Travel: Esme Allen goes skiing in Murren

Murren - in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland. Picture: Esme Allen

Murren - in the Jungfrau Region of Switzerland. Picture: Esme Allen

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WITH most of Europe’s ski slopes devoid of snow, I was certainly feeling lucky as I stood at almost 3000m near the top of the Schilthorn in Switzerland with real snow beneath my skis.

Looking down through the beautiful valley, with dramatic mountain scenery as far as the eye could see, I had to agree with my guide for the day, Alan Ramsay - “The most beautiful place to ski in Switzerland” and after a slight pause, “actually, the world” he said with an element of mischief.

Alan, decked out with tartan ski trousers and originally hailing from Peebles in the Scottish Borders, is one of the founders of the relatively new Murren and Kandahar Races (MKR).

The three-day family event, which encourages children and adults of all abilities to try new snow sports, is held in Murren, Switzerland at the beginning of the ski season.

Various clinics such as for tobogganing, telemark and freestyle skiing are on offer plus slalom racing. Sadly, though, due to a lack of snow on the lower slopes, the December event was cancelled.

Julia Lunn, one of the organisers, is married to the grandson of Arnold Lunn who set the world’s first modern downhill slalom event in Murren in 1922 and whose son Peter, was captain of the British Olympic ski team in 1936, a member of MI6 for 30 years, a skier until his mid-nineties, in short a real life James Bond.

Julia told me that as Murren “was the home of snow sport innovation, it was a perfect place for this type of event”. It is also home to the Inferno which is the world’s longest and largest amateur downhill ski race and is held in January.

My 11-year-old son Joe and I were not left twiddling our thumbs, though. By the second day with our skiing ability and confidence defining us, Joe was whisked off to ski with other children and a MKR instructor and I was sent to ski with retired naval officer, expert skier and MKR volunteer, Colin Stone.

I was told that if you can ski in Murren you can ski anywhere which left me a little nervous. Restricted to the upper slopes around Birg and Schilthorn, Colin was a fantastic instructor and by the end of the day I was delighted to have graduated from blue to red slopes. My badge of honour was completing a black slope. Much to my embarrassment though, this was done horizontally with large bruises to prove it.

My son loved being taught with his own age group and was happily zipping back down to Murren via red and black slopes at the end of the day, bypassing the cable car altogether.

Back in the village, I headed off to a well-earned relaxation in the spa. Only in Switzerland would the community sports centre have a spa and pool more suited to a five-star hotel.

Curling lessons with world and European champions Frederic Jean and his wife Christine Krieg was next on the agenda. Groups of children and adults tottered round the large ice rink next to the sports centre deciding that curling was indeed harder than it looked but enjoying themselves anyway.

Murren itself, with its pretty traditional Alpine wooden houses and fantastic mountain location is picture postcard perfect

Cars aren’t allowed in the village, so snow covers the roads allowing people to ski straight from the hotels to the lifts and cable cars.

Tourists arrive in Murren via a cable car and a little train from the nearest town of Lauterbrunnen situated in the valley below.

We had travelled across Switzerland from Geneva Airport using numerous trains until we literally reached the top of a mountain, a journey which would strike fear into any traveller in the UK, but not Switzerland with trains running like the proverbial clockwork.

A Scottish family who Joe and I had the pleasure of skiing with and who have long discovered the beauty of the area are the Mackies, (of crisp, ice cream and chocolate fame).

Kirstin Mackie (now McNutt) has been coming to Murren since she was a small child and now delights in bringing her husband and three children. “It’s a magical place, friendly, safe, no cars and amazing scenery. Honestly, it gets better every year” she said.

One of the last things you expected to see at the top of a Swiss ski resort as you stumble off the cable car clutching your skis is life size cut outs of 007 George Lazenby and groups of Chinese tourists.

Not attracted by the skiing, tourists arrive in droves to see the dramatic panoramic mountain panorama where the 1969 James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was shot and to see Blofeld’s lair perched on top of the Schilthorn complete with interactive 007 themed exhibition.

For the more capable skier a slope with an eye watering gradient of 75%, the steepest in the region, takes you straight back down to the gentler slopes.

Back in the lovely Hotel Eiger, the James Bond theme continued. With historic photos of the Lunn family on its walls and James Bond theme tunes being played in the dining room, the waitress told us about the recent time George Lazenby was a guest.

There was also a promise to show us the James Bond themed bedroom complete with red phone before we left.

You can see why people over generations have fallen in love with Murren, its history, mountain scenery and skiing.

Travel facts

• Esme Allen travelled to Mürren – cradle of downhill ski racing - in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland as a guest of Mürren Tourism (www.muerren.ch) and the Schilthorn Cableway Ltd. (www.schilthorn.ch).

• She stayed at 4-star Hotel Eiger (www.hoteleiger.com / T: +41 33 856 54 54) where one week’s half-board is priced from CHF2352 based on 2 sharing.

• For a choice of accommodation for all budgets, visit: www.muerren.ch.

• Plan your journey (flights/rail transfers) via: www.myswitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre Freephone 00800-100 200 30.

• For 2016/17 dates of the Mürren Kandahar Races, visit www.MurrenKandaharRaces.com