My two central characters Alistair and Freddie Valentine, although born in England, were raised in Zermatt, partly by their mother Christina. But also, by a mysterious character known only as Herr Seiler. The place they were raised was Chalet Monte Rosa. I had borrowed both of these names – inadvertently – from a real family and a real hotel. I knew I had to seek permission to use both of them. I contacted Simone Seiler – managing director of the Hotel Monte Rosa in Zermatt - and arranged to meet her for lunch. I hadn’t been back to the elegant Swiss town for more than thirty years and this was my next mission.
My third train journey took me from Gstaad to Spiez – Frutigen – through the Lötschberg Base Tunnel - and up via Tasch to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. The 34.57m tunnel is a feat of engineering beneath the Bernese Alps and is key part of the Swiss rail network. As we neared our destination, the mountains seemed to become more dramatic: the gradient steeper. The train slowly ascended the mountain and arrived at the Bahnhof bang on time.
No cars are allowed in Zermatt. But there are a fleet of electric buggies – like milk floats –ferrying passengers to various après-ski bars and hotels. I decided to walk up to Hotel Monte Rosa. Bahnhofstrasse was much as I remembered it: bustling with life. The same elegant shops: Marco Polo, Omega, Tag Heuer, Rolex, Bȁckerei Fuchs, Intersport and Hublot boutique. There were snug après ski bars and the ever-present redolence of Glühwein in the air.
But, as I walked, I tried to imagine what it had been like back in Herr Seiler’s day, when Alistair and Freddie lived there. Certainly, less affluent and simpler than today; with no tourists to stimulate the local economy.
My lunch meeting with Simone Seiler took place in the Edward’s Bar-Café. It is named after Edward Whymper, the mountain pioneer who was the first to complete a successful assent of the Matterhorn 13th July 1865. Alexander Seiler founded the Monte Rosa in 1853.
But who was Günter Seiler, the enigma in Valentines Cup? Yes, he was the person who contacted Professor Brimblecombe, Head of British Intelligence before the war. It was he who secretly recommended Alistair for active service – as a spy – but what was the reason exactly?
Our lunch passed by most enjoyably. Simone understood precisely why Monte Rosa and Herr Seiler were so central to the Valentines Cup and was happy for me to use the names. We said farewell and she is looking forward to reading the story on her holiday.
As the chauffeur-driven hotel buggy took me on a circuitous route to the station, I was happy my pilgrimage to Zermatt had been a success.
Next, my final train journey through Switzerland to Zȕrich before returning to England. I had seen Nibby, and Simone and I was a step closer to the spirit of Herr Seiler and how much he’d meant to Alistair and Freddie Valentine.