By Steve Jermanok
By Steve Jermanok
By Steve Jermanok
Lavaux’s majestic vineyards are sculpted into the steep hillside like the rice terraces of Bali. Many of the stone walls that hem in the rows of vineyards were first created by monks. The perfect introduction to the beauty of Lavaux is aboard the circa-1910 paddle steamer, La Suisse, preferably on one of their gourmet cruises for lunch. Heading east from Lausanne to Montreux, the hillside is awash in vines surrounding small villages and centuries-old villas.
By Gerrie Summers
Just a few days after returning to the States from a trip to Switzerland, I realized one of the things I loved the most about the Swiss capital. As someone who has witnessed the destruction of old brownstones in Brooklyn for the creation of modern atrocities, I appreciated the well-preserved Bern townscape. The entire Old Town of Bern was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
Bern (also spelled Berne) is located in the west-central part of Switzerland. It is a mostly German-speaking city (followed by Italian, French and a few speak Romansh). It’s not a bustling city. It has more of a laid back, almost sleepy vibe. In fact, I was there when Switzerland won one of the World Cup matches and I’ve never seen such reserved jubilance.
Founded in 1191 as a military post, Bern’s symbol and coat of arms is a bear, from which the name Bern is derived. Legend has it that city founder Berchtold V, Duke of Zahringen vowed that the first animal he came across during a hunt in the woods, would be the name of the city. The unfortunate animal that he encountered and killed was a bear. Unlucky for the bear, but lucky for Bern—it could have easily been a wild boar or a weasel.
The town has kept live bears in a Barengraben (Bear Pit) since the 1440s. The first bear pit was at Barenplatz (Bear Plaza) and bears were on view in the town until 1857 when the fourth bear pit was opened on the eastern edge of the old city. There was controversy over the bear pit, so to improve the living conditions of Bjork (mama bear), Finn (daddy bear) and Ursina (baby bear, born in 2009), BarenPark (BearPark) a larger enclosure, was opened alongside the River Aare and is connected to the old pit by tunnel.
The modern-day BearPark is a tourist attraction, built in 2009 and is next to the fourth bear pit. The park features a cave and a pool and more space for the bears (although one of them looked a bit bored, or perhaps annoyed, by gawking tourists positioning cell phones and cameras, trying to get the slumbering bear’s attention. The bear glanced up at in such a way, it made me think that if he could speak German, he’d growl, “Gah Wäg!” (Go away!)
A short, leisurely walk (and climb) away is the Rose Garden, a floral park where one can view the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Aare River. Once a cemetery, the park now features 200 different varieties of roses, 200 varieties of irises and 28 different types of rhododendrons. It opened to the public in 1913 and is a popular spot for families and visitors. The Rose Garden Restaurant features a traditional Swiss and Mediterranean menu and with picturesque views of the area.
Another famous site is the Clock Tower or Zytglogge located in the city centre at the entrance to Old Town. Zytoglogge is Bernese German for “Time Bell.” The Clock Tower is a remnant of the first city wall gate (1191-1256). The west gate tower was built as part of a defense wall but as the town continued to expand, and it was no longer used for defense, it became a prison until the tower was burned out during the Great Fire of 1405. A mechanical clock and bell were installed above the gate and it has been called the Clock Tower ever since. The Zytglogge is one of three oldest clocks in Switzerland.
Of particular interest is the eastern face of the Zytglogge where tourists gather four minutes before the hour. The clock mechanism is based on a time bell, an ancient public time keeping device through which a hammer rings a small bell on the hour. A number of things happen: a procession of figurines including bears on hind legs holding musical instruments or weapons, a bear on all fours wearing a crown and a knight in armor on a horse begin to move on the revolving carousel. At the hour, a golden cockerel crows three times and a jester (added in 1642) strikes his bells and kicks his legs. It’s a bit underwhelming for some, but if you’re into clocks, the tourism office has daily hour-long tours inside the tower to see the inner workings of the clock, which is actually amazing. You see why Switzerland is famous for its timepieces.
There are over 100 fountains in Bern. 11 retain original allegorical figures, most being created by Hans Gieng, with the exception of the Zahringerbrunnen (Zahringer Fountain) created by Hans Hiltbrand in1535. The latter is a memorial to Berchtold and displays a bear in full armor with a bear cub at his feet.
