The adventure started as we drove through the district of Lavaux, a UNESCO world heritage site that sits next to Lake Geneva. We weaved in and out of the maze-like roads that connected endless Swiss French villages. After a couple of hours of driving, we stumbled across Saint Saphorin, a small 300-person village dating back to 53AD. We wandered through by foot mesmerized by the houses and streets that illuminated by the sunlight. The most striking detail, typical of most villages in Switzerland, was the vibrant, bold patterns on all of the window shutters. They would often be paired with overflowing geranium flowers in window boxes that both emphasized and complimented the designs. I fell in love with those details, and as we continued to make our way up and down the cobblestone streets of the town, the day quickly slipped away.
The next morning, we started driving into the Alps. Our first stop was at La Maison du Gruyere to tour the cheese factory. The cheese was delicious as expected, but a pleasant surprise was the village of Gruyère itself. We were greeted in the town center by a small three-piece band playing classical music. Although there weren’t too many other people wandering around, the band managed to draw a sizable crowd and between their music, the cheese, the crisp mountain air, and the medieval architecture, we were near sensual overload.
The adventure continued to the foothills of the Alps. The drive was one for the ages, complete with sweaty palms stuck on the wheel as we hugged the cliff sides. We arrived to Lauterbrunnen, a small German-speaking ski town, where we had to leave the car in order to get to the highlight of our trip: the mountain village of Mürren. While researching and planning our drive, we learned that the most special villages in the Swiss Alps lie in remote and high altitude locations that are unreachable by car. Mürren is considered to be one of the most noteworthy villages in the Bernese Oberland region of the Swiss Alps because of its small size (as compared to the larger, more famous Swiss mountains and resorts). It’s the perfect village to rejuvenate the mind; distant avalanches, the jingle of cowbells, the whistle of marmots, and the footsteps of happy hikers are the dominant sounds.
The ascent up to Mürren was truly magical. The ride was sequenced by a series of cable cars and trains moving up the steep cliffs passing through the fog. As the village faded away into the distance, time began to slow down and it became quite clear that we were entering special place. Once in Mürren, there was low cloud coverage, which made it difficult to see across the Alps; on a clear day, you can see Mont Blanc and the Black Forest. As clouds passed through the valley, we did catch several quick glimpses of the mountain faces, but were disappointed not to have a better view. Regardless, we spent the day hiking high above the stress of the real world.
The next morning, we were greeted again by the unpredictable weather of the Swiss Alps and had to contend with heavier cloud coverage and some snow flurries. These were our last hours in Mürren and we were eager to see the mountain peaks in their entirety. We decided to take a cable car up to the summit of the Schilthorn in the hopes that we would ascend above the clouds. Though not the highest peak in the region, Schilthorn is known for its amazing view (on a clear day) and is also is famous for the Piz Gloria, a 360-degree revolving restaurant that was the principal filming location for the 1969 James Bond movie, On Her Majesty’s Service. As we rode the cable car up to Schlithorn, we witnessed the full beauty of Mürren. The ride gave us the perfect vantage point to see just how remote the village is, and how it is so careful nested on the cliff side.
Then, minutes into the cable car ride, we were entered a whiteout with zero visibility. For the entire 40-minute ride to the summit we lost all visible contrast and became immersed into a horizonless white environment. At first, the experience was quite frightening not knowing where we were in space; however, it also had a strange calming effect on us. We listened to the subtle hum of the cable car motor and stared out at the bright white light surrounding us. After an hour the summit with no visibility whatsoever, the clouds finally broke free, revealing the most impressive view we’ve ever seen: Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau appeared from beneath the clouds with a crystal clear blue sky. We were completely ecstatic. We had taken a serious gamble traveling to the summit when there was no visibility and it paid off.
Leaving Mürren feeling invigorated, we decided to take an ambitious detour drive north to Bern. We arrived there around 3pm and stopped at the Hotel Bellevue Palace in the Old Town, one of Switzerland’s oldest areas dating back to the early 12th century. The hotel had a balcony in the rear that overlooked the zigzagging Aar River and the town’s medieval rooftops. We again enjoyed some Gruyere cheese while reflecting back on the morning thrills from Mürren. We took an hour to quickly stroll through the city and were utterly mesmerized by its charm: it was filled with lush geranium flowers everywhere, bold patterns on all of the window shutters, and architecture so ornate and detailed I could have spent hours admiring every cornerstone. The Old Town of Bern requires at least 2 full days to explore. Being there for such a short time was a complete tease. We will be back!
Finally, we returned to Lake Geneva with one day left. We basked in the August sun in Lavaux, drank plenty of wine, and immediately started planning our return to Switzerland.