If you’re a James Bond fan (and who isn’t) or an adventure junkie (okay, this one’s optional), surely you remember the spectacular jump off that massive dam in GoldenEye? That was all of 220 metres traversed in 7.5 whooshing seconds from what’s said to be the world’s highest stationary bungee station — nothing less would do for Bond, right?
That jump made the Verzasca — or Contra — dam one of the hottest adventure attractions in Switzerland, with thousands of tourists going where Bond had gone (the jump was actually performed by a stuntman, but who cares, that’s the movies for you). So if you want to go the Bond way, just ask for what is now known as the GoldenEye Jump or the 007 Jump and you could be whooshing down that wall yourself.
That’s the kind of impact one great movie sequence can have. What also helps is that the Contra dam stands on the picturesque Verzasca River in the picture-perfect canton of Ticino. The weather is brilliant and the landscapes breathtaking, with green mountainsides abutting crystal blue lakes. You can trek, drive, go boating or fishing after your adrenaline burst.
Setting the scene
If you’re looking for a slice of urban delight, you can head for Locarno on the placid Lake Maggiore. If you’re a film buff, you might even want to head there for the Locarno Film Festival, held every August.
That’s the thing about Switzerland: it’s got something for every mood and person — including film-makers ever on the lookout for that perfectly framed landscape. And here, the James Bond franchise leads the Hollywood pack. Probably because Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, had a soft corner for Switzerland; he even gave Bond a half-Swiss mother who was born in the canton of Vaud.
Remember that ski chase in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, with George Lazenby and the leggy Diana Rigg chasing Telly Savalas down the slopes, raking up clouds of snow as they raced along? That was supposed to be at St Moritz but was actually shot on the Schilthorn, near Interlaken. And the clinical research institute that is the villain’s mountain hideout? That’s the Piz Gloria revolving restaurant atop the Schilthorn.
Incidentally, Piz Gloria was actually the name of the villain’s laboratory. Since the movie was shot while the hotel was under construction, the restaurant was named after the movie. You can drop in for a gourmet meal, overlooking the breathtaking Schilthorn summit (2,970 metres) and Jungfraujoch mountain pass (3,471 metres).
Then there was the other ski chase in The Spy Who Loved Me, which concluded with Roger Moore spectacularly jumping off a cliff. Most of it was shot at St Moritz, though that particular jump was filmed in Canada.
St Moritz, the world’s most famous (and expensive) winter resort, also featured in Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only — given Bond’s expensive tastes and love of the good life, are you surprised?
Yes, not all of us are as well heeled or adventurous as Bond. But don’t let that keep you from St Moritz, which offers a number of budget hotels, hostels and restaurants. There are even discounted ski packages to be found, if you look around hard enough. If you can afford it, there are many more pleasures — besides designer shopping of course.
Quite literally high up on the list is the funicular railway up to the Muottas Muragl mountain (2,456 metres), which is a popular take-off point for hikes and tobogganing. Many of the hotels here offer packages that include rides on the mountain railways and cableways. If you prefer to simply relax, book yourself a table at the mountain-top restaurant, where you can spend hours gazing at magical views of the peaks and valleys.
Get off the skis and into Bond’s iconic Aston Martin, and you might recall the car chase in Goldfinger, with Tilly Masterton and 007 chasing Auric Goldfinger. This was shot in the Furka pass, one of the most scenic points in the Swiss Alps, which oversees a splendid view of winding roads set amid majestic mountains.
Other Hollywood movies have come to Switzerland too, naturally. In Syriana, for instance, George Clooney is shown at the President Wilson, Geneva’s famous luxury hotel. Clooney’s character in the movie may not have visited Geneva’s most famous landmark, the Jet D’Eau, set in Lake Geneva — but you can. As one of the world’s biggest fountains, with a jet shooting 140 metres into the air at 200km/h, it’s visible throughout the city.
Pride in precision
You can also take a cruise round the lake or see Geneva’s other big attraction: the much-photographed flower clock in the Jardin Anglais. It has over 6,000 flowers and plants, and their colours and patterns change with the season. Since we’re talking about a country that prides itself on its watches and punctuality, the flower clock tells the time with Swiss precision. And its seconds hand is said to be the world’s longest, at 2.5 metres.
If you like walkabouts, stroll through the old town for a slice of history (including philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau’s house). Picnic in one of the many beautiful parks or buy some art in Carouge, the artistic and bohemian quarter. Buy a Swiss watch if you’ve got the francs left.
Another Swiss movie location you might remember is from Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, where the mountains of Grindelwald became those of the planet Alderaan, with a little digital help. Or Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, in which a train scene was shot near Triengen in the Lucerne region. And Angels and Demons, which kicks off at Cern, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (near Geneva) famed for its pursuit of the God Particle. A stolen vial of antimatter from Cern was a catalyst in the story.
Band of Brothers, the TV drama, was filmed extensively in Swiss locations, especially the Interlaken area. Many of the scenes purportedly in Austria and the baseball game near the end were shot in Interlaken.
But the film industry that can’t get enough of Switzerland is Bollywood. Film-maker Raj Kapoor started it all off by shooting some sequences from his blockbuster Sangam here in the 1960s. After that, it’s been a steady stream of traffic from Mumbai to Switzerland — especially for Bollywood’s song-and-dance routines.
A notable visitor was Bollywood legend Yash Chopra, who shot so many of his movies there that Interlaken has installed a plaque with his name on its main street. The Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa has a Yash Chopra suite for anyone who’s sufficiently in love with the director’s movies and Bollywood. Jungfrau Railways did its bit by naming a mountain train after him.
These are not only warm gestures, but savvy ones too, as Indian visitors generate a sizeable chunk of Switzerland’s tourism revenues. Indeed, many tour operators make sure to include Bollywood locations on Swiss tour packages. Most of them centre around the quaint village of Montbovon in the canton of Fribourg, where key scenes from the classic Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ) were shot. Much of the film was shot throughout Switzerland: a song in Gstaad, bits in Saanen, with additional filming on Swiss trains and platforms.
It is a movie that defined romance for an entire generation (as Casablanca, Love Story and You’ve Got Mail did in Hollywood). Members of that generation, now in their 30s and 40s, like to relive their youth by tracing the DDLJ route. If you happen to see Indian tourists getting extraordinarily mushy over a church in Montbovon, a bridge near Saanen, or in a Swiss train, you now know why. Oh well, if Rome can have its Angels and Demons tour, why not Switzerland its DDLJ journey?