Richard On-Camera: If there is one word that writers through the centuries have used describe the great peaks, the glaciers, waterfalls, and grand scenery of Switzerland, it is the word “sublime.” Many consider Switzerland the birthplace of adventure travel, the wellspring for ecotourism, the spur for organized tours into the wilds. But what is it about this vault of Nature so sublime? In fact what exactly does sublime mean, and what are its sensibilities and applications here and now?

Richard Voice-Over: Join us as we explore the roots of adventure travel and discover how Switzerland’s alpine beauty inspired today’s ecotourism.

VO: Mountains fill the human spirit with awe and wonder. They absorb the imagination…offering challenge, veneration and exhilaration. In early writings, they’re associated with the divine. They are the backbone of the earth rising to rip the sky. No matter how one perceives them, mountains have power.

VO: English author Mary Shelley wrote: "The mighty Alps, whose white and shining pyramids and domes towered above all, as belonging to another earth, the habitations of another race of beings."

OC: A few hundred years ago, British writers, fleeing the smoggy, coal-blackened cities that stifled their imaginations, embarked on the Grand Tour of Europe. When they arrived in the Swiss Alps, the word they chose to describe these landscapes was “sublime”.

VO: I’m off to unearth what this word meant to those early travelers, and what Switzerland has to offer visitors today. I’m also in search of the origins of adventure tourism and how the experiences of past artists and writers have transformed our notion of travel.

VO: Like many people I always thought “sublime” was just another word for “wonderful”, the way one might describe a beautiful flower or delicious food. But my friend, alpine climber John Harlin, suggests a deeper meaning.

JOHN HARLIN III, MOUNTAINEER AND WRITER: The sublime is this appreciation for nature in its most awe-inspiring sense. It’s something you have to put yourself into and experience it for yourself. The best way to do that is by traveling through Switzerland. 40 And you might start more on the eastern end and then take the train and traverse the length of Switzerland staying as close to the spine of the alps as you can. And really just put yourself in it because it’s something to be experienced.

VO: Many travelers today want to “put themselves in it” and have more meaningful travel experiences.

OC: It’s no longer enough to just tick another destination off the list. It’s no longer enough to just check in, do some shopping and check out.

VO: Some travelers are looking for greater adventure and a deeper connection with the world around them. They’re hoping to make a difference. They’re looking for adventures with purpose.

VO: Our purpose this time takes us to the middle of Western Europe, and the small country of Switzerland. We’ll begin in Lucerne, travel to St. Moritz, and board the famous Glacier Express. We’ll take a side trip to the Jungfrau region, and head to Zermatt and the rapture of a deadly mountain that helped change our perception of nature.

VO: Lucerne, gateway to central Switzerland, rests on the lake of the same name, a body of water that widens like a horn between steep-sided mountains. 200 years ago British travelers on the Grand Tour became infatuated with this area, awed by its wild magnificence and simple authenticity. They wrote glowingly of their journeys, spreading the word to Europe’s elite. Painters and writers, such as Joseph Turner and Lord Byron, found inspiration in the mountain scenery and attempted to capture it on canvas and in poems. Percy Shelley said the Alps inspired in him “ecstatic wonder not unallied to madness."

PROF. ANGELA ESTERHAMMER, UNIVERSITY OF ZURICH: The main idea of the sublime is that it’s an experience that produces pleasure, but it’s what they called in the 18th century a “negative pleasure.”
So both the beautiful and the sublime produce pleasure, but in the case of the sublime, it’s this pleasure that’s always connected with fear, or awe or horror or danger. The sublime is something that is just too large for the mind to comprehend.

OC: For centuries, Europeans saw the wilderness as a dangerous place, to be approached warily until tamed by human settlement. But the Age of Enlightenment brought a new appreciation of nature. And when poets, naturalists, and painters of the 19th century began to see the Alps in a different light...

VO:...curiosity replaced fear, and tourism in Switzerland was born.

VO: Rising over Lucerne, the snowy summit of Mount Pilatus was long regarded with superstition and dread. Before the Romantics, mountains such as Pilatus were merely barriers and impediments to agriculture. The old Swiss peasant name for the Alps is geissbergen, literally “goat mountains,” land that is purposeful only for pasturing tough meat. Now though, Pilatus draws the eye and the traveler with wonder, and thousands seek its jagged peaks and dizzying views.

