledding at Allmendhubel. Grab a coffee and read about a huge day in the snow!
As usual on a day when we don’t have to rush, the kids were up at 6.30am. To be fair the snow plows were going past our windows early so it most likely woke them up. Again we spent the hour and half pre-dawn watching skiers trooping down to the bus.
We decided we’d use up our left over food and have dinner in that night, and we were running low on snacks due to eating lots while out in the cold. Anto and Mikl headed into town on foot around 8am and grabbed groceries then headed back via the bus. While they were out I wrangled the kids into about 17 layers of clothes. It was minus 12 degrees and we were heading up mountains where it would be even colder, so after Astrid getting a little cold the previous day we were doing extra layers.
We’d been watching the webcams for Schilthorn all morning and it looked beautiful and clear so our planned excursion for the day was a go. We had aimed to be on the 9.18am bus and we actually made it! The view of the mountains from the bus stop was pretty clear, so things were looking good for our last day in the Swiss Alps.
We did the 6 minute trip into the train station and headed over to the cable car station for the ascent to Grütschalp. There are 2 different routes to get up to Schilthorn and we had decided to go up via Grütschalp and down via Gimmelwald and Stechelberg. Both are meant to be scenic and it doesn’t seem to matter which one you do up and which one down. In the station we checked the board to see how many ski and sledding runs were open and it was looking like a good day to be up on the slopes.
The cable car going up had a 100 person limit and we had about 35 in with us, mostly skiers. We amused ourselves watching the cargo containers being loaded onto bottom of cable car which was something different. Lots of villages up the mountains need supplies and you can’t get cars above Lauterbrunnen, so cable car is the way to go!
The cable car trip up to Grütschalp was fairly short and steep but had lovely scenic views over Lauterbrunnen. I was hardly at all worried about cable cars any more (that was going to change very soon).
Grütschalp is a railway station on the Bergbahn, a hybrid cable car and rail link that connects the villages of Lauterbrunnen and Mürren. Grütschalp is at 1486m and has lovely views back over the Lauterbrunnen valley. As usual the Swiss transport system is timed to perfection and the train was waiting for us, so we didn’t have time to look around. There didn’t appear to be much to do at any rate!
The train to the village of Mürren is a narrow gauge track that winds around the side of the mountains and gives amazing views back into the valley and of the mountain ranges. We’ve done a lot of very scenic rail journeys and this is definitely one of the most spectacular, so I’d recommend this train trip if you are in the area.
After we were onboard the train, we watched the cargo from the cable car being loaded onto the back of the train into flat cars towed by the railcars. The pallets are transferred between the two by a complicated machine, part fork lift truck and part funicular, within the Grütschalp station complex.
The narrow set of tracks along the edge of cliff meant you could often see the sheer drop down to valley, and you also got a good view of the sun peeking out from the enormous mountains. The train was full of skiers, heading out for a day on the slopes. Most got off the train at Winteregg, and the remainder of the passengers on the train through to Mürren were tourists, like us.
The remainder of the trip from Winteregg to Mürren was quite short. Mürren is the end of the line, so we were off the train and out into the village to explore. Mürren is at 1650m elevation, so not a huge amount higher than Grütschalp but is unreachable by road. The village is famous for having magnificent views of the three towering mountains, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. It is also the gateway to Schilthorn, where we were headed. The village is home to 450 residents but is a tourist haven, with over 2,000 hotel beds.
We had to walk through the village to get to the cable car station to take us up to Schilthorn. We had bought our sled with us as we planned to sled later in the day. You can sled and ski all through the village as it’s basically car free (there is the odd car for moving cargo/luggage). We sledded the kids through the village, and the odd adult had a sled here and there too!.
Mürren is a stunning little village, with amazing views of mountains and full of lovely chalets and restaurants. We decided to leave our exploring for later in the day and to head all the way up to the top of Schilthorn while the weather was clear and do some sightseeing on way back down. This was our last shot at making it up Schilthorn before leaving the Alps so we didn’t want to miss our window of clear weather, or it’s an expensive trip for no views!
We went in to line up for the cable car, with hoards of skiers. The cable car stops at Birg and then Schilthorn, both have ski runs from the cable car stations, as well as restaurants and viewing platforms. We had been carrying our sled with us, so we could sled later in the day from Mürren. The cable car attendants wouldn’t let the sled go up with us, so we had to leave it at the station. We weren’t planning on using it up at Schilthorn but figured it was easier to carry it with us. An Austrian ski instructor in the cable car line told us people had been trying to sled off the top of Schilthorn and hurting themselves (it’s terrifying black runs) so they won’t let sleds up now. It didn’t overly bother us and we figured we’d pick it up on the way back down.
