Once Upon a Time… in Ernen

Not even the daydreams Hollywood conjures up for the big screen can compare with the magic of this peaceful haven. I ought to know, having just spent five years on the sandy beaches under the palm trees in Los Angeles, lazily scribbling away at the pages of my film history dissertation.

It takes more than a little imagination to replace Mulholland Drive’s windy roads with those of the perilous narrow path that takes you up to Ernen’s idyllic mountain village. How could you even start describing the beauty of this mountainous wonderland to an Angelino whose closest idea of Switzerland is a life-size cardboard replica of an Alpine village at Disneyland or Universal Studios’ amusement park.

Travelling to Musikdorf’s music and literature festival is a gradual process that indulges the human senses one by one. When you step out of the postal bus, you are greeted by a refreshing mountain breeze. Take a moment to close your eyes facing the sunlight and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Let all your worries and daily stresses fade away. They have no place here. Opening your eyes, you find yourself suddenly transported to a different place and time. A scene out of a fairy tale picture book comes to life in front of your eyes. Truly, it is hard to comprehend how this place can possibly exist anywhere but in your imagination – it is simply too beautiful to be true.

Summertime at the Musikdorf is a feast for the eyes and for the ears. Nestled in the heart of the scenic Binntal landscape park, Ernen is home to pristinely preserved architecture from the distant past. The area is surrounded by a wide array of breathtaking sights and natural wonders are really worth taking time to explore, making this village a truly magnificent place to behold. This idyllic décor is perfectly complemented by its classical music accompaniment. Making the hearts of culture lovers beat faster, the summer program has been expanded since the Seventies to include piano and organ recitals, baroque and chamber music concerts, even a few jazz performances, all of the highest caliber.

Musikdorf Ernen is a haven, a sanctuary for music and beauty, where you can leave all of your problems behind. The festival’s reputation extends beyond the borders of Switzerland, attracting some of the world’s finest musicians. If you visit this tiny corner of the earth, you will inevitably rub shoulders with some very talented performers. With an intimate and gorgeous setting, gifted and welcoming organizers, it is easy to see why creative talents have stayed loyal to the festival for so many years. Despite the rampant global pandemic, masked and separated, we get to enjoy life for a while, listening to divine melodies in an idyllic mountaintop church, transported beyond our earthly concerns.

My most memorable summers were spent in Ernen at its music and literature festival. I still remember my first time. The little Swiss choir boy in me was certainly looking forward to the classical music program; but it was the chance to meet my all-time favorite crime writer that was the driving force drawing me to the festival. For some reason unbeknownst to me, my literary idol Donna Leon had decided to teach creative writing here in this remote corner of the mountains. So when I read about it, blindly, I followed, hoping to pick up some of her savvy. As eager as I was to attend the seminar, I was simply unprepared for the beauty I was about to experience on my journey. 

Dreams sometimes do come true, and this experience certainly exceeded all my expectations. In picture books, fairy tales begin with “Once upon a time…,” indicating some remote unattainable past. In Ernen, yours will begin: “This summer, …”

Ernen, 24 July 2021, Ben Seyfert, Ernen enthusiast and PhD Student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

Pictures in the slider by Frederike van der Stræten