Crisp Alpine air fills your lungs as you stroll down a street lightly dusted with late-winter snow. Evening has entered the city, and lights from small shops spill onto the street, warming the neighbourhood with their yellow glow. Nearby, the hush of the Aare river mingles with the smooth sounds of the trams gliding over their rails. Elegantly sculpted figures gaze down at you from the tops of Mediaeval fountains, acting as sentinels as you traverse the city streets. At the right time of year, as you pass the local markets, the spicy scent of hot mulled wine tingles your nose. All around you, a sense of calm and joy pervades the atmosphere. You can only find these sights, and more, in the charming city of Bern, Switzerland.
Aerial view of the city of Bern © Switzerland Tourism/swiss-image.ch
There is much more to Bern than just ancient history and tradition, however. The unique Mediaeval architecture provides the backdrop to a lot of contemporary culture, with nightlife that includes jazz venues, music clubs, a whole range of bars and six Michelin-starred restaurants. Its cultural scene includes some fantastic museums, with permanent exhibitions dedicated to two people with significant links to the city: Albert Einstein, and Paul Klee. Einstein lived in a flat on Kramgasse 49 from 1903 to 1905, two years during which he was working on the ideas that would culminate in the Annus mirabilis papers, four articles that completely overturned people’s ideas on space and time.
Zentrum Paul Klee © Switzerland Tourism/swiss-image.ch
The Zentrum Paul Klee is in a wavy-shaped building by Renzo Piano and houses a collection comprising over a third of Paul Klee’s entire oeuvre. Over 4,000 works are displayed by rotation, so each visit presents something new. The Zentrum also features the Schöngrün Restaurant. Awarded one Michelin star, the Schöngrün’s inventive and varied menu is a true culinary adventure. If you prefer a more traditional, old-world elegance, you could try Restaurant VUE, formerly La Terrasse, at the Bellevue Palace hotel. The restaurant has 16 Gault&Millau points and a terrace providing spectacular views of the Bernese Alps.
Skiing in the Bernese © Switzerland Tourism/swiss-image.ch
Other venues include Altes Tramdepot, a favourite for locals and travellers alike for its authentic Swiss food, and signature beer; and the Kornhaus Galerie Bar, with a warm ambience and a wide selection of drinks, including an impressive collection of whiskies, rums, and cocktails. It’s the perfect setting for a relaxing evening and good conversation. If it’s a party you’re looking for, Bern offers plenty to do on this front as well, including Le Ciel, a class-act club featuring the latest house music and a hip atmosphere.
Christmas Market in Bern city centre © Switzerland Tourism/swiss-image.ch
Traditional Swiss festivals abound during the winter, such as the Christmas Market and the Bern Carnival. As they are held outside at a time of year when highs only reach 4°C on average, you’ll, want to bundle up. Fasnacht (Carnival, held at the beginning of each March, is a vibrant pre-lenten carnival celebration bringing 50,000 people out into the streets of Bern. Unique because it incorporates the city's history by beginning the carnival with the symbolic freeing of the bear.
Bern in the winter © Switzerland Tourism/swiss-image.ch
But wherever you go, you are going to see bears. They are all over the place, on the fountains, the walls, and in the city’s emblem which dates back at least to 1224 and probably earlier. To decide on the name of the city, founder Duke Berthold V decided that he would name it after the first animal that his men met while chopping down trees that would be used as building materials. As a chronicler of the time put it, “Then they caught a bear first, which is why the city was called Bern, and so the citizens had their coat and shield...” The Bear Park, with its furry residents Finn, Björk and Ursina, is a major attraction, bringing the past into the present and exemplifying the charm that distinguishes and characterises the city of Bern.