Above it All at Switzerland’s Schilthorn

The Schilthorn is the highest mountain on the west side of Switzerland’s Lauterbrunnen Valley.

O'NealCol616Photo1 Above it all in Switzerland 11-15
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Across the valley, the fabled Alpine peaks of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau rise majestically. The Schilthorn is steeped in history and is the apex of a series of challenging ski runs. A network of cable cars brings skiers and sightseers alike from the valley floor to the 9,744-foot summit.

Logistics #1: Getting to The Schilthornbahn (Cable Car)
Getting to the base, then the summit of the Schilthorn is a multi-step process that seems a bit daunting at first glance, but it’s really pretty straightforward (although not inexpensive). The first step is to make sure everything is open (http://schilthorn.ch). Weather and maintenance can delay any of the connections, especially the higher-altitude cable cars.

From the town of Interlaken, take the train from Interlaken Ost station to Lauterbrunnen (20 minutes). In Lauterbrunnen, look for the PostBus, which is timed to depart the train station shortly after Interlaken arrivals. The PostBus makes a short (12 minute) jaunt up the Lauterbrunnen Valley to Stechelberg, the tiny hamlet from which the Schilthornbahn cable car departs.

Logistics #2: The Schilthornbahn Experience
The cable car is a 4-leg journey. It’s only about half an hour all together, but there are three opportunities to get off and explore other than the summit, each with its own merits. You can get off at any or all of the stops on the way up or down and reboard at your convenience.

Author at the Schilthorn summit.
Author at the Schilthorn summit.

To avoid the worst of the crowds and also to save a few bucks, it makes sense to catch one of the earliest departures from the base at Stechelberg. Again, check the current schedule, but that will probably be before 7:30 a.m. While there are ways to hike down from some of the waypoints, most of us mere mortals will simply buy the round-trip ticket, which will set you back about $100USD (discounted early and late in the day and in the spring and fall shoulder seasons). The cable car can be a bit of a cattle-car experience, but it’s worth it.

The first stop is a sleepy little village of Gimmelwald, followed by the somewhat more developed mini-resort town of Mürren. Both have dining, lodging and hiking trailheads. The next stop up from Mürren is Birg, a breathtaking viewpoint worth a half-hour layover, but you’ll probably want to do that on the way down. It’s pretty exciting to stay the course and just get to the top!

Cheers! Top of the world breakfast buffet.
Cheers! Top of the world breakfast buffet.

Stunning Vistas, Fine Dining, And Bond—James Bond
The star attraction at the top is quite simply the breathtaking view. Snow-capped Alps surround you. Walkways, vista points, and coin-operated binoculars provide ample opportunities to take it all in. If you’re a James Bond fan, you’ll recognize this as the site of many of the most dramatic scenes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Even if you’re not a Bond aficionado, there are reminders everywhere. This is the film in which James Bond gets married, and the only one starring George Lazenby. Telly Savalas played the villain. A snippet of the Bond theme music plays periodically as you ride the Schilthornbahn, always good for a chuckle.

Also made famous by the film is Piz Gloria, a revolving summit restaurant that makes a full 360-degree revolution in about an hour’s time. For approximately $30USD (a little cheaper if you purchase it along with your cable car ticket at the base), you can take part in the “007 Breakfast Buffet.” Come later, and the restaurant also serves lunch and early dinner fare. You can, of course, get a classic “shaken, not stirred” martini at the James Bond Bar. The breakfast is a pretty good value, includes a glass of champagne, and is a great way to see the entire panorama from the comfort of the heated indoors. Even in July and August, it can be pretty chilly at nearly 10,000 feet!

If you haven’t had enough Bond and aren’t ready to leave, there’s also the “Bond World 007” attraction, with fun and interactive exhibits heralding the film.

Choose a clear day, go early, and make your trip to the top of the Schilthorn an epic day in the Swiss Alps. On the way down, more vistas and an additional dining option awaits you at Birg, and hiking trails beckon from both Mürren and Gimmelwald.


Top Photo: Early morning view of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau mountain from the Schilthorn summit.



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