During the UK’s recent heatwave, the Thames has looked increasingly irresistible. One blazing afternoon at Thames Baths HQ we stumbled upon a film about river swimming in Bern and posted it on our Facebook page.
Swiss-Canadian swimmer Mel Schori, then got in touch and offered to share his adventures in Bern with us.
Mel grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada but has spent the last 12 years living in and exploring Switzerland so who better to talk us through it!
Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with countless amazing spots to relax during a visit. But when the temperature climbs to the high twenties and low thirties during the summer months, you’ll need a place to cool down. Luckily, the capital city of Bern offers one of the “coolest” summer experiences around, and one of the best ways to beat the heat on a hot day.
The Marzilibad, a public swimming area just behind the Swiss houses of parliament in the center of Bern, is the place to be. Just a few Swiss Francs will get you entry to this swimming area (which also includes lush lawns and beach volleyball) as well as a locker to leave your things. If you’ve ever been to Switzerland before, you’ll know that almost nothing is cheap, so the cost factor is an even bigger bonus.
Once your things are locked away, you are ready to go! You’ll walk towards the water and follow the flow of people walking up river, along a paved path. The excitement builds at this stage. You just can’t wait to jump in the water as you see hundreds of people, young and old, floating by, all looking like they wouldn’t trade this for the world. Some are swimming with the flow of the river to race back towards Marzilibad, maybe trying to catch up with a friend. Some lay on their backs and carelessly float along, while others enjoy “river props”, like inflatable unicorns, swans and giant slices of pizza.
Along the way, you’ll see bridges covered with young people, mostly teenagers, who wait patiently for a safe time to show off their patented back flip. If you have the nerve, go and join them, but no stress, no one will make fun of your simple tin soldier bridge jump if you aren’t an Olympic diver 🙂
After walking for a little while (it takes about 15-20 minutes), you’ll come to an opening where most people decide to enter the river. You’re so warm you just can’t wait to cool down, but keep in mind, Swiss lakes and rivers are filled with water which flows down from the mountains, so be prepared to get really cool, really quickly! The river temperature is usually around 20 degrees Celsius during the summer.
Once you’re in, just enjoy it, you’ll adapt to the temperature within about 30 seconds. Swim, splash, float, joke, smile and laugh. It’s an absolutely fantastic time. The river flow is pretty strong though, so be careful if you aren’t the best swimmer. After what seems like 10 minutes of so, you’ll reach the Marzilibad again. It’s well set up with lots of bars to grab when exiting the water. There are also multiple places to get out, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Just keep your eye on other swimmers so you don’t float too far.
As soon as you get out, you just can’t wait to do it again. But when you’re ready for a break, there is plenty of room to lay in the grass and work on your tan, or stroll over to find a drink or ice cream (my girlfriend Rachel’s favorite). On a hot summer day, spending a few hours at the Marzilibad can only be described as “living the dream!”
Mel Schori, Zurich
• open water swimming