Emmental: Tourist Information and Pictures


Emmental. Yes, it’s where the world-famous Swiss cheese originally comes from, and the genuine ‘Emmentaler’ is still made in small rural dairies from raw cows’ milk. It is that hard yellow cheese with holes in, excellent for fondue. However there are no cheese photos in our set below, only pictures of the places visitors go to in the Emmental area, to accompany the tourist information.

‘Tal’ means ‘valley’ in German, and the rivers in this case are The Emme and The Ilfis, in the canton of Bern in west central Switzerland. This is principally a green dairy farming area of relatively low mountains, as you can see in the pictures, and the main city is Burgdorf, of which more later. Other than Burgdorf, it is mostly an area of picturesque traditional villages, full of attractive Swiss architecture.

Schangnau is the first and, at 930 metres (3,051ft), the highest of these pleasant villages among the Emmental Alps, and its population at the last count (2008) was under a thousand. It is a farming area, but there is good hiking up to The Hohgant, a 2,197m (7,200ft) summit, and in winter there is a nearby ski area at Bumbach, which has a camping ground. There are no hotels in Schangnau itself, but there are a few places to stay only 2.2 miles (3.5km) away, or 10 minutes on public transport. (Schangnau has no railway station, but there is public transport in the form of Post Buses.)

Eggiwil is slightly lower (736m / 2,415ft) and has twice the population that Schangnau has. It is believed to have been inhabited since the 14th century, and its church dates from 1630. Since then it has lived off the land, in the grazing of alpine meadows by cattle and the production of timber from its forests. About the only other employer in the present day is a nursing home for older people (‘Alterszentrum’). It is mainly a village of traditional Emmental houses, which are quite spaced out, as the pictures show. Again there is no hotel in the village itself, but plenty within 5 miles (8km) at Langnau, and like Schangnau there is no railway at Eggiwil. 

Drop down a little further to 683m (2,241ft) and you come to Signau. (See pictures.) Here we are 25km from Burgdorf and 30 minutes by car from Bern. Although the first written record of habitation is 12th century, finds from the Bronze Age and Mesolithic periods indicate a much longer period of occupation of the area.
The most recent count (2015) found a population of 2,700 living in this traditional linear village and the farmhouses around. A third of the land area of the Signau municipality is forest, and most of the rest is agricultural, with cattle grazing still predominating, though at this altitude crops are beginning to be grown, along with some orchards. Like the two villages described and depicted in the photos so far, Signau is a place of traditional architecture in the Swiss heritage style, but unlike them it is on the railway line to Bern. There are at least two guesthouses in Signau, the Gasthof zum Bären, and the Gasthof zum Roten Thurm, both on Dorfstrasse. The first of these, the ‘Inn of the Bears’ (shown in a photo) is housed in a traditional Emmental-style building, and caters for families in its 3 rooms and restaurant. The other, the ‘Inn of the Red Tower’ offers low cost accommodation in 7 simple but comfortable rooms, and has its own restaurant; the WiFi and breakfast are included, and there is a lock-up store for bicycles. It’s just a 3 minute walk from the station. (Do not let this put you off, but the inn is in a building that was previously a prison!)

Between Signau and Langnau, it is worth pausing briefly, as our photographer did, at the hamlet of Lichtgut, where there are some fine traditional wooden farmhouses.

Langnau in Emmental
So on to Langnau, on the River Ilfis, a much bigger place of nearly 9,000 people (2008), though at 736m (2,415ft), slightly higher than Signau. It has a railway station, modern buildings as well as traditional ones (some of the latter being extremely grand), and even a museum. There are shops here and plenty of accommodation to choose from, and Langnau makes a good base from which to explore the villages around on foot, bicycle or by car. Don’t miss the remarkable covered wooden bridge as shown in one of the pictures below.)

Where to stay
Only 275 metres from the station is the beautiful traditional building of the 3-star Hotel Hirschen. Its restaurant (closed Mondays) serves Swiss cuisine with a selection of quality wines. The 18 bedrooms have little extras, like a room safe, hairdryer and bathrobes. The Landgasthof-Hotel Adler only has 1-star, probably because some of its 8 rooms have shared bathrooms, but its location is only 50 yards from the bus station, and there is free parking at the hotel. It has a restaurant serving seasonal dishes, and, like the Hirschen, it has a terrace out front where you can eat and drink in summer. The Hotel Emmental may not have any stars, but it is popular and has a Gault Millau award-winning restaurant, the Zum Goldenen Löwen, just a 3 minute walk away. (The train station is only 2 minutes.) The 19 sound proofed rooms provide hairdryers and bathrobes. For a hostel-type accommodation, try Emme Lodge, in a modernised traditional farmhouse on Mooseggstrasse. They offer 8 rooms for B+B, and have a garden.

