Winter Wonderland Mystery Markets Tour - Days 10-15
Winter Wonderland Mystery Markets Tour - Days 10-15
Day 10: 13 December | MURREN
Time for a 4-night stay somewhere special, Murren, in the heart of the Bernese Oberland.
To get there we had to travel to the far side of the massive mountain block that sits behind Leukerbad. As a crow flies it is barely 20 kms. We aren’t crows so we went a different way. Descending to the Valais we went east to the town of Brig where we boarded a train that took us right through a tunnel under the mountain massif. Called the Lötschberg Tunnel it is 14.6 kms long and exits the mountain at the town of Kandersteg.
Staying on the train we reached Lake Thun and disembarked at Thun station. The total ride is 46 minutes! (Meantime our coach had to drive all the way round this whole section of the Alps bringing all our luggage!). Thun is a pretty city with a couple of wooden bridges that doubled as weirs, allowing the crystal-clear River Aare through sluices. Nearby some Christmas market stalls were opening. The weather was pretty overcast. Later we were joined by our coach, and we followed the lake down the much prettier northern shore drive. The gently winding road clung to the cliff edge and then we arrived into the ‘Valley of the 72 waterfalls’, driving past lovely Lauterbrunnen to Stechelberg. This is possibly the most dramatic valley in Switzerland, if not Europe. Sheer, 300-metre-high cliffs rear either side and Murren, where we stay the next 4 nights, is perched high on top of one. So how did we get up there? Cable car, of course!
Our hotel sat right next to the cable car station and is known for having the very best and most dramatic restaurant bar terrace in Murren. As a change from our 5-star hotel we just stayed in, this is much smaller, simpler and exudes that cosy, chalet style feel. With just 26 rooms our group took over virtually the whole hotel!
Murren is a car free village, full of wooden alpine style chalets and lodges, and the beauty, peace and tranquillity was delightful. It also made an excellent base for our adventures over the next 3 days. Dinner was in your hotel. This evening we were joined by a Scottish Swiss character named Alan Ramsay. Alan is a great friend of Albatross and works of the Schilthorn Cable Car way. After dinner he gave our group a lovely chat about the history of the mountain, the cable car way, and all the nitty gritty about how they made the James Bond film on ‘Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ on the mountain.
A lovely couple called Adam and Sue joined us today, for the next few days. Despite being the CFO - Chief Financial Officer of the Albatross group - the company bean counter - he is a really lovely guy! Actually, CFO should stand for Chief Fun Officer. A well-earned credential which he displayed in spades over the next few days.
Day 11: 14 December | MURREN
Starting the day off, Gilberto took us on a walking exploration through the snow-covered little lanes of this beautiful car free Aline village of Murren. Next, we had an adventure far up the mountain on the Schilthorn. We caught the cable car up to the top of the Schilthorn Mountain where we had lunch in the revolving summit restaurant. This served as the headquarters of James Bond's arch-nemesis – the dastardly Blofeld - and was called "Piz Gloria" – a name it has kept to the present day.
On the way up we changed cable cars at the Birg. The weather was spectacular and the surrounding mountains awesome. First, we gathered on a metal grilled deck for a group photo with a huge mountainous backdrop. I call it metal grilled as you could see through the grill between your feet, and you realize you were standing on a fully overhanging deck with a sheer 1,000 foot drop below you! There was also a cliff hugging thrill walk built into the side of a sheer rockface. A few decided it was not their thrill. Surprisingly, virtually everyone else did the thrill walk with one or two (Michelle and Sue) conquering some quite significant fears. At one point we all actually crawled through a steel net funnel and sitting or laying down in that… with a massive drop beneath… wow!
We then continued to the top. The Piz Gloria actually sits right on the tip of the peak of the mountain at 2,970 metres high (9,744 feet). As you would expect there are viewing platforms, namely the helipad in the James Bond film. Inside the complex there is Spy World, an interactive exhibition dedicated to the movie complete with a simulated fast and furious bobsleigh ride or a helicopter simulator flight in the original chassis of the decommissioned Air Glaciers Alouette III. All around the site are photos, memorabilia and its great fun. The best of all attraction is… the toilets. In 2018 they won the International Toilet Tourism awards. Yes, there actually is international award for Toilets! Go inside the ‘Bonds’ or ‘Bondgirls’ doors and you’ll find holograms in the mirrors, whispering suggestions, and of course when you flush the Bond theme music starts up. Such fun. And of course, there is always a ‘lavatory joke’ and that is this is after all, the Piz Gloria (Piz of course actually means ‘peak’). Coming down the mountain at our own pace, the afternoon was free to enjoy some lovely snow walks in and around Murren.
