I am a pushover when it comes to murder mysteries, detective stories, thrillers and suspense novels, not to mention strategy games. I just can’t resist them and neither can my kids. Hiking, on the other hand, has not always been the thrill for our children that it is for my husband and me. During the autumn vacation weeks we have usually endeavored to explore Switzerland by foot – not an easy task with primary-age children and moaning teenagers. Then again, I like a challenge, and have enjoyed finding ways of piquing my kids’ curiosity and encouraging enthusiasm.
As it has turned out over the years, one of our favorite hikes is the route from Magglingen, near Biel, to Twannberg, with a descent down the Twann Creek Gorge (Twannbachschlucht) to the medieval village of Twann. This is followed by either a boat ride or train ride back to Biel. This isn’t just a fantastic walk through fall foliage and vineyards ripe with grapes; it is also the setting of one of the most famous murder mystery novels by the renowned Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt! The novel Der Richter und sein Henker was written in 1950 (English version in 1954, entitled The Judge and His Hangman). It was made into a film called The End of the Game (1975), directed by Maximilian Schell.
A mysterious man dressed in a tuxedo is seen near the Twannbachschlucht. He is murdered and his corpse is found at the village entrance to the gorge. The story is about the police commissioner Hans Baerlach, who undertakes a manhunt to trap a criminal mastermind. The small village world and at times petty individuals are also showcased. The scenery descriptions and cultural values of Twann and the village of Lamboing, situated near the Lake of Biel (Twann lies on the lake), come to life in this novel. I won’t say anything more about the classic murder mystery, because that would spoil it for you!
If your children attend Swiss schools they will most certainly read Dürrenmatt anytime between the sixth class and middle school years, depending on the canton and school level. But even if you have not read the book, the wild mysterious beauty of the Twannbachschlucht is an ideal setting for curious creative minds who might get some amazing ideas for their own stories or games. We have enjoyed this hike multiple times.
Our walking trip begins in Biel with a cogwheel train ride up to Magglingen, a climb of about 450 meters. Both general train passes and half-fare train passes are accepted and the ride takes about 10 minutes. Once you exit the train you head toward the Twannberg or Twannbergschlucht (see the yellow hiking trail signs), passing a sport hotel and college that is the training setting for the Swiss Soccer League and many Olympic athletes. On a clear day you will have a breathtaking view of the lake and Mont Blanc and Pilatus mountain peaks (just head over to the terrace of the Sport Hotel) before you walk into the forest.
When we were there this autumn, someone had bent the yellow direction shields, so these usually-helpful signs were not accurate! I suggest you take an app or a map with you, or, when in doubt, take the path that climbs upward. You will climb continuously into the forest for about four kilometers up to the Twannberg plateau. You can take a break at the Twannberg hotel, which has a beautiful panoramic view and a cafeteria. The hike leads you through the village of Gaicht, where you can decide to follow the way downward to the Twann creek gorge or take the street and Chrosweg along a small creek, to Twann.
We have taken both ways, and we all prefer the mysterious infamous Twannbergschlucht path. The gorge is cloaked in green and a waterfall flows rapidly and chaotically downward. There is a stone bridge with rails and overhanging boulders so characteristic of the Jura Mountains. Needless to say – what a setting for suspense! Maybe you and your kids can plan the criminal’s getaway route into the mountains or the detective’s hunt for clues. Continue down the gorge, exiting into the vineyards near Twann, where the fictitious murdered victim from the Dürrenmatt’s novel was found. Follow your view down to the small village of Twann, which is worth a visit in itself.
This area of Switzerland is known for wine, and we saw a many wine houses as we walked through the village. If you have time, enjoy lunch in the village – they serve local freshwater fish and wine, of course. We have eaten at different restaurants and picnicked on warm days. There is a nice playground for children on the lakeside and a place to enter the lake and swim on sunny days. This year the Twann Winzerfest, or wine festival, will be held from the evening of October 21st through the 23rd of October and will include a local craft market and a spectacular fountain of wine.
This is an off-the-beaten-track moderate hike of 11 km, which is a classic walk for Swiss hikers. I have never met English-speaking tourists on this path but have encountered French and Scandinavian tourists in the past. Children five and older can hike this trail, if they are used to walking. Do, however, be careful in the gorge, because there is the possibility of rocks falling; the last major slide was in July of 2012. The trails are very well maintained. Hiking boots are appropriate and make sure you have a jacket, because it can be windy on the plateau and misty in the gorge.
Text by Dr. Teresa Bingham Mueller
Teresa is a geologist and educator who currently works as an instructor and science editor. She has three sons ages 18, 21, and 34, and two grandchildren.
Photos by Daniel Mueller