Zurich to Berne, by Baden and Lenzburg
23 Stunden = 75 ½ English miles.
A malleposte goes daily in 14, and a diligence in 17 hours.
17 hours!?! Wow! Today you can be there in less than 56 minutes by train, or 8 hours by bicycle. In fact, I travelled from Zurich to Rio de Janeiro with a change over in São Paulo in less time Murray would have made Bern.
A malle poste was the fastest form of travelling in 1837 and was basically a larger heavy carriage, usually pulled by three or four horses, that could carry more passengers than a diligence, together with mail – as shown in this painting from 1839.
“Murray’s Handbook For Travellers In Switzerland 1838” mysteriously omits Routes 11 and 12, skipping straight to Route 13, which indicates that Murray could not count, was following already recognised national routes or, as historians seem to indicate, had lost his notes or chose not to print all of what he had written.
To Baden the road is the same as Route 6.
Basically following Route 6 in reverse (or the Regional Cycle Route 66), along the left bank of the Limmat, through Dietikon, past the monument where the French defeated the Russians (Route 6), and then crossing the wooden bridge to the Convent at Wettingen, Murray explains that “this route is very circuitous” and that “another direct road to Lenzburg by Bremgarten” is “a mere cross road, not practicable for heavy carriages.”
Cycling along the Limmat in the early morning sun, the wet dew on the leaves in the forest glistening in its rays, is decidedly more beautiful than riding the other direction in the afternoon heat, if for no other reason than I was free of any emotions of jealousy in the absence of the usual happy groups of sunbathers, floating down river in their rubber dinghies packed with refreshing beers and laughter as I sweated my arse off alone, with aching muscles, wishing Zurich was some 10km nearer.
Within an hour, I reached the Kloster at Wettingen (Route 6) with its adjacent Restaurant Sternen, the oldest guesthouse in Switzerland.
RESTAURANTS IN WETTINGEN (24km):
As mentioned – although not in “Murray’s Handbook” – The Restaurant Sternen is the oldest guesthouse in Switzerland, built with the adjoining abbey in 1227 (as the “Weiberhaus”) to serve the visiting mothers and sisters of the monks, who were prevented from entering the male only grounds of the monastery.
Today, you can enjoy Swiss classics in the Klostertaverne or beer garden with an extensive menu (from CHF50 for 3 courses), or a gourmet meal in the Stella Maris Stube (CHF75 for a 3 course menu). [CLICK HERE FOR MENU]
Whilst here, for liquid refreshments, you should also visit the brilliant Klosterbrauerei Lägerebräu, also on the abbey grounds.
At Baden, the route finally splits of from that previously travelled on Route 6 and heads South on Regional Cycle Route 34.
“At Mellingen, the river Reuss is crossed by a wooden bridge. Some have supposed that the battle in which the Roman general Cæcina beat the Helvetians, A.D. 70, was fought here.”
Whilst the wooden bridge, built in 1798, was replaced with a simple steel one in 1928, the Old Town is still entered through a bridge gate tower and gives an idea as to what Murray would have walked into.
Back in A.D. 70, the town was actually located on the opposite side of the water.
The only details I could unearth about the Roman invasion of Mellingen was this interesting account in the 1895 book, “The History of The Swiss People” by F. Grenfell Baker:
“Aulus Caecina, one of the legates of Vitellius, had just entered Helvetia, on his way to Italy, with an army of 30,000 men. On learning that a Roman centurion had been arrested by the Helvetii he at once marched to his rescue.”
But this was no Saving Centurion Ryan story…
“Caecina is described by Tacitus as a blood-thirsty, ferocious commander, delighting in slaughter, who simply made the act of the Helvetii a pretext for gratifying his taste for war. And right well he sustained his reputation. On his progress he laid waste the whole country, pillaging and destroying every town and village he passed, and slaughtering thousands of the unfortunate, unresisting inhabitants. Amongst other places he burned was the important town of Aquae (Baden), then, as now, renowned for its thermal springs. The helpless peasants, driven to desperation, tried to face the Romans ; but, being without arms, discipline, or cohesion, were easily defeated and slaughtered wholesale.”
