I consider myself fortunate indeed that I have been able to experience the best part of a lifetime’s work in the travel industry. I chose that career path because of my own love of travel, formed very much on the foundation of my own early travel experiences.
My first trip out of the UK was in 1963 costing about £10 ($24) for a week’s school trip to Germany. It took my parents several weeks to save up the payment and who was to guess that 40 years later I would be the owner and chairman of one of the world’s leading School Tour Operators!
In 1967 when I was 18, I made the first of many hitchhiking trips around Europe, and in 1972 I set off on a six-month overland trip through Asia that cost me about $500 – the most inexpensive accommodation was a hotel costing the equivalent of 15 cents per night in Kabul, Afghanistan!
Since then, I have been fortunate enough to visit all 7 continents, well over 100 countries, build one of the world’s leading educational travel companies and receive royal recognition for my services to the travel industry and today our family has homes in 5 countries.
So, I think I have accumulated some modest knowledge and experience about the world in which we live!
And when people know I have spent my life both in the travel industry and travelling, an oft-repeated question is:
“Of all the places you have visited, which is your favourite?”
And given that I now tell everyone:
“Whether you have to beg, borrow, steal or re-mortgage your house you need to find a way to get to Antarctica,”
the spectacular beauty of Antarctica immediately comes to mind, as does the majestic mountain scenery around Everest, a destination where I have been fortunate and able to hike to all 3 sides of the world’s highest peak on 5 separate occasions.
The friendliness of the Fijian and Nepalese people is memorable and Argentina, Namibia and New Zealand are three counties that have a wide range of varied and interesting attractions.
So the obvious answer to the aforementioned question is:
“There are so many wonderful destinations, I could not possibly pick one.”
However, I do have a favourite destination and so my answer is immediate and always the same:
“Yes – the car free mountain village of Mürren high in the Bernese Alps in Switzerland.”
Even in a country full of magnificent scenery and landscapes and with hundreds of pretty villages, Mürren is unique because of its spectacular location on a terrace high above the Lauterbrunnen valley, and facing three of the most famous mountains in the Alps – the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. Furthermore, it is car free; only being accessible by Cable Car or Mountain Railway.
My family has been fortunate enough to own a large 3-bedroom apartment in the village since 1997, and it will remain in our family’s ownership for at least another generation, as our children will want to continue enjoying visiting Mürren for the remainder of their lifetimes.
The view from our balcony is the finest view I have seen from any residential building anywhere in the world, and I have stayed in a lot of hotels and visited a lot of famous and infamous buildings in my travels! It stretches around almost 270 degrees and includes the nearby summits of ten of the most famous mountains in the Alps. With the telescope on my balcony, I can sometimes see climbers ascend to the summit of some of the highest peaks in the Alps, as well as farmers enjoying a coffee on their terrace several kilometres away.
We first stumbled across Mürren almost by accident in 1990 when passing through Switzerland on a family holiday touring through Europe. The following year we were looking for a destination for a family holiday during the spring half-term vacation in late May, and we remembered Mürren.
We so enjoyed it that we rented the same apartment, for the last week of May for 5 successive years 1991 – 95.
In 1996, after 17 years, our travel company, Casterbridge tours, was finally making good money and we decided to buy a second home. The choice of Mürren was a no brainer despite the high value of the Swiss Franc (which fortunately fell in value quite significantly between our signing the contract and having to pay!) and the 6-month application process to be granted permission to buy property in Switzerland, which has to be approved on three separate levels – Local, Cantonal and Federal.
So Mürren has been a special place for all of us, and I had visited and hiked in the mountains around Mürren every year from 1990 until 2020, when the Covid pandemic largely restricted me to Thailand for most of the year.
I felt really sad that I could not get to Mürren in 2020, but I guess I have rather made up for it, because as I write these words, I have spent most of the last 5 months based in Mürren, making up, I guess, for my failure to visit in 2020.
It was only when I returned in early September with my longstanding friend Brian the Plumber, that I realized just how much I had missed Mürren.
Of course, I knew that I had missed being there, and of course, I was looking forward to returning, but it was only when I was there and could hear the tranquillity that it vividly brought it home to me just how much I had missed being the sounds of the mountains. And also, how comfortable I was just being there.
Using that very phrase ‘hear the tranquillity’ reminds me immediately of our visits in the early 90s when I was working all the hours possible to build our company. But when we made our visits to Mürren I could feel the layers of stress and tension slowly peel off me and I could indeed relax and hear the tranquility, because when one walks away from the village the accompanying sounds are of cowbells, the wind, rushing streams and waterfalls. Not the ‘sounds of silence’ but indeed the sounds of tranquility.
