Mürren: the great ski resort in the sky
Catch the world’s most adorable train into the farthest reaches of the Swiss Alps for some spectacular, secluded powder
When it comes to displays of engineering prowess, it is hard to beat the trip to Mürren, one of Switzerland’s most isolated ski resorts. .
Having traipsed across much of the country to reach the Bernese Oberland - a stunning but unforgivingly rugged corner of the country’s portion of the Alps - we pulled into Lauterbrunnen station in the valley of the same name, ready for our ascent on board the Grütschalp cable car into the heart of Mürren.
I arrived at the top of the cable expecting to step out into the cobbled square of a quaint village, but we instead found ourselves disembarking into a cavernous steel warehouse tacked to the face of the mighty Marchegg mountain above us. Having already ascended just short of 5,000ft, we watched in befuddlement as a robotic arm reached into the cable car behind ours and shifted an enormous metal pallet containing our luggage onto a sloped industrial elevator, which climbed past us further up the hill and slotted flush onto the freight carriage of a waiting narrow-gauge electric train.
Prompted to climb aboard this adorable little train - delightfully decked out in its original 1967 decor - we clunked into gear and stared out of the oversized windows as the darkness of the warehouse made way to one of the most visually spectacular approaches to any ski resort on the planet - a jagged, intimidating expanse of Alpine wilderness softened by oceans of pure white snow draped across every pine tree, ridge and summit from horizon to horizon.
With our luggage in tow, we continued climbing up the so-called Mürrenbahn railway toward the village of Mürren, my astonishment at the extraordinary vista interrupted only by the bizarre realisation that this was the only time in my life in I had caught a train after a cable car and not the other way round. And yet, in that typically clockwork-like Swiss way, it all just worked so well.
Clinging precariously to the side of the great Allmendhubel mountain, over a seemingly infinite drop into the valley below, Mürren was surely the work of the Bernese Oberland’s most intrepid construction workers. Yet despite its rather extreme location, the village is not quite as exposed to the elements as one might think, shielded by the iconic peaks of the Eiger and Jungfrau across the ravine. Forget blizzards and snowstorms - up here, gentle breezes and blue skies are the order of the day.
A totally car-free and thus thoroughly peaceful resort, Mürren is also undeniably a town of serious skiing pedigree. It was originally opened as a winter sports village by British businessman Sir Henry Lunn in the winter of 1910 before serving as an epicentre of pioneering Alpine ski racing after the First World War, hosting both the first modern slalom and the first World Championships of Alpine skiing.
Our home for the next four days is the Hotel Eiger. Dominating the skyline of the north end of Mürren, this joint hotel-residence combo offers views from its 57 rooms that could rival any hotel on the planet. But while it would be easy to rely solely on the vista, the team here has instead freshly renovated the Eiger into a homely yet luxurious base from which to explore the slopes. The hotel’s inclusion on Tripadvisor’s Traveller's Choice Top 25 hotels in Switzerland - thanks in no small part to the proprietors refusing to rest on their laurels.
We were hosted in one of the hotel’s remarkable suites; ours being a split-level apartment featuring a large living space, dining area, kitchen, two double bedrooms and two bathrooms. Almost all spaces, surfaces and fittings are coated in handsomely rustic walnut-tinged pine, punctuated either by pale grey leather furniture or homely Alpine knits. My room, a “forest view” , peered out over a secluded pathway skirting the perimeter of the hotel; but guests looking for a truly outstanding hotel experience should be sure to stay in one of the Eiger’s “mountain view” bedrooms. Here, the oversized double bed, flatscreen TV and en-suite bathroom are all but overshadowed by the wonderfully retro floor-to-ceiling windows dominating the space and offering frankly staggering views over the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Whether it was over a glass of wine in the evening or an espresso first thing in the morning, sitting out on the balcony and soaking in such a vista is hard to beat.
Down on the ground floor, the hotel has a pleasantly temperate indoor pool for visitor use, while the mezzanine level above features a fantastic spa area including two saunas, a steam room, a hot tub, rain shower, gym and relaxation room in a pleasingly syvlan green decor.
In the mornings, the spacious dining room is the site of a hot and cold buffet breakfast, featuring delicious local cheeses and meats, while in the evening it transforms into a rustic a la carte eatery serving up five-course meals with spectacular - and local - wine. Fresh cuts of fine meat, pasta and soups, all of which are first class, are available on most nights - but, strangely, we found that the delicacies to look out for are the restaurant’s two house salad dressings, French and Italian, both absolutely stupendous, and the recipes for which the chef keeps a closely guarded secret.
When it’s time to finally drag yourself from the comforts of the Eiger to hit the uncompromising slopes, the Allmendhubel funicular and Schilthorn cable-car are just a five and eight minute walk away respectively, with the latter a better option for those wishing to explore the farthest reaches of the ski region.