History, and indeed many of the Routes I had already travelled in this book, is full of tales of wholesale slaughter of innocent people like this, particularly in advancing religions at the expense of non-believers, or in expanding empires and borders. It’s partly why I get annoyed when I hear people talk of the horrendous barbaric acts committed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria as being representative of “the evil of Islam” when in fact you could equally apply that tag to any religion, empire or ideology.
For me, as horrified as I am at the crimes committed by ISIS on entire populations and ancient monuments, I’m almost as equally appalled that, in this day of age, the rest of the world allows it to happen. I can’t quite imagine Caecina being allowed to take the same route to Italy nowadays, although what’s going on in Syria, Nigeria or the Congo has me wondering as to what we have actually learned from history.
Talking of history, it wasn’t long before I reached Lenzburg.
“A manufacturing town of 2000 inhabitants, on the Aa, a stream which drains the lake of Halwyl.”
Now with 9000 inhabitants, it lies on the small Aabach river, which flows from the larger Aare, some 3km north. It sits in the shadow of the dominating castle above, one of the most impressive in Switzerland.
Lenzburg is another town I know well, being a regular spot on my normal local cycles, however, with “Murray’s Handbook” as a guide, this is the first time I’d actually stopped and paid attention to its old buildings and rather quaint Old Town square.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN LENZBURG (45km):
The Hotel Löwen at Leuengasse 14 has been the 130 seater Cinema Löwen since the 1920s, largely showing Swiss and German movies.
Dating back to 1714, the Hotel Krone at Kronenplatz is still open and and offers rooms from CHF100 as well as a restaurant with South Tyrol specialities (from CHF50 for 3 courses). [CLICK HERE FOR ROOMS]
“An old Gothic castle on the summit of a sandstone cliff, is now converted into a school, on the plan of that at Hofwyl.”
I empathised with the kids who would have had to climb the tortious 14% climb to the school, which operated from 1822 until 1853 under the guidance of strict German teacher Christian Lippe, following the principles of educational reformer and famous pedagogue Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (whom Murray had mentioned in Route 8). Just 50 boys were taught in the Hintere Haus, most of which were sons of prominent manufacturing families in Basel and the Alsace, whilst the 12 teachers lived in the Landvogtei building.
Lippe was just one of the many owners of Schloss Lenzburg, a castle which was originally built around 1077 for local knights, Wolfram and Guntram, who went by their Hip Hop name of The Counts Of Lenzburg, a title enlisted on them after they slayed the local dragon who apparently lived in a cave on the hill.
Amongst the most important feudal lords in the whole of Switzerland, the Lenzburg line died out in 1173 with Ulrich IV, the last Count of Lenzburg. He named Emperor Friedrich I Barbarossa as his personal heir after the two had been room-mates on the Second Crusade together in 1147, when the Catholic kings and noblemen of Europe united together at the call of Pope Eugene III in a failed holy war against Islam, during which many of their fellow ruling knights were defeated by the Muslims.
In about 1230, through marriage, the castle fell into the hands of the Counts of Kyburg, the influential 13th Century Prog Rock group from Route 9. It was they who set up the fortified market settlement at the foot of the hill, which is now the town of Lenzburg.
The last Count of Kyburg, Hartmann V (vocals and Mellotron), died in 1264 without a son. His only daughter, Anna, was placed under the protection of the neighbouring Count of Habsburg and King Of The Romans, Rudolph I – him with the very shiny nose from Route 6 – and she later married his cousin, Eberhard I. Rudy moved into the castle when his relatives could no longer afford the cleaning bills in 1273 but it soon declined into a regional seat of government when the Habsburgs moved more and more of their power from their ancestral home in Aargau to their shiny new palaces in Vienna.
As mentioned in Route 6, Duke Frederick IV of Habsburg lost the entire canton of Aargau, including Lenzburg, to the Swiss in 1415 after falling out with the Council of Constance (Route 7), by backing the “wrong” pope, Antipope John XXIII. He may have lost Lenzburg and the family’s ancestral home, however he did gain the new title: Duke Frederick of the Empty Pockets.
The Swiss surrendered the castle in 1798 to Napoleon’s advancing French army, before regaining it in 1804 with the Canton of Aargau later renting it to Christian Lippe to teach his rich kids.
