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On the shore of beauty

Published Sep. 13, 2005

Sitting on a stone in a secluded corner by the side of a little, old church atop the rocky highland, we gazed at Lake Bienne below and the Alps in the distance. The silence was broken only by the breeze rustling through willows. Soul-soothing scenery.

We had set our hearts to visit the place the moment we saw the picture of this lovely church in a Rolex calendar above this caption: Lake Bienne, Bern Canton.

From Brussels, my wife and I took the overnight train to Bern with the thought that from there we would be able to locate our dream destination.

But the 10-hour train journey, even in first class, was nightmarish, with six passengers in a small compartment. A young American couple with heavy backpacks and a shady European character were with us, though they confessed they didn't have first-class tickets. We passed the night talking with the Americans.

At dawn, bleary and weary, we got down at Bern and inquired at the tourist office how to go to Lake Bienne. Our enthusiasm almost ebbed when we were told of two more short train rides, with a change at Biel.

After this tiresome journey, we were restored by the sight of a picturesque landscape as we neared Twann, tucked between Lake Bienne and vineyards. It is a hamlet in Bern Canton.

From the small railway station, we went to Hotel Fontana, where our reservation for a double room was $100, including a sumptuous buffet breakfast. Two hotels, Fontana and Baren, are almost adjacent and overlook the lake.

In the afternoon, we went out to see the old church. Its steeple, outlined against the mountain and lake, can be seen from Twann. There are three choices to go to Ligerz where the church is _ by boat, train or on foot. It is nearly 3 miles from Twann. Ferryboats frequently crisscross the confluence of the three large lakes _ Bienne, Neuchatel and Murtensee _ carrying passengers from one lakeside village to the other.

We took a ferry to Ligerz and then by cable car found the steep trail to the church. It is known as Ligerz Church. With our Eurailpass, we did not have to pay the boat or cable car fares.

Because of its superb, scenic setting, many couples get married at this church. It is heavily booked by people from all over Switzerland and even from Germany. A wedding was in progress when we were at the church.

Later, we took a leisurely cruise on the lakes. The steamer stopped at various villages, with passengers getting on and off. We landed at St. Peter's Isle, situated in the middle of the lake around wine-producing villages. Here lived the great philosopher Rousseau, who referred to time spent here as the happiest of his life. His former house is now a monastery, a small hotel and a good restaurant.

We strolled the neat, narrow streets of Twann, inhaling the crisp air, far from the crowds and pollution of big cities. Twann, the biggest village in that area, has water fountains at every street corner and boasts a bakery, a small grocery and a few restaurants. At Alten Schweizer, we had a tasty supper of grilled fish called fera, which is caught in the lake.

Besides biking, boating, climbing and hiking, the ideal pastime for those who seek quiet and solitude is to sit amid multicolored flowers on the shore of Lake Bienne, savoring its pristine beauty. It is a perfect place for rest, relaxation and reflection.

Freelance writer Ghulam Malik lives in Lakeland.