Travel Review: Bern, Switzerland

The country's sort-of-secret ‘capital’ deserves some airtime
ByEllen KerryThursday , 18 January 2018
Travel Review: Bern, Switzerland

When we think of Switzerland, the sort of things that come to mind include Zurich, banks, clocks and chocolate. If you were asked during a pub quiz to name Switzerland’s capital, we bet your first answer would be Zurich, right? If you wrote that down with a flourish of confidence you’d be monumentally wrong because, while it doesn’t technically have a capital, the accepted ‘federal centre’ of this small country is Bern. 

WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the very comfortable Schweizerhof Hotel & Spa in the centre of Bern. The city hotel is right by the main train station entrance, making it an easy commute no matter how many cases you've packed. The hotel is a delightful mix of old and new with contemporary art sitting nicely alongside portraits of ye olde Bern families. The building has been around for 158 years and recently underwent renovation to combine traditional décor with modern art. The huge onyx front desk is just one of the statement pieces. The lobby area flows into a sit-down bar, which was thriving day and night. Every week a local DJ plays tunes from 5pm to 9pm and there is a special beverage menu and delish party food to indulge in.

The suites are compact yet spacious and feature the latest gadgets and technology. There are so many buttons we have to admit it took us a while to figure out how to dim the lights from ‘stadium bright’ to ‘low key’. The telly has surround sound, including speakers in the bathroom, so you don’t have to miss a minute of the BBC’s Breakfast News. If you’ve got a thing for hotel beauty products, you’ll love the offering here. Bulgari beauty treats are scattered around the bathroom and there's even a fancy mini fragrance to try out.

Switzerland’s fave coffee creation Nespresso is also present, of course, along with complimentary teas and soft drinks. We decided to try out the in- room breakfast and were not disappointed. Simply tick your selection on the menu then hang it on the outside of your door. Ours was delivered promptly at 7am; scrambled eggs, rich and delicious with meaty veal sausages and tomatoes. We opted for the gluten-free bread bowl, which has four types, all served warm. As well as this, a tower of cold cuts, cheeses, muesli and fruit with jams and honey is served. It’s a huge brekkie and ideal if you’re off on a long walk around the city during the day.

After such a day, a visit to the spa is a great way to unwind. As well as a relaxation pool, plunge pool, sauna and ice shower, trained therapists are on hand to provide specialised treatments. While there we try the honey massage, which uses produce of Bern bees from hives on the roof of the hotel. Thick, sticky honey is massaged into the back and lightly slapped all over. The feeling is a curious one and quite pinchy but it relieves stresses and soothes knots.

The staff here are friendly, helpful and very proud to work in the hotel, which really comes across. Our rep Daniel was a complete joy and happy to tell us all about his home town over a yummy bowl of ramen or a Hawaiian poke bowl. INFO: Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & Spa, Bahnhofplatz 11, 3001 Bern, +41 31 326 80 80, info@schweizerhof- bern.ch 

WHAT TO DO
We took the Follow Your Nose tour of Bern and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. It begins with a trip to the quaint Art of Scent store, where we met local perfumer Brigitte Witschi. Then we followed our knowledgeable (and hilarious) tour guide around Bern, stopping at special places to hear more about the history while smelling a specially chosen scent. We spotted the Bern bears (actually grizzlies), Lindt’s first ever chocolate factory and so much more. At the end of the tour we headed back to Art of Scent to sit down and create our own fragrance using our favourite Bern scents. It’s a lovely and unconventional way to get to know a city and leave with a memory- infused gift. If you’re there during the winter season, make sure you see the spectacular light show, projected onto the Swiss Parliament at night. Using 3D mapping and the cleverest tools, every year the artist tells a different story. INFO: City Tours Bern, Bahnhofplatz 10a 3011 Bern, bern.com, +41 31 328 12 12, email citytours@bern.com 

WHERE TO EAT
The Kornhaus is justly famous in Bern. It’s the place to go and, once inside, you can see why. The exterior’s small entrance and garish neon sign are a complete contrast to the cavernous and beautifully decorated interior. The old granary features high-baroque décor and a huge barrel at the end, which was once used to house grain. It’s an impressive spot with charismatic sta and warming food. Jack’s Brasserie, right next door to Schweizerhof Hotel & Spa, is a great dinner spot. Serving fresh French brasserie meals as well as traditional Swiss classics like Jack’s Schnitzel (which is ginormous, BTW), it has the kind of ambience that makes you expect to spy an old Hollywood movie star dining in the corner. INFO: Kornhaus, Kornhausplatz 18 3011 Bern, Jack’s Brasserie, Schweizerhof Hotel, Bahnhofplatz 11, 3001 Bern 

HOW TO TRAVEL
Transportation in Switzerland is as you’d imagine it – e icient and reliable. Especially the trains, which run like clockwork. Pick up a unique all-in-one 1st class travel ticket with Swiss Travel System. This is the way you experience Switzerland by train, bus and boat. The Swiss Travel Pass also includes rides on premium panoramic trains, the use of public transport in more than 90 towns and cities, a 50 percent price reduction on most mountain excursions and free admission to more than 500 museums. It’s a must-buy for an all- round experience. INFO: From CHF185 (Dhs685), myswitzerland. com 

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