On a chilly evening, shivering under a Kashmiri coat, I walked with my guide Joel Reeves along the Bern Bridge for a dinner, at what he called, a very special place. After crossing many historical buildings and hearing him explain about each, we reached a nondescript entrance. He smiled smugly at my puzzled expression.
As we descended into an ornate and baroque underground, I was overwhelmed by its sheer size and opulence. The stairway was grand and the whole setting looked magnificent. It was stunningly lit, giving the entire space a golden glow. Then he spilled the beans, it is Restaurant Kornhauskeller, as the name denotes, it was once a corn house!
As we kept climbing down, I noticed with admiration, the Twelve pillars supporting the arches of the ceiling vaults were painted with folk images of women in traditional Bernese costumes while the spaces of the vaults were decorated with mythological figures of mermaids, dragons, and musicians in Renaissance attire. The murals were at least a hundred years old.
In the middle-ages the vaulted cellar was common for the storage of goods. The underground space kept it cool in summer and even temperature in winter. Today, the stunning vaulted space of the Kornhauskeller is a restaurant and bar, one of the most popular of the city. Built in 1711, it is considered among the major works of Bernese High Baroque. The upper three floors stored grain while basement held barrels of wine. “Venice sits on water, but Berne sits on wine” Joel beamed proudly.
We chose from Mediterranean, Italian and traditional local Bernese cuisine; an appetising onion soup, succulent meats, flawlessly grilled vegetables, the best of cheeses and a rich dessert – a modest farmer’s repast in a corn house.
Rest of my stay in Bern was filled with interesting sightseeing. Situated in the heart of Switzerland, Bern, the capital city makes an ideal hub for trips all around. It is a wise choice to take a guided tour through the Old Town to see Prison Tower, Parliament Building, Cathedral, Clock Tower (Zytglogge), Town Hall, Einstein House and the unique fountains, each with a story of its own.
On the riverside are some of the most up-market neighbourhoods and exclusive bungalows with stunning gardens. Bern has a special way of combining the traditional with the modern. This had earned for the city, the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its unique Old Town is graced by the medieval architecture, including Switzerland’s tallest Cathedral and the oldest Clock Tower. In the Bern Old Town I had a special kind of shopping and cultural experience, in particular, where one can witness the unique historical ambience and combine shopping with a journey through time into the past.
Getting there: Swiss Air and many other international airlines operate daily flights to Zurich from Delhi and Mumbai and Geneva. Bern is a short distance/time from either. One can also travel to Bern via Eurorail if arriving from elsewhere in Europe.
Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF) equal to around a 1.042 United States Dollar
Going around: In Bern, it’s best to travel on foot get on a bus
Must eat: Chocolates and cheese
Must buy: Swiss watches, cuckoo clocks, cheese and chocolates