Ernst Christen, photographer and globetrotter on bicycle, grew up in Solothurn, the best city in Switzerland for baroque architecture. But he left it temporarily to visit the world’s most exotic destinations. He then wrote Buddhist handbooks, became a Buddhist forest-monk in Thailand, and even tried his hand as a meditation therapist in a mental hospital. Eventually, his love for Solothurn pulled him back home.
PHOTOS OF SOLOTHURN
These days, he focuses on the stunning landscapes and cityscapes of Solothurn and the nearby Jura Mountains and the Alpine landscapes to satisfy his yen for travel photography.
THE ENTIRE HISTORICAL CENTER OF SOLOTHURN IS PICTURESQUE, but I personally love Solothurn’s beautiful churches. The Roman Catholic St. Ursus Cathedral is the landmark of Solothurn and the MOST ICONIC BAROQUE STRUCTURE is definitely the Church of the Jesuits. It has impressive Italian-style stucco work and it’s been described as one of Switzerland’s nicest baroque buildings. This is real Italian grandeur.
WHEN I WANT TO IMMERSE MYSELF IN NATURE I head to the nearby Jura Mountains. There is a gondola lift up to the Weissenstein, a former health resort 1,284 meters above sea level. From Weissenstein there are many trekking tours through the Jura of canton Solothurn and to the Röti or the Hasenmatt. These are the two peaks with overwhelming panoramic views of the Alps. These peaks are best seen in autumn, by the way.
TO FULLY EXPERIENCE THE LAKES AROUND SOLOTHURN, take a boat from Solothurn to the Lake of Biel and further to Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Morat. The boats stop in all major places, each one worth a visit.
FOR A PANORAMIC VIEW OF SOLOTHURN, go up the tower of the St. Ursus Cathedral with your camera. It takes a while to climb the steep and narrow stairs, but the breathtaking view of the historical town. You will see the Jura Mountains and, if you are a little bit lucky, the whole panorama of the Swiss Alps. The best time to shoot outstanding photos from up there is in the morning or early afternoon.
The BEST PLACE TO HAVE A NICE MEAL at the Kreuz restaurant down by the river, offering many vegetarian dishes. Since 1973, this restaurant and guesthouse has been managed as an experimental cooperative. At the table for regulars, you might meet some of Switzerland’s most famous poets and writers.
For A ROMANTIC DINNER, HEAD TO the Roter Turm located at Solothurn’s market place. The restaurant has a rooftop terrace with a breathtaking view of the nested roofs of Solothurn. It is also one of our top gourmet places with 14 points in the Gault-Millau.
BEST PLACE TO EAT SOLOTHURN TORTE? Three pastry shops offer this local specialty: Suteria, Kafeehalle and Confiserie Hofer. Everyone has a different answer as to where to get the best one, so you have to find out by yourself. Of course the Solothurn torte should be enjoyed with good coffee.
Speaking of coffee in Solothurn, I like to sit at one of the many sidewalk cafés at the Marktplatz such as the restaurant of Hotel Wirthen or down at the Landhausquai at the river Aare, like Gassbar, and just watch what is going on around me.
FOR A TASTE OF THE “GREEN FAIRY,” HEAD TO the Grüne Fee, Switzerland’s first legal absinthe bar. It’s a very cozy place to hang out. Until a few years ago, absinthe, which was produced for ages in the French-speaking region of Swiss Jura, was banned in most European countries. But it survived “underground” for over a century.
To best ENJOY AN EVENING IN SOLOTHURN, I suggest a stroll along the river at the Aarequai or the Landhausquai. Locals enjoy the cozy Solheure with a lounge bar directly facing the riverbanks. For a more elegant ambiance, head to the rooftop bar of the Ramada Hotel for a stunning view over the river Aare and Solothurn’s old town.
FOR A NICE WALK, go out of the city to the St. Verena Gorge Hermitage in the middle of a beautiful forest. The legend of St. Verena, the first hermit there, goes back to the 4th century. You can still see one of the two chapels built in the 12th century.
MY FAVORITE WAY TO EXPLORE SOLOTHURN is by foot and bicycle. A bike ride along the river Aare is a beautiful nature experience. Meanwhile, the small village Altreu has Switzerland’s biggest population of the white storks. I also like going along the Aare river, where there are beautiful walkways and some pedestrian bridges to cross to the other side.
The BEST WAY TO LEARN MORE LOCAL HISTORY is via a guided city tour in the historical center of Solothurn. The local tourist office offers many different tours. Travelers can also borrow an iPad and go on exciting discovery tours through the historical and cultural heritage of Solothurn by themselves.
A WEEK-LONG PARTY IN SOLOTHURN
The Fasnacht in Solothurn is one of Switzerland’s oldest and most unique carnival traditions. For one week, usually in February, the whole city is transformed into a madhouse and parties are on 24/7.
The carnival starts early morning on Fat Thursday with a tradition called “Chesslete.” Hundreds of people dressed in white nightshirts and white caps gather on the Friedhofplatz. At exactly 5 AM, they start to make a hellish noise with cow bells and huge ratchets to chase away the winter. From then on, the city is in the hands of the carnival of fools until Ash Wednesday.
WHEN I WANT TO LISTEN TO A LIVE MUSICAL PERFORMANCE, I go to Kulturfabrik Kofmehl. International artists like Uriah Heep, Candy Dulfer, and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band sometimes play here. Several times a year, Chutz restaurant organizes Jazz Matinees on Sunday mornings. I also visit a classical concert either in Solothurn’s city theatre, Switzerland’s oldest theatre, or the big concert hall.
I USUALLY TAKE FIRST-TIME VISITORS TO SEE THE ALPS from the peak Hasenmatt in the Jura Mountains, which is 1,444 meters above sea level. It’s the highest spot in the canton of Solothurn. The peak is only accessible by trekking and the view is simply stunning. The best chance to see the full Alps panorama is from September to November.
Visit the Solothurn Arts Museum FOR AN AFTERNOON OF ART. They have one of the biggest and most precious collections in Switzerland, and this collection contains the works of artists such as Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso.
MY FAVORITE PIECE is “The Madmen Warder of Saint-Rémy” by Vincent van Gogh. Each winter the local publisher Rothus organizes Switzerland’s one and only Art-Supermarket where HIGH QUALITY CONTEMPORARY ART IS SOLD at affordable prices.