|Biel/Bienne : the town|
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Heading from the station along the main shopping streets of Bahnhofstrasse/Rue de la Gare, and on along Nidaugasse/Rue de Nidau, the bustle and high-street brand names suddenly fade painlessly away as you cross the line into the cobbled Old Town. Burggasse climbs past the old Zeughaus (arsenal), rejuvenated as the city’s theatre, and the impressive 1676 step-gabled Rathaus (Town Hall), now police headquarters, into the open Burgplatz/Place de Bourg. Quaint shuttered old houses line the square, which centres on the Fountain of Justice, dating from 1714. Continue uphill, and head right to the Ring, core of the Old Town and named for the circle of head shakers who would sit here to deliberate on the fate of criminals brought for trial. Head east along arcaded Obergasse/Rue Haute, and then double back onto Untergasse/Rue Basse to stroll past the town’s oldest houses.
A couple of the town’s museums are worth a look. Museum Neuhaus, Schüsspromenade/Promenade de la Suze 26 (Tues–Sun 11am–5pm, Wed until 9pm; Fr.7; SMP) covers local art and history in a jumble of paintings, costumes, cinema posters and cameras, and also stages temporary exhibitions. The Centre Pasqu’ART, Seevorstadt/Faubourg du Lac 71 (Tues–Sat 11am–5pm, Wed until 9pm), devoted to contemporary art and photography, looks like it will be quite interesting.
A favourite getaway for locals is to ride the funicular from Seevorstadt/Faubourg du Lac, west of the station, up through the forested slopes overlooking the town to the village of MAGGLINGEN/MACOLIN on the ridge, 400m above. Even when the town is swathed in fog (not such an unusual occurrence in autumn), the funicular can lift you above the clouds into sunshine. Once you’re up there, there’s not an awful lot to do, other than to head further up for some refreshing hikes around and about: you’ll be in fit company, since Magglingen is known across the country as home of the Federal Institute of Sport. With strong legs, you can get 16km west to Le Chasseral (1607m), one of the highest summits in the Jura, where you’ll find a simple hotel and mountain restaurant, Chasseral (%032/751 24 51) along with spectacular views yawning out over the whole Swiss plateau towards the high Alps. Buses run between the hotel and St-Imier on the other side of the ridge.
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