James Bond’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
Piz Gloria, a restaurant at the top of Switzerland's Schilthorn mountain, was used as the lair of super villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. (Phil/Flikr/Getty)
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a film of extremes. Its scenery contrasts the crashing waves of Portugal’s Estoril Coast with the dramatic mountains of the Swiss Alps. Its shocking surprise ending portrays James Bond in a vulnerable light never previously seen. And to this day, the 1969 adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel of the same name remains one of the most contentious Bond movies ever made.
Both fans and critics have long been sharply divided over the film. At the time of its release, some viewers were offended at the notion of actor Sean Connery being replaced by a male model with little acting experience, George Lazenby, while others were enchanted by the performance of veteran actress Diana Rigg in the role of Countess Teresa “Tracy” di Vicenzo, arguably the first Bond girl with any substance.
What nearly all viewers can agree on, however, is that the filming locations for many of the now iconic scenes made for stunningly beautiful backdrops worth visiting.
For the snow-coated lair of super villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, James Bond’s arch nemesis and leader of the global terrorist organization SPECTRE, the film’s location scouts chose a revolving restaurant on top of the 2,970m white-capped mountain of Schilthorn. Located within the Bernese Alps, Piz Gloria was still under construction when it took on its starring role as the allergy research institute used by Blofeld to brainwash a group of beautiful women from around the world. Today, the restaurant is one of the most famous in Europe. Although it is only accessible via cable car, Piz Gloria’s unrivalled views of the Bernese Alps -- including the summits of Jungfrau, Eiger and Mönch -- make it worth the trip.
The Alps were also where some of the movie’s big-ticket action sequences were shot. In addition to more than one ski chase scene, a particularly intense car chase involves di Vicenzo and Bond intercepting a professional stock car race in the Canton Bern town of Lauterbrunnen in an effort to evade Blofeld’s henchmen. Lauterbrunnen is an incredibly scenic place to visit, with gushing waterfalls, glacial formations, impressive mountain peaks and plentiful opportunities for skiing, hiking and camping. The Lauterbrunnen tourism board provides detailed information on how to get there and how to get around.
After their night of exhilarating car racing, Bond and di Vicenzo share an intimate moment in a secluded barn nearby, filmed in Winteregg, also in the canton of Bern. It is here that Bond asks di Vicenzo to marry him, confessing that for her, he could leave behind his life of espionage. Winteregg is a station on the Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen-Mürren railway, the trip along which offers fantastic panoramas of the surrounding mountains.
In the beginning of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond first spots di Vicenzo on the Estorial Coast of Portugal. A vision in the distance, she leaves her red convertible on a seaside road and walks straight into the tide. Realizing that the beautiful stranger is attempting to commit suicide, 007 rushes to her rescue, only to be ambushed by bandits with knives and guns. “This never happened to the other fellow,” Lazenby’s Bond quips.
This pre-credits scene was filmed on the picturesque Guincho Beach in Cascais, just west of Lisbon. The gnarly waves at this Atlantic beach are popular with surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers, and the Moana Surf School offers surfing classes for beginners, as well as board and wetsuit rentals for those who already know how to surf.
The second time Bond encounters the mysterious di Vicenzo is at the casino at the Hotel Palácio Estoril. No Bond movie would be complete without a gorgeous hotel dripping with extravagance, and the palatial resort, which dates back to the 1930s, maintains that lavish aesthetic today. Golfers will enjoy the hotel’s 18-hole Estoril Golf Course, one of the oldest courses in Portugal, complete with a clubhouse featuring a pool, two bars and a restaurant.