Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, this capital city is located right in the heart of Switzerland. Built around a hairpin turn in the river Aare, Bern is quite cosmopolitan with beautiful churches, bridges, the famous Zytglogge (clock tower), and even a bear park. Small wonder Bern has consistently been rated among the world’s top ten cities for quality of life and good living.
The Clock Tower
If cities have a heart and soul, Bern’s has to be the famous Zytglogge (clock tower). This marvel of 16th century engineering has crowds queuing up each hour to watch the show on the face of the astronomical clock, which feature a crowing rooster and whirling figures to mark the time. This clock has been in continuous operation since its original construction in 1530. My advice is to hire a local guide to see the inner workings which are made from iron and wood where one man, without any formal training, created this amazing mechanism.
Next to the clock tower, the Bear Park is another attraction that is a must-see. The bear is the symbol of the city and this newer incarnation of what was essentially just a pit in the ground is built along a terraced hillside. The park just recently celebrated its 500 year anniversary since its founding in 1513. Four brown bears roam and play while tourists snap pictures and video clips.
The park itself is located in a picture-perfect setting with great views of the city, a medieval bridge and the river Aare, which has a typical emerald green color. When the weather is warm, locals jump in where the tide takes them around the city for a refreshing grand tour. Speaking of water, you can always get a cool drink from one of the many public fountains strategically placed throughout the city. Most of these have whimsical characters depicting some aspect of business or of the history of Bern.
Before or after your visit to the park be sure to plan on lunch or refreshment at the Altes Tramdepot Restaurant located at the entrance. I spent an enjoyable afternoon conversing with the locals while enjoying some home-made bratwurst and beer which they brew on site.
After visiting the Bear Park, cross the street and walk up a small hill to see the rose garden. During spring, the area is awash in colour with tulips, roses and other flowers all in bloom. This is also the best place to get a spectacular view of the city and river.
Bern boasts the longest covered arcades in Europe as well as a modern mall.
Here you can shop for jewellery, clothing, watches, chocolate, and everything else under the sun. These arcades line the streets and include some brightly painted cellars (originally wine cellars) that now house various retail businesses. I loved meandering up and down the cobblestone streets with an ice cream in hand window shopping and picking out a few gifts to bring back home. Many of the pastry shops carry a tasty, good-sized cookie in the shape of a Bear, of course, that took up little space in my luggage.
A relatively small country, Switzerland is easy to visit from a variety of gateways. Trains, buses and trams make getting around relatively easy. Spring is a great time to visit, and like me, you will find yourself falling in love with the country, and Bern in particular.
Getting around Switzerland is easy. The Swiss Rail Pass ( http://www.sbb.ch/en) includes trains, buses and most of the lake transportation, all for the price of a single ticket. The trains are comfortable, efficient and almost always on time. Additionally, for one price, you have access to about 400 museums throughout Switzerland— truly a great deal.
There are many places to stay while in Bern but if you are looking for luxury, then the Bellevue Palace with many of the rooms offering views of the Bernese Alps and the Aaar should be your top choice. Located in the heart of the city, this Swiss Deluxe Hotel built in neoclassic style is celebrating 100 years of exceptional service.
Dining options run from casual to elegant and the Kornhauskeller offers great local fare set among warm wood tones and artful decor from the Baroque era. Two good websites for more information about Bern can be found at Switzerland Tourism (www.myswitzerland.com) and Bern Tourism (http://www.bern.com/en)