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Adventures: Sherlock Holmes: The Swiss Connection

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson tracked James Moriarty to Meiringen, which has the distinction of being the founding home of the meringues we’re familiar with today.  - Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Sherlock Holmes and John Watson tracked James Moriarty to Meiringen, which has the distinction of being the founding home of the meringues we’re familiar with today.
— image credit: Ursula Maxwell-Lewis

MEIRINGEN, SWITZERLAND: ‘Tis the season for tall tales, snow and storytellers. Consider, for example, my encounter with Sherlock Holmes, and what was to be his last case, The Final Problem.

Perhaps Holmes subliminally lured me to this location where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle intended to finish off both Holmes and his nemesis, Moriarty.  If so, the clue conveniently presented itself in the form of a bronze figure on a park bench en-route from Meiringen railway station to the Hotel Victoria.

I’m actually here to investigate famous meringues, not mysteries. But this surprise meeting with Holmes has me sidetracked. Literary travel and international intrigue invariably has that effect on me.

Holmes, elegant and relaxed in his signature tweed topcoat and deerstalker, sits puffing on his pipe. Could he be contemplating the 10-minute train ride to the stunning Aare Gorge in the mountains behind him?

History (according to Doyle) records that Watson and Holmes tracked Moriarty to Meiringen. After checking in to the Englischer Hof (located next to the Holmes bronze sculpture in Conan Doyle Place), Holmes and Watson took the funicular (built in 1899) to the thundering Reichenbach Falls. An old woman with a cryptic note lures Watson back to the hotel.

Holmes, suspicious of the note, continues on the footpath to confront the lurking Professor Moriarty.

Both men vanish.

Watson is left to assume, based on superficial gorge site footprint evidence, that the two adversaries lost their final battle in a fight to the death. Together, Watson concluded, they both had into the spectacular 850 ft. gorge. After all, nothing was ever proven, was it? No bodies were recovered.

Years later, Doyle caved in to public pressure and ‘re-discovered’ Holmes. Despite that, the legend of the Meiringen connection lives on. I love the story, the connection, and the invigorating surroundings in which the drama unfolded.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum is housed in the basement of the historic English Church. First built in 1868, it was twice destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1893. It was opened as a museum on May 4, 1991 under the auspices of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. It was the 100th anniversary of Holmes’ death. Dame Jean Conan Doyle, Conan Doyle’s daughter, attended.

 

The reconstruction of the Victorian living room at 221B Baker Street, London, where Holmes and Watson lived, was based on clues found in the stories.

It is a storyteller’s treasure trove. I wish I could spend longer. Though small, this fascinating, unique museum is truly a pleasure to visit. Don’t miss it!

A 20-minute walk, or a short bus ride from Meiringen Station, leads travellers to Willigen and the Reichenbach Falls funicular. The Aare Gorge is a picture-perfect 10-minute train ride from Meiringen Station to the Aareschlucht entry. Both are worth visiting - as Doyle discovered during his holiday here  when he was searching for a way to finally dump his wildly successful detective.

Strolling into ‘The Englischer Hof’, now the Park Hotel du Sauvage, I take another step back in time. Built in 1880, visitors familiar with the Belle Époque, a golden era of nostalgia, literature and bohemianism, will appreciate the theatrical decor, the art and the Victorian-style architecture. One can picture Holmes (or Conan Doyle) strolling along the wide halls. Lofty ceilings generate a feeling of space and grandeur. I anticipate grand dames to momentarily sweep into view, bound for a salon[s] or ballroom. I also yearn for time to relax with a gin and tonic in the comfortable bar overlooking the lawn.

My final stop of the day is the Bakery Fruttal where Angela, a Haslital Tourism representative, is waiting to join me for afternoon coffee.

Fruttal, which is just around the corner from my hotel, is one of those bakery shops one dreams about. Choosing from the wide selection of fresh baked goods would challenge me if I wasn’t here on my meringue-tasting mission.

A ‘white biskit bread’ confection which sounds like a close meringue relative was recorded in an English recipe book in 1604. Although they sound similar,  Meiringen has the distinction of being the founding home of the meringues we’re familiar with today. Whatever the real origins, I’m told that the luscious cream-filled confections before us are considered to have been invented in Meiringen in the 18th century. An Italian chef named Gasparini later improved them. It’s hard to believe improvement was possible.

I’ve rejected overly sugary, crumbly, commercial meringues for years. My mother has always been the undisputed meringue champ in my book. I’m critical and prepared for disappointment.

Biting into the light, fluffy cream-filled confections before me I know mom has unquestionably met her match. “I’ll never be able to finish all that!” I gasp to Angela.

Wrong! Down the hatch with the lot. I don’t even have the ‘overindulged’ feeling of regret. That’s the true meringue taste test.

Even if I hadn’t stumbled over the Holmes connection, Meiringen meringues alone would have been worth the picturesque Swiss Rail journey through the eastern Bernese Oberland from Zurich.

Tomorrow Ballenberg Museum, a 30-minute train ride away, near lakeside Brienz is on the schedule. For now, I’ll savour that meringue memory. No doubt Holmes would have pronounced the experience “Elementary, my dear Ursula.”

If you go: www.myswitzerland.com will help you plan your trip. My flights to Switzerland were with www.flyedelweiss.com. My trusty Swiss Rail Pass made bus, rail, and boat connections quick, easy, and first class. Visit www.swisstravelsystem.com to help plan your Swiss adventures.

 

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