Regardless of whether I’m in Switzerland or abroad, I prefer city trips to visiting the countryside. And again, whether here in Switzerland or abroad, I like to just wander through an unfamiliar city, confident that I will stumble upon its most lovely places by chance.
That’s why we decided on the spur of the moment to take advantage of one of the first warm days of spring by visiting two Swiss cities: Bern and Thun. It didn’t take long to get ready and it only took a few seconds to purchase a companion ticket for my colleague Sarah using the SBB Mobile app.
So here we are at 7:30 on this sunny Saturday morning, travelling in the InterCity train from Zurich to Bern. The double-decker train, which is usually full of tired commuters at this time during the week, is nearly empty this morning. It’s time for the first cup of coffee.
Pulling into Bern station is a spectacular experience, as it always is when the weather’s nice. The turquoise-coloured River Aare glitters below us and on the horizon we can see the distinctive peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. In front of them is the unmistakeable silhouette of the city of Bern, with its bridges, the cathedral and the Church of St Peter and Paul.
The city has much to offer, of course, enough to spend a week; no what am I saying – enough to spend a lifetime there. But since we want to make the most of all the advantages offered by the companion ticket, here is just a quick list of our top tips for Bern (click on the images to enlarge).
Up and out of the city.
We hop on the 9i tram and leave the still somewhat sleepy town centre behind us as we head towards Wabern. Right next to the “Gurtenbahn” stop is the Märitladen, where you’ll find the finest bread and a carefully selected assortment of organic cheeses, including many regional specialities such as “Summerhimu” blue cheese or the famous “Belper Knolle” (Belp Ball). The shop also offers antipasti, fruits and nuts – in other words everything you need for a snack on the move.
The Gurtenbahn funicular railway operates a service every 15 minutes; your companion ticket is valid here too. If you prefer to walk, you can hike up the Gurten – Bern’s local mountain – in about 40 minutes. Not so many people are anxious to make the climb on foot so early in the morning, however, and we too choose the more comfortable option. The funicular trip up is truly a great experience for both young and old. As you climb higher, the view of the city, the Federal Palace, the River Aare and the southern foot of the Jura Mountains just gets more and more spectacular.
The “Park im Grünen” offers something for people of all ages the whole year round. Our attention is drawn to the ball run – a huge structure with colourful rails, winders, wheels and disks that you can lever, turn, crank and shake to make the ball go in the right direction. It takes a good hour to guide a ball through the entire run. We don’t have the patience for that, however, as we’re too curious to see the most recent work of art, which is located between the more famous Luginbühl sculptures: The art installation known as “Yggdrasil” relates to the mythical Norse symbol of the same name – the tree that connects the Norse worlds and is the embodiment of all creation.
We’re starting to get hungry now. Normally, it would make sense to go to the convenient self-service restaurant nearby. However, searching for a free table on such a lovely day can be quite a nerve-racking experience – and besides we planned ahead and brought a picnic lunch, so we sit down on a bench in the sun to enjoy some lunch and the marvellous view. We also consider walking down the mountain to Kehrsatz. In the end, however, we decide that there’s still so much more we want to see on this trip, so we take the railway down after all. Wabern station is just a few steps away from the Gurtenbahn valley station. From here we can take the S-Bahn to Thun.
From mountain to mountain.
The sun has finally broken through fully when we arrive in Thun. There’s a fine mist hanging over the lake, but otherwise the Zähringen town on the River Aare sparkles under a bright blue sky. We head towards the Old Town – but not before taking a look at the boat schedules. But more about that later.
The centre of Thun is situated on an island in the middle of the Aare. Here, on the shopping thoroughfare known as Bälliz, one finds the the usual range of department stores, clothing chains, banks etc.
We didn’t to come to Thun to see such things, so we quickly cross over the Sinnebrücke bridge and into the Obere Hauptgasse, which boasts an exceptional and unique architectural feature – raised pavements that run above the bustling small street on both sides. Small boutiques, cafés, shops with organic products and trendy bars line the street above and below. Even if you’re on top, it’s worth looking up, as every house looks different, and stately Thun Castle with its distinctive corner towers repeatedly comes into view as well.
Up to the castle.
The walk up to Thun Castle from Town Hall Square isn’t easy by any means. However, those who make the trip are rewarded with a wonderful view of the impressive mountain range surrounding Stockhorn mountain. The castle was built around 1200 by Duke Berchtold V of Zähringen. Today, the castle houses a hotel, a restaurant and a museum that showcases the history of the region and also stages rotating exhibitions on both cultural-historical and current topics.
We’re feeling the effects of our walk up and are thirsty as we make our way back down into town. We pass AEK Caffè, whose Oberland herbal tea and sunny terrace on the River Aare persuade us to stay for a while. The river has a turquoise tone that glitters in the sun and makes you want to jump in for a swim even though it’s still only March.
After the café, we go across the Göttibachsteg footbridge and the Obere Schleuse sluice (just two of the countless lovely old bridges in Thun) and back in the direction of the station. At the pier, we find the MS Schilthorn waiting to take us to Oberhofen am Thunersee.
We’ll be back – in summer.
A stiff breeze begins to blow after the boat leaves, and as we look at the snow-covered mountains we realise that summer is still some way off. We notice this again when we arrive at the (still) closed doors of Pier 17 restaurant, which is our actual destination. The small café / restaurant / bar located directly at the pier in Oberhofen has the flair of a beach bar. In summer it serves salads, ciabatta sandwiches and smoothies made of fresh, high quality products from the Bernese Oberland region – but unfortunately it doesn’t open until April…
However, Schloss Oberhofen restaurant right next door comes to our rescue. This establishment set between old and modern buildings has a cosy inner courtyard that practically invites you to come and stay for a while – and its wonderful dishes and friendly staff make us glad that we did!
When we leave, Bus No. 25 brings us back in just 12 minutes to the station in Thun, where the train to Bern is already waiting for us. What a fantastic day! We certainly covered a great distance with trains, trams, the funicular railway, S-Bahn, boats and buses: Thanks to the companion ticket, we were able to discover parts of Switzerland that we might otherwise never have seen.
Photos: Sarah Aakervik