Burgdorf and the northern Emmental
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On a pleasant road 19km northeast of Bern through Krauchthal village, the picturesque old town of BURGDORF is built on a prominence above the Emme. From the train station, follow Bahnhofstrasse south and then head east on Oberstadtweg to meander up into the Old Town, an atmospheric quarter characterized by steep cobbled streets. At the top, the Schlossmuseum (Castle Museum; April–Oct Mon–Sat 2–5pm, Sun 11am–5pm; Fr.5) occupies the Zähringens’ largest castle, begun in the seventh century and expanded in the twelfth. Several rooms grouped around an attractive courtyard outline the history of Burgdorf and the Emmental, but the castle and the Old Town are just as appealing for atmospheric wanderings as for the historical displays. Below, the late-Gothic Stadtkirche features an elaborate choir screen that looks rather too big and grand for the church housing it. Every Thursday, the Old Town hosts Burgdorf’s weekly market.

Roads climb northeast from Burgdorf to a viewpoint at Lueg (887m), offering classic panoramas over the rolling countryside. Nearby is AFFOLTERN, a pleasant village that’s home to the Emmental’s flagship Schaukäserei (Show Dairy; daily 8.30am–6.30pm; free), a rather hectic place that seems always to be full of busloads of excitable Swiss-German old ladies. As well as being able to watch the various cheesemaking processes – the dairy gets through some seven billion litres of milk a year – you can take in plenty of English-language videos on the cheese industry. A noisy and rather pricey café adjacent serves the Ämmitaler Ruschtig Menü. Plus, of course, you can buy any amount of cheese, ranging from a bag of “Schnouserli” (bite-sized cubes of different strengths of Emmental, for Fr.2) up to a full 9kg round of Emmental shipped direct to your door (Fr.240). A booth also has tourist information on the area.

Hasle-Rüegsau and Lützelflüh
Roads drop back down from Affoltern into the Emme valley at HASLE-RÜEGSAU, two small villages which, over the years, have grown to hate each other like only next-door neighbours can. Pressured by economic hardship over the last century or so, the rough-and-ready farmers of Rüegsau have been forced to move down from their original hillside village (near-deserted Rüegsbach) through an intermediate community (Rüegsau itself) to a village down on the Emme (Rüegsauschachen) right next to Hasle; as the bumpkins approached, the ire of the settled, prosperous folk of Hasle grew and grew. To this day, the two villages merely tolerate each other – Hasle has carefully tended gardens, modern houses and an air of suburban pride, while its neighbour is still rustic, traditional and rundown – and this stretch of the river has become known locally as the Jordan, exemplifying the depth of warlike passion aroused on both sides. Just west of the two, a five-minute walk away in a hard-to-spot woodsy location behind the train tracks, is the largest arched wooden bridge in Europe, Holzbrücke, a mightily impressive 69m-long construction built in 1839, damaged by cars in 1955 and so moved 800m downstream to its current position.

Along the valley floor 8km is a turning for LÜTZELFLÜH, a captivatingly charming village at the heart of the Emmental that was home to the local novelist Gotthelf from 1831 to 1854. On the outskirts of the village you’ll pass the Kulturmühle, an old mill from 1821 that has been turned into a cultural centre (034/461 36 23), staging everything from the Emmentaler Cock-Crowing Contest to monthly classical music concerts which attract the Bern cognoscenti out into the sticks. The oddly formal small Baroque garden nearby, laid out in classic French style, isn’t out of place: you can find similar examples outside farmhouses throughout the Emmental – a legacy of French influence over Bern following the 1798 revolution – though today the formal squares and circle patterns are just as likely to be planted with carrots and lettuces. From Lützelflüh, back roads climb to Affoltern, while the main valley road runs on south beside the Emme.

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