Chocolate box houses and sparkly snow-topped mountains, a winter visit to Bern in Switzerland offers plenty of scope for a short shopping break or a family sightseeing trip.

Bern is manageable to walk around, just pick up a map in the tourist information office next to the station, or book a bike or audio tour. One way of seeing the city is to follow the trail of elaborately decorated 16th Century fountains. There are 26 in total, each with its own story to tell, but warn the little ones to watch out for The Ogre or Child Eater in the Kornhausplatz, who has an infant crammed in his mouth and other victims waiting in his sack.

For inspiration there’s the incredibly informative Einstein museum detailing the life and works of the great thinker and Paul Klee Centre, which chronologically charts the career of the artist, including his graphic design work and involvement with The Bauhaus Movement.

For a bite to eat, there are typical fondue halls some offering a spot of yodelling in the evenings. For a traditional Bern dining experience try the 350-year-old Klötzlikeller or head to the fashionable Kornhauskeller. There’s no shortage of cafés for pastries but if you fancy something more substantial, try a Berner platte: slow-cooked meats such as ham, bacon and pork, served with sauerkraut, green beans and potatoes or opt for rösti, a dish that originated in Bern, consisting of pan-fried shredded potatoes, mixed with onions, butter and chunks of bacon or cheese.

No trip to Bern would be complete without paying a visit to the BearPark, which opened last October. In November last year, a man managed to drop down into the park’s enclosure and was attacked by Finn, the male bear who was trying to defend his territory. Finn was wounded, as police made a bid to rescue the intruder, but thankfully the bear has been able to remain in the park. His mate, Björk gave birth to two female bear cubs last December. The cubs, Berna and Ursina will remain in the park with their mum until 2012.

The tradition of keeping live bears in the city began after the Battle of Novara in 1513. The victorious Bernese brought home a live bear that they held in captivity in the city moat near the Bear’s Square (Bärenplatz). The bear has been the heraldic symbol of Bern ever since. Bears were later held in Bear Pits (Bärengraben), the last of which was built in 1857, near the Nydeggbrücke. Empty now, it can be viewed from the BearPark.

Bears are popular in literature with Winnie-The-Pooh, Rupert Bear and Paddington topping the charts, but let’s not forget Mary Plain.

Mary was the creation of children’s author Gwynedd Rae, who told of the adventures of this spirited little creature in her books which were popular from the 1930s through to the ‘70s. The first book Mostly Mary, introduced us to the little orphaned bear, who lived in the bear pits in Bern with her aunts, grandmother and cousins.

Today, the bears don’t live in pits and clearly enjoy their open-plan surroundings, which include caves, slopes and a river to swim and wash in. The park is free to enter and is open daily. Stop off at the adjacent Altes Tramdepot Brauerei to sample the on-site microbrewery.

Outside the city, the Westside shopping centre ( offers a host of shops, a cinema and Bernaqua, a family friendly water park featuring giant slides, river pools and a host of spa facilities to choose from.

During December, Bern will be all aglitter with seasonal produce and entertainment for the Christmas markets, held as usual at the Waisenhausplatz until December 29 and at the Münsterplatz until December 24. There are festively decorated and individually designed wooden huts brimming with candles, gifts and handmade souvenirs, plus stalls selling snacks and a warming glass of glühwein.

Other notable dates are the European Figure Skating Championship in January, 2011 and Bern Carnival, which takes place annually in March.

Fly to Zurich and Geneva and take the train to Bern or by Eurostar from St Pancras via Paris and Lausanne.

The Swiss Flexi Pass can be used on non-consecutive days for up to one month on most public transport with discounts off mountain trains, free access to museums and children from six to 15 years travel free on a Family Card with a parent.

For discounts on train travel/hotel accommodation go to:

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