Bern has appeal, an opulent history, noteworthy architecture, beautiful gardens, whimsical public spaces, and an extremely distinctive river.
The capital of Switzerland aka Bern is a little historic city, which piquantly contrasts with the sizable and modern-day Geneva. In 1983, the Old City of Bern was documented as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When I first saw some pictures online; I knew I had to get to Bern. And when I get here, this picturesque medieval city captures my heart instantly. Bern, soars under most people’s tourism sensor, but it should not it’s a gorgeous, polyglot, welcoming city. Bern fascinates just a section of the visitors who head to Milan or Paris, but the metropolis has appeal, an opulent history, noteworthy architecture, beautiful gardens, whimsical public spaces, and an extremely distinctive river. It’s one of my beloved European cities, and I am on a task to inspire more people to visit as it’s painstakingly conserved and beautiful. Steering the city is easy, with trams that run through. It is also easy to walk around. In Bern, beauty lies all around you, every minute of every day.
EXPLORING THE OLD TOWN
I check in and head out for a stroll checking out medieval alleys and squares lined with many small galleries, specialty shops and culinary gems. I slow down and enjoy my stroll through the historic centre, and let myself be carried along the streets to get to know a world that is different from mine. Astoundingly beautiful, full of enchanting buildings from a time you can only imagine, Bern lives up to my anticipation of a good-looking city, and how. Everywhere I turn, frames are ready and posing, buildings picturesque, trees green, churches quiet and tall, people classy, it was as this was a perfect of the flawless world. I can see fountains everywhere more than 100 perhaps and one can drink out of all of them. Which I did often. The city has an unbelievable medieval history, and a saunter around the preserved town takes me back in time. The cobblestoned streets are lined with six kilometres of roofed walkways, which date back to the 15th century. Within these walkways I find a combination of delightful boutique shops, restaurants and global brands. Right in the heart of the Old Town is the famous Zytglogge Clock Tower and I stand there among a few others to catch the glockenspiel chime, which happens every hour on the hour. The intricate machinery inside the clock tower functions the components of the glockenspiel and it’s unbelievable to think it works exactly the same as when it was created in 1527. I also take a tour that afternoon to ascend up to the top of the Clock Tower to see the inner workings of the mechanism and incredible views of the city.
Bern translates to Bear in German, and while Berns talisman and namesake may seem like a strict and striking animal, the bears who roam Berns Bear Garden are effortlessly tranquil. The inhabitants of the large open air animal exposure near the river are well looked after and have ample of room to explore. And by the way, Bears are everywhere in the city! Look out for bear sculptures, prints, emblems, and sketches. If you have an ardent eye, you can even spot a bear in the Toblerone chocolate logo. It’s a home-grown company and ingeniously showcases its Bern pride.
A FEAST FOR THE SENSES
Back at my hotel, I refresh my achy bones with a glass of wine. In the core of the metropolitan hub, Swissôtel Kursaal Bern has visions of the Alps and the ancient, old town. The new furniture and modern amenities introduced during a renovation in 2020 have not taken away from the old-world charm and the design echoes their passion for Swiss Vitality with natural, sustainable and well-crafted materials. A cosy property with 171 rooms, the hotel has a perfect vantage point for views of the sprawling and beautiful town. Dining at the Mediterranean restaurant Giardino, I can feel the weight of my day disappear as I get comfortable in my serene and stylish sanctuary. What is a trip in Switzerland without good food?
Einstein learned in Zurich and subsequently resided in Bern, where he established his theory of relativity. Legend has it that Albert Einstein, who resided neighbouring the clock, was observing the buses come about the tower and speculated what would happen if they moved at the rapidity of light. This, they say, led to his philosophy of relativity! There are references to Einstein all around the city, but the Einstein Museum is a highlight. The Einstein Museum takes a stable placement at the Bern Historical Museum and curates his captivating life from start to finish. You can also visit the apartment he lived in on the third floor of Kramgasse 49.
LUNCH WITH VIEWS
Interlaken is located in the Swiss canton of Bern between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and barely an hours train ride from Bern. This afternoon, I find myself on a funicular and on my way to Harder Kulm. As I try to balance myself and take photographs at the same time, my guide chuckles at my attempts through the journey. The comfortable pace and height of a cog wheel train is perfect for a first timer like me and is a great way to start, especially with the views along the journey. From the upper station I walk up to the Harder Klum Restaurant. You cannot miss this castle-like edifice with a red tile roof and a tower.
I unwind at the sun terrace with some Rosti and a glass of sparkling wine. But the actual motive why I am here is for the views. The vista over the entire Lütschine Valley is miraculous! The Lake Thun, Lake Brienz and the peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfraujoch look stunning from up here.
THE PUBLIC SQUARE
People-watching is a genuine skill in Bern. On the way back from Interlaken I stopped for a cup of tea before retiring for the day and as I watched passer-by’s doing their stuff, I realize I am not alone in my observations. Residents also dawdle on benches or lean against fountains, keeping an eye on everything. Community sports like boules (comparable to bocce), chess and checkers are prevalent amongst the elderly men of the community, and the players’ vexed responses to their foes are a master class in theatrical acting. The city seems playful and animated. I want to stay here for a week maybe, explore the town like a local, go on small hikes in the mountains that form the backdrop, but I need to leave for my next destination which is Geneva and I am excited about that as well.
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Rupali Dean is a well-known food & travel writer based out of Delhi