Spiez Castle, or Schloss Spiez in German, is a beautiful castle overlooking Lake Thun in the Canton of Bern. A charming blend of traditional Swiss architecture intermingled with Baroque ideas, it is a treasure of Switzerland well-worth exploring. It has hosted three notable Swiss families; while it wasn’t caught up in much intrigue, the castle has witnessed Swiss cultural history for several hundred years. Read on for historic and visiting information about this stately lakeside complex.
Table of Contents
- 1 Frequently Asked Questions
- 2 Early History
- 3 Current Times
- 4 Interesting Spiez Castle Facts
- 5 Visiting Spiez Castle – Tips and Tricks
There is an early Romanesque Schlosskirche (castle church) adjacent to the castle, the castle estate has held the church charter since the building was built … possibly before.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Spiez Castle Located?
Spiez Castle is located in the town of Spiez in the Canton of Bern, Switzerland.
When was Spiez Castle Built? Who Build It?
The castle was originally built by the King of Burgundy in 933; however, the keep and halls seen today were built between 1200-1300, with further changes made through until the 18th century.
When is The Best Time to Visit the Castle?
Spiez Castle is only open between May and October, so we suggest visiting in early fall: post-summer crowds, but pre-winter closing.
FOR HISTORY | BEAUTIFUL IMAGES | INTERESTING FACTS | TRAVEL TIPS
The first evidence of a settlement at Spiez dates to burial objects from 1750-1500 BCE. The first signs of a fortification on the castle grounds are dated a bit later: a horseman burial & Celtic settlement evidence from the 6th to 8th centuries CE.
According to the Strättliger Chronicles, Spiez Castle was initially built in 933 by Rudolph II, King of Burgundy. Very little is known about the castle for the next 250 years until part of the outer walls & the base levels of the center keep were built around 1200. The keep walls are about 3 m (9.8 ft) thick at the base, although they thin out further up. The castle was mentioned historically again in 1280, listed as a fiefdom assigned to Vogt Richard de Corbières.
From 1289-1308, the Spiez fief was co-owned by two noble families: the Strättligens and a succession of others, the last of which was Thüring von Brandis. His share of the fiefdom was withdrawn by the Hapsburgs in retaliation for von Brandis’ involvement in the murder of King Albert I of Hapsburg. The full fiefdom was granted to Johannes von Strättligen. At some point during Strättligen’s co- or full ownership, a residence hall was built adjacent to the keep, although it was most likely only one story tall at this point.
In 1338, von Strättligen sold the fief to the Schultheiss of Bern (similar title to govenor), Johann II von Bubenberg. While Bern was de facto independent from the Hapsburg rulers, the Bern-assigned Vogt at Spiez was still required to raise troops for the Hapsburgs–an awkward power tension that remained in place for the next forty plus years. It was only resolved when the Swiss Confederacy won the Battle of Sempach against the Hapsburgs in 1386.
Despite power struggles, life at Spiez had its fun in this time period, as evidenced by the milieu of knights’ signatures & tournament depictions graffitied on the main fireplace. A north wing was also added to the residence hall during this time.
Erlach Family: 16th-19th centuries
The Bubenburgs held Spiez Castle until the line died out with Adrian von Bubenburgs in 1506, when the castle was sold to Ludwig von Diesbach who owned the castle for only ten years before selling to Ludwig von Erlach. The Erlach family retained Spiez Castle from 1516 until 1875, through quite a bit of history and change to the castle.
The residence hall, which had originally been single-level, leveled up; the keep received the same overhaul … a few times, actually. The gallery was expanded, while the Trüel (a wine-making facility) was built on to the north-west side of the keep.
In 1600, the final update was made to the keep, adding a hipped roof that took it to its current height at 39 m (128 ft) tall. Franz Ludwig von Erlach, who served as Mayor of Bern from 1629 until his death in 1651, was responsible for the conversion of the Palais into the ballroom and the addition of the State Room at Spiez Castle. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the “New Castle” on the south side of the gatehouse was first built, then expanded, then remodeled in late Baroque style to its current appearance.