Two Hans Gieng fountains that were pointed out on a tour were the Simsonbrunnen (Samson Fountain) which represents the Biblical story of Samson killing a lion and Kindlifresserbrunnen (Child Eater Fountain), also called Ogre Fountain, was originally known as the Platzbrunnen (Plaza Fountain) and depicts an ogre eating a child and holding a sack of children about to be devoured. There are many theories about what this grotesque figure actually depicts, one simple theory is that it represents a figure that scares disobedient children. (I wonder how many parents have taken screaming, unruly children to view that fountain?)
Munster of Bern
Munster (Cathedral) of Bern is a protestant Gothic cathedral on the south side of the peninsula and considered one of the best examples of late Gothic architecture. The Basilica with three nave towers has Switzerland’s highest church tower over looking the rooftops of Bern’s Old Town. The bell tower was added in 1893. In addition to providing stunning views, the cathedral has a portal with 234 colored figurines of the Last Judgment.
Zentrum Paul Klee (designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano in 2005) houses the world’s most important collection of works by painter Paul Klee (1879-1940).
Kunstmuseum Bern (Museum of Fine Arts Bern) is the oldest art museum in Switzerland with art spanning eight centuries and works by Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, 19th century Bern painter Ferdinand Hodler, surrealist artist/photographer Meret Oppenheim and others.
Einstein Haus. The Einstein House is located in the Old Town centre; it was Einstein’s home from 1903 – 1905 and was where he developed the theory of relativity. (The Einstein Café and a cigar lounge are also located here.)
Einstein Museum has a collection of memorabilia, written records and film documentaries of Einstein’s life.
Due to over three miles of ancient arcades, Bern has one of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe.
Jack’s Brasserie, with its late 19th century ambiance, was awarded 14 points by Gault-Millau, for its market fresh, French brasserie cuisine and classic weinerschnitzel. Jack’s Brasserie is located in the Hotel Schweizerhof Bern.
Located in the old Granary, the Kornhauskeller features Mediterranean cuisine and Bernese specialties. I didn’t particularly care for the food (or the service) but the venue itself has a definite wow factor with impressive high baroque architecture and vaulted ceilings and pillars with paintings of renaissance and mythological figures.
Imbibe & Relax
Kornhaus Galerie Bar is located in the cellar of the old Granary, which was once used to store barrels of wine. The Granary bar is a popular hangout for cocktails and also has ornate vaulted ceilings.
Sky Terrace/Hotel Schweizerhof Bern is the place to go for cocktails and light mezze-dishes and 360 views of the city.
Schweizerhof Lobby-Lounge-Bar is the after-work/after-dinner meeting place for drinks and sashimi and sushi tastings (by Fugu-licensed sushi chef Hironori Takahashi).
The five-star Hotel Schweizerhof is located in the central part of Bern conveniently near the train station and Old Town. The renovated hotel features 99 rooms and suites with rain showers and Japanese bathtubs, elegant herringbone oak floors and charming furnishings. In addition to the aforementioned eateries, it has a spa (member of Leading Spas) and wellness facilities and a Cigar Lounge.
For more information, visit www.schweizerhof-bern.ch.
Travel to Bern
Flights: Coming from the United States, it’s best to fly into Zurich Airport and take the one hour, fifteen minute InterCity train ride to Bern. For information about Swiss International Air Line flights visit www.swiss.com.
Currency: Swiss currency is the franc (not the euro).
Getting Around: Bern has an easy-to-navigate tram and bus system. You can pick up a Swiss Pass and Swiss Flexi Pass to travel by train, bus and boat. For more information, visit www.swisstravelsystem.com.
You can get tourist information at the tourism office located in the Bern Railway Station (Bern Bahnhof).
Language: While the official languages in Bern are German, French and Italian, many citizens speak English.
When to Go
Bern is mild and sunny, during spring through fall. The average temperature is in the low 50s and the warmest month is in July with an average temperature of 63. Winter can be wet and cold, with the coolest month being January when the lowest average temperature is 30. July – mid-August is the vacation season. When I visited in June, the weather was pleasant, though chilly in the morning.
By Richard West
The perfect day in Geneva doesn’t break. Far too messy for this ridiculously bijou city, cozily nestled between the Swiss Juras and French Alps and neatly stretched along the edges of Lac Leman and the Rhone River. No, it unfolds, it rises, spreads like a stain, suffusing the sky slowly with bluish and white light.