The cable car was packed. It was a maximum of 80 persons and it was close to capacity with the number of people, plus ski gear, and most were skiers. I was pushed up against the window and the kids were quite jammed in down the bottom but happy enough. The cable car took off and at almost 2000 metres altitude and after a very steep incline we suddenly stopped and were swinging wildly in the air as the momentum kept us moving. Not long after I took this photo, in fact.
My new-found indifference to cable cars was coming to a very swift end! After awhile the car operator got a message and said something in German that I roughly understood (and wasn’t encouraged by). She then said in English that there ‘was a problem with the cable and we had to go down’. Being in a metal box a couple of hundred metres in the air, with 80 other people was not fun. I started feeling quite claustrophobic as I was pushed into lots of people (most of whom were tall skiers) and was stuck up on a cable that was ‘broken’.
I now remembered why I was not a fan of cable cars, and I had a slight panic attack. After what seemed like forever we started going down……. very slowly. It took about 20 minutes to painstakingly return to the station and it was not fun. The car was full of UK skiers, from special forces doing training, and they were really unhappy about missing ski time. I was really unhappy about being stuck is a squashy metal box up in the sky! We all ended up with frozen feet, from standing non-moving in cold metal box in the air for 25 minutes.
We arrived into the station and there were hordes of staff anxiously looking up at the cable as we inched our way in. It was not reassuring but we did make it back in one piece. They rapidly kicked us off the cable car and made us wait on freezing platform outside the station, where the temperature was reading minus 9 degrees. It was confirmed by the staff that there was a problem with the cable and they were sending the car up empty (with 2 controllers) to check it out and would send another one down for us.
There was a large crowd of people waiting back inside the station to get on the cable car. The delay had led to a log jam and there were a lot of unhappy looking people. Our original car went up and another came down and we piled in. I was not looking forward to it and was tempted to bail right then but still had to catch a cable car down (actually 2) to get back to our accommodation so figured I might as well get it over with. On the second go around the trip up was blissfully uneventful. It was rather a steep ride but we did get great views over Mürren and down at the slopes where we could see lots of skiers and boarders.
Most of the skiers got off in Birg. We had to change cable cars here. On the way to the next car we had a quick look at the stunning views but decided we’d better keep going up and as the next cable car was waiting we jumped on. This was a much shorter ride, and not as steep but still amazing views.
We got out of the cable car, still incident free, and watched all the skiers going off the cliff like edge of the mountains black run. It was positively as nausea inducing watching them. Most were pausing at the top but some just shot right over.
The Schilthorn is a 2,970 metre high summit of the Bernese Alps. It overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and is the highest mountain in the range lying north of the Sefinenfurgge Pass. Schilthorn is also famous for it’s panoramic revolving restaurant, named Piz Gloria, at the summit, which is where the 1969 James Bond movie On her Majesty’s Secret Service was set. A famous black ski run featured in the film starts at the summit and leads down to the Engetal below Birg. The restaurant revolves a full 360 degrees in 55 minutes.
We wandered out onto the viewing area and took in all the amazing mountain peaks and crystal blue skies. It was -12 degrees but not too awful if you had gloves on as there was no wind. Schilthorn has a panoramic view which spans from the Titlis, Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger, over the Bernese Alps and the Jura mountains up to the Vosges Mountains and the Black Forest of Germany. Mont Blanc in France is also just visible. It was a fabulously clear day and there were mountains as far as you could see in any direction. The views were simply amazing!
The 2 big peaks you can do in the Swiss Alps are Jungfrau and Schilthorn. Both are quite expensive and time consuming to get up, and both offer totally different things. We did the trip up to Jungfrau in 2012 and it was definitely worth doing, but the views are probably overall better at Schilthorn, so I’m glad we made it up here for this trip. We also lucked out and got the most beautiful day (so different to the day before, weather-wise).
There were telescopes you could look through to show you what each peak was, which was handy. The kids (big and little) were almost as interesting in playing with all the James Bond figures out on the viewing deck.
After checking out all those mountain ranges we thought we should head inside for a look at James Bond World. My expectations were pretty low, but it was actually pretty good. There was a helicopter that you could ride in (which kids big and little liked) and excerpts from the movie scripts which seem very dated and kitsch. What was acceptable in 1969 is not so much now! The movie was playing and there was also a bobsled in front of a green-screen that you could film yourself bobsledding while shooting, and make your own scene from the movie. It was pretty good, except Soren insisted on standing in the back of every video, kind of ruining the effect. The kids loved it though.
