When you think of tourism in Switzerland, it’s always Geneva or the Alps that first come to your mind. But Bern? Never did I anticipate the hidden gem this destination really is.
Laying in the west-central part of Switzerland, the old town of Bern retains much of its medieval flavor. And flavors – or better said scents – is what made this city so special for me.
“Follow your nose in Bern” is probably the most creative city tour I have ever taken. Ursula, our well-versed city guide, explains at the starting point how smells seduce, attract, create memories and have therapeutic properties. After a glimpse of the Clock Tower and a fascinating story about the ancient mechanism that still turns the clock around, she takes us to Brigitte’s Art of Scent shop.
What a delight to step into this little studio! Bottles of fragrance and vials of essence, elegant candle holders and fresh roses, sleek crystal chandeliers and rustic wooden tables make this little boutique a fascinating universe. Brigitte Witschi, the owner of the shop, welcomes us with a big smile, holding herself with understated elegance. She exudes passion for her business and joy for sharing this moment with us. She talks about the process of her creations, when she visualizes bucolic settings with alpine meadows and fresh herbs. She imagines feelings and experiences and she merges them all together before she starts mixing fragrances and essential oils. We each choose a favorite fragrance and off we go with Ursula to “follow our nose in Bern”.
Ursula is surely one who knows her trade! She regales us with tales of the past and stories of today, of major historical events that shaped the present. She stops at almost every corner and we learn a bit more about the fountains of Bern, the origin of the city name, its first chocolate factory, the bears of Bern, ancient washing techniques and so much more. Her tales are surprising as are the little scented samples she pulls out with every story. The fragrance exacerbates our senses; each story makes us hungry for more; history sinks in never to be forgotten!
Ursula walks us seamlessly through streets bordered by elegant boutiques nestled under medieval arcades and long wooden steps that lead to the river Aare – Bernese are so proud of their river! The rooftops of Bern unfold under our eyes, surprising little details make us gasp, the cathedral towers above us with Gothic shades while a bohemian music shop owner plays his guitar in his stylish little studio on the river bank.
We find ourselves back at Brigitte’s who, by now, has transformed her studio into a workshop. Stools border the long rustic table; vials of essence and droppers are nicely set, ready for us to start playing. She has prepared the fragrances we chose initially and gives us guidance on how to approach our perfume creations.
The recollection of the scents we’ve sensed on Bern’s streets inspire us to create new perfumes from drops of essence that disperse into the vial, for chemistry to activate them into an everlasting memory of this fantastic city.
Final note: our host hotel in the Swiss capital was Schweizehof Bern.