To understand Switzerland’s multicultural, social and political system in depth, you have to visit Bern!
Bern is the Federal city of the Swiss Confederation or as many people know it, the de facto capital of Switzerland. A city full of history and heritage. A wonderful display of landmarks accumulated in its Old Town, which entitled it with the UNESCO world heritage label. So if you want a city break full of culture and Swiss experiences, here’s our guide for a condensed weekend in Bern. To best feel the soul of Bern and enjoy its experiences, we recommend to stay at the prestigious Bellevue Palace hotel. Bellevue Palace, one of the best luxury hotels in Switzerland, portrays the perfect reflection of the city, with its heritage and character.
Bern, the history and the founding legend
While many cities have their founding legends, Bern carries its story in its name since the start. The legend says that the Duke of Zahringen, who founded the city, named it after the first animal he hunted in the surrounding forest. And that was a….bear!
The indisputable point is that the city was built on that particular spot due to its geographical strategic position. Being surrounded by the Aare river from 3 sides like a small peninsula, was a key advantage. It was easier to protect the city by building a wall from one side only, while the roaring Aare river did the rest in-terms of protection.
Bern Roses & Bears
To observe the beauty of Bern, with its traditional red roofs and landmarks, you should head to the Rosengarden. The roses, and irises and greenery of the Rosengarden are amazing. However the real enchanting experience is to sit on its wall and contemplate over the city, especially in spring time. From the wall bench you can spot the Münster spiral, the famous Bern bridges that connect the two banks of the Aare. Also observe how the river surrounds the town. The view stretches splendidly up to the Alps and Jura mountains. If you walk down the hill you will be blessed with the views of the blossoming trees, which act as window frames for the city stunning views.
Few minutes downward from Rosengarden you can reach the Bear pit (Bärenpark). The city has been hosting bears since 1857, a symbolic contribution to its founding legend. You can watch the famous bears wondering around the hill, feeding or simply playing with each other.
Bern Old Town, UNESCO worldwide Heritage site
Never saw such a condensation of landmarks and historic buildings in one place! That is the medieval old town of Bern. Few steps from the train station you get to the famous 800 years old Zytglogge Clock Tower. The tower once acted as the western gateway of town. From the outside it’s a stunning monument with a majestic clock decorated with beautiful statues. Three minutes before the hour people gather to watch a small show by the metallic creatures of the clock. The Rooster, the Knight, the Fool and others get out of this astronomical master piece to entertain the by-passers. It is highly recommended to do a tour inside the clock tower. The tour lasts one hour and needs pre-booking( costs 20 CHF). Moreover, it not only gives insights into how the Zytglogge was built and its internal delicate mechanism. Additionally, it allows you to peak into amazing views over the rooftops of Bern, with Bern Münster and even the Eiger mountain in the backdrop.
The Münster or main cathedral of Bern has the highest steeple of all Switzerland. It’s a feat to the eyes from the outside. While it enjoys a cobbled terrace that have a stunning view over the turquoise Aare river and the historic Kirchenfeld bridge. On a clear Sunday, people come here for a nice walk, a sit on the bench and even for a pingpong match! If you are fit enough you can take the challenge of climbing the 344 stair steps of the Münster tower. The reward is worth the effort; a breathtaking(if any breath is left ) 360 view over the whole city of Bern and the magnificent mountain peaks, Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau.
Keep walking around the cobbled streets of Bern Old Town. You will be amused every few steps with one of Bern’s 100 fountains that decorate the city. Each built with a different theme and beautifully decorated with ornamented statues. They are all functional, you will never get thirsty in Bern!
The Federal Palace, where Swiss politics is made
If you still have time on your hands, then you should visit the Parliament palace. Here you cannot pop-up inside at any time, but you have to prebook a place-3 days ahead- in a free guided tour that is given in different languages. The tour not only permits you a look into the beautiful Renaissance architecture of the palace. It also gives an important insight into the Swiss political system and its sectors and decision making process. Even if you don’t enter the palace, you can enjoy the view from its terrace high ground over the river and historic bridge. Additionally, you take the Marzili funicular to the lower part of the city. Further more, you can stroll the buzzing market next to the palace and enjoy its delicacies or a quick coffee in the cute neighbouring cáfes.
Across Bern there are plenty of museums, such as the Communication Museum, the Historical Museum, Einstein Museum, Paul Klee Center and many others. We managed to visit some, but we will share about that in another article.
