Trivago Travel Tuesday finds the Savvy Stews visiting Bern and Zermatt, Switzerland.
Founded in the early 12th century Bern is the capital of Switzerland. Situated on a narrow hill, it is bordered on three sides by the river Aare. Bern’s Altstadt (“old town”) is the medieval city center of Bern. It is a UNESCO Cultural World Heritage Site since 1983.
In 1779 the famous writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang van Goethe wrote of Bern to a friend, “It is the most beautiful that we have ever seen.” Today Bern continues to attract visitors with its charm, diverse attractions and events. It is a modern city that has successfully maintained its old town atmosphere.
We recommend that you consult Trivago to find the perfect place for your stay in Bern. We chose the Hotel Allegro, perfectly located on the river Aare a stone’s throw away from the clock tower and the Old Town as well the main train station.
The 4-star Hotel Allegro offers its guests lifestyle, living comfort and superior standards of service, not to mention breathtaking views of Bern’s historic old town quarter. The hotel has 171 rooms and suites in various categories from Economy rooms, Comfort rooms (with balconies) and Panorama rooms (which offer not only fine views but also special design and décor). For guests who want a superior experience the hotel offers exclusive suites – Junior, Panorama and Penthouse – enhanced by distinctive design. The hotel offers a “pillow menu” — always s sign that a hostelry aims to please. And for those of you who want to add more excitement to your stay there is a casino adjacent to the hotel.
Rosengarten (Rose Garden)
A must-see when in Bern is the Rose Garden, a large park with a wonderful view of the Altstadt and Aare Loop. There are more than 200 varieties of roses, irises and moor beds located here, along with 28 types of rhododendrons. From 1765 to 1877 the Rose Garden served as a cemetery. Since 1913 it has been a public park filled with the beauty of flowers and a pond. From 1956 to 1962 the park was redesigned, introducing rhododendrons and azaleas as well as an iris garden.
Today a pavilion and reading garden provide a place to relax. There is a restaurant Rosengarten, although the park is also an excellent place for a picnic.
The figure of a bear occurs in the oldest known city seal, dated 1224 and living bears have been kept in Bern since 1513. The Bear Park used to be a concrete pit where the bears were kept in dismal confinement, but as a result of public pressure the BärenPark was opened in 2009. Located on steeply sloping land between the Bärengraben and the bank of the River Aare the bears today have a bear-friendly environment where they live, play and lounge. It’s a lovely stroll through the Aldstadt from the train station, and then across a lovely bridge over the Aare.
A visit with Chef Emil Bolli at Hotel Bern
One of the perks of doing a travel show is meeting great chefs. In Bern we had the honor of taking a cooking lesson in the kitchen of the Hotel Bern with Chef Emil Bolli who is well-known as the head chef for the Swiss national football team.
In August 2014 after a long, exciting and successful career in the Hotel Bern Chef Bolli stepped down as the principle chef in order to concentrate on his duties with the Swiss national football team and to cultivate his many other activities (see his website). Gailen and Bobby were shown the fine points of making Rösti, a potato dish some consider to be the national Swiss dish. In the canton of Bern it is popular breakfast, and it is served at all meals all over Switzerland. Made with coarsely grated cooked potatoes it is similar to American “hash browns,” but has a character all its own.
Visit Chef Bolli’s website for a list of his best recipes, and to check out his “recipe of the month.” We did not write down Chef Bolli’s Rösti recipe, we were too busy following his directions, but here is one that will allow you to enjoy this Swiss dish at home:
Makes 6 servings
- 1 1⁄2 lbs large yellow-fleshed potatoes (Yukon Gold are perfect)
- 1 onion
- 3⁄4 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1⁄4 cup unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Bake potatoes on middle rack in 375F oven or in microwave until they easily pierce with a fork.
- Allow potatoes to cool thoroughly (overnight in fridge works great)
- Peel potatoes then shred with slicer into a bowl.
- Coarsely grate onions. Remove excess moisture by wrapping in paper towels and squeezing gently.
- Toss together potatoes, onion, salt and pepper.
- Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a 7- to 8-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add potatoes, spreading them evenly and pressing them down with a spatula.