VO: Switzerland is anything but neutral when it comes to landscapes, and a boat trip across the glacial fed Lake Lucerne to the base of Pilatus is all the proof needed. It wasn’t just mountains that inspired the romantic poets, but profound bodies of water. Pondering one Swiss lake, Lord Byron penned: "How much more, Lake of Beauty! do we feel, in sweetly gliding o'er thy crystal sea?"

VO: The train that scales Mount Pilatus is the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, making the sacred geometry of turmoil accessible to all. It was rail that revolutionized European travel. The Grand Tour, a travel itinerary that flourished from about the mid 1600’s to the mid 1800’s, usually involved wealthy young Brits traveling a circuit through Europe to study classical culture and art. After soaking in Paris and Geneva, they made the arduous journey over the Alps to Italy. At first they closed the curtains when passing through the intimidating landscapes, but eventually they pulled back the view and were thrilled by what they saw. Some wrote poems that became popular back home. Then when railroads in the 19th century made mass transit possible, the journey was suddenly available to just about anyone.

VO: But dialing back to an earlier era, medieval Europe viewed nature and the Alps with superstition. People created stories to cope with their fears and explain natural phenomena.

OC: It’s said that dragons inhabit the caves and rocky crevices of Mt. Pilatus. Legend has it that, if disturbed, the dragons send fireballs and storms down the mountain. Other legends say that the dragons possess magical healing powers.

VO: In one story, a woodworker was foraging on the mountain when he fell into a deep black void and lost consciousness.

COLETTE RICHTER, Pilatus-Bahnen: And then when he woke up he saw two big dragons, so he became very scared and he was thinking, oh gee, what do I do? But these dragons were very friendly guys and talked to him and said, you know what, it’s too dangerous for you to go back down, and you stay with us this winter and in the spring we bring you back to the city. The townspeople threw a party to welcome the man home, and they begged him to tell the story of his rescue over and over. And they say the dragons are protective animals who watch the people in Lucerne. Very friendly creatures.

VO: The Age of Enlightenment moved from myths, and awakened consciousness as never before and people began to look at mountains in a new way. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s impact was enormous. He wrote that it was mankind's goal was to get "back to nature." His many followers wanted to experience firsthand the scenery he described when he wrote: “I need brooks… rocks… pine trees… dark forests… rough winding paths …and abysses." Rousseau’s works fed popular appreciation of Switzerland as a beautiful, accessible place where one could touch and be touched by nature.

VO: At 4500 feet, the Pilatus track is the longest summer toboggan ride in Switzerland. It’s also white-knuckle rush. The sled careens through steep curves, dragon holes and mega jumps that fire the senses. Robert Louis Stevenson described Swiss tobogganing this way: “…you are speeding like the wind and … spinning round a corner with close-shut teeth and beating heart. This teaches the pulse an unaccustomed tune and adds a new excitement to the life of man upon his planet.”

VO: Lucerne’s accessible lake and strategic mountain passes made this an early center of trade and commerce. But what really put Lucerne on the map was tourism. Over the years, the city has welcomed a steady stream of celebrities.

PATRICK HAUSER, Owner, Hotel Schweizerhof: Amongst others we had Richard Wagner, Leo Tolstoy, Mark Twain as our guests, as well as some other notorieties of across Europe. And from kings and queens of days gone by, we now have BB Kings and Van Morrisons as our guests.”

VO: It’s not hard to appreciate Richard Wagner’s sentiments when in 1866 writing to King Ludwig II he proclaimed: "I do not know of a more beautiful spot in this world… Nobody will get me out of here again."

Lucerne’s Transportation Museum is a great anteroom to wilderness. Since ancient times, the Alps served as a natural barrier between northern and southern Europe.

OC: The sublime by nature was difficult to reach. And for much of history the Alps were difficult to reach and even harder to cross. But when in the 19th century railroads made mass transit possible, the alpine world was no longer something to be feared and dreaded, but instead became something that was wondrous and inspiring.

VO: The pioneer of modern mass tourism was Englishman Thomas Cook who in 1841 organized the first package tour in history when he arranged for an English rail company to transport a group of temperance workers. Known as the Napoleon of excursions, Cook immediately saw the potential of a convenient holiday tour which included everything for one price. He went on to organize trips to Switzerland and the Alps where men and women would sport among the glaciers, and nature tourism was born.

