The small mountain village of Murren is in the Bernese Oberland, home to some of the oldest established ski resorts in Switzerland. It is part of the Jungfrau Ski Region sharing the lift system and pistes of Wengen and Grindelwald, and its highest skiing point is on the summit of the Schilthorn mountain at 2970 metres. There are four connected ski areas above the village; Schiltgrat (the biggest), Maulerhubel and Allmendhubel. Birg, the highest, is immediately below the Schilthorn.
Set at an altitude of 1,638 metres Murren is one of the highest and most impressively sited villages in Switzerland, accessed principally by cable car from Stechelberg at the end of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Precariously cliff-hanging on a mountain shelf it offers unrivalled views over the Jungfrau massif. It is a remarkably pretty, car-free cluster of old wooden chalets and 19th century hotels surrounded by glorious Alpine pastures. Murren owes its prominence as one of the world’s most historic ski resorts in large part to the British who first ‘colonised’ it in the late 19th century, and popularised it in the early 20th. Effectively it is the alma mater of downhill ski racing, a sport that was effectively founded and promoted by the writer and alpinist Sir Arnold Lunn in the 1920s.
It is best suited to keen skiers with a sense of tradition, drawn by its reputation as one of the cradles of Alpine skiing. It is unlikely to appeal to skiers looking for wild après-ski and a riotous nightlife.
Murren’s ski area provides 54km of piste and 12 lifts.
The wider Jungfrau region, providing access to the slopes across the Lauterbrunnen Valley, offers a total of 213km and 44 lifts. The terrain is categorised by difficulty as follows: 33% blue (novice), 49% red (intermediate), and 18% black (advanced).
Experts should be satisfactorily challenged by the off piste potential from Schiltgrat and Birg, and there are tough ungroomed mogul runs in the same area. Then there’s the notorious narrow ‘Kanonenrohr’ (gun barrel or cannon roar) below the Engetal lifts, often the scene of prone and winded skiers starring dizzily at the sky. It is best approached tentatively and with maximum awareness of other skiers and boarders in close proximity.
Intermediates are better served in Wengen, where there are reassuringly wide cruising runs.
There are nursery slopes at Allmendhubel, but absolute beginners might be advised to try elsewhere.
Why Go There?
The challenge: The run down from the Schilthorn, more than 1300 metres vertical of relentlessly jaw-dropping scenery and contrasting terrain is the reason many skiers of all standards swear by Murren and return year after year. It is also in main part the course of The Inferno, the world’s oldest, longest, and largest amateur ski race with up to 1900 participants leaving the starter’s tent at 12-second intervals. Depending on the snow conditions it can be any length from 10 to 17 km. Founded by Sir Arnold Lunn in 1928 it is a merciless succession of rock-lined gun barrels (as in the Kanonenrohr), 180-degree bends, and lung bursting climbs. You’d have to be insane to do it, a fact evidenced by the number of racers dressed as gorillas and bananas.
Proximity: Murren is eminently walkable – roughly 1km from end to end – and most of the mountain is within easy reach, meaning that skiers can easily return to the village to meet non-skiing friends and family for lunch.
To escape from the throng: Cynics might say just turn up for après-ski and you’ll have plenty of peace and quiet, but it’s true to say that on the mountain there are rarely queues of any length anywhere. Skiers and non-skiers alike might be well advised to spend at least one day away from the slopes in Bern, Switzerland’s capital and one of the most enchanting medieval cities in the world. A Swiss Travel Pass covers the train journey and a boat trip from Interlaken to Thun, then on by rail. It’s difficult to describe Bern in brief, but one feature stands out in particular. There are 7km of covered 15th century arcades known as ‘Lauben’ fronting the old town’s baroque sandstone buildings making it the oldest and longest covered shopping promenade in Europe. In fact, it might be said to be the precursor of the modern shopping mall.
The X Factor: Piz Gloria Revolving restaurant home to Bond World
Murren has a prized crown in the form of an iconic revolving restaurant called Piz Gloria on the summit of the Schilthorn. The landmark building has earned lasting fame as the mountain eyrie of the villainous Blofeld in the 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and it revolves once an hour providing a constantly changing vista of 200 peaks including the Jungfrau, the Monch, and the Eiger. The food is surprisingly good value (even by Swiss standards) and there is a permanent interactive Bond exhibition beneath the dining area. Amazingly, it’s free, and visitors can even fly in a helicopter simulator recreating the aerial assault on the building at the end of the film. Alternatively you can just try your hand at throwing Bond’s trilby on to the coat stand in Miss Moneypenny’s office.
Back in the village, the most popular bars (they don’t have much competition) are the Stagerstubli (where the locals go – always a good sign) and the Tachi in the Hotel Eiger which has a glass panelled and fully ventilated smoking room and a reputation for staying open later than any other bar in the village.
The 4 star Hotel Eiger is the best known hotel in the village, and has been run by four generations of the same family since 1892 (prices from CHF 290 per couple per night in a standard room inc. breakfast). At the other end of the resort the Hotel Alpenruh has marginally the better view, if not quite the same traditional ambience. Prices from CHF 170 per couple per night.