Bern’s medieval arcades line the old cobbled streets and, as well as being very pretty to look at, make for a very pleasant shopping experience, whatever the weather.
The six kilometres of arcades were built after a fire devastated the city in 1405. In the Middle Ages these were once houses where families sold their wares out the front but now attractive boutiques and cafes tempt shoppers. Great care is taken of the sandstone buildings.
As well as the magnificent cathedral with its tall spire, Bern’s 1530 clock tower is the major sight to see. The bears dance around, a rooster crows three times and Father Time strikes his bells with fascinating regularity.
A tour (by arrangement) of the mechanism with bell warden Marie Therese reveals an amazing wealth of information, including the time of year and the phases of the moon. Apparently until a few years the warden used to live up here!
From the top of the clock tower you can see the misty mountain peaks of the Bernese Oberland and there is no doubt Bernese are very enthusiastic about their winter sports. Many of the best ski areas in Switzerland are only an hour’s drive away.
Tucked away under one of Bern’s arcades is one of the city’s many cellar restaurants. The Ratskeller offers hearty Bernese fare and I particularly loved the rich Berner Gerstensuppe (pearl barley soup). Next was sliced veal, Bernese style with champignons and rosti with bacon and vegetables.
Later in the evening I visited the Kornhauskeller, a huge underground space of dining tables and bar areas that was once a granary. It is very typical of Bern and is now considered an outstanding example of the Swiss High Baroque style. Relaxing back into a cosy sofa I enjoyed looking at the Munger frescoes decorating the soaring, arched ceiling as I sipped a drink.
I visited this delightful Unesco World Heritage Site in Switzerland last northern winter and I love walking holidays and climbing in the mountains of Switzerland, I’m already plotting a return visit to Bern.
There’s nothing like combining a charming European city break with skiing or hiking in the surrounding mountains and valleys!
By Natasha von Geldern
Did you fall in love with the medieval Swiss city of Bern?