OC: The legend of William Tell played a central role in drawing early tourists to Switzerland. Visitors came to meet the descendents of the storied hero at the place that inspired the birth of a nation.

VO: Part of Switzerland’s appeal to 19th century romantics was an idealized vision of Swiss democracy.

VO: A meandering hiking trail known as the “Swiss Path” that runs along the lower part of Lake Lucerne through Rütli Meadow. This trail pays tribute to the early democratic movement here.

MARTINA KALIN, Historian: We believe that according to legend, Switzerland was founded there. And it’s where the heart of the nation is

VO: The path commemorates the 700th anniversary of Rütli Oath, when 3 cantons swore mutual support and a commitment to freedom. The oath was popularized in an1804 play by Friedrich Schiller featuring romantic hero William Tell. When forced to shoot an apple off his own son’s head, Tell personified skilled marksmanship and inspired patriotic fervor among his countrymen.

MARTINA: It gave a signal to all the regions here and the people here decided we’ll stand together and they came together on the Rütli Meadow, they swore an oath to protect each other and stand together against foreign judges and then they got rid of them.

VO: The tale attracted tourists throughout Europe and beyond, those who wanted to meet these fabled people living free in a storied and idyllic land.

VO: This independent Swiss spirit still shines in a small group of people known as the “Weather Sniffers.” They are exceptionally tuned into nature and practice the art of predicting weather based on the language of the environment. Peter Suter has lived in this valley for more than 80 years.


He looks for the patterns of scurrying ants, the diagrams of clouds, the perfume of plants and other subtle signs oblivious to the rest of us.


VO: This “Weather Sniffer” worries that young people today walk through the mountains without really seeing. He wishes that they would learn to study and interpret the signs of nature and help keep this skill alive.

VO: Switzerland, by nature, has always sought ways to balance the relationship between humans and the land.

VO: To the southwest of Lucerne there is hidden valley called Entlebuch where an experiment is taking place, an attempt to provide ways for people to benefit from the environment without damaging it.

VO: Here in these 240 miles of rolling alpine hills, traditional farming and forest practices rule. The valley’s been named Switzerland's first UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Biosphere reserves promote sustainable relationships between people and nature. Since farming economies appeared centuries ago, the world’s human population has grown more than 10,000-fold, and this surge has put enormous pressures on all ecosystems. Can sustainable farming practices work in our modern world?

VO: Entlebuch’s experiment aims to see if they can. Its organic farms, which avoid synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and livestock feed additives, are an important ingredient.

VO: It’s here I meet the chef who conjures some of the world’s most organic dishes: Stefan Weisner.

RICHARD: What’s your most famous dish?....

STEFAN WEISNER, Gasthof Rossli: The hay soup.

RICHARD: It’s the hay soup? Well, let’s go make some hay. Let’s go have some soup.

VO: He gathers everything himself, and leaves no stone unturned as he roots around the biosphere. His ingredients: ants, coal, stones, snow, hay, silver, gold, moss, ferns, peat, alpine roses, tree bark and...whiskey. His menu seems a demonic offering that lays somewhere between between absurdity and transcendence. The soup even has a hay nest for garnish.

RICHARD: What an explosion of flavor…There are 49 different herbs that are in this hay soup and Stefan picks them personally.

VO: Amid the high hills of Entlebuch is a portal to subterranean adventure.

OC: Here we go, into the ground.

VO: We’re entering into one of the thousands of karst caves that infiltrate Switzerland’s nether regions. Karst caves are formed when mildly acidic water seeps through soluble rock, such as limestone.

OC: It is very soft, so please don’t touch it gives many prints, this is very bad.

VO: They often shelter curious formations… and prehistoric wonders. Bones discovered near here prove Cave Bears once roamed these recesses. The Cave Bear became extinct at the end of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago.

OC: We’re looking at fossils from an ancient sea bed, tens of millions of years old. This is looking at the inner earth, the beginnings of time, the beginnings of life on earth.

VO: The bedrock here was thrust up from an ocean floor, and the cave is now a chamber of the earth’s earliest treasures.

VO: Entlebuch is but one example of an eco-sensibility that has been a hallmark of Switzerland and continues in all quarters, from dinner tables to transportation. Swiss International Airlines provides travelers a carbon offset program that donates to environmental projects. And trains, trams, and smart cars are everywhere.

