Wonderful Wunderbar WengenBy Lyn Shaw -
Is it really possible to have a great holiday in a ski resort without skiing?
The answer is yes, absolutely, if you go to the Swiss village of Wengen! As well as the usual travel packages with operators such as Thompson, Crystal, Neilson etc, it’s also possible to drive from Calais (about 10 hours) or fly into Geneva and use car hire (4 hours). You can park in the valley and travel up the mountain by train.
Wengen is unique in that, as well as the usual ski lifts and cable cars, there is an incredible train system around the local mountains providing access to neighbouring resorts. This allows non-skiers, including those with limited mobility, to access the same snowy areas as skiers. And of course, in the summer you can use the trains to access beautiful green meadows, pathways and mountain inns. The Wengen train line runs up to the station of Kleine Scheidegg, lying below the famous Eiger Mountain. Further beyond is Jungfraujoch at a height of 3454m, called “The Top of Europe” with its view of the Jungfrau glacier. It’s so close you can hear the ice cracking!
We hired some sledges from Kleine Scheidigg (15 euros for the day) and had great fun on the so called “Eiger run” down to Brandegg (about 3 hours sledging), with its lovely restaurant. Their speciality is apple doughnuts with vanilla custard…yum yum. You have the option of going back up to Kleine on the train and doing it all again, or you can carry on sledging down to the village of Grund if snow allows (NB it’s a long way).
Another great place for a non-skiing trip is First, where there is a zip wire and new 2015 mountain cliff walkway. Again these are accessed initially by train from Wengen through Kleine Scheidigg and Grund to Grindelwald, then there are three stops on the local bus (station 50 paces level) to Firstbahn cable car (50 paces up slight incline), to its third top station. From here another short walk (50 paces level through snow, 10 steps) takes you to the First Fleiger zip line which is free to lift pass holders as many times as they like (check conditions and current price). Someone will help you into the harness and will check all is safe before you are released like a bird into the open air for 800m at speeds of up to 84Km/h. It’s a great buzz...then you come to an abrupt bungee stop and someone will help you get out of harness. Want to do it all again....yes please!
While you are at First don’t forget to visit the Cliffside walk. The hanging bridge and the vantage platform offers spectacular views of the Eiger mountain range and valleys far below...not for those scared of heights though. The walk can be accessed from a lift via the top Firstbahn cablecar restaurant and is level with handrails on both sides.
This top station is also the starting point for the world’s longest sledge run at 15km. Be sure the snow is good enough to complete the trip to Grindelwald before you start – once on the run there is no other way down!
The village of Wengen is truly beautiful in winter or in summer. Perched on the edge of a hanging valley, it has many old, historical hotels from when skiing first came to the Alps. I suggest the Silberhorn Hotel as an ideal hotel for those with limited mobility, having level access from the train station (50 paces) and a lift to various grades of rooms. The food is good quality with plenty of variety, and there is also a Jacuzzi, sauna and gym on site. The Bernerhof Hotel is a cheaper option, also with great food, but unfortunately it does not have a lift to access its 3 floors. Wengen village is car free and luggage is transported via electric hotel buggies. There are lots of restaurants to suit different tastes and budgets plus a couple of lively bars for those that crave the après ski spirit.
Saving the best trip until last can be the highlight of any holiday, but why not go to Schilthorn twice, where you can visit the revolving home of Blofeld in James Bond’s 1969 film “On her Majesty’s Secret Service”. It really is good enough to visit twice, and again costs nothing if you have an area lift pass. Usually folks visit in the daytime, hopeful of brilliant sunlight when the views are incredible. But an evening trip just as the sun is setting could be even better, followed by an evening meal at the Schilthorn restaurant itself (the 007 burger plus chips was £24). Afterwards you can gaze at all the stars in the universe or the galaxy...whichever is the larger. The trick here is to plan your outing well using the train, bus and cablecar schedules, as those later in the evening do not run very often. Be aware...those who fail to prepare, prepare to fail ...and possibly spend a cold (or expensive night) on the Mountain. In summary, a visit involves an early train down from Wengen to Lauterbrunnen. Catch the bus from just outside the station (50 level paces) to Stechelberg, and the the Schilthornbahn cablecar up to the 2876m Birg middle station. Stop here at the restaurant with marvellous views of Wengen, Murren, Eiger and Jungfrau and, looking the other way, of your ultimate destination....the Schilthorn. Immediately to the left of it is the black run featured in “On her Majesty’s Secret Service” with George Lazenby and Diana Rigg skiing whilst being chased by Blofeld aka Telly Savalas. This black run is not for the faint hearted, and it’s always a blast watching poorer skiers trying to snow plough down it!
The final cablecar takes you from Birg to the Schilthorn itself which has a great little James Bond Museum (free, with level access) including a movie theatre which runs continuous clips of the film interspersed with local tourist footage. There is also the aforementioned restaurant complete with a George Lazenby figure and the original 1960s orange and gold hexagonal decorations. It takes an hour for the restaurant to complete a whole revolution, and if the weather is good the views are stupendous...well worth the rather inflated food prices. You can go outside to walk around what was Blofeld’s helipad in the film (30 paces level access, maybe snow).
There is also a James Bond inspired shop with plenty of trinkets and souvenirs. You reverse the process to get back to Wengen, approximately 2 hours if you have planned your cablecar, bus and trains well.
When it’s time to say goodbye to Wengen, don’t – just say “Au revoir”. You will be back, I can guarantee it!