As if its medieval history wasn’t interesting enough, the story of what happened following Lippe’s death and the closure of the school was very interesting:
Konrad Pestalozzi-Scotchburn bought the castle from the Canton of Aargau in 1853 (I’m not sure if he was a relation of the famous teacher or, for that matter, if he drank hot whisky). He sold it in 1872 to Dr. Friedrich Willhelm Wedekind, a German physician and descendent of the partly noble and baronial lineage who made his fortune during the California Gold Rush as one of the “Forty-Eighters” who were forced to flee to the safety of America after supporting the failed German revolution of 1848, which had called for the unification of the German people, human rights and a more democratic government.
OK, if – like me – you’re not very good at remembering names, then you’ll probably need to pay attention with the story of my favourite Lenzburg landlord…
Augustus Edward Jessup, Jr., a wealthy American bought it from Dr Wedekind in 1893. “Wicked Uncle Gus” had become the heir of his family’s paper mill in Philadelphia after his elder brother was mysteriously killed in 1876 as an unprovoked victim of a duel.
Following his father’s death five years later, the 30 year old Gus emigrated to Britain with his vast family inheritance, where he married Mildred Bowes-Lyon, the daughter of the 13th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. All the higher echelons of society, together with leading players in the local beard and moustache clubs attended the wedding, not least to see their zombie bridesmaid…
Mixing in Europe’s high society, Gus would flash his money around much to the disgust of his high class friends. And if that didn’t make them distrust him enough, he would always attend social functions with a beautiful nurse at his side, who would pass him a bowl of water and towels immediately after he shook the hand of each guest.
Three years after their marriage, he bought Schloss Lenzburg and embarked on a major renovation programme, modernising the castle with central heating, plumbing and electricity, whilst returning it to its original medieval design.
When Mildred died unexpectedly in 1897, aged just 28, Gus inherited her estate, much to the annoyance of her family who pointed the finger as to her sudden death at the American, who was now alone in the castle with their two sons.
By 1901, the 37 year old bounced back from his wife’s death in style, by proposing to Violet Cavendish-Bentinck, the 37 year old sister of Cecilia, the wife of Mildred’s eldest brother and heir to the family title. Like something out of a Jane Austen novel, Cecilia forbid the marriage, as she enjoyed her sister’s companionship too much, but instead offered her other sister to the American, should she be up for it: Violet’s twin, Hyacinthe, a wildlife lover who was rumoured to sleep with foxes.
Not long after the marriage, Cecilia (now Gus’s sister-in-law in two different directions) gave birth to Lady Elizabeth, better known to us now as Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.
Still spending heavily, Gus, ran into financial difficulties and was forced to list Schloss Lenzburg and its contents on eBay in 1911. Pennsylvanian coal mine owner James Ellsworth, who collected medieval art – some of it in his moustache – saw the listing and made an enquiry about buying an IKEA table which Barbarossa had assembled back in 1173. Gus told him that if he wanted the table, he’d have to “Click Buy Now” on the entire castle, and with six other bidders “watching this item”, Ellsworth was pressured into taking the whole lot.
When Gus’s second wife, Hyacinthe, died of opium poisoning in 1916, aged 52, she deliberately left her money to her twin sister in her will, instead of her two stepsons or the two daughters she had given birth to during her unhappy marriage, just so that her husband could not get his hands on it.
Given their early deaths, both the Strathmore and Cavendish-Bentinck families went on to accuse him of being a title-seeking philanderer who had murdered both Mildred and Hyacinthe. He died himself in 1925, taking any secrets to the grave, just three months after the castle’s new owner also passed away.
At the time of his death, Lenzburg’s new owner, James Ellsworth, was awaiting the news of his son’s fate after his plane had crashed on Roald Amundsen’s 1925 attempt to fly to the North Pole, an expedition the miner had funded. Lincoln Ellsworth would return safe to learn the news of his father’s passing and the fact he’d be inheriting Lenzburg Castle as a result. His family would later sell it to the City of Lenzburg and Canton of Aargau in 1956 and it has remained a museum ever since.
