This weekend I took my first trip of 2021 to Spiez (pronounced Sh-byeh-tz), a small village on the shores of Lake Thun. Like most of my favorite destinations in Switzerland, Spiez is located in the Berner Oberland, a mountainous region in Canton Bern that very much encapsulates “classic Switzerland”: blue lakes, snowy peaks, rolling pastures. It has a population of around 12,000 people, most of whom speak Swiss-German.
I made a very short, no-frills video of the trip. Scroll on for a detailed written account.
Spiez is about a 2 hour 40 minute train trip from Geneva. On the way there, I transferred once in Lausanne and a second time in Bern, and on the way back I only had one transfer in Bern. (This is the thing about traveling from Geneva: there aren’t many major transport hubs in the country, so any train trip eastward will inevitably include a stopover in Bern or Zurich. I know these train stations like the back of my hand at this point!)
Just five minutes before we were due to arrive in Bern, the train stopped, and the conductor announced that we were delayed due to a medical emergency onboard. It was resolved after about 10 minutes. I spent that time watching a small group of sheep bully one other on the hill (seriously, they were assholes).
The 10-minute delay meant that I would almost certainly miss my connection in Bern, but I held out hope. Once I got off the train, I sprinted to the next platform and made it just in the nick of time: the connecting train was also delayed by around two or three minutes. (Side note: It turned out that train’s final destination was Domodossola in northern Italy. As much as I’d love to go back to Italy, I believe most people who live in Switzerland aren’t allowed to travel there at the moment, unless they’re cross-border workers.)
The train station in Spiez sits on a high hill, offering a sweeping (albeit obstructed) view of the village and Lake Thun.
There is a small strip mall-like concentration of shops to the right of the train station, with a Migros (one of Switzerland’s two biggest supermarket chains) and a Denner Express (kind of like a bodega but usually carries basic produce).
Even though Spiez is quite small, with a population of around 12,000, I noticed as I walked downhill to my hotel that the village is surprisingly tourist-friendly. There are signs and arrows every block signaling how to get to numerous hotels in the area, as well as providing directions to local landmarks like Spiez Castle (the sign just says SCHLOSS). At the moment, there aren’t many tourists walking around, and the few that I encountered were mainly Swiss people visiting from other parts of the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if the area were drastically more popular during the summer, though; it must be absolutely stunning with the lake and mountains and vineyards.
Where I stayed
I booked one night at the Eden Spiez, a wellness and spa hotel near the lake. I think this might be the most expensive hotel I’ve ever stayed at in Switzerland: 250 francs for the night, and that’s after a 15% discount for booking a nonrefundable stay directly through their website.
This was the cheapest option they had, a single room with a balcony overlooking the front garden. In hindsight, I think I should have splurged a little and upgraded to a bigger room with a lake view, because this one was a little dark and drab. The sink was a bit too close to the bed, and the view of the garden in February wasn’t that great. The bed was very comfortable, however, with the most amazing (and aptly named) comforter. I had a great night’s sleep.
I had hoped to do some spa activities, but the hotel was surprisingly crowded, and I didn’t want to be in the same pool as a bunch of strangers. Also, it turns out you’re expected to strip naked in the sauna (?) while still wearing a mask (??). Forgive me for being a nervous American prude, but it was just not my idea of fun. I stuck to doing outdoor activities, like walking and hiking and just breathing the fresh air.
It was only a five-minute walk to Spiez Castle. Most of the exterior is under scaffolding, but the small lakeside park next to it was open.
That night I had dinner at the hotel restaurant. They charge 55 francs for a three-course meal, which is (sadly) actually a pretty good deal for Switzerland, especially considering it’s a four-star hotel. I ordered an appetizer of marinated celery, filet for the main course, and lemon sorbet for dessert. The portions were tiny, but they also served a small plate of fish tartare and two bread baskets. I demolished all of the bread. As part of booking directly with the hotel, I also got a free welcome drink (I picked prosecco after they said they didn’t have lemonade).
There was a guy playing the piano in the background, and he went through a lot of popular songs; I even heard “My Heart Will Go On” at one point. But then he started playing “Take Me Home, Country Roads”, and it really bummed me out. I’ve been listening to that song a lot recently, whenever I think about my family back home in the States.
The next morning I also had breakfast at the hotel. It was buffet-style, but they were fairly careful: not only are masks mandated everywhere in the hotel, but we also had to wear plastic gloves while getting food. It was such a bountiful, scrumptious buffet. Coincidentally, the last time I had a breakfast like this was exactly one year ago, as I was leaving London on what would turn out to be my last “normal” trip pre-COVID lockdowns. It was nice to get that little sliver of normalcy back.
Easy hike to the top of the vineyards
The last place I visited was the Katzenstein, a scenic viewpoint nearby. It’s a very easy, tourist-friendly, completely self-guided path up through the vineyards and then back down into town. The sky had cleared up by mid-morning, and I was stunned by the majestic, snow-capped mountain peeking out from behind the clouds.
Expenses (in CHF)
Hotel stay (including breakfast and tax) – 253
Dinner – 55
Roundtrip train journey (with half-fare card) – 54.80