Bears. This charming hotel cannot be called anything else. It' not that I have travelled to a region or country where the shaggy furry animals roam free. But you encounter the Bernese heraldic animal at every turn in this two-century-old, lovingly restored half-timbered house. Be it as a sculpture in front of the entrance, as a painting or drawing on the walls inside, or on the menu. The bears are definitely loose here in Sugiez, a small winegrowing village on Lake Murten.
The hosts, Dominique Egli, is a full-blooded restaurateurs who - after a few years of changing industries in social settings and in a Comestible business - found hisway back to their purpose. He runs the eight-room hotel, but his presence is so intense, one wonders if he ever leaves the house. "Yes, it is important for us to be able to take a break once in a while, to enjoy the wonderful surroundings, or to visit winemaker friends. At the moment we are very challenged, finding good staff is becoming more and more demanding. But since we both have an immensely broad experience in all areas of the hotel business, we can replace any position with our own efforts at short notice, fortunately!" And the fact that they also enjoy doing it is abundantly clear to see and also to feel. The welcome is warm, and until I leave the house again after two days, I am looked after, fed and accommodated in the best possible way.
The hotel is located directly on the Broye Canal, the stop for the boat to Neuchâtel or even Biel is only a few steps away. The ship is huge, it stops only for me and I enjoy the ride along the canal into Lake Neuchâtel on the front deck. The journey is so relaxing, I nod off briefly and am kindly woken up by the staff in Neuchatel, please get off. I return later by train, with enough time in between for the rapid, steep ride on the city funicular to the upper town, a visit to the Dürrenmatt Centre and the botanical garden, both situated high above the lake.
The terrace at the Bären is already well frequented, in French-speaking Switzerland the aperitif time starts soon after lunch, at least that's how it seems to me. Sympathetic! Tenant Egli attaches great importance to a large selection of local wines, Mont Vully is more or less the local mountain and so are the beautiful vineyards along this well-known excursion spot. The next day, in the neighbouring village of Praz, I visit the winery of Marylène Bovard-Chervet, who, together with her husband, makes excellent wines here at the Château de Praz. Like many other young winemakers who continue their parents' businesses, their philosophy is different from that of their ancestors. Quality comes strictly before quantity; the rather uniform Chasselas and Pinot Noir wines of the past are a thing of the past. Production is deliberately kept small, selection is strict, only the best grapes make it into the wine.
The winemaker has a clear idea of how her wine should be bottled: As dry as possible and one variety, one wine. "You can't find the nuances in each variety if you blend different grape varieties. This is much easier to understand, even for laymen, and that's why our wines are so popular. And they are also very culinary, which means they go very well with the cuisine in this region".
This could be the extremely famous Gâteau de Vully, a yeast cake that is doused thickly with cream, but is also offered in salty versions by every baker in the region. Or even a risotto. Who would have known that risotto rice is grown here in the surrounding area? And the area is also known for rhubarb, it is considered the largest cultivation area of the spring herb. But asparagus and morels are also offered in abundance at the weekly markets, everything regional.
Back at the Bären, I get directed to my seat in the rustic bistro section. Which suits me much better than the hotel's elegant fine-dining restaurant, which I save for a later visit - perhaps with company. I put the choice of my meal in the expert hands of chef Frédéric Duvoisin, who is said to have 13 Gault Millau points; I think he deserves more. His cuisine is based on classic French cuisine, all sauces, stocks and other basic preparations are homemade, everything is seasonal and cooked with local products. The snails from a farm in the neighbouring village are served in an emulsion of garden-fresh peas; I have never eaten better of these animals, which are often ignored. Fortunately, fish is a constant theme on the menu. Professional fisherman Pierre Schaer stops at the landing with his boat and currently delivers freshly caught pike-perch and pike.
A huge terrace behind the hotel is being made summer-ready for festivities such as weddings and banquets. Next door, a former kiosk from Zentralplatz in Biel, which was to be demolished, has been rebuilt and now functions as a fumoir.
I enjoy the wine from Château de Praz, competently served course after course by Angela, the attentive fairy in the restaurant. My gaze falls on the metal tubes embedded in the side of the back seat opposite, from which the worn, wooden handles of the newspaper clips peek out. I wonder what they have seen over the decades.
Tired and happy, I later sink into the extremely comfortable, large bed in the spacious room and am delighted by the wonderful bed linen, something that is no longer taken for granted in the hotel industry.