Day 12: 15 December | MURREN
A huge day of mountain activity. Today we provided everyone with a 2- day ‘Multi day Hiking and Sledging pass’. This pass covered all our travel needs by train or cable car for next 2 days. Murren sits on one side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Walking through the village we jumped on a train that went along the mountain ridge to Grütschalp, and then we caught a cable car to the little village of Lauterbrunnen, far below. Here you there is a remarkably big railway station for such a tiny village. That is because it services all the trains that go up the far side of the valley to Wengen, Kleine Scheidegg and to the top of the Jungfrau Joch. Wengen is much bigger and busier than Murren and well worth a stop on the way up or down. Some people did their own thing, most followed Gilberto on a journey of mountain exploration following a path of funicular trains, cable cars, cable cars and more cable cars. From Lauterbrunnen we caught a train up through Wengen, and then on up to the mountain station of Kleine Scheidegg which sits on a ridge under the stupendous sheer rock wall of the North Face of the Eiger. This is skiers’ paradise and there’s a numbers of excellent mountain restaurants and cafes here. Yet it was quiet as the season really hasn’t stared yet. After a break everyone jumped back on the train and climbed up to the Eigergletscher station. This sits at an altitude of 2,320 metres – 7,610 feet – and it is quite amazing how massive these mountain stations are. The Swiss do not do things by halves! This brand-new structure is there to service the new ultra-modern Cable car that whisks you down to Grindelwald in just 15 minutes. It is just under 7 kms long ad only has 7 pylons holding the cable up! That’s nearly one every kilometre. Grindelwald is the biggest chic ski town in the area. Some had time at leisure in Grindelwald and later Gilberto led the group on another massive cable car ride all the way up to the Männlichen where there is another huge mountain restaurant and terrace complex. From here they caught another cable car back down to Wengen. Then back down on the trains and cable car home to peaceful beautiful Wengen. This is Switzerland and so the trains and cable cars home all sync beautifully. So easy. What a day!
Day 13: 16 December | MURREN
A fun day ahead. Gilberto hired about 17 pairs of snowshoes, so we divided into 2 groups. Snowshoes are like giant tennis rackets that you strap on over your regular boots. They have metal crampons built in so you can easily walk uphill on slippery snow tracks, or cross country over deep snow. So we did both! We walked up the track to an area where we could play in the deep snow. So easy to do it is really hot work, and such fun. Of course, Euan, Gilberto and Adam decided to display their inner child and tackled and dumped each other in the deep velvety snow.
Mid-afternoon, we assembled at the local ice curling rink. Because the snow was gently falling, the outside rink was not usable, so we went onto the inside rink and after a very brief lesson we took over 3 lanes and learned how to slip and slide and roll on the ice. It started off with laughter and ended in laughter, but the amazing thing is so many really got the idea and began to really home in on the targets. Hugely entertaining we then retreated to the sports centre for mulled wine, hot chocolate and coffee. Fantastic fun. Because we can, and because our Hikers tickets were still valid some of us caught the short funicular rain up to the restaurant on the Allmendhubel.
Day 14: 17 December | ZURICH
Sadly, it’s time to go back to Zurich. Heading down the mountain by cable car we met up with our coach and the same driver, Mikeilee (still not sure how his name is spelt). We spent a couple of hours exploring Interlaken before driving along the length of beautiful Lake Brienz and over the Brünig Pass. Snow had fallen overnight and the forest either side was utterly spectacular with the tall trees and meadows all white and frozen. So pretty. We held a Trivial Pursuit game on the last leg of the drive. 10 questions about where we had been and other useless insights into Swiss life. Congratulations to Michelle for getting 8 correct and winning… and commiseration to Ian, who shall remain nameless (!) for getting a lot less correct! Arriving back into Zurich we spent our last night in the same hotel we started in - the Central Plaza Hotel. Farewell dinner tonight was in a local restaurant. We all dressed up in something Christmassy. From tops to hats to earrings, and baubles and decorations. Speeches were made, glasses were raised (a lot more than once!) and laughter rang out. Then bit by bit we dispersed, hugs and endearments expressed.
Day 15: 18 December | ZURICH
Our Mystery tour was now completed.
All has been revealed and the Mystery no more! But I trust, with so many big adventures and exciting activities experienced, that we have ‘Created Remarkable Memories that will Last Everyone’s Lifetimes’.
From my personal perspective…
I have got to say that this was an incredibly good and cohesive group of spirited, positive travellers. Lovely people, all. They gave everything a go, from rolling snowball fights to ice curling and crawling through wire tunnels, on the thrill walk, perched over a massive chasm. They laughed, they gelled and proved to be such positive people. I thank you all for your company, your friendship and you’re the sparkling eyes as you had fun. Also, to our Tour Manager and fearless leader, Giberto Bionda, you handled the whole tour beautifully, with care, compassion, inventiveness, laughter and professionalism. I know how hard you worked and what obstacles you overcame. I know you put so much energy and thought into everything you did. Everyone loved you for it. Thank you, my friend. Oh yes, Russel, thanks for Dad jokes! Always appreciated, no matter how corny.
If you don't want this trip to end, you can go back and read the previous days here: Days 1-3 | Days 4-6 | Days 7-9
Feeling inspired? It is the perfect time to organise your own festive holiday! Click here to find out more about Albatross Tours European Christmas, New Year and Northern Lights small group tours or cotact us, your European Tour Specialists for more details.
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