VO: It used to be that when Autumn’s chill turned frigid it was time to leave the Alps….but in the 19th century that mindset changed.

VO: When the white cat of winter covers the mountains, the fashionable crowd heads to the extreme south-east of Switzerland, to the Engadine Valley. Here, sybaritic mixes with ethereal in St. Moritz.

VO: Engadine opens to a panorama of chilling bliss. The valley, flocked in thick forests, runs for 60 miles along a southern terrace of the Alps. Isolated for thousands of years by a shield of sheer rocky summits and deeply folding valleys, this area only became part of Switzerland in 1803.

VO:Lounging in the Engadine are several elegant holiday resorts, including glitzy St. Moritz. Long considered an exclusive winter getaway for the elite, St. Moritz is legendary for its "dry, sparkling champagne climate". The sun shines here an average of 322 days a year and a flurry of outdoor activities, some quite dangerous, pulses and invites. Attracted by natural mineral springs, the intrepid have ventured to this spot for some 3,000 years seeking solace in the healing mountain water.

OC: This is the fount for all tourism in St. Moritz. In the 16th century a German doctor praised the waters here as the best in all of Europe and from that point on people flocked from around the world to St. Moritz.

VO: Celebrities such as Alfred Hitchcock, Brigitte Bardot, Charlie Chaplin, and the Kennedys all found pleasure here in the echo of its formidable avalanches. St. Moritz is also considered the “birthplace of winter tourism.”

OC: It all started in September 1864, when a local hotel pioneer named Johannes Badrutt made a bet with four of his English guests that if they stayed the winter, they would find the experience more agreeable than dreadful. This was back in the days when staying in the mountains beyond the short summer season was considered suicidal.

VO: The strategy paid off and the guests stayed all the way through Easter. As word spread, ever larger numbers of patrons came to enjoy the bracing winter sports and what the Romantics called ‘the agreeable horror.’

VO: Lording over St. Moritz is the regal Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. Set amid the luminous white alps, the hotel has recently gone distinctly green. A new energy-efficient pump system that uses water from Lake St. Moritz is now the main heat source.

SUSI CHESIRE, BADRUTT SPOKESPERSON: We used to have an oil-heating system, and this new system enables us to save over 400,000 liters of oil a year, and this reduces the carbon emissions by about 80%.

VO: The pump technology is a little hard to grasp, but essentially wherever the temperature is higher than zero (as is Lake St. Moritz), there is some heat that can be extracted. The pump compresses that heat so that what was only “slightly warm” becomes “hot.”

RICHARD: So it’s one of the reasons this is so clean and blue...

SUSI: That’s very important to keep this natural beauty and heritage of Switzerland and the Engadine Valley.

VO: Today St. Moritz has a village-wide initiative to install heat pumps in all new buildings. It’s not a trendy thing. If all don’t take a hand in arresting climate change, than the snow and glaciers here will be gone, and St. Moritz will melt into history.

HANSPETER DANUSER, St. Moritz Tourist Board: I think nowadays everybody is concerned with climate change, environment, and nature. And being a tourism manager you know that nature is our most important part of the offer, the scenery, the landscape, the water…You can drink the water all over Switzerland right from the tap. This is also known as an adventure travel capitol. What kind of adventure sports do you do here? Well, more or less all of them. You see I just broke my thumb…what happened? snowboarding. You practice what you preach. Yes, as a matter of fact yes, a question of credibility.

VO: Reflecting on the Alps, Percy Shelly wrote, “Dangers which sport upon the brink of precipices have been my playmate” For skiers today the Swiss Alps are synonymous with thrilling runs, a chance to experience the glorious intensity of winter’s sting.

OC: Skiing here is a modern example of an agreeable kind of horror. You can get as close to the edge as you dare.

VO: The roots of skiing date to the latter half of the 19th century, before lifts even had been imagined. Brave, energetic individuals made the exhausting trek up the mountain for the reward of gliding back down. The first Swiss ski school was founded here in 1929. During the 30's, alpine skiing became a popular European pastime, as newly-invented ski lifts eliminated the labor of mountain climbing. Today some 60 modern lifts offer opportunities for the ‘simulated sublime’, a sense of surrendering to forces outside one’s control.