Bellevue Palace – in the heart of Bern
To feel the authentic vibes of Bern, you have to stay at the Bellevue Palace!
One of Switzerland’s prestigious luxury hotels, the hotel is a neighbour of the Swiss Federal Palace. Actually, Bellevue Palace is the official Guesthouse of the Swiss government! In one historic salle you can observe the portraits of the worldwide politicians and celebrities that visited the hotel.
Location is one of the most convenient features of the hotel. Even if you are a business traveller with few hours on your hands you can see the whole Old Town, with all its landmarks, within steps from the hotel. It was a key enabler for us, as we managed to hop from one experience to another and take a quick break back at the hotel in between.
The stunning views and elegant Interior of one of the best luxury hotels
As the name indicates the Bellevue palace enjoys fantastic views over the Aare river, and stretching till the mountains backdrop. Despite our condensed schedule we really enjoyed allocating time for sipping coffee or an afternoon glass of champagne. Meanwhile glazing at the stunning view of the Aare river, watching the cars and trams crossing the historic metal bridge over it.
The interior of the Bellevue Palace is as stunning as the exterior views. The main lobby is beautifully ceiled with elegant decorated glass ceiling that gives the palace a majestic and stylish feel. The salles’ furniture and decoration are example of refined taste and elegance. While the crystal chandeliers sparkle and project a feeling of cosiness and warmth. The majestic interior is one of the elements that makes Bellevue palace one of the distinctive luxury hotels in Switzerland.
Bellevue Palace classics: afternoon tea and the legendary bar
Maybe one of the best features of the hotel is the moments and ambiance it managed to create within this majestic setting.
The afternoon tea is a classic, and must do experience ! It includes delicious sandwiches and yummy patisseries, with tea variations. It can come also with bubbly. This amazing afternoon tea, created an occasion for the city residents and visitors as well to engage in an elegant yet relaxed atmosphere. A great break from the city buzz.
The Bellevue bar is a gem discovery! The cocktails are great and the atmosphere is very lively. But that’s not all! Together with the afternoon tea and the Lobby lounge, the bar represent a melting pot of culture, local politics and international diplomacy. The melange of people on a casual weekday afternoon or weekend evening will amaze y. Local residents, travelling businessmen, seasoned politicians and international diplomats. All together in one cosy place. If the parliament next doors is the official place for Swiss politics decision making, this is like the relaxed “back office” of its politicians.
It was such an amazing experience to hear the stories about the Bellevue bar and the adjacent Le Fumoir-cigar bar. Specially, the importance it gains at the eves of local elections or evenings of official international visits. Whether legends or realities, doesn’t matter, but this place became a legend of its own! It played a significant role in making Bellevue Palace the heartbeat of Bern city.
Gourmet experience at Bellevue Palace
The hotel has two restaurants the elegant Brasserie VUE and the contemporary Noumi bar & grill. Brasserie VUE excels in refined French cuisine. The setting is amazing with its chic setup in the salle that is open to the beautiful outdoor terrace. The “Oeuf Bio Parfait” is a perfectly delicious appetiser while the shrimp cocktail with Calpsyo sauce is a beautiful classic with a twist. We tried the lapin and duck breast with orange for main dish and they were both distinctive. For dessert go for the Rhubarb Charlotte or the Vacherin Glacé. While we didn’t try the Noumi bar, but we checked its atmosphere and loved the vibes, with its open kitchen and talented DJ.
They serve breakfast in the stunning salle of Brasserie VUE. In summer the breakfast terrace is an amazing place to start the day. As it was raining during the night, we had a beautiful table next to the window. The collection for breakfast buffet is very rich and diverse. Everything you can ask for, from cold cuts to delicious cheeses and from pastries to pancakes. For the more health conscious, you will find great options of fruits and muesli. On top of the buffet, you should definitely try the eggs benedict, its to die for!
Bern & Bellevue Palace, a hearty story that goes together
To thoroughly visit Bern was on our bucket list since a while. We passed by Bern many times, yet never stayed for more than few hours. After this weekend break we just realised how much we have missed before. And how much more we can still know about Switzerland and its heritage and systems. Despite that each city and region in Switzerland has its own character and role, yet Bern remains to be Switzerland’s heart, geographically, culturally and politically. However, it’s impressive how all of this can be condensed in one place like Bern Old Town. Or even more impressively portrayed in one accommodation like the stunning Bellevue Palace. A place that managed to create a beautiful balance between elegance and cosiness, between traditions and style. A true example of Swiss luxury and excellence at its best!