Deep in the Bernese Oberland, tiny Mürren is perched on a shelf above the Lauterbrunnen Valley, in the shadow of the Jungfrau and Eiger.
The time has come to round up all those clichés we travel writers seem to resort to when describing the Swiss Alps, because this month were talking about Mürren.
It's a small but modern, car-free village set at the foot of the Schilthorn on a terrace 2,000 feet above the Lauterbrunnen Valley (Number #1 on Gemütlichkeit's "essential" Swiss destinations, see Dec. 2001).
For our money, there is no more scenic spot in Switzerland; a beauty among beauties. Not subtle charm but ravishing in-your-face, quadraphonic, surround-sound good looks. A knockout.
Some visit Mürren for its remoteness and sense of being far from life's pressures; others, of course, for the walking, hiking, climbing, and other outdoor pursuits. For us, however, Mürren's mountain views are the best special effects movie ever. It's a front row seat with a giant screen. Across the narrow valley loom the great triumvirate of peaks - Jungfrau, Mönch, Eiger. Almost perpetually wreathed by swirling clouds and mists, they change from minute to minute and one simply feels compelled to sit and gaze in awe. In Mürren you will eat, sleep, read, maybe even swim or workout at the village's fine Sportszentrum, but mountain-watching is the main attraction.
Despite its isolation and glorious vistas, the town has at least one mild critic. European travel guru, Rick Steves, describes Mürren as "pre-fab rustic" and tags one of its best hotels - the Alpenruh, our editor's choice - "yuppie rustic." He may have a point. Being of fairly recent construction, many of the town's buildings lack the authentic weathered look of older Swiss houses, and hotel rooms do have TVs, phones, private baths, and floors that don't squeak. Still, when it comes to T-shirt shops and throngs of tourists roving the streets, Mürren lags far behind the likes of Grindelwald and Zermatt. And there's nothing "pre-fab" in sight when you lift your eyes to those awesome rock piles.
As mentioned, Mürren is relatively remote and getting there is part of the attraction. Auto travelers will leave the car in the public parking facility at Lauterbrunnen and go the rest of the way via the Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen-Mürren Mountain Railway (BLM), about 30 minutes. The first leg is aboard a funicular which ascends some 700 meters (2,300 feet) up the steep (61% gradient) flank of the valley to the Grüttschalp station (alt. 4879 feet). The journey's next leg is the approximately six-kilometer scenic run via narrow gauge railway past Winteregg to Mürren. If your starting point is the Interlaken Ost station, travel time is about 55 minutes.
Once in Mürren, it's likely you'll have further need for the narrow gauge rail line as well as the various cable cars that connect the Lauterbrunnen Valley with Mürren, the Schilthorn, and tiny Gimmelwald. The Mürren-Schilthorn Holiday Pass provides six consecutive days of travel on all the region's transport facilities. The price is CHF 130 or CHF 85 for children and holders of Swiss Rail Passes.
If you just want the Lauterbrunnen-Mürren roundtrip it's CHF 19.60. The trip is free with a Swiss Rail Pass, 50% off with a Swiss Card and 25% off with a Eurail Pass.
Though Mürren is a destination, not a headquarters from which to branch out, you'll want to explore the area. Here are a few suggested activities:
Many say the two-stage cable car from Mürren to the Schilthorn (9,744 feet) is a better mountain-top excursion than the famed and pricey ride to the higher Jungfraujoch (11,401 feet). The Schilthorn has a pointed top upon which has been built a viewing platform and revolving restaurant, the Piz Gloria. From here one can see more than 200 mountain peaks and 40 glaciers. The Schilthorn was featured in the James Bond film, On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In the Touristorama, visitors can watch a special 10-minute version of the movie.
Some may be tempted to walk back down to Mürren from the Schilthorn, but be advised the shortest route is three hours and there are some very steep, gravelly sections.
In some places the rock walls of the Lauterbrunnen Gorge are vertical, making for a number of waterfalls, the most celebrated being the Trümmelbach Falls which thunder their way through and over the rock to the valley below. These spectacular falls - three Michelin stars (worth a journey) - are the 20,000 liters per second runoff from the Mönch, Eiger and Jungfrau glaciers.
A bit further along the south-facing terrace which underpins Mürren is Gimmelwald, a town Steves made famous. (Locals are somewhat mystified and perhaps a mite peeved at his choice of this not-very-prosperous hamlet of fewer than 200 souls, with virtually no hotels or restaurants, as a destination for his many tour groups.)
Nonetheless, the village is authentic and unspoiled, despite the waves of American tourists. From Mürren, it's a five-minute train ride (every 15 minutes) or a fairly flat 20 to 30-minute walk.