VO: John Ruskin, philosopher, writer and painter of nature, once remarked:

OC: “I have made up my mind that the finest things one can see in summer are nothing compared to the winter scenery among the Alps.”

VO: One artist deeply linked to these mountains is Giovanni Segantini. He painted many of his greatest landscapes and allegorical images in a hut that hangs above the Engadine Valley.

VO: Segantini was born in the foothills of the alps and was drawn to the grand and terrible and luminescent themes of life and death in the mountains.

VO: He spent long hours of solitude in drawing. His paintings are filled with the sense of the human need to identify with a specific place, an archetypal landscape to which one returns time and again. For him, mountains had the power to release us from everyday life.

OC: St. Moritz became a corrective to the ills of the big cities. But another appeal was its multiculturalism. Being close to the borders of Italy, Austria and Germany, it’s a land of many languages, including the ancient tongue of Romansh.

VO: Romansh is spoken by less than one percent of Swiss, but many of its native speakers are concentrated in this region.

KINDERGARTENER: Bundi...cuboqui...

VO: It’s thought to have descended from a strain of Latin spoken by Roman soldiers who once occupied the area. The Swiss in this canton, concerned that language is in danger of dying out, require it be taught to local school children here.

VO: Our search for the sublime now takes us aboard the famous Glacier Express. We’ll follow a side track to the Bernese Oberland and then trundle on to Zermatt.

VO: If there is a train journey that qualifies as sublime, it’s the Glacier Express. Dubbed the slowest express in the world, it takes seven-and-a-half hours to travel just 169 miles, maximizing the heart-stirring views.

OC: Here in Switzerland we are riding a precision instrument that in other countries is known as a train. And the terrain we traverse is a triumph of the senses over reason.

VO: In the 1920s, rapturous reports from alpine adventurers drew travelers from around the world anxious to experience the majesty of the mountains and the profound feelings they provoked.

VO: The Glacier Express ran the first time in 1931, stitching a line across the Alps from Zermatt to St. Moritz. Seated in elegant salon cars, a safe distance from the scenery, the guests were awed by what they saw.

VO: The Swiss rail system is without a doubt the best way to get around the country. Trains are clean, reliable and frequent. Virtually all railways in Switzerland are electric, which minimizes pollution.

VO: This country is taking environmental warnings seriously. A recent report out of major universities ranked Switzerland at the top of the Environmental Performance Index. Switzerland performed especially well in the areas of conservation and renewable energy. The Swiss government also offers strong incentives for recycling.

VO: At the station in Andermatt, the Glacier Express connects to a train to the Bernese Oberland and Jungfrau region.

VO: One is seized by a sober intoxication from the sight of the ice-dipped mountains of the Bernese Oberland. Crowning the area are three powerhouse peaks: the Eiger…the Mönch… and the Jungfrau. Legend holds that the Monk peak is protecting the Young frau from the nearby Ogre, an apt mix of horror and illumination. Mark Twain visiting in 1891 wrote “It is a good name, Jungfrau – Virgin. Nothing could be whiter; nothing could be purer; nothing could be saintlier of aspect.”
The terrain provides a dramatic record of the immense geological shifting that formed the Alps many millions of years ago.

VO: The car-free village of Wengen sits on a sheltered, sun-soaked terrace high above the valley floor. Centuries ago, the Swiss shunned the surrounding mountains.

SAMMY SALM, GRINDELWALD/ WENGEN TOURISM: It was actually English explorers who wanted to know more about the alps, glaciers mountains and they came here to go up the mountains without Swiss guides at the time. But after a short time the Swiss first noticed there was no danger and no devil and second they found out they could make some extra money with these foreign people coming here and wanting to go up these mountains.

VO: It was here Lord Byron was inspired to write his literary gothic novel, Manfred.

SAMMY: It just takes your emotions and you just feel you’re in a special place, and it’s not just a regular place.

VO: Tourists began to arrive in this area in the early 1800’s. One of the first was Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn. An enthusiastic hiker, he tramped the staggering peaks and jagged edges of glaciers to an awakening sense of wonder. He even wrote several symphonies to honor them. For Shelley and Wordsworth the Alps were symbols of eternity. But while poets were content to contemplate the scenery, today’s visitors want to put themselves in it.

