How to spend a weekend in Thun, Switzerland’s lesser-known lakeside retreat

How to spend a weekend in Thun, Switzerland’s lesser-known lakeside retreat

Published September 3, 2023

7 min read

The gateway to Switzerland’s Bernese Alps, Thun is as quintessentially Swiss as you can get. Lake Thun is bookended by its namesake town to the west and the adventure sports hub of Interlaken to the east, and has long provided an escape into nature for Swiss travellers in the know. However, the region has remained somewhat under the radar to holidaymakers from further afield. The result is a series of quiet, trail-woven vineyards, castle-sprinkled shores, myth-laden caves and never-ending mountain views — all perfect for a short summer or autumn break.

Day one

Start out in Thun’s medieval Altstadt (Old Town), and gaze over the striking turquoise waters of the Aare River as it begins its 180-mile journey from Lake Thun to the Swiss capital Bern. Delve into the arcaded walkways of the cobbled main street, Obere Hauptgasse, before heading up to the city’s crowning jewel, Thun Castle. This 800-year-old castle is straight out of a fairytale — with its pointed turrets offering spectacular views of the mountain-lined lake. Grab a coffee and head down to the flower-festooned wooden bridges of Untere Schleusenbrücke and Obere Schleusenbrücke, where locals surf the river’s standing waves.

For the best views of the city, climb the 433 steps from Brahms Quay to Jakobshübeli pavilion. If it’s a warm day, the lake’s waters are sure to be inviting upon returning from such an ascent. Cool off at Schwäbis river pool swimming area before wandering the shores to Schadauparkwhere you can relax on pristine lawns and enjoy knockout views of the snow-capped Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau peaks. From here, you’re well placed to explore the pastel-pink, mid 19th-century Schloss Schadau (now a boutique hotel); the lavishly muralled Romanesque church of Scherzligen church; and the Thun Panorama exhibition, a romantic vision of Switzerland painted in 1814 — the oldest of its kind in the world.

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Tune into Thun’s vivacious spirit at the Altstadt’s bustling Mühleplatz and the surrounding riverside bars. Stop for an expertly mixed cocktail at the antique-scattered vaults of Atelier Classicbefore sampling superb Italian cuisine by candlelight at Chartreuse. If you’re celebrating a special occasion, consider Michelin-starred Panorama Hartlisbergjust north of the town, for far-reaching views and season-spun tasting menus.

Day two

A 10-minute train ride south of Thun brings you to the pretty lakeside town of Spiez, which sits happily at the foot of the 2,362-metre-high Niesen mountain. Though it may lack the size and stature of neighbouring Thun, Spiez more than makes up for it in Alpine charm. Lying on a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bay and topped off with the medieval Spiez Castlethis town is an instant heart-stealer. The surrounding local vineyards produce deliciously crisp riesling and sylvaner white wines, many of which are aged in the castle’s cellars. Book ahead for a tour and tasting, or hook on to the twelve-stop Vineyard Sensory Adventure trailwhich takes you through the region’s wine-making process from grape to glass.

Swing south to the Faulensee artillery plant to discover formerly top-secret Second World War bunkers (check monthly opening dates before visiting). Disguised as barns, they were built to house Swiss troops during the war and are the gateway to a warren of underground tunnels. Alternatively, make a quick hop over to Leissigen to experience the 460-ft-long suspension bridge, which reaches high above the Spissibach stream with giddy Lake Thun views.

Backtrack to the northern shores of the lake and the sleek Deltapark Vitality Resort. On warm evenings, snag a table on the terrace for lake views and sundowners, followed by creative Swiss dishes such as beef tartare with homemade brioche. Or if you’re in the mood for spice, book a spot at the resort’s outstanding Thai restaurant, Deltaverde.

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Day three

First thing, when the lake is glass clear, rent a canoe or SUP at Deltapark Vitality Resort and head out on the Lake Thun Canoe Trail. This scenic 10-mile route reaches from Gwatt (2.5 miles below Thun) to Leissigen, a small village on the lake’s southern shore. Peering up to glacier-topped mountains, lush green vineyards, forested crags and medieval castles, you’ll see the lake from a whole new perspective. Pause to picnic, swim or fire up a barbecue at designated areas.

Lore has it that the fearless Irish monk St Beatus slayed a cave-dwelling, fire-breathing dragon and sent it spiralling into a watery grave in Lake Thun in 100CE. Today, you can still visit these famed limestone caves by taking the paddle steamer to Beatenbucht on the lake’s northeast shore. Their mythology seems apt, as these grottoes are straight out of The Lord of the Rings — wispy waterfalls plummet down a sheer wall of foliage-swaddled rock outside, while inside you’ll find a forest of stalagmites and stalactites.

Take a waterside walk at Neuhaus on the lake’s eastern tip, close to Interlaken, where the Laguna Beach Bar serves a variety of spritzes in summer. Jump in a cab for a short drive up to Luegibrueggliwhere you’ll find inspiring views of lakes Thun and Brienz, overlooked by the jagged outline of the Jungfrau summit. Settle on the terrace or in the rustic restaurant for dishes dominated by bright Bernese flavours, from bresaola with mountain cheese and olive oil to grilled trout with lemon and market-fresh vegetables.

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