Thun and the Thundersee in Switzerland
Article and photographs by Ric Wiley
I am sitting here writing this article on holiday in the Swiss Alps in the Canton of Valais. I don’t know what the temperature is but all I can say is that it is hot. The app on my phone tells me that the temperature in the local town, Sion, is 88F although that is a couple of thousands of feet below the chalet I am staying in. To my left I have a view over to the Matterhorn and in front of me, the view to the south just shows clear blue sky with not a cloud in sight, snow-capped mountains and I also have a view of the highest dam face in Europe.
Yesterday I decided I wanted to visit a place I have looked at on the internet but never been to, the city of Thun located in the Swiss Canton of Bern. There has been a settlement here for thousands of years and history shows us it was conquered by the Roman army in about 50BC. That’s over 2000 years ago and there are traces of a settlement there going back 5000 years. The only problem for me was that between where I was and Thun was part of the Swiss Alps with mountains like the Eiger in the way. What to do. I could have driven round the Alps which would have meant a drive of over 150 miles or I could take a shortcut through the mountains.
This was what I decided to do by taking the train using a car shuttle service from Goppenstein in the Lötschberg valley to Kandersteg which is at the other side of the mountains.
It was an amazing trip. You just drive on to the end of a long line of flat trucks and then just park. There is very little safety information except signs to advise you not to park over the join in the trucks and that is it. There isn’t much more to it. The trucks have sides on them about 2 ft. high and a rounded roof and nothing else. I thought carriage lights would come on when we entered the tunnel, but we had to turn the light on in the car to see each other. It was unusual but fun and despite travelling underneath a high mountain, the Balmhorn at over 12000ft; I had full phone reception all the way. Once we drove of the train we could drive down the valley towards Thun.
Thun is situated at the north western end of the Thundersee (or Lake Thun as we would call it). It is the largest garrison town in Switzerland and many of the recruits to the Swiss Guard in the Vatican are from this region of Switzerland. The main industry in the area is agriculture. Whilst is may not sound very interesting, I never let things like this put me off from visiting somewhere. Do your research on the internet before you go and always checkout the images people put on the web. This should show you if somewhere is worth visiting.
I do what I always do when visiting anywhere in Europe and that is follow signs for the city centre, then once in the centre follow a sign to a car park. That always gets you right into the middle of a city and parking is fairly inexpensive in many cities in mainland Europe. We emerged from a modern concrete multi-storey car park and immediately found myself surrounded by medieval buildings. Having just driven over the river I knew the direction I wanted to go in and within a couple of minutes I found myself standing on a bridge over the river which flows out of the lake and through the town of Thun.
It was a fast flowing river but the water was very clear. I have seen this in other places in Switzerland as the river flows into one end of the lake it slows down and drops all the sediment in the lake so when it flows out of the other end it is just clean clear water. There were several people swimming in it and some younger people were jumping off the bridge I was stood on and letting the current carry them downstream. It looked fun but not something I would do in my mid 50’s. Perhaps 30 years ago I would have joined them as it was so hot in full sunshine.
A 2 minute walk and we were in an area full of restaurants. We sat down at one and ate a salad for lunch accompanied by fresh crusty bread all washed down with a small beer whilst watching the river flow past on one side and people just walking past on the other.
After lunch another 2 minute walk took us to a medieval bridge which was one of the things I had come to see. There are 2 of these bridges but I am not sure of their history but they are old and appear to be there to act as sluice gates to regulate the level of the water flowing from the lake. They are adorned with flowers typical of many chalets and buildings in the area and just look stunning. With the force of the water flowing underneath them, they are also loud places to be as well.
After visiting the bridges we walked round the headland jutting out into the lake and watched fairly large boats leaving for trips on the lake before heading back into the centre to visit the medieval town square which is overlooked by the castle. Rather than visit the castle we decided to drive around the lake to get back for our return journey on the train, visiting Interlaken on the way.
As we had arrived at Thun via a motorway on the south side of the lake, driving back via the north side would give us a round trip. What can I say except if you are ever in the area, a drive on the north side of Lake Thun is a must. It was stunning. I had to be careful as I was driving but I could not keep my eyes on the road. I kept stopping every mile or so to get out of the car and look at the scenery. We kept pulling into small parking areas and when we were out of the car, people were swimming and I just wished I had my trunks and a towel with me. All along the drive we had stunning views of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau mountain peaks, covered in snow and looking majestic.
We visited Interlaken and stopped for a coffee, but did not find it very interesting after Thun. Maybe we parked in the wrong spot and didn’t look round enough. Still I recommend a visit to Thun when you next visit Switzerland.