Step into another world - visit Wengen

Step into another world - visit Wengen

Wengen

Celebrities and the super rich have long loved Wengen, drawn by its old world charm and quiet discretion.

Taking the small, cogwheel Wengernalp train to this Swiss Alpine ski village, it’s easy to see the appeal – the place has all the 21st century comforts, but cherishes, and keeps, its centuries-old traditions.

The 15-minute commute from Lauterbrunnen is like a time warp. Car-free Wengen has been reached in this way since 1893, and, chugging slowly up through the forest, I gained a sense of former days as we emerged into the village, with its timber houses and belle époque hotels.

Bond stuntman, and Alpine Films owner, Stefan Zürcher shares this view.  Stefan is the extreme sports advisor for the new Bond film, Bond 25, and has been involved in the last 10 films of the series. He was born here and his family have lived in the village for generations. “Wengen hasn’t changed much in 40 years. You step into another world when you come here – a dream world – from when you get on the train. It’s a paradise gate, close to the mountain where you can fill up your batteries,” he said. He worked as a stuntman in famous scenes such as the white-knuckle ski chase at the start of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (shot from the revolving restaurant high on the summit of the nearby Shilthorn mountain) and advising on the opening scene of Golden Eye, when Bond bungee jumps off the damn.

His globetrotting included working on location in Mexico City, for Spectre, but no matter what the glamour, he always comes home!


The Jungfrau

Wengen lies at the foot of the Eiger - Mönch - Jungfrau mountain range in the heart of the Bernese Oberland,

Skiers, and non-skiers also love this sunny setting for its relaxed atmosphere, pure mountain air … and the chance to reach the summit!

The Jungfraubahn railway climbs on up from here to the Jungfrau summit, where you can view the Aletsch Glacier from the Sphinx observation deck, and take a walk out on to the glacier plateau.

Combining a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a Disney-style ice palace does have to be seen to be believed, but somehow the Top of Europe Tour does work, combining incredible views with an ice palace, souvenir shops, Lindt Chocolate sales and a range of restaurants.

 

The Skiing

One of Switzerland’s most popular winter sports villages, Wengen lies in the ski centre, Kleine Scheidegg - Männlichen (2061m), with its famous Lauberhorn and Eigergletscher runs. Natures’ big three mountains, the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau characterise this panoramic 102km ski area, where you can also enjoy sledging and winter walks. There’s 100 kms of groomed pistes in and around Wengen, and 175kms of pistes in the Jungfrau region.

There’s also a cableway from Wengen up to Männlichen; the start of a few hiking routes and ski runs, and a gondola from there to Grindelwald.

Every January (18-20) the village hosts the Lauberhorn Downhill Ski Race – one of the World Cup circuit’s most spectacular competitions. And just after (January 23-26), it’s the Inferno Race - the biggest amateur ski race worldwide. It’s been running since 1929 - launched by ski-starved Brits - and now attracts hundreds to the extremely varied course, with ski runs from the Schilthorn to Lauterbrunnen.

Wengen is also home to the Downhill Only Ski Club, (DHO) one of the oldest alpine ski clubs in the world, which was founded here in 1925. The club, with mostly UK members, has its winter base in the village. It provides its members with a representative and skiing guide in the village throughout the skiing season.

For those who like to mix their downhill with other activities, there are also natural, and artificial ice rinks, a curling hall, winter walks, tobogganing, billiards and bowling, snowshoeing, and hand gliding from Männlichen and Kleine Scheidegg

 

Molitor

Those who do try the downhill will be following in the tracks of Karl Molitor (1920-2014), and his wife, Antoinette Molitor-Meyer (1920-2010), who were among the world’s most successful skiers between1939 and 1950.

Karl was three times Swiss national champion, Olympic silver medal (St Moritz ’48). He was also a member of the U.S. Ski Hall of Fame, and still holds the record of most Lauberhorn race wins. Antoinette Molitor-Meyer was also a successful skier, winning the silver medal at the 1948 Olympic Games in St Moritz.  In 1912, during the First World War, the Molitors opened a small kiosk selling boots and sports clothes in Wengen. Karl went ski racing to the states and discovered his hand made Swiss ski boots were a hit with his new friends … so he started taking large orders. 

To keep up with demand he brought 60 Italian shoemakers to Wengen and started selling shoes all over the world. Molitor ski boots "Made in Wengen" had a very good reputation worldwide, and changing the traditional lace ups to buckles was a Molitor initiation, which was featured in Vogue. Their son Rico and his wife Lilan ran the family sports shop from 1986 until 2012, when their long-time staff Beat and Elisabeth von Allmen took over the business. ‘Molitor is about constant quality product with no compromise. We have to think, what can we do better, to stand out,” said Elisabeth…and this season that means launching two new skis!

The couple have also joined the Premier Sports Group, which has 27 shops in Switzerland selling quality Swiss made sports and leisure products. The skis will be sold exclusively by these stores.

The Molitor Perform is a giant slalom ski, good for medium to long turns. It also has especially wide edges to ensure a particularly long service life.

The Molitor Command also has wide edges, and is good for short to medium turns, even on hard and icy slopes.

 

Hotel Schönegg

I stayed at the three-star superior Hotel Schönegg, one of the oldest properties in the heart of the village. It opened in 1903 and was fully renovated in 2012, bringing back the ‘shine’ of its belle époque splendour. Comfort meets alpine charm, with rooms including a penthouse apartment, lifestyle junior suite, roof double, family room, small queen and cosy single.

The hotel’s 2019 winter season runs from December 12 to March 3, with a range of in-house entertainment, from yodelling lessons to cheese and wine tasting. I choose the tasty option.

Tastings are held regular in the hotel and you can also enjoy a private meal and tastings in the wine cellar (for two to six people). I enjoyed my cheese and wine in the cosy, candlelit cellar. It’s a nice way to learn more about fine local wine and produce, while enjoying a cosy night in. I sampled Petite Arvine, a white wine from Valais, palette awaking Bergkäse Mutschli and Thurgau cheese and Blauburgunder (the Swiss German name for Pinot Noir). But my favourite wine has to be the Chateau de perrot dry wine grand cru, and the Cannabis flower cheese (yes, really). 

Guests can also dine in the rustic Stübli - Restaurant & Bar, or the wood-paneled Restaurant 1903, where chef Sylvain Stefanazzi Ogi and his team serve carefully prepared culinary delights, made with the country’s finest locally sourced ingredients.

 

FACTS BOX

Ski hire: Molitor Sport Shop - https://www.molitor.ch/

Accommodation: Hotel Schönegg https://www.hotel-schoenegg.ch/

Travel:  Switzerland Tourism 
See www.MySwitzerland.com, call the Switzerland Travel Centre on International freephone 00800 100 200 30, or email info.uk@myswitzerland.com; for packages, trains and air tickets sales@stc.co.uk.

Swiss Travel System 
The Swiss Travel System SBB provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors.

The Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days throughout the rail, bus and boat Swiss Travel System network. This pass also covers scenic routes and local trams and buses in around 90 towns and cities, and the Swiss Museum Pass, allowing you free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £171 (second class).

Swiss International Air Lines
SWISS offers over more than 170 weekly flights from London City, Heathrow, Gatwick (seasonal), Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Dublin to Zurich, Geneva or Sion (seasonal).

One-way fares start from £67 including all taxes, fees and surcharges, one piece of hold and hand luggage and also a snack and refreshments are included in the Classic fare.

SWISS will also transport your first set of ski or snowboard equipment and boots free of charge in addition to your standard free baggage allowance subject to availability (excluding hand luggage only fares). For more information visit swiss.com, or call 0345 601 0956