Perhaps it may be naive to say - we did go in March after all - but Mürren seemed to me to be the perfect resort for adrenaline junkies who simply want to ski in peace, free of spritz-drunk rugger lads and hordes of ski school groups. Although the area is relatively small by major European resort standards, this barely matters; the variety of difficulty among Mürren-Schilthorn’s 51km of piste is impressive.
At the bottom of the resort, near the Allmendhubel and Gimmeln, the length of the meandering, narrow blues can pose a bit of a challenge for total beginners, while red-lovers have a wealth of options to choose from including the rollercoaster-like Finel and the Wintertal. More experienced skiers will likely want to spend much of their time on the other side of the the Birg mountain at the top of the resort, nearing 3,000m. Up here it’s blacks and challenging reds as far as the eye can see, ranging from the smooth but endurance-testing FIS Strecke-Kanonenrohr joint run to Switzerland’s most notorious piste - the No 10 Schilthorn - a brutally tough black run chock full of sheer drops, sharp turns and harsh moguls. As our guide for the day warned us before we foolishly attempted it, even advanced amateur skiers often struggle to overcome the mighty Schilthorn.
For those looking to finish the day away from the bustling epicentre of the ski region, an honourable mention must go to the tranquil slopes of Winteregg, tucked away in the farthest reaches of the resort. Although sporting just four runs - three of them blue - the atmosphere here is unbeatable, consisting of undulating, mostly deserted pistes gently winding through lush pine forests towards the midway station on the Mürrenbahn, ideal to catch a quick ride back up to the Hotel Eiger. And if the train is a while off, a stein of the local Rugenbrau at the adjacent Restaurant Winteregg is a pleasing way to cap off a day of thigh-busting skiing.
Though not a party town, Mürren still has plenty to get up to away from the powder. One of the highlights of our stay was a session at the Alpine Sportscentre Mürren, which offers activities ranging from outdoor ice skating to relaxing in its extensive sauna/swimming complex indoors. We lounged for hours in the centre’s bone-warming outdoor hot tub, overlooking the frozen Jungfrau as the steam from the 40-degree water glowed amber in the late afternoon sun.
And even non-skiers can experience the resort’s most prized possessions - two extraordinary feats of engineering known as the Skyline Thrill Walk and the 360° Piz Gloria Restaurant.
The former consists of a complex array of Escher-like steel staircases and platforms teetering over the edge of the near-1000ft vertical drop from the top of Birg. The clue is in the name really - for those who love heights, peering at the almost infinite descent through the the walkway’s glass floor really is a leg-wobblingly thrilling experience, while the most daring can crawl through a tiny dangling chain-linked tube at the end of the walk with nothing but air below, allowing visitors to literally come face-to-face with the abyss.
Hopping back on the Schilthorn cable car takes you up to the 360° Piz Gloria Restaurant - a fully functioning rotating bar and restaurant built in 1969 on the summit of the Schilthorn mountain, the highest point in the entire resort. Up here, guests can sample everything from a delicate afternoon tea to a gut-busting burger as the room gently revolves in 45-minute loops, taking in an extraordinary view of more than 200 peaks. And if the backdrop seems all seems oddly familiar, that could be the result of its starring role as a setting in the James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service, celebrated in the adjacent 007 World museum.
In a sea of cookie-cutter Alpine resorts, Mürren feels like a one-of-a-kind destination. At ground level, it’s all things Swiss: historic, gorgeous and elegant, with a touch of homely charm permeating its maze-like alleys and sidestreets. It’s warming your feet by a fireplace with a hefty gluhwein and a rosti, or enjoying the eerie silence of the Lauterbrunnen Valley during a sunset soak in an outdoor jacuzzi.
But this wholesome vibe belies the other side of the Mürren experience; menacing, exhilarating pistes framed by a formidable landscape of jagged rock and thousand-foot drops. This is demanding terrain for downhill obsessives and the home of some of Switzerland’s finest and most scenic ski runs. The views are stunning, the powder is thick and the slopes are flawless. At times it felt like flying, or being in an exhilarating dream. And once it was time to finally board the Mürrenbahn and head back down to the real world, I knew had found my perfect skiing destination. I will be back.
Gabriel travelled to Mürren - in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland as a guest of Mürren Tourism and the Schilthorn Cableway Ltd and stayed at the 4-star Eiger Hotel. Double rooms from £233 per room per night; one-bedroom suites from £469 per suite per night. Prices are based on 2 sharing B&B, upgrade to ½-board for a supplement of CHF 45.00 per person per night. 3-night or 6-night packages inclusive of a 2- or 5-day lift pass from £437 and £899 per person respectively. All prices are based on 2 sharing B&B and are subject to availability, exchange rate and season. Upgrade to ½-board for a supplement of CHF 45 per person per day.
To plan the journey from the UK to Mürren (flights/rail transfers), consult: MySwitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre Freephone 00800 100 200 29.