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Taxis and trains don’t compare to the power of gentle rapids along Switzerland’s scenic River Aare – hardly any paddling required

My eyebrows shoot up as I look out from my hotel window, expecting a serene, flawless Swiss morning scene, and instead see two bare bums. It seems my travelling companions have crept out for an early dip in Lake Brienz, sans swimmers.

It’s certainly in the spirit of things. We’ve come to Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region to experience the great outdoors, so a skinny dip is only appropriate. And it’s the perfect day to be at one with nature. Lit up by the morning sun, the lake is so placid it reflects a mirror image of the mountains that loom on the opposite shore, verdant forests of green running down their flanks. 

It’s mountains such as these – including the famously mighty Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau – that give this tiny landlocked country its abundance of water. Lakes and rivers are swelled with glacial meltwater at this time of year, so while the Swiss may not have an ocean at their disposal, they do have the River Aare, a watery playground that offers a heap of activities.

With our swimmers firmly on, today we’re planning to float down the 30km stretch of the river that will takes us from the north-west tip of Lake Thun to Bern. This is a particularly popular section, says Ruedi Jaisli of Zurich-based activity company Swiss Trails, who has organised our trip. “The water here is extremely clear and pure, because the river passes through two lakes where all the sediments can settle so it becomes very clean, so much so that you could even drink it.”

What’s more, the two lakes warm up the glacial meltwater, meaning the water temperature on the Thun to Bern stretch can reach 24˚C in July and August. Consequently, the river is heaving with rafters and swimmers in summer, letting the naturally fast-flowing water (it runs at around 8km an hour) take them downstream with minimal effort – you don’t even need to paddle. 

“We bring our own inflatable boats, fill one with beers and supplies, tie them all together and drift downstream,” says 32-year-old Matt Radmore, an English expat living in Switzerland. “You can stop on the riverbank and have a barbecue, and go for a swim when you get too hot.” 

We don’t have our own raft, but Thun-based hire company Aare Bootsvermietung can help with that, and they also provide us with a barrel to keep our belongings dry. They even promise to collect the boat from Bern when we’re done, making this a hassle-free one-way trip. 

We hop in and let the vivid turquoise water start carrying us along. Looking back upstream, I can see the mountains where it came from, still impressively snowy even though it’s more than 20°C down here. 

Though this isn’t a white water river, the current is fast enough to provide a few thrills. At light rapids called the Uttiger Schnelle I shriek when I see the churning water to the left, like a washing machine on extra rinse. I quickly realise that steering isn’t my strong point, after being smacked by low-hanging branches on the riverbank.


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Floating on Aare: TNT takes a rafting holiday along Switzerland's scenic River Aare
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