VO: An efficient series of train and gondola connections give easy access to the heady blend of pleasure and terror that these vaults and precipices allow. From Kleine Sheidegg, the Jungfrau Railway coils up the mountain to the highest railway station in Europe.

VO: The rail, which drills its way through three massive mountains, was the brainchild of Adolf Guyer-Zeller, a Swiss entrepreneur and railway pioneer. In 1896, Guyer-Zeller launched his plan, which included digging a four and a half mile tunnel through solid alpine rock. Hundreds of laborers worked round-the-clock shifts, while technical hurdles and financial problems mounted. Several workers lost their lives, and in one notorious accident, 30 tons of dynamite went off in a blast that was said to have echoed all the way to Germany’s Black Forest region. 9 years behind schedule and 5 million francs over budget, the Jungfraubahn opened to an enthusiastic public.

VO: Today more than 500,000 visitors a year make this journey, and eagerly ascend the final elevator that takes them to scenes that steal one’s breath and excite powerful, almost overwhelming emotion.

VO: At more than 11,300 feet, the Jungfrau station provides transcendent vistas. You can see all the way to France, Germany and Italy. Edmund Burke wrote in the 18th century that terror is a passion that “always produces delight when it does not press too close.” The Swiss early on understood this appeal, and by creating a safe way to this dangerous loft have enabled millions of visitors to be dazzled and delighted in the thin air.

OC: It was here one of the most profound revolutions in thought ever occurred--the transition from fear to celebration of nature. And here then is the heart of one of our most powerful yearnings...

VO: ...the craving to find in nature a consolation for our own mortality.

VO: This is Europe’s highest weather station and home to an international group of scientists who have a unique connection with the natural forces that pummel these mountains. They live at the Jungfrau station and take environmental readings on a daily basis.

RICHARD: Have you and your team noticed any change in the environment over the last several years?

PROF. ERWIN FLÜCKIGER, High Altitude Research Station Jungfraujoch: Oh certainly, some of the research teams working here have been active for more than 50 years and there are changes, especially when we have a look at these glaciers here, we see some changes in length and thickness, and also if we record the long-term trend in temperature, there is an effect.

VO: All of Switzerland’s glaciers –there are more than a hundred – have lost about 15 percent of their surface in just the past twenty years. One ski resort has even wrapped part of its shrinking glacier in a giant blanket to try to reduce the summer melt. According to estimates, if the trend continues, three-quarters of Switzerland's glaciers will have melted in 30 to 40 years.

VO: Below the Jungfrau station, there shimmers a blue world known as the “Ice Palace.” This frozen hall was originally carved about 50 years ago by two mountain guides using ice picks and saws. The arches and tunnels now must be continually re-carved and corrected as the glacier slowly moves down the mountain. And each year, a local ice artist painstakingly carves new sculptures--wintry creatures that float in a frozen world.

VO: Immersing oneself in the rarified world of the Alps can be as simple as sledding down a frost-coated hillside. In 1793, German travel writer, Johann Ebel, composed the first comprehensive guide to Switzerland. He wrote, "It can reliably be said that there is no country, no part of our earth, which would be so curious and interesting in as many respects as Switzerland. Everything that is great, sublime, …terrible and dreadful …everything that is romantic, gentle, charming, cheerful, … in the whole wide world of nature, seems to have been united here in a small space in order to make this country into the garden of Europe…”

VO: It’s a short gondola ride from Wengen to the town of Murren. Many skiers get off at this point to ski down or stroll the quintessential Swiss village. Others wait for a cable car that climbs to a high peak called the Schilthorn.

VO: The long aerial cableway makes easy work of the craggy face that caps with the Schilthorn.

VO: Perched atop the Schilthorn is a rotating architectural achievement, the Piz Gloria Restaurant. As James Bond fans will surely remember, Piz Gloria was used as the location for super-villain Blofeld’s headquarters in the 1969 film 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service'.

OC: You can order the “James Bond Breakfast” or “James Bond” spaghetti.

VO: When it was built, the rotating panoramic restaurant was considered a pioneering triumph of the illusion of hazards combined with cheese and wine. Diners found themselves safely placed but made giddy by revolving at such heights; a bit like watching a James Bond movie.

OC: With my desire for the sublime shaken and stirred, I must move on.

VO: To complete this journey, we head toward the southeastern border of the country and the last leg of the Glacier Express.

