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Discover the Best of Switzerland Within its Compact Capital City, Bern

by Ron Bernthal

Mar 26, 2024

PHOTO: © BERN WELCOME
& DIGITALE MASSARBEIT

March 2024

The Swiss protect the traditional sound of metal cowbells softly tinkling as cattle graze the meadows as fervently as they enforce laws mandating the preservation of chalet architecture or prohibiting hand-washing of personal vehicles on Sundays.

PHOTO: © BERN WELCOME

Recently, in a small town near Bern, Switzerland’s capital, new residents asked local farmers to remove the bells on their cows during the night, claiming the ringing disturbed their sleep. The long-established farmers were determined, however, to maintain this sacred symbol of Swiss life and demanded a Canton of Bern vote to protect the tradition. It passed by a wide majority of canton voters, thus maintaining the right of farmers to use cowbells at all hours. As many Swiss residents explained, “The cowbells are in the DNA of Swiss people.”

In Bern, farms and the sound of cowbells are never far from the city center, and Swiss traditions run deep in a city ranked No. 13 of 241 global cities on the 2023 Mercer Quality of Life list. According to Neil Ashman, senior location ratings analyst, ECA International, a firm specializing in global mobility needs for corporations, “Bern has great air quality, a solid infrastructure, decent medical facilities and very low crime.” It’s not surprising this somewhat undiscovered Swiss city ranks higher than Paris, Stockholm, London and hundreds of other world cities for quality of life.

Once travelers discover Bern, they never forget its ambience and stunning location. “This is the most beautiful place I have ever seen,” writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe claimed in a letter to a friend during his stay in Bern in 1779. For business travelers visiting Bern today, this walkable city maintains its traditions of friendly hospitality, excellent cuisine and cultural venues, plus 176 craft beer breweries, the highest density of microbreweries in Switzerland.

Although visitors can easily walk to most leisure and business destinations within Bern, overnight guests do not need to ever worry about purchasing public transport tickets while in the city. From their first overnight stay in a Bern hotel, they receive a Bern Ticket for their entire stay, providing free travel on public transport in zones 100/101. The Bern Ticket also includes the Gurten and Marzili funiculars and the lift to Minster terrace, as well as travel to and from Bern Airport.

Start the day in the fitness center at 5-star Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & Spa with a swim and sauna and breakfast at the property’s Jack’s Brasserie or on the rooftop Sky Terrace (weather permitting) with a view overlooking the Swiss Alps. The hotel opened in 1859 and offers 99 luxurious rooms and suites in the center of the city, a five-minute walk to Bern’s Central Rail Station. Bern is the only European capital with high-speed ICE, TGV and Pendolino rail connections, plus many EuroCity and InterCity connections. Direct trains from Zürich Airport to Bern depart every 30 minutes, with a travel time of about an hour and 20 minutes.

If you need to host a morning meeting, Hotel Schweizerhof guests can arrange to use one of the fully equipped meeting and conference rooms the hotel operates within Central Rail Station. Business travelers can reserve these convenient meeting rooms, accommodating up to 400 persons, via the hotel’s website. Bern’s Central Rail Station ranked third-best station in Europe on the European Railway Station Index 2023 survey.

© OLIVER BAER

Before lunch walk to the city’s Museumsquartier Bern in the Kirchenfeld district. Developed in 2021, the quarter offers 11 cultural and educational institutions, all within a 20-minute walk (or less) of Central Station. The institutions are linked in many ways, enabling them to create shared content formats and build a new urban space in the museums’ gardens between the buildings. Some of the venues include Swiss Alpine Museum, Natural History Museum Bern and Swiss Shooting Museum Bern. The beautiful, modern Zentrum Paul Klee art museum lies nearby.

While in the Kirchenfeld neighborhood, enjoy lunch at the busy Restaurant Kirchenfeld, designated a Bib Gourmand venue by the Michelin 2023 guide. Reserve a table in advance for its dining room section, especially if local business colleagues will join you for a lunch meeting. The adjacent bistro section proves equally lively, with pub- style service and cuisine. Menus in the restaurant feature seasonal and locally grown ingredients. Chef Lorenzo Malorgio or his wife (and hostess) Lena Malorgio (or both) will greet you at the door.

The restaurant’s lunch menu may include fish with grilled vegetables and lemon risotto; veal slices (from local farms) with mushroom cream sauce and rösti; or the Kirchenfeld cutlet moutarde de Meaux with rösti and market vegetables. Leave room to sample the quite special dessert cart, especially the delicious daily homemade tarte tatin, a pastry featuring fruit (usually apple) caramelized in butter and sugar, or the coupe colonel with lemon sorbet and vodka.

Take the 10-minute walk across the Aare River from Kirchenfeld to Altstadt (Old City), the most scenic and historic area of Bern. If a post-lunch business meeting is in the works, Altstadt offers plenty of sites for seminars, meetings and presentations you can arrange through Bern Convention Bureau, which proves quite efficient with its assistance.

Founded in 1191, Altstadt (a UNESCO World Heritage site) provides a wonderful area to walk through. The number of beautifully preserved medieval structures is mesmerizing, as are the cozy and welcoming bars and cafés nestled within them. If time allows, visit Einstein House, where Albert Einstein lived from 1903 to 1905 and developed his theory of relativity. Visitors are welcome every day until 5 p.m.

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