Solothurn has an illustrious past that many do not know about. And it does have quite a quirky character, too. During our recent getaway to this gem of a town, we found out all the secrets during a city tour. But apart from its history, there are many more reasons to visit Solothurn, the town by the River Aare. Here are eleven of the best tips to make your visit perfect.
1. Before you do anything else, go straight to the Stadtrösterei for some artisanal coffee!
Listen up, fellow coffeeholics: After you arrive at the train station, follow your sense of smell down Hauptbahnhofstrasse. There, on a corner, you will find the Stadtrösterei Solothurn. This bakery café not only offers fresh breads and pastries, but is also home to an artisanal coffee roastery.
Bernhard Mollet, the brain behind this store-in-store concept, invites us to try his popular single origins. Today, he is here with his master barista, Panos Megalessis (on the right). But before we get to slurp our way from Africa to Guatemala, Panos explains the philosophy behind artisanal roasting. The official coffee flavor wheel helps us to verbalize what our taste buds are screaming.
Who knew that coffee can have up to 800 different flavors when grown, processed, stored and roasted just right? (That's in contrast to wine which can have up to 400 flavors.) In order to maintain the highest possible bean quality, the Stadtrösterei works with various coffee farmers who provide only the top of the crop. We love what is unfolding on our pallets with every sip, and we will surely be back for more Joe!
Open Tuesdays through Fridays from 9:30 AM to noon, as well as from 1:00 to 5:30 PM.
2. Pick up a free map at the tourist office and take a stroll through the Baroque old town.
Once you are done with your coffee, simply continue the street you came on and cross the River Aare. A bit up the hill by the St. Ursen cathedral, you will find the local tourism office. Equipped with a map, you will be ready to explore the charming old town.
This is an appropriate moment to let you in on a little secret. Solothurn has this weird thing with the number 11. Apparently, it all started as a coincidence as there happened to be exactly eleven city gates, eleven fountains or eleven churches.
In more modern times, Solothurners started to play with this heritage. Once you know about this, it comes to no surprise that there are eleven museums or store discounts of 11%... Our tour guide will later inform us that in Solothurn, eggs are sold as a pack of 11 - plus one boiled egg!
3. Climb the steps to the cathedral and peek inside. Depending on the season, you can climb the dome to soak in the views.
The St. Ursen cathedral is located right next to the tourism office. We dare you to climb the stairs and keep count... At the entrance of this limestone basilica, you will notice a decoration showing the patron saints of Solothurn, Ursus and Victor. Oh, and the construction of this masterpiece took - 11 years! If you stand on the 11th stone painted in black, you will be able to see all 11 altars. As for the 11 bells, can you tell them apart when they chime at 11 o'clock?!?
And from April through the end of October, you will have the chance to go to the top of the basilica's dome. The views from up there reminded us of the cathedral of Florence, Italy!
4. You will likely walk by the oldest building of Solothurn, the clock tower.
Founded by the Celts and expanded by the Romans, Solothurn has maintained an important position throughout history. During the Reformation when many city states turned Protestant, Solothurn stayed Catholic and was home to French ambassadors. In short, the town was doing very well and most everyone inside the city walls was wealthy. Even today as we wander the streets, we can feel this vibe of nobility. Can you, too?
Solothurn's oldest structure from the 12th century is an eye-catcher, and you will surely pass it at one point. The Zytglogge shares its name with the famous bell tower in Bern. Upon closer inspection, you will notice the astronomical clock which was added in the 16th century.
5. If you're there on a Wednesday or Saturday, you must be in the middle of the weekly farmers' market.
Vendors from the region sell seasonal produce and vegetables, as well as honey, meat, cheese, flowers and rarities such as mistletoe. We love the feel of this farmers' market and end up spending more time and money than we had anticipated. At one booth, we find an amazing selection of organic tea blends - some ready to taste, others available to smell.
For the locals, the Solothurn Märet is the place to see and be seen. It takes place throughout the year on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:15 AM to 12:15 PM.
6. Check out Switzerland's oddest clock.
Briefly exit the old town through the Bieltor gate. Along the side of the UBS branch, you will notice an odd looking clock. Along the theme of "eleven", this clock features only eleven hours! And if you can time it just right, you will be able to witness the performance of the Solothurn tune at 11 AM, 12 PM, 5 PM or 6 PM...
7. Time for lunch! The Zunfthaus zu Wirthen serves the typical white wine soup.
Back in the old town, find the traditional eatery for Solothurn's guilds. The Zunfthaus zu Wirthen near the bell tower is a beautifully maintained restaurant and hotel. There is lots of woodwork adorning the walls and ceilings.
And the menu offers something for everyone, from flatbreads to pasta with mushroom sauce. As an appetizer, we order the traditional Solothurn white wine soup - or as the locals call it, Soledurner Wysüppli.
8. In the middle of the old town, there is a booth that sells roasted chestnuts.
As a dessert or snack in between, treat yourself with a pouch of roasted chestnuts. For 180 years, the same family has been hawking chestnuts from the iconic house on Marktplatz by the bell tower. During the cold seasons, the old town would not be the same without the Cheschtele-Muni and his healthy nuts.
9. Kunstsupermarkt is an art gallery for the masses. (Yes, we're looking at you!)
"Art makes people happy." This (true) statement is from Peter-Lukas Meier, the founder and curator of Kunstsupermarkt. We are visiting the 18th edition of his "supermarket for art", a sort of warehouse featuring lots and lots of affordable art on several floors. The intention is to bring art to the masses, so the styles vary from hyper realistic pencil drawings to more classical oil paintings.
Each year, Mr. Meier and his team receive hundreds of applications from local, national and international artists. This time around, some 65 Swiss artists have made the cut, plus international talents from 11 other countries. (Is this a coincidence?) Many of them are young, but all of them are required to produce no less than 40 exclusive works to be sold during the exhibition. According to Mr. Meier, many of the art buyers are equally young first-timers who feel a sense of pride to own something original.
In line with the Kunstsupermarkt policy, all works must be originals, signed and dated by the artist. For those with a fat wallet who like to support a hungry artist, XXL sized wall art is also available. "In total, we expect to sell about 3000 pieces by January," says Mr. Meier. "Remember that this exhibition is alive: The gallery changes daily as we swap out pieces or replenish the exhibit from the artworks in our storage."
Quite an uncommon move for the art business is the Kunstsupermarkt's fix pricing structure. Each work of art is either 99 francs, 199 francs, 399 francs or 599 francs.
Find your own piece of art a Kunstsupermarkt, open daily through Jan 7, 2018, at the Rothus on Schöngrünstrasse 2.
10. This goes without saying: Finish your day with a local Oufi Beer! (Can you guess what "oufi" stands for?)
11. It's the eleventh hour and time for us to say goodbye to Solothurn. But before we head to the train station, we make one more circuit through the old town to marvel at the cathedral. What a beautiful town - we will be back for more!