BERN SWITZERLAND, May 29, 2014 — Switzerland, what’s not to love? This is a country with spectacular snow-covered mountains, fabulous hotels, natural and man-made attractions and, of course, decadent chocolate. The cities of Bern and Geneva are two of the best examples to start your journey.
Summer is a perfect time to visit when the last vestiges of winter have faded. The Intermittent rain showers of spring give way to deep blue skies, puffy white clouds and trees in full bloom. The entire country is, in a word, cute. Everything from the architecture to the cleanliness to the efficiency are all typically Swiss.
For a multi-city tour, start in the Swiss Capital of Bern. Built around a hairpin turn in the river Aar, this medieval city has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. This is a cosmopolitan city which boasts the longest covered arcades in Europe. If you love shopping, Bern is for you. Hundreds of eclectic retail stores line these arcades including cellars (originally wine cellars) that now house businesses offering everything from flowers to clothing to a puppet theater.
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, including a crowing rooster and whirling figures to mark the time. This clock has been in continuous operation since its original construction in 1530.
Next to the clock tower, the Bear Park is another must-see attraction. 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 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 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 history of Bern. Don’t miss the one where the figure is eating a baby. What’s up with that? Ask a local and they can tell you the story.
After visiting the Bear Park, cross the street and walk up a small hill to see their rose garden. During spring the area is awash in color with tulips, roses and other flowers al in bloom. This is also the best place to get a spectacular view of the city and river.
Where to stay
There are many places to stay while in Bern but if you are into luxury then the Bellevue Palace should be your top choice. Located in the heart of the city, this Swiss Deluxe Hotel is celebrating 100 years of exceptional service.
The property is built in neoclassic style with many of the rooms offering views of the Bernese Alps and the River Aare.
If you have never splurged on a hotel before, this would be the time to do it. The staff here is well trained. Breakfast includes fresh juice, eggs, meats, cheese, yogurt and all sorts of rolls, bread and pastries.
During the afternoon stroll into the Bellevue Bar for a cocktail and an interesting design element you might recognize as being from a Jaguar automobile. You might also get to hobnob with a member of parliament as their offices are right next door. Spies have also been known to frequent this bar and this was the setting for John Le Carre’s novel “Smiley’s People.”
During the warmer months you can dine in their gorgeous wood paneled restaurant or on the terrace overlooking the city. Either way, you will be impressed with the level of service and quality of the food which features fresh, locally sourced products.
One could stay in Bern for several weeks, but you’re not going to want to miss the fabulous city of Geneva, approximately 1 hour 45 minutes by Swiss rail.
Geneva is the world’s smallest metropolis. Home to 200,000 inhabitants, it is best known as the birthplace of the International Red Cross as well as the home to 32 international organizations, including the United Nations. The Red Cross museum is particularly impressive with moving displays of humanity in the face of decades of world war.
Geneva also played a pivotal role in the Reformation under the preaching of John Calvin at the Cathédrale St-Pierre. The new International Museum of the Reformation is a modern addition to the city and traces the history of this movement and its influence on modern civilization.
The Rhone River flows through Lake Geneva, creating some beautiful opportunities for walking along the waterfront. At dusk, the city takes on a new look as the sky turns dark blue and the lights of the many shops reflect off of the water. This is also the time when people stroll along the lakefront, have a meal in one of the many cafes or just people watch.
The Jet d’Eau fountain is a focal point of Lake Geneva. The column of water shoots out of the base at 200 km per hour and rises to a an amazing height of 560 feet. At night, lights illuminate this water feature, making it a convenient landmark for finding your way around the city.
As in most Swiss cities, trams are everywhere and will effortlessly take you anywhere you need to go. Schedules are printed at the stops and many people speak English. The Swiss people are friendly and willing to help travelers needing directions. Unlike parts of Europe the Swiss still use their own currency, Swiss Francs (CHF). You can convert U.S. dollars before arriving, at ATM’s or at many banks in town.
Of course, dining in and around Geneva can be as simple or as elegant as you wish. Many sidewalk shops sell a wide variety of fare, from baguettes filled with meats and cheeses to sausages, chocolates and afternoon tea. Cheese is, of course, always in popular demand and fondue is on the menu at many local restaurants.
Most of the tourist areas consist of cobblestone streets with a variety of retail shops, many of which offer luxury items like watches and jewelry. If you love chocolate, you will be in heaven as there are about ten different chocolatiers, all plying you with taste tempting creations.
One of the more unusual, and arguably one of the best, is Philippe Pascoet. Starting as a relative unknown, he has built up quite a following featuring unusual chocolate infused with various vibrant flavors from things like jasmine tea, cognac, basil and saffron.
Contrary to popular opinion, Geneva isn’t just a place for bankers and big business types. There is a hidden side to this beautiful city that most never experience. Just 15 minutes from the city center is an entire countryside waiting to be explored and quite popular with locals for cycling, horseback riding and wine tasting.
The township of Carouge is just a few minutes by tram and is a charming 18th century village with 600 shops and restaurants, many of which are one-of-a-kind. The aforementioned Philippe Pascoet has his shop here as do many artisans still using old world tools and craftsmanship making everything from clocks to hats to jewelry.
Where to stay
Le Richemond, a Dorchester Collection
Part of the Swiss Deluxe Hotel group, Le Richemond is ideally located right in the heart of the city with many rooms offering balconies and stunning views of Lake Geneva, Brunswick Gardens and the Alps. The rooms are comfortable, spacious and beautifully appointed as you would expect from a luxury property.
There are two restaurants on-site including Le Jardin and Le Bar. The latter is a hotspot at night and a great location for the action on the streets. The food is quite good and you should try their signature lobster club sandwich and shrimp tempura—delicious!
Mandarin Oriental, Geneva,
This is another fine property situated on the River Rhone within walking distance of most shopping and historic districts. All of the rooms offer views of the river, Old Town and the mountains.
The hotel underwent a complete renovation in 2013 with warm tones and colorful accents. The guest marble bathrooms here, reported to be the largest in the city, come with a separate rain shower.
The two restaurants here are the Michelin-starred “Rasoi by Vineet” featuring what they call “evolved” Indian food and “Le Sud” featuring all day casual dining. This is where the business and power crowd come for lunch but don’t let that deter you. The ambiance is as wonderful as the cuisine.
Both Bern and Geneva will give you a taste of the many splendors of Switzerland and are ideal cities to begin your exploration of the many charms of this country. Perhaps this is why Switzerland ranks high on the quality of life rankings year after year.
FTC Disclosure: Promotional considerations and sponsorship were provided by those mentioned in this article.
Literally, this is your ticket to fun and convenient travel covering 16,000 miles throughout the country. The travel system 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 will have access to most of the lake transportation as well as access to about 400 museums throughout Switzerland— truly a great deal.
Dorchester Collection- Le Richemond
Mandarin Oriental Hotel Geneva
Swiss Deluxe Hotels