What to do in and around Langnau
The Regional Museum displaying the history of the area is one main attraction in Langnau itself. The other is the Plausch-und Erlebniscenter – a sporting entertainment centre which is popular for ‘fun and games, with or without children’. Here you can play miniature golf and ten-pin bowling, then eat and drink in the centre itself. The other sporting venue is the Ilfishalle, named after the River Ilfis: if you are lucky enough to be there at the right time, you can join 5,000 spectators in watching the local team, SCL Tigers’, ice hockey match. Available at any time of year, and great for families to do together, is the Emmental Comic Adventure Trail. Designed to entertain you while you explore Langnau, its history, and learn about Emmental cheese at the same time, the trail is set out as a detective story in which you follow clues around Langnau village, and solve ‘The Case of the Fake Emmental Cheese’. While wandering the town, be sure not to miss Hirschenplatz, a square of particularly fine traditional architecture. Apart from these urban activities, the main things to do are outside the town, such as cycling, horseback riding or hiking in the wonderful countryside of the Emmental Valley. It is possible to visit cheese-making and beer-brewing establishments, and have a ride on a steam engine. (The Emmi factory in Langnau is shown in one of the pictures below. Emmi now controls 66% of hard cheese manufacturing in Switzerland.)
For information about all these activities, and to find out what else is on, contact the Tourismus Emmental office in Bahnhofstrasse.

This village had a population of 5,000 in 2015, but unlike most of the other municipalities featured in our pictures, it has a castle, formerly belonging to the Teutonic Knights, but now owned by the local council. There are actually three villages in the municipality: Sumiswald, Brunen and Wasen, as well as two other hamlets and a number of outlying farms. Most of the forest at this level (702m or 2,300ft) was cleared during the Middle Ages to provide more grazing meadows.
There are three apartments to rent in Sumiswald (you can find them on the council website), but no hotels or gasthofs in the village.

To explore this area by public transport of car, you really need to stay either in Langnau or here in the biggest town in the region. Burgdorf, on the River Emme (see pictures below), has a population of 16,200 and is the lowest of all the settlements featured in our pictures (elevation 533m / 1,749ft). This part of the Emme valley has been inhabited since Neolithic times, and there is a record of a castle here as early as 1080; the present castle which houses a museum, ‘only’ dates from 1175 ! At this lower level, less of the land is forested and more of the total farming country is used for crops and less (6%) is grazing. Bern and its airport are only 16km (10 miles) away, or 18 minutes by train; Zurich Airport is 1 hour 19 minutes by train.

What to see and do in Burgdorf
The upper and lower Old Town is famous for its fine medieval urban architecture and traditional Swiss houses. The castle and the church are in the upper town, linked by a stairway to the lower town at the foot of castle cliff. Here, enjoy the alleyways, small squares and street cafes, and spend some time shopping or just exploring.
Burgdorf Castle, a Swiss Heritage Site of National Significance, is open to the public, and houses the Helvetian Gold Mining Museum – it may come as a surprise that there was once a gold rush in the Emmental Valley, but it is still possible to try gold panning today. The other museum in town is the Franz Gertsch Museum of wood carving and modern art. Another rather surprising event is the biennial 10 day festival of Murder Mystery, called ‘Burgdorf Crime Days’, held in October in even-dated years. Would-be detectives can try their skills at over 50 events. Burgdorf has a Tourist Office on Bahnhofstrasse, at which you can find out about all the attractions.

Where to stay in Burgdorf
There are a number options for hotel accommodation. Hotel Orchidee has a good location right in town, although it does mean that nearby parking has to be paid for. There is a rooftop terrace on this hotel with great views, and breakfast is included in the room price. It has its own restaurant and the 15 rooms are described as ‘stylish’. If free parking is important to you, a little out of town there is the Landcafe mit Mini Hotel. All rooms have ensuite facilities and some have a terrace or balcony. There is a bar and restaurant. In the Old Town itself is the Hotel Stadthaus, an elegant 4-star establishment with its own restaurant and period furniture in the 18 rooms. It’s only a ten minute walk to the station from here. The 3-star Hotel Berchtold is in a much more modern building in the shopping quarter, and has its own parking garage. There is a nice glass-roofed atrium and a restaurant serving Mediterranean cuisine. There are 36 rooms here and it’s only 1 minute on foot to the station. Finally, if you would like to stay in a traditional farmhouse built in 1899 and you don’t mind being 8km (5 miles) out of town, Bühl 3 in the hills of Affoltern offers something different. The 2 rooms were renovated in 2012, and the bathroom is shared. There are great views of the surrounding hills, and guests are welcome to visit the animals on this working farm, and even to help with the milking! After that, a buffet breakfast is provided.

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