Top 5 Bern (city guide)
Bern is my favourite Swiss city. I love its old town centre, built around the Aare river in medieval times and, according to legend, named for the first animal that the founding duke encountered on his hunt: a bear. Today the UNESCO-listed old town retains much of its medieval charm, and a stroll around it feels like a walk through time … from the wonderfully ornate medieval clock tower (Zytglogge) with its moving puppets, past the Gothic cathedral, to the elaborate 16th century fountains. I’ve been lucky to visit it a number of times with my Swiss husband who grew up there, and these are the things we love most about it.
Stay Bellevue Palace
This Belle Époque hotel at the top of the old town, beside the Swiss parliament house, hosts politicians, diplomats, heads of commerce and visiting celebrities. I love its fabulous views of the Alps and the Aare river, its atmospheric front bar and gorgeous leadlight ceiling in the lobby.
My first meal in Bern is always fondue with a mâche salad (nüsslersalat in Swiss German) and quarter carafe of Swiss white wine at this casual eatery that’s been serving the Bernese for over 100 years. All the Swiss classics are here, including some very calorie-laden desserts.
Do Gurten Park
At 858 metres, Gurten, Bern’s highest peak, offers fabulous views. Catching the funicular railway to the top and taking one of the shady ‘wanderweg’ paths back down is a great way to work off some Swiss food. There’s also a great kids’ playpark and toboggan run at the top.
The bear pit at the bottom of the old town has hosted the city’s namesakes since at least the 16th century. These days the furry residents have a spacious adjoining ‘bear park’ in which to roam, including access to the Aare for them to take a dip.
Thanks to its extensive covered walkways, Bern’s a great city for shopping. This store in the old town is the spot for a huge range of high-quality handmade Swiss goods – from the kitsch to the creative in wood, leather, felt, ceramic and cloth – perfect for souvenirs or just browsing.