Biel (Bienne in French), is located about forty kilometers northwest of Bern, almost halfway between Geneva and Zurich. Several times we drove through the main road, which runs almost through the city center. From this point of view, Biel seemed cold, austere, too modern, without spirit. I missed the coziness and picturesqueness of the Swiss towns and villages like Bern, Büren an der Aare, Avenches, Thun or Gstaad.
Biel, like Fribourg, is located on the Swiss French-German language border called Röstigraben and is the only officially bilingual city in Switzerland. And as we recently found out, the real heart of Biel has been hidden from us so far.
The Old Town
We visited Biel before Christmas “thanks” to our Dominik´s hockey game in the Tissot Arena. After the game we wanted to visit the Christmas market in the city, so we were looking for parking closest to the city center. Navigation offered us the Parkhaus Altstadt. Here I experienced the “aha” moment when I realized that Biel might not be just a city of wide boulevards and shopping streets, but maybe it also had some historic center, the Old Town. We started our walk on Gerberstrasse, where we went through a narrow street that led uphill between the houses to the mouth of Obergasse, where the Engelbrunnen fountain is located.
Then we turned left to Ring, the heart of the Old Town named after a ring of people gathering to discuss the fate of the criminals being tried. *
Through Untergässli we got to Burggasse, where there is another fountain (Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen – named after the blind statue of Justice) and the town hall. After that, we walked past the old armory reconstructed into a city theater back to the main street of Kanalgasse.
Where to in Biel
If you are in Biel in the pre-Christmas time, I strongly recommend going to the local Christmas market. It extends along the Nidaugasse shopping street and exit into a small square at the intersection of Nidaugasse, Zentralstrasse, and Oberer Quai.
This museum is interesting not only for lovers of Swatch and Omega but also for fans of space programs, Olympic Games and agent 007.
The children’s entertainment center with a café in the Tissot Arena sports and shopping center is a place to have in mind for rainy days.
Where to around Biel
Lake Biel (Bielersee or Lac de Bienne) extends southwest of the city. So a nice way to spend the afternoon is a boat trip. I have already written on our blog about our cruise on the Aare River from Biel to Solothurn, as we sailed past the stork colony in Altreu.
From Erlach, located opposite Biel at the south-western end of the lake, there is a pedestrian path that allows you to walk along the dike to St. Peter’s. Which is actually not an island, but a long and narrow strip of land that extends from the shore of the lake.
To the north of the town lies the Taubenlochslucht Gorge, which crosses the Schüss/Suze River. The roughly 2 km long route will take you to the city animal park where you will find marmots, chamois, wild boar, deer, snow owl, and other wild animals.
La Neuveville is located on the shore of Lake Biel, just on the border between the cantons of Bern and Neuchâtel. Here you will find the “La Balade de la Sorcière” theme trail, which will take you into the woods along the picturesque paths through the vineyards and lead you to the secret waterfalls that used to be a place for bathing local witches.
As you can see, Biel and its surroundings definitely have a lot to offer! I am glad that we could recognize his “heart”, thanks to which I changed my view of the city.
And what city (not only) in Switzerland surprised you? Tell me in the comments!
*Source: Tourist Guide Switzerland – JOTA, 2011 (translated from Teller, M: “The Rough Guide to Switzerland”, Rough Guide 2010)