- - Monday, February 2, 2015

Pop culture can inspire travel, and a novel movie encounter has lured me to distant destinations.

Switzerland’s most spectacular view is at the Schilthorn,” said Urs Hauser — someone who should know. The goateed hotelier’s roots stretch back 1,000 years in Grindelwald, a launching pad to the Jungfrau and other Bernese Alps peaks, where his family opened Hotel Belvedere in 1907.

In 2010, I heeded Mr. Hauser’s words of wisdom and headed for the 9,744-foot Schilthorn, riding trains to the 5,413-foot-high Murren, crossing that carless (but beware of zooming sleighs) village by foot, climbing the final leg via cable car, tingling with anticipation because I’d seen the Schilthorn before — albeit on screen.

The 1969 film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was shot on location at what evildoer Irma Bunt called “the high Alps” in Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel, his 10th James Bond book. Having read and seen the film during my youth, I was eager to behold the stunning setting of 007’s special-effects-laden Swiss adventure — with skiing, car chases, air raids, bobsledding and bedding beauties.

“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is also noteworthy as the film franchise’s first feature sans Sean Connery. Australian George Lazenby played Britain’s suave secret agent. The film is also the only 007 thriller in which Bond weds.



The film version follows Fleming’s plot closely but with one major difference: Engadine Valley is in southeastern Switzerland, but the movie set Blofeld’s lair nearer central Switzerland. But whether Piz Gloria loomed above St. Moritz on page or Grindelwald on screen, when my cable car alighted, I discerned neither: The Alps were veiled by clouds. The entire vista was fogged in, rendering it impossible to see the splendor Mr. Hauser assured was awaiting me atop the Schilthorn. I went back to Hotel Belvedere heartbroken yet determined to return.

An opportunity arrived in December. I made a beeline for the Schilthorn, riding the train to Zweilutschinen and disembarking at Lauterbrunnen. From there, I took the Postbus to Stechelberg, where Swiss Skyline’s cableway carried me up to Murren. It looked as if I was in luck: This was my sunniest day yet in Switzerland. As Fleming wrote: “The sun was blazing down out of a crystal sky.” After four years of waiting, the magic mountain beckoned.

Hotel Alpenruh is perched beside Murren’s cable station. Checking in to deposit luggage, I inquired about the schedule to the Schilthorn. Manager Melanie Brotschi’s reply shocked me: “It may be too windy for cable cars today.”

What? Would a few gusts stop Bond saving his bride Tracy from Blofeld?

I flew to the railhead. Concrete bricks lined the cable car’s center for ballast. Despite swaying, the hardy Swiss engineer finally blasted off toward the long-awaited Schilthorn. Believe it or not, Monty Norman’s iconic James Bond theme twanged on speakers. Exhilarated, I stared out the cabin’s wide windows, admiring majestic Alpine scenery just as 007 had.

Arriving at the sunny, snowy summit, I dashed outdoors to the large terrace bearing life-size Lazenby cutouts to drink in the view. The expansive Alps stretched toward the horizon in dazzling sunshine. A splendid, pristine panorama of 200 ivory peaks reached for azure skies, unsurpassed, as Mr. Hauser pledged, in Swiss sublimity.

The sumptuous tableau was reflected in picture windows of the revolving restaurant with its slightly peaked roof, its name from the moniker Fleming bestowed on the Alp in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”: Piz Gloria, or “Glorious Peak.” Indeed, this mountainous glory was so heavenly that I thought the title’s “Majesty” referred not to Queen Elizabeth but to the aristocratic Alps.

Fleming described the structure as “a large, bogus-chalet type structure with a vast veranda, sparsely lit a typical piece of high-Alpine architecture.” Its interior is wood-paneled with red cushion chairs. A mind-boggling 360-degree spectacle is revealed as the eatery slowly spins above the clouds.

After lunching, I sauntered downstairs to Bond World. In this new interactive movie museum, wannabe MI6 agents can simulate bobsled and chopper shootouts, see “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” clips and learn about making the movie, its cast and its crew — from Mr. Lazenby to stuntmen to Fleming, including the Swiss ties of the author and his character.

Before leaving Bond’s glorious peak, I stepped onto the veranda one last time to experience the sweeping, spellbinding, sensational scenery that is licensed to kill, rendering sightseers stirred and shaken. While observing the Alpine Shangri-La, like 007, “a blizzard of snow particles stung the right side of his face.” Rejuvenated, I mused about telling Urs Hauser that age hadn’t whitened my mustache; Piz Gloria’s frost had.

IF YOU GO

What: Schilthorn Cableway/Bond World/Restaurant Piz Gloria Reservations

+41 (0)33 82 60007; [email protected]; www.schilthorn.ch

What: Hotel Belvedere

Dorfstrasse 53, CH-3818 Grindelwald

+41 (0)33 888 99 99; www.belvedere-grindelwald.ch/en/; [email protected]

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