Passport and toothbrush: check. Hiking boots: check. Synonyms for spectacular: well, this is embarrassing.
Fortunately for me, and for a chilled-out group of five other experience-seekers, hope remains for a more imaginative mastery of my mother tongue. That’s thanks to a six-night hiking and writing retreat in Mürren, population 350, accessible only by a combination of cable car and train. Car-free, carefree and chalet-intensive, this Heidi-esque village is nestled amongst the snowed-up cliffs and dramatic heights of the Swiss Alps that tower above. I’ll settle for awe-inspiring for now.
In any season Mürren is a no-brainer in terms of cosy and inviting hotel common rooms exploding with Gemütlichkeit. Add delicious, belly-warming caffeine, a laptop, magnificent window views, plus a group of writing workshop participants ranging from seasoned journalists to travel bloggers to anyone keen to apply pen to paper, and you’ve got the trip of your dreams. When your company is a bunch of encouraging and likeminded ladies who love to travel, hike and write, you’ll soon question why you didn’t do this a decade ago. Breathtaking!
In summer Mürren is a base for day hikes that include a new flower trail showing off the alpine roses and edelweiss of the higher altitudes. As for fun facts about edelweiss, there’s more to the ‘noble white’ flower than Captain Von Trapp crooning about it on his acoustic guitar while Fräulein Maria swoons from the doorway.
Edelweiss was a unifying symbol of the region’s spirit of mountaineering in the nineteenth century, and an emblem used in twentieth century nationalist propaganda. These days it symbolises big bucks for tourism, judging by the droves of visitors who’ve seen The Sound of Music and must see this famous flora before they leave. Edelweiss Hotels and Edelweiss Airlines are amongst 69 entries for the word in the Swiss trademark register.
All this hiking-induced blood flow to the brain was enough to spark our adjectival imaginations. One member of our group admired the ‘cacophony of cow bells’ on the slopes around us. Brilliant, I thought, but the cows can wait. My energies were focused on describing those Alps like no woman had before. Could it be done?
Dr. Evil and the Schilthorn summit
Mürren’s vistas are of course trumped by the Schilthorn summit, an extraordinary three-sixty of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. Take your sunglasses for the panoramic expanse of glacial glare. The revolving restaurant was the setting for villain Blofeld’s hangout in the 1969 Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. It’s something the locals are proud enough of to build the Bond World 007 museum downstairs, where you see how Blofeld inspired Austin Powers’ latter day antihero, Dr. Evil.
Rather than feel silly about my own tragically tardy discovery of the timeless pop culture reference (sorry, it’s all Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig for me), I was still deeply distracted. I was too busy furiously rummaging through my internal thesaurus searching for new words to describe the, erm… remarkable alpine surrounds. Was it the Shilthorn’s views that took my breath away, or simply the stairs I climbed to get there?
Behind every great cliché…
It was a free afternoon between hiking and writing that I happened to have the cool shade of the Sportchalet’s back terrace to myself. I jumped rope to the sound of Mürren’s silence and the rhythmic whip of the rope under my sneakered feet. As I zoned out, eyes glazing over, focusing far into the highest and most extensive mountain range system in the world, something clicked. Suddenly it was as clear as the air you breathe while elevated 1,650 metres into the Bernese Oberland.
Forget finding new ways to capture, with whatever the English language had to offer, the majesty of the Swiss Alps. It was time to pause for a moment, take it easy… and simply take it all in.
The fabulous rejuvenation job that those Alps pulled on me was enough to have me back at the word processor, furiously (de)scribing and ready to face, head on, my return to the grumpy commutes of London.
Pink Pangea also runs writing, hiking and yoga retreats in Tel Aviv, Corfu, Venice, Barcelona and Costa Rica.