Mürren is world famous because of its claims to be the birthplace of modern downhill skiing and for its reputation as the ‘British village’ in the Alps. Indeed, between the wars Mürren was the place to be seen in the alps; the St Moritz or Davos of its day! To this day every January Mürren still hosts the ‘Inferno’, which was established in 1928 and is the largest and longest downhill ski race in the world.
It was to Mürren that Sandy Irvine came as a novice mountaineer to learn the basic Alpine skills before his fateful attempt on Everest with George Mallory in 1924, and it was also to Mürren that Tenzing Norgay was brought by his Swiss friends around 1954 after Sherpa Tenzing, together with Sir Edmund Hillary, became one of the first two to successfully climb Everest in 1953. In 1952 Tenzing had almost climbed Everest with the Swiss, who he found more affable and welcoming than the British, and he made several subsequent visits to Switzerland to meet his Swiss friends, and seek financial backing for his mountaineering school in Darjeeling. His friends in turn brought him to Mürren, one assumes, to show him the best of Switzerland!
But outside of the peak tourist periods of June to September and December to February plus Easter, Mürren remains a quiet sleepy village of just some 450 residents, a dozen hotels, a restaurant, a Co-op and a handful of souvenir shops. There are 49 apartments in our low-rise apartment block, the only one in the village, and it is not unusual for me to be the only person staying other than the two permanent residents, unless they too are away.
And that’s how I like it!
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend so long in this beautiful part of the world, that in late 2018 I decided I would write a new and comprehensive hiking guide to Mürren and the associated Lauterbrunnen Valley, and this has now spawned into a major and time consuming project.
I identified some 57 hikes that I wanted to include in my guidebook, most of which I had done on a multitude of occasions over the last 30 years and many of these are multi-day hikes. For each, I have to walk and record distance, time, accumulated ascent and descent, as well as a description of the walk and instructions. I had originally planned to do these walks in 2019 and 2020 until Covid came along, but I at least hope to finish the walks between July and October this year (2022). One day’s walking generates between one and two days of writing to produce a first draft, and being naturally verbose there is a lot of editing to come!
The project has now grown into possibly 4 separate books; a comprehensive guide, a shorter collection of day hikes that can be carried on hikes, two Coffee Table books of images and a website.
And of course, I could add separate volumes for day hikes from the neighbouring villages of Lauterbrunnen and Wengen if I run out of things to do in the future.
My main motivation is because I have built up so much knowledge and expertise of the various hiking routes and options, it seems almost criminal not to pass it on so that others can benefit and enjoy the area as much as myself and our family. Furthermore, there has not been a good or updated hiking guide written to the area since the 1980s.
For sure I may need to employ another assistant to help with the design, layout, selecting and liaising with printers etc., because at this stage my preference is very much to self-publish, sell online and distribute directly to outlets in the Bernese Oberland.
So, it seems I have enough to keep me busy until I reach my 80s, and the biggest challenge is staying alive and staying fit enough to do all these challenging walks. So far so good!
The images that follow were all taken between September and November 2021 when I returned to Mürren after a 21-month gap. I was happy to return, and I consider Mürren to be my spiritual home.
My family know when I am no longer here, that is where I would like my ashes scattered.
For anyone who enjoys relaxing, immersing themselves in spectacular scenery and walks, that range from the easy to the most challenging, I cannot recommend Mürren enough as a place to put on your Bucket List if you have not previously visited.
But rather than add anything further I will just let the following images speak for themselves. They were all taken when I was either researching routes for my Guidebooks project or walking for personal relaxation. They are not indicated to be a comprehensive guide to the hiking options around Mürren, but just an indication of the scenery on offer and an overview of the walks I happened to do this past Autumn.
I hope they may encourage you to also one day enjoy the delights that Mürren and the surrounding area have to offer.
Mürren enjoys a spectacular location on a terrace at 1638m (95374 ft) high above the Lauterbrunnen valley.
Mittelberg and Oberberg
When I just feel I need to exercise and immerse myself in the scenery, I will often walk up to the Alps at Mittelberg and Oberberg in an evening, which are just 30 and 40 minutes from our apartment.
The Blumental is a secluded valley and a steep 20 minute walk above Mürren, or accessible by funicular to the viewpoint of Almendubel and then a gentle walk down into the valley. The Blumental contains a number of isolated barns and chalets, many converted to summer homes, as well as two Mountain Inns/Restaurants.
I try and walk most days when I am in Mürren but when it comes to late afternoon and I am feeling guilty about not exercising, one of my default options is a quick round trip 5 miles/8 kilometre ‘exercise walk’ to Grütschalp and back. The path follows the mountain railway and is both benign and fairly level yet constantly yields magnificent views of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau and Mürren’s sister village of Wengen, above the far side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
I always liken the Soustal to a Shangri La type hidden valley, as it has an almost mystical quality and receives just a handful of dedicated hikers in comparison with Mürren. It is an easy two hour ‘balcony route’ hike from Mürren, or an hours hike through the forest from the railway station at Grütschalp.
