Switzerland is full of villages, remote or close to cities and many of them are known to me. For a small nation, the variety is remarkable as is an infrastructure that enables people to get to places without fuss. Depending on what I am looking for in a holiday determines what sort of Swiss experience I create. I have been twenty five times over many years.
This past May, feeling nearly overwhelmed by a series of events in my family that centered around the end of my mother’s long life, I knew benefit would come about from placement in a village as faraway as possible, but still reachable by the Swiss transportation system.
People have been coming to Switzerland for centuries seeking peace of mind, a chance to either forget their troubles or see them anew in the context of what are for many the world’s most beautiful mountains. At one time, before medicine caught up, clinics appeared throughout the country where people with tuberculosis could breathe in the clean, cold mountain air, drink hearty broths, and eat rich food that would, they hoped, put color back into their cheeks and restore vigor.
The most famous episode of this belief is, “The Magic Mountain,” which is Thomas Mann’s novel about men and women who emerge from Europe’s tumult.
Just as dramatically, Switzerland has long been a haven for artists, like Tristan Tzara and nowadays Tina Turner, who seek homes away from paparazzi and tax collectors.
For those of us who are more ordinary, the country offers a chance to wander perfect mountain paths, many of them on ridges, and to feel a part of Alpine life.
Several Swiss villages are car-free, and my favorite one of all is Muerren, over a mile high in the heart of the Bernese Oberland, which is roughly in the center of the country and defined by the Alps, huge lakes, long and glacial valleys, high waterfalls, and dense pine and deciduous forests.
To reach Muerren, if you are starting from the Zurich airport, you take a train to Lauterbrunnen. From there you either take a bus to Stechelberg and then a cable car up to Gimmelwald and then a second cable car to Muerren. Or you take a cable car from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp and then a cog railway to Muerren. The trip up makes it evident that you are indeed as faraway as you can get by public transportation and still be proximate to the real world.
Muerren is tiny, under 1,000 year round inhabitants, and it has one long “main” and narrow “road” lined with about a half dozen small hotels and restaurants, a bakery, a grocery store, a butcher shop, and a few stores selling sports equipment and souvenirs. Just above is a long path that leads to a few more small hotels and the newly renovated sports center, which has a beautiful swimming pool, spa, and small cafe. Throughout the village are an array of two or three story buildings and most of them are divided up into one story flats.