Biel (German), French Bienne, town, Bern canton, northwestern Switzerland. It lies at the northeastern end of Lake Biel (Bieler See), northwest of Bern city. Of Celtic origin (Belenus) and inhabited in Roman times, the town dates from the 11th century and was chartered in 1275. It was for centuries under the jurisdiction of the prince-bishops of Basel. In 1279 (permanently in 1352) it made alliance with Bern. Seized by the French in 1798, it became part of Bern canton in 1815. Situated on the language boundary, Biel’s population is two-thirds German-speaking and one-third French-speaking. It is the only officially bilingual town in Switzerland.
Biel’s medieval landmarks include the late Gothic town church of St. Benedict (1451; restored 1775), with fine 15th-century stained glass, and the town hall (1534). The Schwab Museum has a collection of artifacts from the lake pile dwellings of the La Tène (Iron Age) period. The town’s chief industries are watchmaking and the manufacture of chains and machinery.
The town of Biel, the metropolis of Swiss watchmaking, lies at the eastern end of Lake Biel, at the foot of the Jura in the delightful Lake Region. The charm of bilingualism, the intact old town and its location as the gateway to the three peripheral Jura lakes (Lakes Biel, Neuchâtel and Murten) make the town an attractive starting point, but also a destination for excursions.
Biel is the only town in Switzerland in which German and French are spoken side by side in equal measure. One senses the relaxed mentality here resulting from the mixture of these two languages. In 2002, Biel was one of the four exhibition locations for EXPO.
Architecturally, Biel is a town of many facets. The modern part of the city with its high-rise buildings lies at lake level which then gives way, on a slight incline, to the intact old town with its gothic town church stemming from the 15th century. In 2004, Biel was awarded the Wakker Prize by the Swiss Heritage Society for the exemplary manner in which it conserved its, in part, outstanding stock of 20th century buildings. Examples can be found in the new town, where uniform districts built in the ‘new construction’ style came into being in the 1920s and ‘30s.
The town of Biel is a tradition-imbued watch metropolis in which this Swiss craft is still fostered. Swatch, Rolex, Omega, Tissot, Movado and Mikron are all located here. Biel has additionally also positioned itself in the field of other industries and in communication. Its location makes the town an attractive gateway to the excursion and holiday region around Lakes Biel, Neuchâtel and Murten – also known as the “Three Lakes Region” – with vineyards on the hillsides and extensive vegetable cultivation on the level areas. The options for rambling and cycling excursions are huge. In Ligerz, the viticulture museum and a wine trail serve to draw visitors. Several attractive mediaeval small towns like Nidau, Twann, La Neuveville and Erlach are well worth an excursion.
In summer, it is possible to travel on various routes along the lakes onboard scheduled passenger boats; the day trip through all three peripheral Jura lakes is especially popular. Naturally all types of water sport are also pursued on the lakes.
From the town on the linguistic divide, it is only a stone’s throw to the lush green, hilly landscape of the Jura with its broad forests and wonderful vantage points, as well as the sportsperson’s Mecca of Magglingen above Biel, and the Chasseral (1607m).
* Biel old town – an intact old town with a beautiful town hall, gothic town church dating from the 15th century, various fountains and beautiful signposts.
* Centre PasquArt – a very attractive art museum for contemporary sculpture, graphic art and photography; renovated in 2000 and extended with a new building designed by Basle architects Diener & Diener.
* Aare trip – a leisurely and romantic river trip from Biel to the most beautiful baroque city in Switzerland, Solothurn. En route, one floats past the small town of Büren and the Altreu stork colony.
* Lake Biel and Petersinsel (Peter’s Isle) – the idyllic peninsula on which the renowned philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau was said to have experienced ‘veritable happiness’ lies at the western end of the lake. Rousseau’s former residence, a monastery, today houses a famous hotel-restaurant.
* Aarberg – a historic small town on the Aare channel, mediaeval market spots encircling the large market square, late gothic church and timber bridge dating from the 15th century. Top Events
* Biel ‘Braderie’ – the largest festival in Biel and the surrounding area: this colourful summer festival with a market, tombola and concerts has taken place for over 70 years. The origin of the festival lies in the economic plight of Biel in around 1930 (June).
* Lake Biel Festival – joyous summer’s night festival in Biel with snack stands, bars and a huge firework display (July).
* Biel ‘Altstadtchilbi’ (old town fair) – 150 shops, market sellers and associations and a diverse entertainment programme provide for an excellent atmosphere (August).
* Lake Biel vintage festivals – highly traditional vintage festivals such as the Trüelete in Twann, and the Läsetsunntig in Erlach (September/October).
* International Old Time Jazz Meeting – renowned international festival for traditional jazz in Biel (November).
* Biel Christmas market – numerous stands and atmospheric Christmas illuminations at the largest Christmas market of the region (December).
* “Aarberger Puce” – flea and antiquity market, now with 250 dealers: one of the largest and most atmospheric markets for second-hand articles in Switzerland (April & August).
How to get there
* approx. 30 minutes from Bern (direct connection, approx. every 30 minutes)
* approx. 1 hour 15 minutes from Zürich (direct approx, approx. all 30 minutes)
* approx. 1 1/2 hours from Zürich Airport (approx. every 30 minute / every hour direct connection Zürich Airport – Biel)
* approx. 1 hour from Basel (direct connection every hour)
* approx 1 1/2 hours from Geneva (direct connection, every hour)
* Autobahn A1 from Zürich, from Solothurn Autobahn A5, exit Biel-Bienne
* Autobahn A2 from Basel to Egerkingen, A1 to Solothurn, A5 to Ausfahrt Biel-Bienne
* Autobahn/Amotorway A6 from Bern up to Biel-Bienne
* Autobahn A1 from Geneva, via Lausanne, from Yverdon A5 via Neuenburg to Biel-Bienne.
Other/Air: Airline access to the international Airports of Zürich, Bern, Geneva and Basel.