The Gurtenfestival must be one of the most scenic music festivals in Europe, sited as it is on the top of Berne’s local mountain peak, the Gurten. The original Gurtenfestival, held back in 1977, was a Folk festival but it now regularly features more than 60 acts from pop and rock, punk, funk, soul, electro, R’n’B, hip hop, blues and country music. In addition to leading world performers on the Main Stage such as Oasis, Franz Ferdinand and Kings of Leon, the smaller Waldbuhne Stage features the very best of the Swiss music scene. There are altogether three stages and a similar number of Dance tents as well as lounges and a wonderful Chill Out bar that boasts superb views over the Bernese Alps.
As the Gurtenfestival is regarded by many regular festival goers as an indispensible part of their summer holiday – it is held in the middle of July each year – this really is one of the most relaxed and peaceful gatherings. Spread over four days, only about 16,000 people attend each of the days, which means that the intimate atmosphere which regulars love is still very much in evidence. The geographical nature of the site itself means that the numbers can never really grow much more.
The village site of the Gurtenfestival is another reason for its enormous popularity. As well as the usual market stalls, food outlets, shower and toilet facilities, there is a laundrette, hairdresser, masseur and even a Breakfast Bar. This festival is so laid back it even has a Breakfast delivery service straight to your tent, if that’s what you want! Because of the limited space on the wooded hill, however, only two-person igloo tents are allowed on the site itself and the days when people could stake a claim for a place in the woods have also gone now for Health and Safety reasons.
Access to the Gurtenfestival is only possible by means of a funicular railway, the Gurtenbahn; unless you are very fit and can manage the climb on foot. Possession of a festival ticket entitles you to free transport by tram, bus or train to the festival site and, in addition, free use of the shuttle bus from the parking area in nearby Wabern to the Gurtenbahn. If you are driving here it is imperative to use the specified parking area as there is none available in the neighbourhood of the festival itself.
Berne itself has easy, direct rail links with the airports at both Geneva and Zurich, as well as being easily accessible from all over Switzerland – either by car or train. There is a local airport which, in the summer of 2009, had regular Flybe connections with Manchester, Birmingham and Southampton and Hamburg International flights to and from Gatwick.
Leaving aside the festival itself, Berne is a city well worth spending time in. It’s largely medieval centre, a World Heritage Site, has the famous clock tower with moving puppets, a majestic 15th century cathedral, what is claimed to be the longest covered shopping arcade in Europe (over 3 miles of it) and even a bear pit.
The Gurtenfestival is a lively, happy modern music festival, featuring top names playing in a glorious setting in a picturesque city. Check out the official website for the full programme and ticket information.