If luck holds, you’re watching this display in one of the 45 rooms of the Hotel d’Angleterre, the city’s premier lakeside 142-year-old hotel, part of the Red Carnation Collection of top-shelf places to bunk around the world. If luckier than loaded dice, you awake in one of the nine lakeside rooms, say, No. 426, so that the morning view out the bedroom window perfectly frames the lake’s Jet d’Eau, Europe’s tallest fountain, spouting 130 gallons of water a second 390 feet up, backgrounded by snow-topped Mont Blanc, the European Union’s highest peak (15,781’). And there you stare awed and Saturdazed after a hard week’s work.
Geneva: Switzerland’s second-largest city (187,470 pop.); the European base of the UN (8500 employees) as well as 250+ other international bodies; the world’s first mass tourist destination thanks to Thomas Cook’s first conducted Swiss tour in 1863; the watch selling capital of the universe.
Irony Dept.: John Calvin and his Calvinists prohibited the wearing of jewelry in Geneva, thus creating an opportunity for Swiss watchmakers and sellers. Human bling-need, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Today, 30 million Swiss watches are exported yearly. The Geneva Challenge: find a central-city block not offering five-figure watches. And it’s true, most watches displayed are set at 10:10 so the brand name isn’t obscured.
By Steve Jermanok
From the shores of Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman as the Swiss call it, to the forest and duck pond of Lac de Sauvabelin, the city of Lausanne climbs an impressive 800 feet. You climb uphill or downhill on an Escher-like maze of stairwells, narrow cobblestone streets, bridges, even elevators and escalators. Last night, I took an elevator close to my hotel, the Lausanne Palace, down to the former warehouse district of Flon, now a Tribeca-like neighborhood of hip restaurants like Le Nomade and popular dance clubs like Mars. It’s quite strange to take an elevator down to another neighborhood, but Lausanne is full of surprises, from the massive Gothic cathedral consecrated in 1275 to Jean Dubuffet’s fascinating Art Brut collection, created for the most part by people who are ingenious or simply insane.
By Steve Jermanok
Come winter, Montreux serves as a base for skiers who want the cosmopolitan feel of a city after spending a day on the slopes. It’s only an hour train ride to the exclusive resort town of Gstaad, 90 minutes to Zermatt and the Matterhorn. If you want to stay closer to town, you can simply hop on a train to Aigle and then take the mountain train up to Leysin, a great family ski area. Yesterday we did exactly that to hike up to the top of the ski area and lunch at the revolving restaurant, Le Kuklos. The Swiss trains that climb slowly up the steep mountainside are an engineering marvel, rewarding us with great views of the green valley below.
The best in the world.
National Geographic Expeditions?
A guaranteed way to enjoy group travel with an expert who takes you inside a destination.
So I’m thrilled that National Geographic Expeditions has asked me to take two groups of travelers on National Geographic Expeditions trips to Switzerland next summer.
On Swiss Trains and the Italian Lake District, you’ll experience the Alps and the beautiful lake of Northern Italy, as well as ride on some of Switzerland’s legendary trains, including the Glacier Express and the Bernina Express.
From the twisted peak of the Matterhorn to the breathtaking vistas of the Bernina Pass, you’ll soar high above Zermatt in a gondola, and enjoy a choice of hikes, walks, and tram rides through beautiful mountain landscapes. Then cross the Alps into Italy and cap off the trip on the shores of stunning Lake Como.
Departure dates are July 10-19, 2015 and July 24-August 2, 2015.
Visit National Geographic Expeditions to learn more
What’s the Deal: From Lake Geneva to the slopes of the Matterhorn and the streets of Zurich, Switzerland is the best country in the world to ride the rails. This summer, Rail Europe is offering a First Class 8 Day Swiss Pass that includes free WiFi and and Luggage Service amenities.
Details: The First Class Swiss Pass gives you unlimited travel on the Swiss Travel System including trains, buses and boats with scenic routes such as the Glacier Express, Golden Pass Line or Wilhelm Tell Express, public transportation in 41 Swiss cities, a 50% price reduction off most mountain railways, and free admission to more than 400 museums in Switzerland.
Fine Print: You get free Fast Baggage Service and free Swisscom 8 days WiFi Pocket Connect device per booking of the First Class 8 Days Swiss Pass Summer Promotion from June 13 through July 30, 2013. Fast Baggage service provides same-day luggage delivery within Switzerland between 46 cities and holiday destinations. In addition to a luggage-free ride, travelers will have access to free mobile internet anywhere within Switzerland through the Swisscom Pocket Connect which will never include roaming or WiFi charges.
