Yodeling Through the Swiss Alps

by Nancy Bestory

Mürren, which can only be reached by cable car or on foot, has a year-round population of 500 people, but hotel beds for 2,000. It is busiest in the winter months, when alpine skiers arrive to glide down the slopes, but summer is a beautiful time to visit, as wild flowers abound, trees bloom and the hiking and exploring via the amazing network of trams, gondolas and railways is outstanding.

We chose Mürren as a base for our Swiss Alps experience based on a recommendation from Rick Steves’ Switzerland Guidebook. “Mürren is as pleasant as an alpine resort can be. Traffic free, the town sits on a ledge 2,000 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, surrounded by a fortissimo chorus of mountains,” says Steves.

Our train and cable car journey from Geneva included three seamless transfers at Bern, Interlaken Ost and Lauderbrunnen, and could not have been easier, more relaxing or more picturesque. We arrived in the quaint and sleepy town of Mürren at 6pm, after most tourists who visit for the day had already departed. With quite a few hotel options, we chose Rick Steves’ budget recommendation, the Chalet Fontana (http://www.ferntree.ch/chalet/fontana_summer.htm.) Owned and operated by Denise Fussell, a delightful Englishwoman, we required two rooms for our family of four, which cost $90 each. Breakfast was included, as was admission to Murren’s Alpine Sport Center, and Denise was a wealth of information about the area and its restaurants and activities.

While it doesn’t take much more than 10 minutes to walk the town from end to end, Mürren still offers all the necessary businesses and services, from a small but well equipped grocery store to a couple of souvenir/clothing stores, a bank and several restaurants. The town’s social hub seems to be the aforementioned Alpine Sports Center. This state of the art facility boasts an indoor pool, indoor gymnasium, outdoor mini-golf, a soccer field, two ice rinks in winter, a fitness room, saunas, whirlpools, athletic trainers and doctors. It regularly attracts athletic teams from Switzerland, Germany and Austria for specialized training.

After our first night in Mürren, we planned a hiking excursion that began with a cable car ride to the summit of the Schilthorn, a 9,700-foot mountain above Mürren, where portions of the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service were filmed. From the summit we cabled down a short ways to Birg (about a thousand feet lower), and set off on our four-hour-long (and entirely downhill!) trek. The hike was outstanding, very steep at times, through beautiful meadows, over creeks, and right next to (and I do mean RIGHT NEXT TO) cows with large jangling cowbells grazing in the grass. Cows are everywhere in this region and their cowbell sounds provide a lovely background music (the hills really were alive....). We stopped about halfway down from Birg in the one-building village of Schiltalp at a working farm for delicious milkshakes, goulash soup, tomato salad and sausage (about $50). I’m certain the milk came from the cows and the sausage from the pigs raised right there on the mountainside.

From Schiltalp we hooked up with the Children’s Adventure Trail, which offers a playground along the way designed for younger children than ours, but also features a foot massage station that we all benefited from. The station is designed for weary hikers to walk barefoot first over big rocks, then medium rocks, pebbles, wood chips, trunks of logs, and finally through a knee deep cold water trough. It was very refreshing on our tired feet. We also enjoyed the “arm refresher”, another trough in which you dunk your arms above the elbows in the cold water for 30-60 seconds.

We ended our hike back in Mürren, where we ate at our favorite alpine restaurant, Stager Stubli. The authentic Swiss food was the best we had anywhere in the country. Our meal included lamb and fries, hash browns with a fried egg, pork sausage in onion sauce with hash browns, and a tomato/mozzarella salad. Outstanding food, which did not come cheap (about $100), but was extremely satisfying and worth it.

Mürren is home to several internationally known races, including the Inferno Mürren, which is the largest amateur skiing race in the world, and first run way back in 1928. The Lauterbrunnen Valley and surrounding mountains offer the Switzerland of storybooks. And while I can’t see myself racing its trails in the winter, I can easily see myself returning in summer to hike the mountains and ride the trains. Maybe I’ll even do a little yodeling of my own.