By John Herbert

Switzerland can be affordable as our self-catering expert, John Herbert, demonstrates in this report on inexpensive lodgings in the rolling hills of the Emmental.

In early October, 1995, the Paris Herald Tribune reported that "In August the Swiss welcomed fewer tourists than in any August since 1952." There is one reason for this. The increasing value of the Swiss Franc has dramatically boosted prices for foreign tourists, even other Europeans.

One way to conserve on expenses in Switzerland is to stay in an apartment instead of a hotel. As an article in the August 1994 edition of Gemütlichkeit pointed out, apartments are often less expensive than a one-star hotel if one is going to stay three to four days or longer. The article mentioned certain towns such as Ringgenberg, near Interlaken where prices are particularly low.

On a trip to Switzerland in September 1995 we discovered a region where apartment prices are at least as low, if not lower, than Ringgenberg. This is the Emmental, about a 600 square mile region of rolling farmland just northeast of Berne. It may contain the most inexpensive tourist accommodations in Switzerland.

Scattered around the Emmental are huge old farm houses with long sloping roofs and flower pots in every window, plus herds of bell-ringing cows.

Though it doesn't have the famous Swiss Alps, they aren't far away. We liked the location, not only because it is picturesque, but because a number of day-trips can be made to major tourist attractions. Using Langnau, the largest town in the Emmental, as a starting point, one can drive to Berne in 35 minutes, Lucerne in 60 minutes (on a slow winding road) and to Interlaken in just under an hour, much of it on the Autobahn.

We made reservations in advance for a four-day stay in September through the office of the Emmental Regional Tourist Agency (Pro Emmental, Schlossstrasse 3, CH- 3550 Langnau i E., phone 035 2 42 52, fax 035 2 56 67). Because of the many vacancies it wasn't really needed. We could have done just as well by visiting the Langnau office on arrival and making our choice on the spot. There is a second tourist office in the town of Burgdorf 14 miles away.

Those who want advance information should write to request the Holidays on a Farm brochure (it also lists accommodations in towns and villages) and the Welcome to Emmental brochure, which has an excellent detailed map. The accommodations guide lists 47 apartments and eight Zimmers (B & Bs). The brochure is in English, German and French. It describes the amenities of each apartment and lists the owner's name, address and phone number. If you want to stay in one of the atmospheric old farm houses, look for the words Bauerhof mit Betrieb below the address.

We chose four possibilities, faxed them to the tourist office in Langnau and asked for verification of price and availability. All were available. We selected one and asked the office to make the reservation for us. In our case no deposit was required. A few days later the owner sent precise directions. The two tourist office employees we talked with spoke excellent English.

Our apartment was a few miles south of Langnau in the second story of a renovated house next to the village cheese factory where about 20 local farmers bring their milk each day. It contained a kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom and bathroom. The kitchen and bath were modern. We paid was 69.3 Sfr. ($59.00) per day including the final cleaning and local tax. Based on the apartment brochure, our price was typical for a one bedroom unit. Some apartments were much more rustic; under the heading "heating," a few units listed "firewood."

The 47 apartments listed in the guide are scattered over 30 towns, villages and farms. For those who intend to use an apartment as a base for making trips to such locations as Berne, Interlaken and Neuchatel, we suggest getting a place near the Berne-Thun Autobahn. Try such towns as Zäziwil, Oberthal, Signau or Biglen.

The limited selection of Zimmers appear to charge about 25 Sfr. ($21) per person, per night.

January 1996