Cost: Prices begin at $679 USD** for the First Class 8 Days Swiss Pass Summer Promotion.
Booking: Visit Rail Europe’s website at RailEurope.com
Story and photos by Monique Burns
Just two hours’ east of Zurich, Appenzellerland is Switzerland’s most traditional enclave. Think cows and cowbells, farms and meadows. City folk who appreciate good food, cozy lodgings, pristine mountain scenery and colorful primitive art will be entranced by Switzerland’s most bucolic region, just across Lake Constance from Austria and Germany, and bordering Liechtenstein. No fewer than four cable cars glide up the Alpstein range, where visitors can enjoy easy walks through rolling meadows, or hunker down in mountain lodges for long leisurely lunches. Foodies can learn the art of sausage-making at a local butcher shop, visit a cheese factory, or taste traditional pastries at bakeries and cafés. When the day is done, there are superb restaurants serving farm-fresh fare, and hotels ranging from quaint country inns with hand-painted furniture to five-star resorts with luxury spas.
From Zürich HB, the Swiss capital’s central station, trains depart regularly for the town of Appenzell, with a stop in the city of Gossau. Or take the train from Zürich to the pleasant metropolis of St. Gallen, known worldwide for its centuries-old textile and embroidery industry. From there, change for the little red train that chugs its way through the countryside to the town of Appenzell. Either route is scenic and takes just under two hours.
Tiny Appenzell is a peaceable kingdom of fountain-adorned squares, narrow cobblestone streets and wooden chalets with colorfully painted facades. A five-minute walk from the train station, check into an “Appenzeller-zimmer,” with old-fashioned canopy beds and painted wardrobes, at 28-room Hotel Löwen. You’ll also find a traditional wood-paneled dining room, a spacious breakfast room, a bar and a sunny courtyard garden. Stay three nights in any area hotel and receive the Appenzell Card, offering such discounts as free cable-car rides and museum admission.
Right outside your hotel door, on Hauptgasse, Appenzell’s main street, the Löwen-Drogerie, a bright-red chalet adorned with paintings of herbs, sells its famous herbal liqueur, Innerrhoder Kapuzinerbitter, as well as herbal teas and tinctures. At nearby Spezialitäten Metzg Wetter, taste traditional cold-cuts like mostbröckli, thinly sliced dried beef, and alpenklüber, cervelat and schüblig sausages.
Amble a few blocks west, past souvenir shops selling wooden milking pails and leather suspenders adorned with brass cow medallions. At Drei Könige bakery and café, sample fresh-baked birnweggen pear bread and biberli, traditional gingerbread stamped with images of farm scenes and town landmarks.
Steps away, several restaurants, cafés and hotels ring Appenzell’s historic main square, the Landsgemeindeplatz, site of the annual open-air assembly where direct democracy is still practiced. If you’re in town on the last Sunday in April, don’t be surprised to see grown men strutting around with swords clanging against their hips. Centuries ago, that’s how the Appenzell’s men folk proved they were old enough to vote. Today, many still do.
A few blocks farther west, at Metzgerei F. Fässler, butcher Fred Fässler and his family give monthly classes on sausage-making. Even if you’re not in town for the class, you can still tour the facility, and sample various dried meats and sausages, including the house specialty, siedwurst, a traditional beef and pork sausage.
At the other side of town, across the River Sitter, visit the new Brauerie Locher AG visitor center to learn how Appenzeller bier is made. Sample the various brews, but don’t forget to taste the intriguing (and delicious) malt whiskey made from recycled hops. The nearby Appenzeller Alpenbitter Distillery produces a famed digestive liqueur crafted from 42 local plants and herbs, as well as a chocolate candy blended with herbal liqueur.
Appenzeller cheese, another local specialty, is made from the milk of the tan-colored Braunvieh cattle and aged in herbal brine. Take a bright-yellow PubliCar van to the nearby town of Stein and the Appenzeller Schaukäsereishow dairy to watch cheese-making, and buy a half-dozen varieties of Appenzeller cheese. At the homey restaurant, with wood-paneled walls and carved wood furniture, lunch on local favorites like macaroni-and-cheese with applesauce. Next door, spend an hour or two at the Appenzeller Volkskunde-Museum, housing folk costumes, painted wardrobes, and Switzerland’s finest collection of primitive paintings, many depicting local farmers, dressed in traditional red vests, yellow breeches and black hats, leading cattle on the annual pilgrimage to the high pastures.