Back on Cycle Route 34,
At a village called Hunzenschwyl, the road to Aarau turns off to the right, and that from Schintznach and Brugg joins our route.
“Hunzenschwyl” (Hunzenschwil) has grown from being a farming village to what is now little more than a modern housing estate and it’s not long before I was back out into the beautiful open countryside, following the “34”, to the industrial hub that is Suhr.
Not mentioned by Murray was the village of Kölliken, with its beautiful thatched Salzmehuus, one of the last straw roof houses in Switzerland and dating back to 1802. Before becoming the village museum in 1981, six generations of the Suter family sold salt from this building until the Coop supermarket opened next door and introduced the locals to alternative condiments.
Surprisingly it’s no longer the village’s main landmark, as that title falls on the mysterious Halle der Sondermülldeponie, 2 kilometers further along the route.
After asking an equally confused Swiss friend what was this huge dome structure beside the autobahn, which looks like an unfinished stadium, for years I had been misled to believe it was an indoor snowboarding arena that had ran out of funding during the construction process. An information sign on its side wall not only corrected that belief but made me delete from memory any other facts or figures he may have quoted to me over the 25 years we’ve know each other. It also left me gobsmacked as to its actual purpose and, in particular, the unbelievable cost of this gigantic structure.
The Kölliken hazardous waste landfill site opened in 1978 on the site of an old clay mine for the likes of Novartis, Syngenta, BASF, Clariant and Roche to dump their unwanted garbage. They obviously underestimated the biological degradation process and local residents would increasingly complain about the pungent smell and the fact the local fish population had died en mass. After the huge chemical companies failed to respond to the complaints, the local Kölliken council shut the landfill in 1985.
Soon it was found that the toxins deposited in barrels could not simply remain in the soil and this huge depot with its gigantic steel vacuum, the largest in Switzerland, was built in 2005 to remove over 664,000 tonnes of hazardous waste material. It’s enclosed structure preventing the stench and toxic fumes from escaping. Workers accessing the site drive in airtight vehicles and have to wear protective suits with gas masks and oxygen bottles. Something, those who live in the neighbouring houses, which sit in its shadow, probably could have done with many years back.
The cost of this thing? So far it amounts to just under a billion Swiss Francs, making it not only one of the costliest building projects in Europe but, almost certainly, the most expensive air freshener and fish supper anywhere in the world.
Following Murray’s directions to “Kreuzstasse”, which is now a district of Oftringen, I took in a brief detour to the Ortsmuseum before reaching the same busy crossroads from which I had previously approached from Aarburg in Route 4.
RESTAURANTS IN OFTRINGEN (73km):
You pass the “good inn” Murray recommends on the way through the village, before reaching the busy crossroads. “The Lion” (Alter Löwen) on Dorfstrasse, is now home to the cafe of the Ortsmuseum, which shows how the rural population of the town used to live during Murray’s time. [MORE INFO]
On the right rises the ancient fortress of Aarburg (Route 4)
RESTAURANTS IN ROTHRIST (75km):
At Rothrist, 1 ½ farther on, there is a good inn (Cheval Blanc – Rossli), kept by a civil landlady.
The restaurant Rössli, on the approach to Rothrist sits on a pretty roundabout and is still, to this day, ran by “a civil landlady”, Irene Bolliger, whose team serve up a tasty daily menu of Swiss classics, including fondue in winter. [MENU]
The road runs along the right bank of the Aar to Morgenthal
Cycling along the side of the Aare through the village of “Morgenthal” (Murgenthal), I was amazed at all the old houses, which would have been around when Murray walked by, many now in desperate need of some TLC, having lost their importance as people whizz by by at high speed in their motor cars, choosing to buy their milk and cheese from petrol stations or supermarkets on the edge of the major towns rather than these once important commuter villages.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN MURGENTHAL (84km):
Inn: Lowe, good
The Gasthof zum Löwen lies on the route at Murgstrasse 1, just after the town and over the Murg Fluss river, which marks the border of the canton; the flag in the beer garden informing you that you’ve now left Aargau for the canton of Bern.
