SAMANTHA WILSON TELLS US WHY EMBARKING ON AN EPIC BOND-THEMED PILGRIMAGE INTO THE SWISS ALPS BY TRAIN IS AN ADVENTURE 007 HIMSELF WOULD APPROVE OF.
I was a teenager when I first watched On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and boy did it leave a lasting impression. It’s been 50 years since the sixth Bond movie was released – and five decades on it’s still my favourite. So when I got the chance to visit the Swiss set of the movie, perched high in the Alps, I was thrilled. My mission was to get to the lofty mountaintop headquarters of Bond’s arch nemesis, Blofeld. Fans will know the Schilthorn Mountain by its movie name Piz Gloria. Today, Piz Gloria is home not to evil villains, but to a revolving restaurant. And I wanted to channel my inner Bond, gazing across Switzerland’s Alps with a Martini in hand.
THE DAY JAMES BOND CAME TO TOWN
Until the Bond circus came to town, the Schilthorn and sleepy alpine town of Mürren were well under the global radar. In the 10 weeks of filming – from October 1968 to May 1969 – all that changed. The film was pivotal in the construction of Piz Gloria and the cableway – it’s a stomach-lurching but jaw-dropping 32-minute journey. The movie put Mürren on the map. The residents even got direct telephone lines and draught beer thanks to the film crews.
Everything went smoothly with the filming of the wintery scenes. The only problem was, it didn’t snow. But the silver screen waits for no-one, not even Mother Nature, and helicopters were used to transport thousands of bags of glacial snow creating a white wonderland.
FINDING MY INNER BOND
I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to mark the film’s 50th anniversary by taking full advantage of the Bond package. While trying to peel my eyes away from the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau in the 360-degree revolving restaurant, I sipped my long-awaited 007 Martini.
The Bond World 007 Museum on the Piz Gloria lookout has been revamped for the anniversary, and it was as kitsch and fascinating as a Bond pilgrim like me could have hoped for. Behind-the-scenes descriptions of the filming were fascinating, and interactive features gave me the chance to drop that ‘Bond, James Bond’ line more than once.
LOCO FOR LOCOMOTIVES
There’s just no better way to travel in the Swiss Alps than by railway. This staggering feat of engineering can take you across some of the most difficult terrain in Europe, and all with an elegance that harks back to the turn of last century. I rather fancied the idea of seeing Switzerland’s landscape rolling past from the comfort of a first-class carriage. Very James Bond, if you ask me.
My first journey was on the world-famous Bernina Express, a century-old UNESCO-listed railway line. Whoever said ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’ had obviously travelled on this particular train.
What unravelled outside the window was nothing short of wondrous. Through 55 tunnels and across 196 bridges we went, soaring up to the Bernina Pass on our route from Davos through St Moritz and into Italy’s Tirano. In one day I passed glistening glaciers and centuries-old churches.
The Bernina Express turned out to be the aperitif for the next leg of my travels. While the Glacier Express may be the slowest express train in the world – taking 8 hours to cover less than 200 miles – it might also be one of the most spectacular. It meanders through the Swiss mountains from St Moritz to the alpine village of Zermatt. The scale of the landscape is humbling. I felt like a bird swooping through the snow-covered Oberlap Pass, along the Rhine Gorge with its silver river, and past hamlets in lush green meadows.
I WANT TO BREAK FREE
I didn’t go all the way to Zermatt, instead making my way to Wengen en route to Mürren. But I made a quick detour, lured by the promise of travelling to the ‘Top of Europe’. Jungfraujoch is a dizzying 11,332 feet above sea level and home to the highest railway station on the continent. Pretty cool – in both senses of the word! From this chilly viewpoint, a rocky world of ice and snow stretches as far as the eye can see. I ended my trip in the pretty town of Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. This time, Bond was relegated to the background. Instead, I was in search of a man named Mercury, Freddie Mercury. I found him in the Queen Studio Experience, a museum dedicated to the legendary band and the studio where they recorded seven of their iconic albums.
My Bond pilgrimage had brought me so much more variety and richness than I had anticipated. To experience the trip in the luxury that the man himself is accustomed to was the icing on the cake. In fact, you could say that it was a trip which left me both shaken and stirred.