***Solothurn itself doesn’t have a lot of obvious charm has a lovely historic center surrounded by significant city walls, a great castle, and lots of hiking. It took us three visits to get far enough into the city to find the nicer parts  – do make the effort. From 1530 to 1792 it was the seat of the French ambassador to Switzerland. The pedestrian-only old town was built during this period, and shows an impressive array of Baroque architecture, combining Italian Grandezza, French style, and Swiss ideas. The town has eighteen structures listed as heritage sites.

There’s a surprising wealth of dining options and museums, including:

  • ***Salzhaus is Swiss with a fine dining twist, and occasionally an Asian-inspired menu. The dining room is elegant, wine list very good, and the food was excellent.
  • The ***Museum Altes Zeughaus (old arsenal museum) is impeccably curated, large collection of armaments organized historically, with videos of loading and firing arms from different periods. Galen says “fabulous.”
  • **Museum of Nature is for small children – on the boring side for adults, but it looked very popular with the 2-6 year old set.
  • *Kunstmuseum Solothurn is very small, though with a few nice pieces. It’s a 15 minute visit and I’d skip if you have to pay (it’s frequently free though, worth checking).

We liked our hotel, **La Couronne, right next to the cathedral. It claims to be the second oldest hotel in Switzerland (celebrated its 600th anniversary in 2018), though the building only dates to the 1700s. It’s well run and elegant. The hotel and five restaurants in town (including Salzhaus) are under common management; one of the larger employers of the area. The restaurant was formal, french-swiss classics, and good – though not quite as good as Salzhaus.

Within 20 minutes walk or so up the hill, you’ll also find – 

  • **Blumenstein Museum, the historical museum of the city, outside the walls  and on the odd side, but rather charming in spite of the oddness (or perhaps because of it?). The interior is under construction at the moment and the collection is rather jumbled. A former summer residence, the interiors date back to the 1720s.
  • **Waldegg Castle, built in the local Turmlihaus style, incorporating elements of the French and Italian Baroque. It’s fairly sparse inside, but the building itself and the gardens are impressive.
  • The charming ***Verena Gorge Hermitage, The hermitage, inhabited by a forest brother or a hermit, has been located near the northern exit of the Verena Gorge for hundreds of years (we saw the current hermit – a friendly man who speaks English). It’s a well maintained and peaceful walk – in the north the gorge opens into a clearing with the two baroque chapels and the hermitage. Saint Verena is said to have lived and worked in the cave behind the Martinskapelle. 

The town is surrounded by numerous industrial parks. They’re doing a good job of capitalizing on this – to the East Attisholz Areal, while a work in progress, is an impressive arts & entertainment space. Just across the water we really like ***1881 Cantine, which has a burger-centric menu and nails the luxury-industrial-Brooklyn vibe. There’s also swimming right out the back door.

To the west, there’s a large and rather nice swimming area in the summer, with nearby food trucks and showers/changing rooms. There’s also ferry service towards Neuchatel, which looks like a pleasant activity on a nice day.

We like ​​**Restaurant Sternen Kriegstetten on the outskirts of Solothurn – an easy stop from the freeway. It’s elegant and slightly corporate (popular for events/conferences), but the food is very good and it’s a nice stop in a long stretch of freeways.

We’ve taken numerous bike rides around Solothurn (**Mittelland Route, Stage 4 from Solothurn to Aarau (relatively flat, pleasant, largely along the Aare river), and **Mittelland Route, Stage 5 from Ins to Solothurn (a slightly prettier ride, less industrial, through the countryside)). Leaving town, the trail starts to get scenic at Wangen an der Aare (old wooden covered bridge) and continues through reclaimed parkland with a large eagle population. Olten is a bit run down, with a few nice buildings but largely filled with fast food and chain stores. It does have an excellent cat statue by the covered bridge.

Aarau (Canton Aargau) is quite attractive, worth another visit to explore.Back towards Neuchatel, Erlach is especially charming. Tiny ***Altreau, the “European Stork Village,” has dozens of stork nests. They were packed with babies when we rode through at the end of April.

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