We are travelling in three stages from the source of the Aare river to Lake Biel. With a length of 295 kilometres, this longest river in Switzerland flows through wild mountain landscapes, crosses mystical gorges and swings around the Swiss capital in an elegant arc before meandering through the Seeland and into Lake Biel.
The second stage of our journey along the Aare has us floating on the water – on a rubber dinghy, a tube, a kayak or a stand-up paddle board – for although there are various ways to travel between Thun and Bern, the river route is by far the prettiest.
Following the Aare river – stage 2
Just as soon as the temperatures start rising, it is time for the Bernese to get out into the open air
While the more sports-inclined make for the peaks and summits or go cycling over the mountain passes, those who just want to relax make their way to Thun and float back to Bern on the waters of the Aare river. Everyone enjoys soaking up the lighthearted and upbeat atmosphere on the river and the riverbanks.
There are many ways to travel between Thun and Bern. By train, by bike or on foot. But the most exciting way is on the water. What could be more delightful than floating along on the waters of the Aare river? "Absolutely nothing" is how Neil Parmenter puts it. And he should know for, after all, for the past nine years he has been renting out a range of craft including dinghies, kayaks, tubes (large floating rubber rings that look like truck tyres) and, more recently, stand-up paddle boards as well.
"When the weather is fine on a Sunday, the Aare between Thun and Bern is almost as busy as the motorway, although a lot more relaxed." It is at such times that the river turns into a giant playground with people messing around in water craft, relaxing on the banks, or enjoying a barbecue. Some will jump into the water and swim around while others climb every bridge they can find and leap off into the river. "As far as I am concerned, it is this kind of atmosphere that really embodies the traditional warm and welcoming spirit that the people of Bern are renowned for."
Chilling out the fast-paced way
The trip from Thun to Bern starts in Uttigen. While you could actually start floating on the water in Thun itself, you would have to cross the only really dangerous stretch along the route – the big wave between Thun and Uttigen. If you want to avoid this, you can catch the train from Thun to Uttigen (it is only 4 minutes). The entry point is located directly below the station. From here, you can spend the next three hours far away from the humdrum of everyday life on dry land. Just let the river carry you along, for all you have to decide is where and when you will take a short break along the way.
Barbecues, bathing and jumping into the water
Along the way, you pass five bridges, five restaurants and snack bars, several public barbecue sites, and countless gravel banks suitable for a stop-off. Neil tells us that a special highlight is the chance to take one’s time and explore the renatured banks between Münsingen and the Hunzigen Bridge. Neil also tells us that one can make a barbecue at numerous locations along the way – and that there is usually enough wood on hand to make a small fire. He recommends that larger groups make use of the barbecue site by the lido at Münsingen. Here there will not only be sufficient wood for the barbecue, but you can also purchase something to drink at the nearby kiosk and use the public swimming pool and toilets.
Arriving in Bern
Just before you end your stint as a freshwater sailor, when you arrive at the Eichholz camping ground just before you reach Bern you will pass under the historic Muri Bridge. It is the only wooden bridge along this stretch and hence people like to use it as a diving board. It is a good idea to take a break here and watch the colourful proceedings. Or to take a dive into the water yourself – if you are a good swimmer there is no danger as the Aare is deep enough so that no matter where you are, your head or you feet will not hit the bottom.
If you would like to stay on (or in) the water as you continue towards the city centre, you can leave your conveyance behind and float down as far as the Marzilibad. There is no need to be afraid of being in the water alone. On fine days, the river is usually full of swimmers anyway.
Some useful information
Hire dinghies, kayaks, tubes and stand-up paddle boards: aaretubing.ch (german)
Arrive on public transport via Thun–Uttigen, return trip from Bern
Life jackets are not mandatory, but are recommended
Download a useful and informative map of the Aare river at aaretubing.ch (german)
To make quite sure that your clothing is dry when you get to Bern, do purchase an Aare waterproof bag – these are both practical and attractive. kitchener.ch bern.com (german)