CHASING BOND IN THE SWISS ALPS
I don't know about you, but whenever I'm doing something active and exciting, I hear the James Bond musical score playing in my head. Such is the case today, as I am driving the narrow, winding switchbacks and cliff hugging roads in Switzerland. I suddenly imagine that my rental car is an Aston Martin. I push the pedal down and make squealing tire noises with my mouth as we swerve around the tight curves. My wife, who is accompanying me, begins to feel shaken, not stirred, and the Bond theme is replaced by a certain ringing in my ears. But you know the secret agent drill – sharply dressed, daring mission, chic travelling companion (in this case my angry wife).
Our dangerous assignment today has us up early to get ahead of the crowds, and cruising along the serpentine mountain roads of the Jungfrau region in search of the ultimate Bond movie villain's lair. Our destination, Piz Gloria, is located on top of Schilthorn peak, a 2,970 metre high summit in the Bernese Oberland, above the charming Swiss alpine village of Mürren. It appeared in the 1969 Bond film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," as the mountaintop hideout of 007's nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Looking for a location to film, the producers found a lift company in Mürren that needed funds to complete a cable car to the top of the Schilthorn and a restaurant they were building there. The film company helped with the financing in return for the right to use the complex. In the movie, Bond spends some time here with a bevy of beautiful ladies, takes off down the mountain on the obligatory ski chase, and then returns by helicopter to destroy the whole place.
We access the peak via three cable lifts, the final stretch being the longest aerial cableway in the Alps, and find Piz Gloria very much intact and well worth the visit. Stunning panoramic views greet us. We enjoy brunch at the revolving restaurant while taking in an unworldly landscape that includes over 40 mountain peaks and 20 glaciers. After spinning around in the sky-high café eating smoked salmon and cheese and sipping on champagne, we head downstairs to visit the interactive Bond World Museum, where you can try your hand at piloting a helicopter to the peak on a simulated flight, or get the feeling of bobsledding down the mountain while shooting at evil Spectre agents.
Reminders of the building's storied history are everywhere. The souvenir shop sells everything Bond, hallways are decorated with large stills from the movie, and outside is the viewing deck where helicopters landed in the film. A just completed, hair-raising, glass skywalk hugs the sheer mountainside beneath the tram, affording spectacular views down the Lauterbrunnen Valley, one of the most beautiful waterfall and glacier canyons anywhere. In the movie, several bad guys plummet off these sheer 800 metre cliffs into the valley. In the real world, people pay to do that in tandem paragliders.
Though we could have stayed and watched the paragliders and skiers all day, we have to be off to our next Bond location, skirting Geneva and the 2,429 metre Furka Pass which was used as a location in "Goldfinger," onward to the southern Swiss city of Locarno. It has been called one of the best stunts in film history, when the Pierce Brosnan Bond era arrived in style with a bungee-jump off the 220 metre high Verzasca Dam in the opening sequence of the 1995 movie "Goldeneye."
We learn upon arrival that this is not just a photo opportunity to get some shots of the enormous dam where the famous leap took place, but it is also the ultimate adrenaline rush for tourists willing to shell out 255 francs ($300 Cdn.) to emulate their favourite spy on a 7.5 seconds freefall. Fortunately for me, the jumping card is full on this sunny afternoon, with Swiss military recruits using the leap as a training exercise. So, as the sensible 007 actor Pierce Brosnan did in the film, I decide to use a stunt double.
The Bond films have long proved a compelling inspiration for travel, the super-spy's duty to Queen and Country flinging him from one exotic location to another. So grab your passport, hum the 007 tune, and go off chasing Bond, without any obligation to wrestle your foes at the edge of a cliff in the Swiss Alps.
IF YOU GO:
For information on Switzerland check out http://www.myswitzerland.com/en-ca/home.html
The Jump: The Verzaska Dam can be reached from Gordola via a very busy two kilometre road. The world's highest stationary bungee station is in the middle of the dam wall and, as I found out, a reservation is absolutely essential for those planning to take the 007 Jump. I conveniently forgot to make one! Do something not totally unique and take the leap in a tuxedo.
Blofeld's Lair - Piz Gloria: We stayed in Interlaken, drove to Stechelberg, and took the cable car in three sections via Gimmelwald, Mürren and Birg to the Schilthorn. Reservations are recommended for the restaurant, and take time on the way down to explore the charming, vehicle-free alpine village of Mürren. May I also recommend a stop at nearby Trümmelbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen, a wild glacier ravine with ten waterfalls hidden within the rock.
PHOTOS by Jamie Ross
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