Although he doesn’t mention it, Murray probably continued along the busy main road which passes through the industrial outskirts of Langenthal. This presumption is based upon the fact he also completely omits any mention of the alternative route (directly opposite the Löwen) which runs alongside the river, taking in stunning farmland and the historic village of Aarwangen, through which I followed the cycle route 34. It’s arguably the highlight of the entire route and a baffling omission, especially given the non-descript villages he does include.
The Gasthof zum Wilden Mann dates back to around 1600, and is worth adding to the inns already recommended by Murray, making this possibly the best pub crawl of some of Switzerland’s oldest taverns.
Introduced after Murray’s time is the beautiful old railway station which still greets the quaint trams which run down the centre of the town’s main road.
The main landmark of Aarwangen though is the magnificent 12th Century Schloss Aarwangen, now a council building, 1km off the cycle route on the Aare river.
Back on track and following the Route 34 cycle signs again, I passed through some of the most beautiful riverside farmland that Switzerland has to offer, for a picture postcard stretch of road that should be high on the “must see” list for every first time visitor to the country.
I left the Route 34 (at the dam) to cycle up the hill to the pretty village of Graben before finally rejoining Murray’s notes at…
Herzogenbuchsee – a village of 4500 inhabitants
I’m puzzled as to where Murray got his population figures from for Herzogenbuchsee, as the statistics show less than 1,500 people lived there in 1837. Today, that figure is 7,000 and it remains a busy crossroads.
RESTAURANTS IN HERZOGENBUCHSEE (98km):
Taking pride of place in the centre of the town, on Zürichstrasse 2, the Hotel Sonne or “Hotel du Soleil” as it is signed, still offers 11 bedrooms (from CHF95) together with the Italian restaurant and pizzeria La Luna. [CLICK HERE FOR ROOMS][MENU]
Joining Bernstrasse, I followed Murray’s directions into the Emmental and the village of “Hochstetten” (Höchstetten),
before continuing on towards “Alchenfluh” (Alchenflüh), which is now an uninteresting modern town merged into the neighbouring town of Rüdtligen (four years before Murray’s visit) and separated from Kirchberg only by the narrow Emme river.
I avoided the heavy traffic of Alchenflüh town centre by following the Route 34 cycle path, crossing the river from Kirchberg over a footbridge and cycling amongst stunning old Emmental farms in Rüdtligen, a far more picturesque route than the incredibly busy main road through Lyssach’s industrial units and world famous Swedish £1/€1/$1 Hot Dog store (which, this being Switzerland, costs CHF2).
Leaving the cycle route once again, I headed to Hindelbank.
Murray’s highlight for the entire route wasn’t the impressive castle at Laufenburg or the pretty Emmental farming villages en route, but the pretty normal looking Reformierte Kirchgemeinde Hindelbank church, dating back to 1275 but rebuilt after a fire in 1911.
In the village church is the celebrated Monument of Madame Langhans, wife of the Minister, who died in child-birth.
It is by a sculptor, named Nahl, and represents her with her child in her arms, bursting through the tomb at the sound of the last trumpet.
The ‘over-rated’ sandstone tomb, built “into the pavement of the church” in 1751 by the celebrated German sculptor, plasterer and odd-job man, Johann August Nahl the Elder, is quite a somber piece of work.
Stood there alone in the dark church, staring at this celebrated monument, it suddenly dawned on me that Murray would have done exactly the same back in 1837 and my imagination quickly drifted into a timewarp placing him in the very same tiny room as me, our conversation going something like this:
Its merit, as a work of art, has been much exaggerated.
“Ah, come on Johnny boy, don’t be so miserable, it’s not that bad.”
Its chief excellence seems to be the natural manner in which the crack in the stone is represented.
“I agree with you there mate, but it’s still an impressive statue nonetheless. Well, apart from her nose that is; he seems to have missed a bit there.”
The chief figure is injured by the loss of the nose, which Glutz Blotzheim asserts (it is hoped unfoundedly) was the wanton act of an Englishman.
“Typical! Bloody Brits abroad! Probably some rowdy stag do from Hartlepool who arrived here on a budget diligence.”
Murray quotes the revised 1830 edition of the Swiss historian Robert Glutz von Blotzheim’s “Handbuch für Reisende in der Schweiz” (“Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland”), which inspired the title for his own guide, in which is written “The nose is somewhat injured by an Englishman who showed a proud insolence here, and not quite the noble image.”.
