A Half Day in St. Ursanne (with kids)

“Hey, Cameron.  You realize that if we played by the rules right now we’d be in gym?”

It was our second Friday in Switzerland and that scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off kept playing in my head.  Still adjusting to a year-long sabbatical, I had a feeling I was getting away with something.  Perhaps, Ed Rooney was going to track me down and put me in detention for ditching my career.  I had seen a thread on the Basel Expats Facebook group that suggested day trips within an easy train ride from Basel.  A tiny town called St. Ursanne had come up a couple times as a suggestion.  It sounded intriguing:  medieval city that time forgot, complete with the cobblestone streets and a wall.  I had never heard of it and neither had most tourists, so we rounded up the kids and got them on a train.  An hour later, we arrived at the train station, which sits above the city.  While we were getting our bearings, the bus we should have taken down to the city left without us.  The walk down the cobblestone road was about a half-mile, certainly doable, even with two kids complaining about how much their legs hurt and begging to be carried.  About half way down, a path into the woods appeared with a sign toward a hermitage that we had read about and wanted to see.

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Off the beaten path above St. Ursanne

So, we veered off the road and up a forested path into the hills (childrens’ cries of leg pain intensify at this point – funny how they never complain of leg pain when they are running and jumping through the house).  We soon noticed that signage was used sparingly around here and, until we came across two other English-speaking hikers, weren’t sure if we were heading in the right direction.  They assured us we were.  Long story short, we never did find the hermitage, but did have an enjoyable walk in the woods and ended up in a nice French-speaking man’s backyard, but in St. Ursanne, nonetheless.

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St. Peter’s gate, built in 1522

The town is small and easily walkable.  On this Friday afternoon, it was nearly abandoned.  We walked in and toured the old church without seeing a soul.

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Narrow alleys, tiny houses and cobblestone streets

We were charmed by the quaint vibe of this medieval village.  OK, the adults were charmed, the kids wanted to eat lunch.  We found a park bench and had a nice picnic on the edge of town.  Later, we saw a better spot with more picnic benches on the banks of the river Doubs for next time.

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Excuse us whilst we take our picture in front of your impossibly narrow house

The architecture was fascinating, with tiny houses crammed in between larger ones, a bridge dating back to the 18th century, two churches, a cloister, and many shops and restaurants.  There are even a few hotels for those who want to explore the region or attend the annual medieval festival in July.  There were some construction workers replacing major sections of the cobblestone streets, which was sort of cool to see. Jana had a different reaction saying, “If these streets are a thousand year’s old, what are the odds they’d be doing this today?” Perhaps the streets are not as old as we thought.

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Our English-speaking hiker friends not only help with directions, they take pictures, too

Our total time in the city was about 3 hours, including the hike in through the forest.  Those without small, impatient children could easily spend a day here.  As we reached the end of the town, a light rain began to fall.  We had, once again, missed our bus back up the hill to the train station.  So, we huffed it back up double-time, carrying two tired kids.

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