South of Berne, in the shadow of the Bernese Alps, in footballing terms Thun has made its presence felt over the last decade or so. Flagship club FC Thun have embarked upon four European campaigns since their surprise debut in the Champions League in 2005.
That autumn, Arsenal and Ajax didn’t come to this prosperous little community of 40,000 souls. Quaint Stadion Lachen had been built for the 1954 World Cup when it was used as a training ground by Uruguay and eventual winners West Germany, who were staying at nearby hotels. (For years afterwards, German fans would make pilgrimages to the Belvédère in Spiez, a short drive along the shore of Lake Thun.) Flooded out in August 2005, the Lachen was deemed unsuitable to host Champions League fixtures, so FC Thun played their home games in Berne, at the Stade de Suisse, only just rebuilt and renamed.
Having already been advised by the Swiss League that the Lachen barely met requirements for even top-flight domestic football, the following year the club requested public funds for a new stadium. With one of the lowest tax rates in the canton of just over 12%, and without a long-term tradition of lucrative European fixtures, Thun citizens rejected the proposal.
Eventually, the club arranged a deal with outside investors to build a new arena outside town, by a retail centre and the A6 motorway that cuts through the canton of Berne. Backdropped by the Bernese Alps, the Arena Thun opened in 2011. In 2014, it was renamed, the new sponsors the company that runs the cable car up to the nearest major peak: Stockhorn.
With a panoramic restaurant at the top, hiking trails snaking around it and prime fishing in the two lakes around its base, the Stockhorn and surrounding mountains have always drawn more locals at weekends than any local football team could. Although formed as far back as 1898 – on May Day at the Zum Sternen Gasthof, where the McArthurs pub now stands at the corner of Marktgasse and Schwäbisstraße – FC Thun made little impact outside the Bernese Oberland until the 1950s.
Gaining a first promotion to the Nationalliga A, opening the Stadion Lachen and reaching the Swiss Cup final between 1954 and 1955, FC Thun then slipped back to relative obscurity until the run that started with another promotion in 2002.
With occasional European forays – Stoke, Palermo and Rapid Vienna have all played at the new arena since its opening – and average gates for domestic fixtures above 5,000, FC Thun are ticking over without making any credible challenge for major silverware. The Alps and top-of-the-table clashes 20 miles away in Berne still provide ample reason for the floating fan to spend his Saturday or Sunday afternoon elsewhere.
The Stadion Lachen still stands, surrounded by tennis courts and an open-air pool, and used by the club’s many youth and women’s teams. The friendly supporters’ bar, with match posters from that Champions League campaign of 2005-06, harks back to an earlier era of a community club and its brush with the big time.
The nearest airport to Thun is Berne 26km (16 miles) away. It’s the hub for SkyWork Airlines, serving mainly German-speaking central Europe but also London City and, as of December 2017, Bristol and Southampton.
The nearest major international airport to Thun is Basel Mulhouse Freiburg 130km (81 miles) away, which serves three cities and three countries. BVB bus No.50 runs to Basel SBB main station every 8-10min, journey time 17min, single tickets SF4.70 from the desk in Arrivals or the machine at the stop outside the terminal.
Thun station and main bus concourse are alongside each other on the west bank of the Aare river, the same side as the Stockhorn Arena. From there, the stadium on the outskirts of town is too far to walk but the city centre is close. All local STI bus lines call at the station. A single ticket, from machines or the driver, is SF3, valid for 45min. A 24-hour Tageskarte day pass, sold from the STI outlet at Thun station, is SF7. The city centre, spreading out from the station over the nearby island and across the opposite bank, is best covered on foot.
Oesch Tagsi (+41 33 222 2222) is located halfway between the stadium and the station, and offer airport transfers.
The only lodgings near the Stockhorn Arena are on the other side of the A6 motorway, tricky walk for pedestrians, certainly after dark.
Right across from the club’s old ground, Stadion Lachen, the Alpha Thun Hotel, beside the No.1 bus from the station, provides pleasant, clean, mid-range accommodation, with a restaurant and a bountiful breakfast. It’s close to the shores of the lake, as is the modern Holiday Thun nearby, with a resort feel.
Behind it on the main road, the Gasthof Rössli Dürrenast is basically an old-school restaurant with six guest rooms with or without private facilities at SF130/SF110 a double, SF75/SF65 single.
These three hotels are 15-20min walk to the stadium, along Schulstraße then right into Ulmenweg.
Of the numerous options in the city centre, the Freienhof, also convenient for the station, enjoys waterside views but charges four-star Swiss prices.
On the opposite bank, the Krone on focal Rathausplatz was a 15th-century guildhouse, a guesthouse from 1852 and a modern-day hotel/restaurant since the 1970s. Most of its 29 rooms were renovated in 2014. Across the square, the Hotel-Restaurant Rathaus dates back even earlier, its similarly comfortable and contemporary rooms the result of stylish renovation. Its restaurant cuisine is Italian.
You’ll find a cluster of bars and restaurants on either side of Obere Hauptgasse, around Mühleplatz near the river. These include the Cadillac Café, clubby upstairs, bar-like, with pool and table football below. Bright El Camino offers a fair range of beers on tap.
Neither shows football – for this, head to the only pub in town, McArthurs, with scheduled match broadcasts on a 55-inch HD screen, live bands and steak & ale pie on the menu. By strange coincidence, it’s located at the site where FC Thun was founded in 1898, where Marktgasse meets Schwäbisgasse.
Right on Rathausplatz, prominent meeting spot Ratsstübli shows big-screen sport at either end of its long bar and stages live music, jazz, blues and rock, on occasional Saturdays.
The former sport-friendly Schleusenbar over the water is another example of a Thun drinkerie changing its focus from beer to more profitable food but at least keeps faith with its heritage, calling itself Tifo.