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Journey to Blofeld’s Hideaway
Visiting Switzerland’s Schilthorn and the James Bond Location Piz Gloria
For most of its history, the story about the making of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service overshadowed the film itself. It was the first Bond film after Sean Connery’s departure from the series. It featured Diana Rigg, one of the most popular actors in Britain and best-known for her iconic role of Emma Peel in the quirky espionage show The Avengers. It introduced George Lazenby as the new 007, an unknown Australian model with no experience, who beautifully conned his way into the role—then left it all behind after a single film to grow a beard and wander the world. And, it was based on the most intimate and harrowing of Ian Fleming’s original novels, with a shocking emotional depth and devastating ending. Although a success at the time of its release, Lazenby’s one-and-done appearance followed the return of Connery and then the introduction of Roger Moore as Bond, garnered On Her Majesty’s Secret Service a grim reputation. However, as the availability of the 007 films on home video and streaming stabilized over the past decade, OHMSS underwent re-evaluation, and these days it enjoys a prime stop in the Bond canon, with many people (myself included) naming it among the best of the 007 films.
It was February 20, 2020—right before the world was thrown into disarray by COVID-19—that I boarded an aerial tramway that whisked me out of a lovely valley and to the peak of the Schilthorn, atop which is perched one of the most famous locations in James Bond movie history: Piz Gloria, the base of operation for Bond’s arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavros Blofeld (played by Telly Savalas in a furry cap). Coincidentally, the plot to OHMSS involves Blofeld attempting to disrupt the world with a virus, so given what happened a few weeks after my return, I guess I was less successful than James Bond in preventing catastrophe during my visit to Piz Gloria.
With the exception perhaps of “James Bond Island” (Khao Phing Kan) in Thailand, the location used in the finale of The Man with the Golden Gun, no location is more recognizable or higher than Piz Gloria on the must-visit list for James Bond fans. It’s a location deserving of its lofty status, surrounded by some of the most famous peaks in the Alps: Monch, Jungfrau, and another mountain made famous by an espionage film, the Eiger. The spot was discovered, still only partially constructed, during OHMSS location scouting throughout Switzerland. Bond film producers agreed to finance the completion of the construction in exchange for using it as a location—and they also insisted they be allowed to build a helipad. Since then, it has remained a popular tourist destination and ski spot.
It’s easy to get to from the nearby cities of Bern and Interlaken (where I stayed). It’s about an hour from Bern to the tram and about 25 minutes from Interlaken. There’s a Schilthorn tourism center in Interlaken, so if at any point you want the steps perfectly plotted out for you, they’re there to help. Train station agents are also polite and well-acquainted with people traveling to Schilthorn and Piz Gloria, so if you are wondering what ticket to buy, they’ve got your back. The same company that runs the trains runs the trams, so you can take care of the entire trip with a single ticket. From Interlaken, the train takes you to the almost absurdly picturesque town of Lauterbrunnen, with majestic Staubbach Falls serving as the backdrop. The description of getting to Piz Gloria itself can sound complicated, what with the network of trams one has to navigate, but it’s actually simple. In Lauterbrunnen, you have two options: board the aerial tram there and begin your ascent, or take a free shuttle bus to a different station and start there. Why? Different view. Many people like to take one way up and the other down. Either way, you’re going to end up at the top of the Schilthorn.
Once you are on the tram, Bond fans and crowds (at least when there’s not a pandemic) are carried leg by leg up the Schilthorn. The aforementioned transfers happen because you can only build an aerial to go so far up in a single shot. Navigating the transfers is easy. It’s never a mystery which way you need to go next. Just follow everyone else. The aerial makes a stop in the mountain town of Mürren. Like everything in Switzerland, it’s absurdly picturesque. This is the town that struggled to house the sprawling cast and crew during the making of OHMSS; now it has returned to catering to skiers. Another transfer in Birg affords you the opportunity to take a “Thrill Walk” (parts of which are closed during the winter) along a glass—and at times mesh—walkway dangling off the side of the mountain. A final tram ride delivers you to Piz Gloria itself.
As tourism has increased over the years, Piz Gloria has not been shy about embracing and promoting its ties to James Bond. Buildings are emblazoned with the official 007 logo. Outside—aside from the awe-inspiring mountain view—is the James Bond Walk of Fame (a bit treacherous during the winter), the helipad, observation decks, and access to some of the best ski slopes in the Swiss Alps. Inside is the James Bond World interactive museum, which recounts the story of the making of the film, including the impact on tiny Mürren when it suddenly needed to host and entertain a massive movie production crew. Many of the exhibits are interactive, in case you ever needed to see what was beneath James Bond’s kilt (a video screen!) or try your luck shooting Blofeld while in a bobsled. There are also the much-discussed bathrooms, featuring sexy silhouettes, motion-activated dialogue, and in the men’s room, a sign that says “Shake. Don’t Stir.” The Roger Moore era would have been delighted. Finally, there’s the rotating restaurant in the most recognizable interior from the movie, Blofeld’s mod lounging room. The restaurant serves a James Bond breakfast, or later in the day, a passable (if unspectacular) cafeteria-style burger branded with the 007 logo.
Naturally, you can get a Martini—shaken, not stirred—though if you’re going to be navigating the snowy slopes outside, I recommend going with the lower-alcohol option of a glass of Bollinger champagne.
First and most obvious: I took this trip in February 2020, when people were still discussing whether or not COVID-19 was something to really be worried about. It was (and as of this writing, still is). The pandemic has of course impacted travel (which you shouldn’t be doing until this thing is under control), the tourism industry, and restaurants, bars, and nightlife.
If you stay in Interlaken, I can recommend a few restaurants:
Chennai Biryani House is a fantastic Indian restaurant that specializes in, shockingly, biryani.
There’s great pizza and beer at Ristorante Pizzeria Arcobaleno. Order a glass of local Rugenbräu AG.
If you don’t mind a bit of a stroll, Little Thai Restaurant specializes in satisfying Thai food and a rotating line-up of great craft beer.
Interlaken sports quite a bit of nightlife, though much of it is of the “EDM DJ and tripping college kids” variety. If that’s your scene, I hope you have a great, late night, but I’m not able to offer much in the way of advice. If you are looking for a slightly more relaxed evening, I suggest Whiskyness Bar & Lounge.