After Bond World we thought it was probably a good time for lunch. The restaurant was being renovated and there wasn’t really anywhere to eat. We thought about going down to Birg but a cable car had just left and we thought there was quite a wait for the next one, so we had a picnic in foyer of cable car station. Just as we had all the food out we saw new car arrive. They were obviously not keeping to schedule today, probably due to backlog of skiers that were trying to get up the slopes after the morning incident. So we quickly packed up the sandwiches and headed into the cable car and down to Birg.
The short cable car down to Birg was very scenic, and uneventful. We watched the black run skiers below us and cruised into the station in no time at all. During the winter the Schilthorn is the traditional start for the world longest down hill ski race the “Inferno” which started in 1928. During the summer the Inferno Triathlon finishes at the summit after a run up from the Lauterbrunnen valley. After going over the area and seeing the slope from the top, neither seemed like a good idea!
We arrived at Birg and had take two at lunch. It was much more scenic than the cable car station, eating out on the Skyview terrace with giant pink cushions. Definitely not a bad place (or view) for lunch and it was a balmy minus 9 degrees! Eating with our gloves on was a good idea.
Once the sandwiches were inhaled we wandered out onto the terrace to check out the view. Part of the terrace was glass, straight over a huge drop-off down the mountain. I did not want to walk out onto it, as seeing nothing below me for a long way other than some glass was not reassuring. Mikl was also not a fan, but the kids were not in the least bit worried. Antony was also happy to walk over vast nothingness with the children while I bravely took photos from the safety of the non-see-through deck.
After taking in the Swiss skyline (which they are rightly proud of) we watched a few more skiers heading out onto runs from the Birg station. It wasn’t quite as terrifying as the Schilthorn runs but still way too scary for me.
As much as we were enjoying the views, we had plans for sledding in Mürren. The cable car ride down to Mürren station was again blissfully uneventful and we could all enjoy the lovely views over Mürren.
When we arrived back in Mürren it was now only minus 7 degrees, so positively tropical! Our sled was retrieved from the holding area in the cable car station and we were on our way to investigate sledding options. It was 1pm but we figured we had a good three hours before it got too dark and/or we got too cold. We had decided that we all wanted to sled today so Anto and Mikl went off to hire us some more sleds. They came back with three additional sleds, 2 fast metal ones, which we were advised not to let the kids on and another old style wooden one.
While we were obtaining more sleds we had another wander through Mürren (while Soren happily made more snowballs) and Mürren’s appeal definitely hadn’t diminished in the few hours we’d been up at Schilthorn and Birg. It was picture postcard perfect and we all said we’d love to come back and stay there.
Our research had indicated that our best sledding option was the Allmendhubel, a hill above Mürren. Its summit is easily accessible from Mürren by a funicular, the Allmendhubelbahn, which reaches a height of 1,907 metres. There are both ski runs and a bob run off the top of the hill and you can buy multiride passes for the funicular that we could share between us so we could all do several runs.
Funicular tickets purchased we squashed onboard the busy funicular with all the skiers. The bob run was rated as ‘easy’ I tended to disagree, but I’m clearly not their target market. It’s about a 3km run with a 257m drop. For our first run down it was decided that Astrid would ride with Mikl and Anto would take Soren on his back in the ergo. Alan and I were riding alone but with the backpacks and camera gear.
The run was decidedly flat at the start and we were all having trouble getting going, I was having particular trouble having less weight on the than the boys. A few of us ended up walking parts and sledding where we could. By a quarter of the way down it got much steeper and things were going better.
Then parts of the track crossed the ski runs it was a shared run in other parts. It was a bit scary as the skiers came flying down past us. Just as I finally got going I got swiped off an edge by a skier and jumped off before going down a 3m embankment. The sled ended up in a pile off snow off the edge though. Anto had to come and rescue the sled in waist deep snow with Soren strapped to his back, giggling away.
Soren thought sledding was fantastic and was ‘yelling go, go, go’. Then he somehow fell asleep half way down the first run……..yes while hurtling down a hill on a sled! I stopped and put his ergo hood up to stop his head flopping around and he slept all the way down.
A couple of corners I found terrifying and ended up sliding sections on my butt, elbows and had several crashes. Anto kept waiting for me and we finally got to the bottom 15 minutes after the others. I did pretty well on the last quarter of the track but the rest was a disaster.
Apparently Alan had gone off course and done the second half on the ski run which is incredibly steep and had several crashes. There was a reason I wasn’t letting Astrid go with him! Astrid survived the run with Mikl and had a wonderful time.