If a day of sightseeing stirs up an appetite, you’re in luck. This is farm country, and the food doesn’t get fresher than that. In Appenzell, on the Landsgemeindeplatz, be sure to book a table at the four-star Romantik Hotel Säntis, with its colorful red, white and yellow painted façade. In the upstairs gourmet restaurant, sample well-prepared appetizers like smoked duck breast with brioche and fig port wine, and entrees like deer entrecôte with glazed chestnuts and pears in red wine. Just off the square, Restaurant Marktplatz serves such well-prepared dishes as pork steak with polenta and veal schnitzel with fries in a cozy dining room whose wood-paneled walls are etched with playful farming scenes.
For a splurge, take the train from Appenzell two stops to the town of Weissbad. A stone’s throw from the train station is four-star Hotel Hof Weissbad with 136 rooms and a world-class wellness center in a grand yellow-and-white building. Feast on innovative dishes in your choice of three dining rooms, including a glass-walled black-and-white space overlooking the hotel herb garden and craggy, snow-capped Hoher Kasten peak. Then work off those extra calories with after-dinner dancing to live piano music in the graciously appointed lobby.
Or just head for the hills. This is Switzerland, after all, and everyone should spend at least one afternoon, and preferably more, walking in the mountains and breathing in the fresh air. As Swiss mountains go, the 8,000-foot-high Alpstein range is low-slung, but it’s very accessible, with a pastoral beauty of velvety meadows dotted with farm houses, grazing cows and rustic mountain inns.
The Kronberg rises in Jakobsbad, three train stops northeast of Appenzell. Near the mountain’s base, take the bobsled run, or explore the climbing park, a favorite with children. Then hop the bright-yellow cable car to the summit, and bask in dazzling sunlight at the terrace restaurant. West, in Brülisau, another short train ride from Appenzell, a gleaming-white cable car ferries visitors to Hoher Kasten’s revolving summit restaurant. Or hike three hours from Brülisau to Berggasthaus Ruhesitz, a traditional mountain lodge just below Hoher Kasten’s summit, for well-prepared local dishes, including a fitness-teller salad with fresh herbs, greens and berries, and grilled chicken or pork.
It takes a little doing to reach the 8,208-foot-high Säntis, Eastern Switzerland’s highest peak, but it’s worth the effort. Hop a train to Urnäsch or Nesslau, then a post bus to Schwägalp. If you’re not in a rush, Schwägalp has several attractions: the Säntis Nature Discovery Park, the Schwägalp Demonstration Dairy, the Geology Rock Park. Or have a hot meal or a cold drink in the three-starBerghotel Schwägalp. From Schwägalp, catch a blue-and-white or green-and-white cable car to the Säntis summit where you can see nearly a hundred peaks from various restaurants and terraces. Folkloric evenings, with traditional fiddle and dulcimer music, are held here year-round.
The Ebenalp lies 3,000 feet below the Säntis. From Appenzell, take the train to Wasserauen, then ride the bright-red cable car to the top. Wedged precariously into a rocky crevice is the Berggasthaus Aescher. Come for a hearty lunch with superb mountain views, or brave the shared dormitory rooms for a once-in-a-lifetime overnight experience. Just below is the Wildkirchli, a cave “chapel” once inhabited by religious hermits and, legend has it, a bear.
IF YOU GO
The following list includes first-class and deluxe hotels that also serve excellent meals, as well as a traditional Appenzell restaurant:
Hotel Löwen, Hauptgasse 25, 41-71-788-87-87, CH-9050 Appenzell. Doubles, with breakfast, start at 160 CHF (about $165). www.loewen-appenzell.ch
Romantik Hotel Säntis,Landsgemeindeplatz(Town Square), CH-9050 Appenzell, 41-71-788-11-11. Doubles start at 240 CHF (about $260). www.saentis-appenzell.ch
Hotel Hof Weissbad,Im Park 1, CH-9057 Weissbad, 41-71-798-80-80. Doubles, with two meals daily, start at 270 CHF (about $280) per person. www.hofweissbad.ch
Restaurant Marktplatz, Kronengarten 2, CH-9050 Appenzell. 41-71-787-12-04. www.marktplatz-appenzell.ch
For more information, visit Appenzell Tourism (www.appenzell.ch) and Switzerland Tourism (www.myswitzerland.com). For Switzerland flights, contact SWISS (www.swiss.com), the national carrier. For the Swiss Pass rail pass, contact Rail Europe (www.raileurope.com).
Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.