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Of all Swiss cities, BERN (Berne in French) is perhaps the most immediately charming. Crammed onto a steep-sided peninsula in a crook of the fast-flowing River Aare, its quiet, cobbled lanes, lined with sandstone arcaded buildings straddling the pavement, have changed barely at all in over five hundred years but for the adornment of modern shop signs and the odd car or tram rattling past. The hills all around, and the steep banks of the river, are still liberally wooded. Views, both of the Old Town’s clustered roofs and of the majestic Alps on the horizon, are breathtaking. Coming from Zürich or Geneva, it’s hard to remember that Bern – once voted Europe’s most floral city – is the nation’s capital, home of the Swiss parliament and wielder of final federal authority.
For all its political status, Bern is a tiny city of barely 130,000 people and retains a small town’s easy approach to life. The attraction of the place is its ambience; traffic is kept out of the Old Town and you could spend days just wandering the streets and alleys, café-hopping and – if it’s warm – joining the locals for a plunge into the river. The perfectly preserved medieval street plan, with its arcades, street fountains and doughty towers persuaded UNESCO to deem Bern a World Heritage Site, placing it in the company of such legendary sites as Florence, Petra and the Taj Mahal. In a competition for the world’s most beautiful and relaxing capital city, it’s hard to think what could knock Bern into second place.
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