The options are endless, especially when combined with rail and/or cable cars. For starters, one could take the flat 60 to 90-minute stroll to Winteregg and Grüttschalp along a scenic path with almost constant views of the valley and the Bernese Alps, then return via rail.
A somewhat more strenuous hour's tramp is the path toward Channelegg which climbs gently through the forest to Mittelberg Alp. Further up to Oberberg Alp you can visit an Alpine dairy. From there walk down the forest path to Winteregg (30 minutes) and then along the panorama path to Grüttschalp or back to Mürren. From Winteregg or Grüttschalp, you can catch the train back to Mürren.
As they are throughout Switzerland, trails and paths are well-marked, though you may feel more comfortable with the tourist office's 1:33,333 scale map with 44 suggested walks. Paths marked by solid yellow signs can be walked without difficulty. But a red band means the trail is for experienced hikers. Two red stripes and most of us are way in over our heads. Estimated walking times are marked in hours (Stunden or Std.) and minutes (Minuten or Min.).
Hotels in Mürren are surprisingly uniform in amenities and quality. All we inspected were clean and comfortable, but unlike other Swiss car-free towns like Grindelwald, Zermatt and Wengen, there are few luxury offerings. In the mountain tradition, guestrooms are on the small side and the decorative emphasis is wood. Most, but not all, have Eiger-Mönch-Jungfrau views. TV, direct-dial telephone, and en suite toilet and shower or bath are the norm.
Rates are lower in summer and, for those who will stay a week or longer, there are many apartments and flats with cooking facilities.
South-facing guestrooms in this square, modern building near the rail station seem to hang out over the valley; which means they have extraordinary, unobstructed mountain views. Most have balconies.
These are straightforward accommodations in a family-run hotel. There is a pleasant common room with fireplace and piano.
In summer, the hotel offers a one-week package for CHF 765 per person that includes breakfast, dinner and a five-day rail pass that covers the entire Jungfrau region (CHF 49 supplement for the Jungfraujoch).
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 95 to 130, doubles CHF 170 to 240
Rating: Quality 11/20, Value 10/20
A bit more rustic than the Edelweiss and the views are not quite as good.
Among the hotel's better rooms is Number 225 with small sofa and a balcony. There are two rooms specially equipped for disabled guests.
Across the street, the hotel's less desirable Haus Mönch annex has about 30% lower rates than those listed below.
Contact: Hotel Jungfrau CH-3825 Mürren, tel. +41/033/855 4545, fax 855 4549
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 85 to 145, doubles CHF 170 to 290
Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 9/20
In a Victorian building in the village center, the Bellevue is another typical, no-frills mountain hotel. Rooms are small for the most part and some have outdated features such as a wash basin in the bedroom. Many have small wooden balconies. A larger room is Number 18, but it has the Schilthorn view rather than the more favored Jungfrau outlook.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 75 to 95, doubles CHF 150 to 230
Rating: Quality 9/20, Value 9/20
Located on the main walkway through town, the Blumental has two of the more pleasant guestrooms in town; Numbers three and 17. Both are larger than average, have a pair of soft chairs, a desk, a balcony, and windows in the bathrooms.
Every night during the winter season, there is live music - accordion, yodeling - in the restaurant.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 65 to 95, doubles CHF 130 to 190
Rating: Quality 10/20, Value 10/20
By a narrow but distinct margin, this is the hotel we think offers the best combination of quality and value. It has an open, sprightly feel the others seem to lack. The restaurant, though its menu doesn't venture far from the tried and true, is especially good. Weather permitting, meals can be taken on the terrace and the hotel can even arrange for your breakfast to be served at the top of the Schilthorn.
Rooms seem a tad larger and brighter than the competition and 21 of the 26 have the view. The remaining five look to the Schilthorn.
Daily Rates: Singles CHF 95 to 135, doubles CHF 180 to 260
Rating: Quality 13/20, Value 11/20
For those who plan to stay a week or more, Mürren offers a few dozen self-catering apartments, flats and chalets.
One is Haus Myrrena in the center of town. It has a balcony on one side and terrace with lawn furniture and a barbecue on the other. It is attractively furnished in modern Swiss style and has three bedrooms, living room, kitchen and one bath. There is a telephone, TV set, VCR and stereo.
Prices range from about $360 per week in the low season to about $810 in summer and around $1200 in winter.
Like many rentals in Mürren, the property is listed by the local agency, Top Apartments.
See this property on the web.
There are a number of other self-catering options in Mürren. Contact the tourist office or Top Apartments.