When it comes to Switzerland, visitors generally follow the same playbook: ski the majestic snow-capped Alps in Zermatt, Gstaad and St. Moritz. Get closer to Lake Geneva and the Four Cantons. Feast on cheese in all its glorious forms, from fondue to raclette. While these things are still part of Switzerland’s appeal, there’s more to the country than glamorous winter resorts, pristine bodies of water and culinary indulgences.
The next time you visit Switzerland, set aside a few days to visit Bern. The Swiss capital is largely overlooked by tourists and teems with old world charm. Surrounded by the blue-green Aare River, Bern has plenty to see, such as its UNESCO-listed Old Town – home to the medieval Zytglogge clock tower, the Parliament building and enchanting cafes and bars hidden in underground vaulted cellars – Kunstmuseum (Museum of Fine Arts), Bear Park and Rosengarten (rose garden). And thanks to Switzerland’s highly efficient public train system, getting here is a breeze. Even better? Bern is small enough that you can get a good idea of the city in no time.
As for where to stay, consider Hotel Schweizerhof Bern & Spa. Dating back to 1859, the historic and stately grande dame has hosted some of the world’s most recognizable faces, like Grace Kelly and Liz Taylor, and the address couldn’t be more convenient as it’s located opposite the train station. Another advantage? All hotel guests receive a free Bern Ticket, which entitles you to free travel in public transport zones 100 and 101.
For the 99 rooms and suites, London designer Maria Vafiadis has bridged the gap between old and new by fusing elements reminiscent of traditional European elegance (crystal chandeliers, herringbone oak flooring) with modern elements such as rain showers, Paul Klee prints and geometric wallpaper. And although the property is located in the heart of Bern, outside noise won’t bother you at all thanks to heavy blackout curtains and well-insulated windows.
The perfect place to be pampered after a day of exploring, the spa has five beautiful treatment rooms, plus other rejuvenating features (think Finnish sauna, experience showers, and ice fountain). If you’re not sure what to try, book a signature treatment like the Fascia Honey massage. The 75-minute session begins with a fascia massage with honey made by bees on the hotel’s rooftop terrace to improve movement and flexibility, and is followed by a propolis oil massage for deep relaxation.
For one of the best meals in town, look no further than Signature Restaurant Jack’s Brewery. A city institution adored by locals and hotel guests alike, the award-winning all-day dining restaurant offers traditional and contemporary versions of brasserie staples like Simmental Swiss Beef Tartare and Spicy Kale Fried Sole with wasabi. But Jack’s piece de resistance is easily the best-selling Wiener Schnitzel, a massively puffy, browned piece of deep-fried veal that’s substantial without being heavy. For a last drink or an aperitif, head to the Lobby Lounge Bar or the Sky Terrace, where the view of Bern is particularly breathtaking on a clear day.