Week 5: Into Switzerland, Solothurn

A new week and a new country called. The journey south down the A5 was fast-moving amongst heavy freight registered to Poland, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. We stopped at the German border town of Weil am Rhein – a hub of transportation and industry – to stock up on foodie and bathroom essentials having been warned of high prices in Switzerland.
We also got a helpful mechanic to check out one of Bertha’s tyres which had cut slightly on debris on the road. We didn’t want a blow out in the Alps! He declared ‘alles gut’ and we were on our way, relieved, and through the Swiss border post in minutes.
Solothurn camp in the shadow of Weissenstein mountain
With a new vignette (a pass to use Swiss motorways) proudly attached to the windscreen we drove through green fields and valleys to Solothurn, Switzerland’s ‘most beautiful baroque city’.
It is indeed breathtakingly lovely. On the glistening glacial River Aare at the foot of the last ridge of the Jura it has an ornate centre of 17th and 18th century pristine mansions, merchant houses and public buildings housed within fortified walls protected by circular watch-towers and large arch entrance gates.
The astronomical clock
Arriving on bikes at 5pm, the weekly market was in full swing in the winding streets and bustling with an international crowd of sellers and hawkers.
The colourful stalls made it difficult to fully see the ornate and painted shops and houses but looking up at rooflines we made out painted gables and steeples, oriel windows decorated with wooden carvings, ornate ironwork signs and weathervanes and a richly decorated astronomical clock on which Death cheerily waggled his head at 6pm.
At street level we meandered through the stalls and past the many fountains that boast 16th century painted figures. This was a first taste of a style of public decoration we would see much of in the major Swiss towns. The lively figures represent local heroes, saints and allegory and are grandly painted in bright colours and gold.
Back across the river we meandered amongst locals enjoying a glass of wine or beer at riverside bars with views of the old town. The early evening had a busy cheerful feeling and there was a definite ‘after work’ feel amongst the gangs of laughing and gossiping suited men and women.
Early evening view across the Aare River
We pedalled along the riverside passing boys fishing in the river and greeting families out for a stroll along the banks in the warm sunshine. Back at Bertha we saw the sunset over the last mountain of the Jura, the Weisssenstein, which we planned to climb the next day.
Van Gogh’s portrait of Trabuc
The morning’s sunshine meant we could do some washing and cleaning before heading into town to visit the art gallery.
A first taste of the Swiss masters showed powerful and expressive landscapes, allegorical figures, sweet rural scenes, striking portraits and early symbolism.
The Vallotton, along with old favourites such as Van Gogh, Matisse and Klimt were our highlights.
Taking the yellow ‘Post Bus’ up to the Balmberg we hiked along the bike route that wound up and through forests to reach the Weissenstein ridge at 1,284 meters.
The Post Bus winding precarious bends
It was easy-going but continually uphill and we kept up a quick march to reach the top and allow time to return two and a half hours later for the bus. If we missed it, we would have a four hour wait for the next one.
A misty view of the Jura valley from 1200m
A quicker way up – but not today!
A popular way to reach the summit is by cable car but this was closed for works so very few people were about and we saw only a couple of other hikers and two mountain bikers.
The rising mists made it difficult to see the valley below but the River Aare shone silvery along a series of ox bow bends and a break in the gathering clouds suddenly revealed Lake Neuchatel mirror-like and gleaming to the west of us.
Storm clouds gathering
Our descent down the ‘wanderweg’ or hiking trail took us across the plateau through groups of grazing and bell-ringing taupe-coloured dairy cows. Light rain began to fall as we heard thunder rattling towards us up through the valley. All went well until we crested the ridge and plunged suddenly down a steep and slippery rocky path.
Still a long way to go to catch the Post Bus…
Relying on gravity to keep us on the mountainside we gingerly found footholds in the loose and slimy stones that may or may not have been an intended trail.
The need for speed made it a determined descent and it was a relief to cross into forest and then come out at the top of a grassy ski slope.
The speedy jog down its steep bank was a childish delight and we were rewarded with the sight of the yellow bus winding its way up to collect and return us back to river level far below.
The sun shone for our cycle back to the camp where we looked up to the mountain we had conquered!

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