Interestingly, in the 1818 and 1823 editions of the book, no blame is attached to the English and Glutz simply informs the reader that “the nose is slightly injured”. Whether he had uncovered new evidence as to the culprit or if he was just less than happy at the sudden influx of rich British travellers making the Grand Tour, is probably only for his own conjecture.
It was hard to tell if the nose still remained “slightly injured” or if Mrs Langhans had been referred to a top plaster surgeon to have work done. Either way, not knowing if the locals still held a grudge, I escaped sharpish with the guilt of a nation hanging heavily on my conscience.
The castle on the neighbouring height, belongs to the Erlach family.
The Erlachs sold the castle to the canton of Bern in 1866 and it was converted into a workhouse for poor women before becoming a women’s forced labour reformatory prison thirty years later. Since 1962 it has been the only female prison in the Swiss-German speaking cantons, housing 107 women from 25 nations, including some with small children.
Having also been impressed with the young offenders prison at Schloss Aarburg, I couldn’t help but feel that being a criminal in Switzerland certainly has its benefits.
The final 17km into “Berne” (Bern), along the Route 34 cycle path, through rather pleasant countryside and amongst large houses, are not described by Murray, and he saves the city itself for Route 24.
ACCOMMODATION / RESTAURANTS IN BERN (138km):
Falke (Faucon), one of the best inns in Switzerland. Charges – table d’hote, at one, 3 fr; at four, 4 fr; breakfast, 1 fr. 10 sous; tea, ditto; beds 2fr. 10 sous.
Families and persons desiring to be quiet, may be accommodated in a separate house, called Petit Faucon, in a back street, from the roof of which there is a fine view.
Now a popular and affordable restaurant, Cafe Falken, on Münstergasse serves up light Mediterranean dishes and is famous for its homemade spaghetti.
Couronne, not very clean, but otherwise good.
No longer a hotel, but the Restaurant Krone, on Gerechtigkeitsgasse in the heart of the Old Town, serves up quality, affordable local dishes.
Der Storch has also gone. I’m guessing that the Storchenbäckerei on Schauplatzgasse might have been its location.
The Abbayes, or houses of the guilds, also, accommodate travellers: the best is the Distelzwang, or Abbaye aux Gentilshommes.
The beautiful Distelzwang building at Gerechtigkeitsgasse 79 still belongs to one of Bern’s thirteen guilds. It can be rented for private events, but not for accommodation.
For a hotel that would have been around during Murray’s visit to Bern, try the 3 Star Hotel Goldener Schlussel, the oldest hotel in the Old Town.
Zurich to Berne, by Baden and Lenzburg
23 Stunden = 75 ½ English miles.
At 138km, this is a long cycle through rolling countryside however the picturesque farming villages of the Emmental make it one of the most memorable rides you can do and there are plenty of options to split the route up with many of Murray’s recommended inns still offering accommodation. The short climb up to the castle at Lenzburg is the only major testing climb of the day and the entire route is possible by road bike, following the Regional Cycle Routes 66 and 34 nearly all the way, with the exception of a few short detours to a handful of towns on the less scenic and heavily industrialised Route 1 road.
0km ~ ZURICH
12km ~ DIETIKON (Massena Statue) → flat
24km ~ KLOSTER WETTINGEN 35 m 40 m
27km ~ BADEN 35 m 30 m
35km ~ MELLINGEN 60 m 95 m
45km ~ LENZBURG 135 m 75 m
46km ~ SCHLOSS LENZBURG 75 m
51km ~ HUNZENSCHWIL 25 m 100 m
56km ~ SUHR → flat
73km ~ OFTRINGEN 100 m 80 m
75km ~ ROTHRIST → flat
84km ~ MURGENTHAL → flat
98km ~ HERZOGENBUCHSEE 35 m 95 m
106km ~ HÖCHSTETTEN 35 m 35 m
115km ~ ALCHENFLÜH → flat
122km ~ REFORMIERTE KIRCHGEMEINDE HINDELBANK → flat
123km ~ SCHLOSS HINDELBANK 25 m
138km ~ BERN 120 m 120 m