Waiting For Bond’s Golden Gondola In Soelden By Ramy Salameh

A three-hour early morning train trip from Zurich to Oetztal main station in the Tirol defined my inter-rail journey in first class. Within a glass-domed carriage, offering epic vistas of the ever-changing natural landscape of Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Austria, I arrived in the Oetztal Valley in time to take lunch at ICE Q Panorama Restaurant, a lofty 3000m above sea level, which was one of the settings for the fictional super spy James Bond in Spectre.

‘‘Let two more gondola pass and then it’s ours,’’ stated Daniel Goldstein of Soelden Tourism. For those in the know, one specific “golden” gondola is dedicated to Bond, James Bond – wrapped with ‘‘007 Elements’’ imagery on the exterior and playing Bond tunes inside – initiated our exploration into the sphere of the world’s most coveted secret agent.

In 2015, the most famous film franchise used the Gaislachkogl Mountain to shoot key action scenes of Spectre. Any destination that achieves several priceless minutes appearing in a Bond movie is granted a unique and lasting legacy, one which the Oetztal Valley has honoured through the creation of a stunning cinematic installation at over 3000m; inside a series of solid, dark, cold and brooding concrete spaces, is a presentation of the most dramatic scenes of the film, encapsulating the world of 007, past and present.

Our ascent to the summit of Gaislachkogl passed over the heads of mountain bikers racing down the winding single and flow trails, part of a dedicated area called ‘‘Bike Republic Soelden.’’ The higher we went, the easier it was to understand why the Bond production team had decided on this location, especially as our Gondola entered the curved mouth of Gaislachkoglbahn top-station, which ignited a show reel of Spectre flashbacks. Atop the summit, a dramatic 360 degree sweep of the jagged snow-topped Oetztal Alps, whose crevices and fissures fell from each summit like strands of melted wax, juxtaposed the stark contemporary architecture of ICE Q Panoramic Restaurant and the bespoke building of ‘‘007 Elements’’ constructed inside the summit of the Gaislachkogl. ‘‘Elements’’ is spread over two levels and 1300sqm of space, showcasing the spell-binding opening scene always expected of a 007 film.

ICE Q, a venue used in the film, is a demonstration of architectural beauty, where ‘‘less is more;’’ clean straight lines of glass and steel has created a futuristic cube-like structure that seemingly floats upon the apex of a mountain. The restaurant’s glass facade invites the breath-taking landscape to envelop the modern and minimalist dining area, whilst serving fine cuisine alongside their exclusive in-house wine, Pinot 3000.

On a craggy outcrop, sitting 50m away from the floor-to-ceiling restaurant windows is a Land Rover, balanced perilously and almost absurdly on a series of spiky rocks, prompting questions of how, why, really? This was one of three vehicles used in the opening chase scene of Spectre, which the production team intentionally left up in the mountain and now links into the new ‘‘Elements’’ experience.

Adjacent to ICE Q is the entrance to this new cinematic installation, which captures the imagination and allows the visitor an intimate view of the making of a James Bond film. The name ‘‘Elements’’ crystallises the experience of moving through a series of galleries that immerse, interact and provide a sensory story tracing the history of the Bond franchise and their pursuit of cinematic immortality. Visitors enter ‘‘007 Elements’’ via The Barrel of The Gun anteroom, before moving onto nine further spaces that are a shock to all the senses; the Valley Passage looks out onto the Rettenbach Glacier Road, a winding Alpine strip snaking into the distance. Here lie two further vehicles frozen in time and place on the icy landscape. The Tech Lab interactively explores everything from cutting-edge technology used in several Bond films, to legacy props including the ubiquitous Omega wrist watch. Arguably the most dramatic space is Action Hall featuring the front portion of the aircraft Bond pilots in Spectre, cleverly curated to appear as if it has just smashed through the hall’s large windows, giving a detailed insight as to how this segment was filmed. The Screening Room allows you to watch the entire sequence, providing a thrilling end to the tour.

With barely time to catch one’s breath from this homage to James Bond, then the Oetztal Valley in which Soelden resides is home to Austria’s largest, trendiest and craziest adventure park, AREA 47; a name that conjures up images of the evil lair of a Bond nemesis or some form of military installation for secret agents. However, AREA 47 is a thrill-seeker’s haven – maybe even heaven, most definitely a training ground for would-be adventurists and the odd professional cliff diver, courtesy of a 27m high dive board, the centre-piece of a 20,000sqm swimming lake within a natural complex of 95,000sqm.

Located between two major bridges (road and rail), two fast flowing rivers (Inn and Ache) surrounded by forests and high-peaked alpine mountains, AREA 47 cleverly uses the natural and man-made topography to maximum advantage. The park offers some 35 different types of activities that will get the heart bursting rather than simply pumping, ranging from white-water rafting to canyoning and mountain-biking to wake-boarding, a hybrid of water skiing and surfing on a cable towing system spanning 420m in a secondary and dedicated lake.

As I arrived at the site, a brave soul jumped bungee-style from a platform constructed at the top of a huge road bridge pillar, swinging like a pendulum, whilst across the River Inn on the other pillar, a figure clasped the grand climbing wall motionless and lizard-like, as they planned their next move. In between, silhouetted figures navigated a 27m high rope course, moving from one obstacle to another. As I descended at speed from the ‘‘Flying Fox’’ zip-wire, crossing the River Inn and the 20,000sqm swimming lake, it was a good perch to view someone being propelled from a water cannon, whilst another was catapulted from the Steigl blobbing air-cushion, as more queued at the top of the 18m high surf-slide to be jettisoned across the surface of the lake like a skimming-stone.

“AREA 47 is for professional athletes too,” mentioned Jessica Isak, a representative of the park, as we toured the facility. “The guy cycling who just passed us is Dan MacAskill, a legendary trial mountain biker,” she said, before pointing towards another person walking towards the 27m dive platform. “He is a professional cliff diver, David Coulturi, who we sponsor,” she added. The complex is where thrill-seekers overlap with elite athletes, yet both feed off each other’s laid-back hipster culture innate with extreme sports, especially in the beach bar where dare-devil feats are retold.

One thing is for sure, in this part of Austria, nature will leave you “shaken, not stirred!”

Further Information

For further information about 007 Elements, go to www.007elements.soelden.com. For further information about AREA 47, go to www.area47.at. Inter-rail tickets can be purchased through www.internationalrail.com. Ramy Salameh stayed at Aqua Dome; for further information. go to www.aqua-dome.at.