Schiltalp and the Schilttal
The walk to the high altitude dairy at Schiltalp and the Schilttal valley, beneath the Schilthorn, forms part of the popular North Face trail and yields one glorious panorama after another.
The 50 minute walk to Spielbodenalp is part of the famed Alpine Pass route which traverses Switzerland, crossing 14 Alpine Passes. It passes in and out of woods and passes isolated chalets and, as well as providing an alternative access to the Schiltal. It also leads to the popular viewpoint of Bryndli, the magnificent Wasenegg Ridge and the Rotstockhütte, a popular overnight stay for hikers on the Alpine Pass Route before they cross the famous Sefinenfurgge Pass.
Bryndli and the Wasenegg Ridge
Bryndli is one of the two rock outcrops at the end of the Wasenegg Ridge which look like a pair of dog’s ears when viewed from Mürren! It provides a magnificent viewpoint, and a visitors log book is kept in a waterproofed metal box at the foot of the cross on the summit. The path along the ridge is wide and gentle, save for a few steps where one has to be careful with foot placements and where a cable is placed to provide support and assistance.
Gimmelwald and the Sprutz Waterfall
The smaller village of Gimmelwald is an active farming community and a 30 minute walk below Mürren, or 5 minutes via the twice hourly cable car. As a result of being recommended by the famous travel writer Rick Steves almost 30 years ago, it has attracted many budget travellers and a number of local families offer dormitory and bed and breakfast accommodation. The Sprutz Waterfall, easily accessible from both Mürren and Gimmelwald, is distinguished by the ability of visiting hikers to be able to walk behind the waterfall.
The Sefinental valley and Kilchbalm
The Sefinental is a tributary of the Lauterbrunnen valley and also provides an alternative access to the Rotstockhütte and the Alpine Pass trail. At the end of the valley we will find Kilchbalm, a magnificent amphitheatre resplendent with a number of waterfalls, caves and the soaring peaks of the Gspaltenhorn, and Bütlasse almost two thousand metres directly above.
Busenalp and Tanzbödeli
The isolated Alp and barn at Busenalp can be seen as a recognisable feature from many of the hikes around Mürren and the Lauterbrunnen Valley. The nearby plateau of Tanzbödeli, with a 360 degree panorama, is a bit of a scramble to reach but well worth it as it is undoubtedly is one of the most spectacular viewpoints to be found anywhere in the Alps.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley
The flat floored Lauterbrunnen valley, with its vertical valley walls, is the perfect example of a U shaped glacial Valley. The upper Lauterbrunnen Valley is a part of an UNESCO protected world heritage site, and combines a less frequently visited valley floor with spectacular vistas from the upper slopes.
Whilst I would like to report that most visitors to Mürren are attracted by the magnificent scenery and the almost unrivalled range of walking options, the reality is that most of the visitors are come as ‘day trippers’ as an interim stop on the cable car ride to the summit of the Schilthorn. The mountain, close to Mürren, featured prominently in the James Bond film ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ and has successfully dined out and used the connection for marketing purposes for over 50 years. The Schilthorn is a conical and isolated peak offering extensive views in all directions and there are three different hiking routes that lead to the 2969 metre (10,000ft) summit. In September 2021, together with my friend Brian the Plumber (or ‘Moaner’ as he is more affectionately known – I wonder why?), we took the cable car to the summit and returned to Mürren via the longer and more exposed route descending to the Rote Hard pass and then passing by the Rotstockhütte.
Trümmelbach to Wengen
The Lauterbrunnen valley is famous for the Trümmelbach Falls, a very impressive series of underground waterfalls carved out by the rushing torrents of glacial melt water over millions of years. Less well known is the spectacular hike from the floor of the Lauterbrunnen Valley at Trümmelbach up to Wengen, which I had only once (or twice?) undertaken by descent in the last 30 years, but which I needed to undertake to include in the guidebooks that I am researching and writing.
Wengen is often described as Mürren’s sister village, being similarly located on a terrace high above the eastern side of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. I usually find an excuse each year to make a few walks in the Wengen area, and in 2021 for the first time I actually walked not once but twice to Wengen from Mürren (or Trümmelbach), rather than take the cable car and train. And now that I am in guidebook writing mode, I am already considering ‘Day hikes from Wengen’ if ever I get my Mürren projects completed!
Winter is coming!
The first serious snowfall in 2021 came in late October and as the snow partially melted it was still possible to hike up to almost 2000m. Indeed, the combination of snow and grass was both attractive and photogenic. However, heavy snowfalls in early November restricted my walking to 1700m or lower from that point onwards, but provided some alternative compositions for familiar settings as my next article will testify!