Ferdinand Rudolf Albrecht von Erlach made some bad investments, leaving him no choice but to auction-off Spiez Castle in 1875, bringing a nine-generation family ownership to an end.
Revisit More Historic Places Below or Read Further
Spiez Castle was owned by Hermann Karl von Wilke (a legationary councilor from Berlin) as a summer home; Rosina Magdelena Gemuseus-Riggenbach of Basel; and then her nephew, Dr. Wilhelm Schiess–all in a space of forty-eight years.
In 1927, when the castle went up for sale again, the Spiez Castle Foundation was organized by the Swiss Association for the Preservation of Forts and Castles. Eighteen months later, after a lottery to raise the money for the purchase price, the castle comes into the foundation’s ownership. The Spiez Castle Foundation has owned the castle since.
Interesting Spiez Castle Facts
- There is an early Romanesque Schlosskirche (castle church) adjacent to the castle, the castle estate has held the church charter since the building was built … possibly before.
- The most notable member of the Strättligen family is one Hienrich von Strättligen. Two or three of his songs on courtly love were printed in the early 14th century Codex Manesse.
- Johann von Bubenberg bought Spiez fief (or baronage) for 5600 pounds, Bernese currency.
- The municipality of Spiez donated 30,000 francs to the Spiez Castle Foundation for the castle purchase in the ‘20s. The one condition was that the castle grounds be open to the public–which the foundation has upheld since.
Visiting Spiez Castle – Tips and Tricks
Spiez Castle is a beautiful piece of Swiss history, well worth the visit! Consider spending a few days in the area to fully explore the Lake Thun area. There are multiple castles within easy access. Here are some facts and figures for visiting Spiez specifically:
How to get to Spiez Castle?
Getting to Spiez from Bern, the de facto capitol of Switzerland is a quick trip. A 29-minute train ride on any one of several lines that run through Bern will land you a 13-minute walk from the train station to the castle. The fare is usually between CHF 11-24 ($12-26 USD). Alternatively, a 30-minute taxi ride for CHF 180-220 ($195-238 USD) or driving yourself for a gas price of CHF 5-7 ($6-8 USD) are also options.
Ticket Prices, Visiting Hours & Travel Tips
Spiez Castle is a bit tricky to visit due to its limited visiting hours. The castle museum and cafe are only open between May 1st and October 31st: Mondays 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm & Tuesdays-Sundays from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (6:00 pm in July and August). The church is free to visit, but only open for visits between 10 am and noon on Fridays, as long as there’s not a private event booked.
The ticket prices to visit the castle museum are CHF 10 ($11 USD) for adults, with a reduced rate of CHF 8 ($9 USD) for seniors, disabled, students, groups of twelve or more, or regional guest cards. Children from 6-16 can enter for CHF 2 ($2 USD), while families (2 adults & max of four children) can buy a family ticket for CHF 20 ($22 USD); children under the age of 6 enter free. For tickets with the current special exhibit included, prices are 15 CHF ($17 USD) for adults, CHF 13 ($14 USD) reduced, and CHF 4 ($4.50 USD) for a child’s ticket. A Swiss Museum Pass or Swiss Travel Pass will give you free entrance.
Guided tours can be scheduled outside the normal opening hours. There is a surcharge of CHF 150 ($162 USD) plus reduced entrance per person.
How Long Will It Take to Tour Around?
Spiez Castle and gardens take about 2-4 hours to fully explore, per the official website’s recommendation.
Some words of advice and tips:
- The castle experience is a bit different during 2021. The exterior is being renovated, blocking the windows with scaffolding. The permanent displays have been temporarily removed and replaced with an art exhibit called Ghosts, by Swiss video artist Peter Aerschmann.
- There is a “Knight’s Trail” through the castle, along with craft stations, for young visitors.
- The castle accepts both Swiss Francs and Euros, along with all major cards.
- There is a parking lot at the castle for your use.