VO: The ultimate stop on the Glacier Express takes us to the zenith of mountain towns … Zermatt.

VO: Packed with aesthetic extremes, Zermatt stands as a pinnacle. The town’s backdrop, the Matterhorn, climbs the sky and fences the world. Its fabled beauty puts all small thoughts to death. Yet this is an intimate town, easily walked in a half-hour. An eco-sensibility has always infused Zermatt, and like Wengen, its car free.

DANIEL LUGGEN, ZERMATT TOURISM: Zermatt is not actually a big city, so you can easily make it from one side another walking through town and you don’t any pollution, you don’t have noise, you don’t have to be worried that you’ll run into a car. That’s also very good for the kids for example. And then also if you are building now days houses, you are not going to put in any more the oil heaters. We are using more natural sources, like solar power, wind power, or also the heat from the ground.

VO: The Matterhorn was the last major mountain of the Alps to be climbed. It was technically difficult, and rightly filled early mountaineers with fear. The first ascent, by Edward Whymper in 1865 was regarded as a sensation, and it ended in sensational tragedy when four members fell to their deaths during the descent. But the accident made the mountain famous and inspired waves of rubberneckers who came to regard the deadly peak from the sanctuary of Zermatt.

VO: A hundred and fifty years ago, Zermatt was a poor mountain village of wooden huts supported by stone slabs. Battling the rugged forces of nature was a day-to-day struggle. Then, the prosperity brought by the tourism industry changed the whole way of life here. It was the legacy of first ascenders who risked everything in their attempts to conquer the mountains.

OC: I’ve been involved in a number of First Descents of great wild rivers, and so I believe I understand how First Ascents of great mountains are momentous.

VO: They involve genuine exploration and risk. But they also provide a ladder to the sublime. What really enthralled the cultivated mind in the Romantic period was elevation. More and more began to expose themselves to the pleasures, and the dangers, of height, and the notion of Summit as Goal took hold.

OC: Zermatt has one of the best networks of cable cars, trams, gondolas and railways in the world. An engineering masterpiece, the Gornergrat railway cogs its charges up to a dizzying 10,000 feet.

VO: My friend and guide Amade Perrig joins us as we move closer to the Matterhorn and the object of our quest.

RICHARD: So how many times did you climb the Matterhorn?

AMADE PERRIG, Matterhorn/Gotthard Railways: I don’t know, I don’t remember how many times actually, but I would say it was about 20 times I climbed that mountain.

VO: It’s a thrilling journey up through sweet-scented forests and alpine meadows, over dark canyons and chaotic waterfalls, and past looming cliffs. Built in the late 19th century, the train allows the ubiquitous impulse to get close to the menace of the mountains, and to touch the sky.

AMADE: Officially we have 4 languages: German, French, Italian and Romansch. But we people from the mountains we say we have another one, a 5th language. It is called yodeling. (yodel)

VO: Since the Romantics first articulated the appeal of grand nature, more and more have ventured into the terrible beauty of the Alps. And the “brute largeness” that fascinated wayfarers the most was the 14,600-foot Matterhorn.

VO: Here in the shadow of the Matterhorn, it may be possible to truly grasp the meaning of the “sublime”. The landscape is one of incomprehensible enormity, an exhilarating cocktail of dread and bliss. Why is this important? Because these powerful feelings, make us feel most alive. And without the Alps, without the vitalizing gifts of Grand Nature, without Switzerland, these feelings dull and perhaps cease. And in a worse-case scenario, we give up…on ourselves, and our planet.

VO: Or...we can opt to honor nature, to be awed by it, and keep alive the quest.

OC: For so much of human history, we’ve lived to dominate the natural world, to battle it, always taking, never celebrating.
But early travelers to Switzerland discovered something that changed that thinking. They found a landscape that validated and inspired. Switzerland and the Alps charge us to reconsider our relationship with Nature and with ourselves. But perhaps most profoundly, to know that to be here is to be in the Sublime.

VO: What you can do:
Reconnect with nature by going on a hike
Visit car-free destinations
Support organic farmers
Visit Switzerland and see for yourself




Pilatus guide


Richard Muottas

Richard hiking Matterhorn


Richard hay soup

Richard Bangs

St. Moritz


Romansch song





Piz Gloria

Richard Bangs Glacier Express

Alp horn players