- Reduce heat to moderate and cook Rösti until underside is a golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Invert a flat plate over skillet (you may want to wear oven mitts) then invert Rösti onto plate.
- Heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter and remaining tablespoon oil in the skillet until foam subsides and slide the Rösti (browned side up) back into skillet.
- Cook until underside is golden brown, about 5 minutes.
- Transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges.
Every city has unique and fun features and we found one in the Marzili-Bahn. This short funicular connects the center of Bern (Bundesterasse, near the Federal Parliament Building) with the Marzili district by the banks of the Aare River. In the summer locals use this funicular to get to and from the Marzili outdoor swimming pool by the river. The ride is a short one, only about a minute long, but beats walking up the steep 105 meter incline.
From 1885 to 1973 this funicular was run by a “water counterbalanced” system, which was replaced in 1974 by the automatic electric system in use today.
Since 2010 the Gelateria di Berna has been producing gelatos using ancient Veronese recipes and their own innovative touches. Using the best milk, cream and yoghurt from a local organic dairy, Bronte pistachios from Sicily, fur mountain-plums from Gerzensee, premium bourbon vanilla from Madacascar, sour cherries from Kirchlindachstrasse, Criollo cacao from the house Felchin, Sfusato limonene from Amalfi, sugar Aarberg Coffee from Ethiopia — you get the picture — the artisans turn out some of the best frozen concoctions imaginable.
In addition to their house flavors based on chocolate, nuts, and the daily specials at the local fruit market, the Gelateria produces unique seasonal specialties: rhubarb, ripe plum, figs, apples, tangerines — there is always a new delight.
Zermatt and the Matterhorn
From Bern we traveled on the convenient and modern Swiss Federal Railways — SBB to Zermatt.
The town of Zermatt, elevation 5,310 feet, is nestled at the foot of Switzerland’s highest peaks. It is famed as a mountaineering and ski resort. Until the mid-19th century Zermatt was an agricultural community. Following the first aascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 there was a rush on the mountains surrounding the village leading to the construction tourist destination it is today.
The area retains an agricultural base. We came across a small herd of Valais Blacknose Sheep, a heritage breed and possibly the cutest animals on the planet. They have been around since 1400 and are well-adapted to living in the extreme climate of the high mountains. They graze on steep, rocky slopes. But, they don’t even look real. Many people have mistaken them for craft projects! They are raised for wool as well as meat. We were told they are a hearty breed, but really, they look like they’d be perfect for cuddling.
We also got to meet an honest-to-goodness icon of the Alps: a St. Bernard dog complete with a keg!
St. Bernards are no longer used for Alpine rescues –the last recorded instance was in 1955 — but they remain an important symbol of the local heritage. Since the early 18th century monks living in the snowy, dangerous St. Bernard Pass—a route through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland—kept the canines to help them on their rescue missions after bad snowstorms. Over a span of nearly 200 years, about 2,000 people, from lost children to Napoleon’s soldiers, were rescued because of the heroic dogs’ remarkable sense of direction and resistance to cold.
Their remarkable sense of smell allowed them to discover and rescue travelers even buried deep in snow. When finding victims buried in snow the dogs would dig through the snow and lie on top of the injured to provide warmth. Another dog in the team would return to alert of the stranded travelers. The system became so organized that when Napoleon and his 250,000 soldiers crossed through the pass between 1790 and 1810 not one soldier lost his life. The soldiers’ chronicles tell of how many lives were saved by the dogs from what the army called “the White Death.”
Switzerland is famous for cheese. We were treated by Amade Perrigof of Zermatt Tourism to a delicious tasting of Raclette cheese.
Raclette is a semi-firm, cow’s milk cheese – most commonly used for melting. It is usually fashioned into a wheel of about 13 pounds. Raclette is also the name of a popular dish. The Raclette cheese round is heated in front of a fire or by a special machine then scraped onto diners’ plates. The term raclette derives from the French word racler, meaning “to scrape,” a reference to the fact that the melted cheese must be scraped from the unmelted part of the cheese onto the plate.
Traditionally the melting happens in front of an open fire with the big piece of cheese facing the heat. The melted cheese is scraped off and served with potatoes, gherkins, picked onions and dried meats. It also goes well with wines.