Against my better judgement I decided I’d better do a second run, so we all trooped back up on the funicular for another go around, with Soren still sleeping on Anto’s back. Astrid went down with Mikl again as I was a sledding dunce. I also stuck to the wooden sled as my brief attempt at the lighter metal one ended up with in down a ditch as it went too fast for my liking.
Mikl, Astrid and Alan all took off down the hill and Anto stuck with me. Soren kept on sleeping. I also had the disadvantage that the views were so magnificent on the way down that I did stop occasionally to take some photos.
I didn’t enjoy the really steep corners and chickened out and went down on my bum on a few of them, but finally got the hang of it by the second half and actually sledded the return portion of the track fairly well. Alan epically crashed again on the second run but managed to at least stay on the bob run.
Despite having a ball Astrid was getting rather cold. Soren was still asleep but needed waking up as it well after 3pm. So I took the kids for hot chocolate while boys did a fast run without kids or slow Nic hampering their dare-devil antics. Soren was extremely unimpressed that he had slept through 1.5 runs of sledding and wasn’t going to get another go. A hot chocolate and a million gummi bears somewhat placated him.
I had intended to go and video the boys coming in down the last few corners and the landing hill, but a toilet visit for Astrid and nappy change for Soren where we had to take off gloves, boots and snowsuits (which takes at least 20 minutes) meant I missed them coming down. Apparently they were all airborne for parts of the track and Alan stacked it on the same corners yet again. Mikl’s jeans had frozen solid by the time they reached the bottom.
While Anto and Mikl returned the three sleds we’d hired for the afternoon, the rest of us played in the snow. Soren was determined to make as many snowballs as possible.
It’s a 2 step cable car to get down Stechelberg. The first stop is Gimmelwald, not to be confused with Grindelwald (which we had visited the previous day) which is on the other side of the Bernese Oberland. The cable car was full of skiers returning from their day out on the slopes, and to Soren’s delight many dogs who had been up the mountain for the day. Again the views were pretty impressive.
At Gimmelwald the cable car goes around the corner where you swap to the Gimmelwald to Stechelberg car. Going around a corner was something new! The Gimmelwald to Stechelberg cable car is know for its amazing views of the Lauterbrunnen valley and of Stechelberg, but my goodness it was steep. It had quite a big drop down at one point, which made me feel quite ill. Soren just yelled ‘weee’ as we were speeding down on an unnatural angle. Check out how steep these lines were! Luckily the views of the valley almost made up for the terrifying ride down.
Off the cable car safely in Stechelberg, we had a 15 minute wait for the post-bus. We amused ourselves in the cold by watch some base jumping para-skiers coming in. Apparently jumping off the cliffs with a parachute and skis attached is the thing to do around here as we had seen several in our few day stay.
Pretty soon we were on the post-bus and on the way back to our apartment. One stop from cable car station, one of the jumpers got on and Anto held his skis as he packed his harness and chute while downing some red bull. It was all rather amusing.
The kids, Alan and Mikl got off at the stop outside our apartment and went upstairs to warm up and bath the kids. Meanwhile, Anto and I caught the bus into town so we could grab some more wine and beer and return the sled. It was our last night in Lauterbrunnen and the town was quieter after the finish of the Lauberhorn race the previous day, but still really pretty with snow everywhere.
It was getting pretty cold by the time we got back to our apartment the temperature had dropped to a cool minus 12 by dinner time. Dinner was another fabulous Anto home cooked feast of pizza, salad, pasta, sauerkraut, and garlic butter beans. Followed by raspberries and icecream for dessert.
After dinner the kids were sentenced to bed. Obviously exhausted, Astrid was asleep within 5 minutes. Soren on the other hand must have had too much sleep while sledding and was not keen on bed time. We were telling him that he had to sleep as we were going to see some Bears in Bern the next day. He says, ‘no, eat bears, 2 bears!’. Clearly we have been feeding him too many gummi bears on this trip.
The rest of us spent our last night in the Swiss Alps packing up for our trip to Bern and then onwards to France. It was such a beautiful place it was definitely hard to leave.
Statistics for Monday the 18th of January, 2016 in the Swiss Alps – it was a cold day, the minimum temperature in Lauterbrunnen was minus 16 degrees, the maximum was a chilly minus 7 degrees, with a mean temperature of minus 12. The temperatures up at Schilthorn were several degrees colder but with no wind it wasn’t too awful. Our total walking for the day was a bit over 13km. A lot of time was spent hurtling down hills on sleds so we were all more sore (and bruised) than usual!