There aren't many places that can combine both vibrant city and stunning nature in just one day, but Switzerland manages to do just that. Due to the country's size and excellent infrastructure, getting the best of both worlds on your vacation is incredibly easy. A fine example of this is a trip combining the capital of Bern and Schilthorn, a mountain in the Bernese Alps overlooking the valley of Lauterbrunnen.
The Charm of the Capital
There are plenty of reasons to visit Bern. With its cobbled stone streets and four miles of covered arcades, it's hard to imagine anyone not being enchanted by the city. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old City (Alstadt) is the medieval city centre of Bern, which has a multitude of beautiful architectural sights to see.
One of the most famous is the Zytglogge, the city's landmark medieval tower, complete with 15th century astronomical clock.
As you stroll around the city's streets with its historical fountains and clocks dotted all around, you'll also see Bern Cathedral, the Parliament building, and the Kaefigturm, a 17th century tower.
You should also check out the rose garden, one of the most glorious parks in the city with spectacular city views.
Bern's Outstanding Attractions
However, there's much more to Bern than just how it looks architecturally; it's a great destination for those looking for top-class attractions and museums. The city is well-known for having the bear as its symbol, and the Bear Park or Baerenpark located on the side of the river is a hit with visitors.
Featuring grasslands, forested areas, hill slopes, caves, and access to the river, the bears that live in the park are free to roam and even take a swim or catch a fish from the Aare. If the bears are in the caves, infrared cameras allow visitors to see them at all times.
Another highlight of any trip to Bern is a visit to Einstein's house or Einsteinhaus. Housed in the small flat where the German physicist lived with his wife during his stint at the Swiss patent office, the museum has been restored to reflect the décor and furnishings of the early 20th century, and also has an exhibition room which displays presentations of Einstein's biography and life's work.
The History Museum in Bern also has a dedicated floor named The Einstein Museum. It displays 550 items from Einstein's life and 70 films that give an insight to his private life, scientific works, theories, and pacifist work.
Following in Bond's Footsteps
After enjoying everything Bern has to offer, it's then just two and a half hours by train, bus and a cable car to discover some of the best natural scenery in the entire country.
If you think you've heard the name Schilthorn before, that's probably because its claim to fame is being featured in the 1969 Bond movie On Her Majesty's Secret Service. While it's one of the more controversial Bond movies, mostly due to the casting of George Lazenby as 007, the inclusion of Schilthorn in the movie has had a lasting effect on the mountain's tourism.
For all avid Bond fans, at the top of the mountain is the interactive museum – Bond World. It gives visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the movie and even lets you fly a replica of the helicopter that was used during filming.
The other reason why heading to the top of Schilthorn is such a great idea – and the main reason why the mountain was chosen for On Her Majesty's Service – is the view; after your journey to the top by cable car, you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. If you want to take your time while enjoying the view, there's a rotating restaurant, Piz Gloria, above the museum; it was this space that was used as the villain Blofeld's secret lair in the movie.
The story of how Piz Gloria came to be is an interesting one. The film's production team came across a partly constructed revolving sports bar atop the Schilthorn and decided it was the perfect setting for the villain's lair. In exchange for exclusive filming rights, the producer agreed to finance the building's completion and it has since retained its Piz Gloria moniker.
Schilthorn isn't just a beautiful place to see, it's the perfect place to participate in a number of activities, no matter what the season. Winter is obviously a great time for skiing and snowboarding, but there is just as much to do in summer.
Hiking is incredibly popular during this time, especially for experienced hikers. All the hikes from Schilthorn are along steep alpine trails, so bear this in mind when you're planning your hike. If you fancy a more sedate hiking experience, there are a number of easier trails which can be accessed from the quaint, car-free village of Muerren.
For those with a good head for heights, the Skyline Walk at Birg is an absolute must. Consisting of a glass and steel platform, it dangles precariously above a precipice, offering visitors amazing views of the Jungfrau Massif. The Skyline Walk can be enjoyed in any season.
For extra excitement, you can then do the Thrill Walk, an elevated walkway built into the side of a cliff; this is a nice option for your way down the mountain.
A Stay in Schilthorn
If you plan to extend your stay around Schilthorn, Hotel Regina – a Swiss historic hotel – in Muerren is a great choice. Situated in a house over a century old, the building has retained much of its original charm and occupies the perfect location in the centre of the village. Offering 52 spacious rooms, guests can also take advantage of the magnificent dining room, the sun terrace, and the veranda which has a splendid view of the mountain panorama.
Another option is Hotel Alpenruh, which offers everything you need for an alpine stay, including a top-class restaurant, sauna and spa. It has 26 comfortable rooms, some of which have epic views over the mountain scenery.
The best way to travel in Switzerland is with the Swiss Travel Pass.
Offering unlimited travelling throughout the country on trains, buses and boats as well as free entry to museums, pass holders also get discounts on trips to mountains such as Schiltorn. There will be a 50% discount for trips to the top from January 2020, so start planning your holiday soon.