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Bern, the capital city of Switzerland, is nestled around a crook in the beautiful Aare River. Every summer, people take to these clean and refreshing waters to enjoy the ultimate city bathing experience. We spoke to four of Bern’s urban swimmers to find out more about their experiences swimming in the Aare River each year, and why a dip in its clear blue waters makes you ‘a real Bernese’.
There’s no better way to soak up the sights than by drifting gently downstream, passing by the Botanical Gardens, the Dählhölzli Zoo, the old Matte district, and even the Houses of Parliament as you go.
The city itself boasts a rich history that stretches back to the 12th century. In the Altstadt (Old Town), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medieval architecture has been impressively preserved.
The place is picture-postcard pretty with 16th-century fountains and sandstone facades at every turn, known as lauben to the locals. These triumph as one of the longest weather-sheltered shopping promenades in Europe.
Alain Bühlman, who works for the SECO (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs), has been living in Bern for the last three years. ‘What I like most about Bern is the Marzili Bath,’ Bühlman tells Culture Trip. He likes to take a swim after work and sometimes even during his lunch break. ‘It’s just a very refreshing experience.’
‘This year I went in May for the first time when the water was just 11 degrees cold. Usually I prefer to go when it’s warmer at the end of June,’ Alain Bühlmann tells us.
He insists that tourists should try out Aareböötle (Aare boating), and recommends taking a waterproof swimming bag for your belongings – these can be bought anytime at the tourist information centre at the train station. ‘Running up in the opposite direction and then swimming down in the Aare to cool down is also a very nice experience’, Bühlmann says.
While some people choose to enter the river gently by using the steps, others prefer a more adrenaline-fuelled start by taking a plunge from above. The most popular spot to jump in is from a bridge called Schonausteg, and it’s always good fun. You must be an experienced swimmer, though, as the river disappears into numerous side streams.
Ursula Walker, who used to work in a hospital laboratory before she retired, has always loved being in nature. ‘I have always lived in Bern and love everything about it’, she says. ‘Swimming in the Aare river is a very nice feeling as you can just float along with the water. Also it’s always refreshing because the water never gets really warm.’
Last year, she participated in the ‘Zibeleschwümme’ which takes place at the end of November. In order to get used to the 10-degree temperatures, she kept going for short dips right through September.
She says that people who are interested in taking to these waters should be good swimmers and be reasonably prepared. ‘They should go by foot first, and have a look where they want to exit the river as that can be tricky sometimes’, she insists. ‘Also being accompanied by someone who has experience is very important when you go for the first time.’
Bern’s famous Marzili outdoor pool is hugely popular for swimming, sunbathing and socializing. What’s great is that there’s no charge for enjoying its 8 x 50-metre open-air lanes.
There’s a paddling pool for toddlers, a sports pool and also a diving area with one-metre and three-metre diving boards. If you fancy it, you’re allowed to sunbathe in the nude too.
Pierre Peiry, who works in the gastronomy industry, has been living in Bern for the last five years. ‘A colleague once said to me, you’re not a real Bernese until you swim in the Aare river’, he says.
Peiry loves urban swimming, but prefers to wait until early June when the water is at least 16 degrees. ‘I know a few people who even swim in winter, but that’s not for me.
‘People who go Aare swimming for the first time should be aware of the signs and maybe start with a swim in the Aare next to the Lorraine Bath as it’s a bit slower.’
The Lorraine Bad is a fantastic starting point to go swimming in the Aare from the northern side of Bern’s Old Town. The bathing water is somewhat colder than in the other pools since it comes directly from a groundwater source, but these temperatures give you the chance to swim alongside fish for an authentic outdoor bathing experience. After a refreshing dip, you can head to the Lorraine pool restaurant for a well-deserved treat.
Tabea Kallen, a sports teacher, has been living in Bern for seven years. ‘It has a beautiful old town and I also love the Aare river’, she says. Kallen often goes for a quick swim in the evening. ‘I also like that you can see the mountains in the distance from the city.’
Kallen says that swimming in the Aare is an activity that often gets underestimated, especially when tourists are visiting for the first time. It can be difficult to judge when to get out of the river. ‘It’s better to try to get out one exit earlier than you planned, as you never know if you’ll make it’, she says.
Planning a trip to Bern? Make sure you check out Bern for helpful hints and tips.
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