Altreu is a little village on the north bank of the Aare about 10km upstream from Solothurn. In itself it would be nice enough but nothing special, however every rooftop seems to have at least one Stork nest. This isn’t something to skip a day in Zermatt for, but if you are in the Solothurn area during nesting season it is worth dropping in.
- The storks actually seem to hang around all year rather than migrating south during winter. April-June will be the best time to see them on the roof tops (and experience a constant ‘klack-klack-klack’), otherwise they might all be off in the fields.
- Storks were almost extinct in Switzerland, until a man from Altreu decided to fly in 300 young storks from Algeria and start a colony.
- For me Altreu is an easy 10km from home and only just off my direct commute route by bike so it is one of the places I have been to the most.
The village itself has some nice buildings, but wouldn’t be especially memorable if there weren’t storks everywhere. The main focal point is the Witi Centre and neighbouring Grüne Aff restaurant.
- Getting there by public transport is a bit awkward: requiring a regional train and bus from Solothurn or Biel to ‘Altreu, Info Zentrum Witi’, or for a more scenic option the Solothurn-Biel boat stops in Altreu. The number 5 and 8 bike routes, and hiking footpath also pass through the village.
- For a fairly obscure village it can get very busy. It is a popular spot for locals and apparently attracts some interest from further away. On a sunny summer weekend the seemingly excessive parking can fill up, coaches will be dropping groups off (it is that exciting apparently), and there will be a fairly constant flow of cyclists passing through on their ride along the Aare.
- The Infozentrum Witi (free entry) acts as the main point of interest for all things storks, they also have webcams directed at some of the nests. There are some information areas, interactive games (all in German, and partly also in French). It is worth a quick walk through if only for the very low Stork nests. The Witi is the plain around Solothurn and Grenchen, a vast area of flatness (for Switzerland at least).
- The Restaurant zum Grüene Aff on the riverfront is a beautiful building in a beautiful location. The food is good, but the staff to seats ratio is a bit off so service can be slow at busy times such as lunchtime on a sunny weekend. The Fischerstube also looks nice (if away from the riverfront) but I have yet to try it.
- There is a little sandy beach (quite a rarity along the Aare) at the eastern end of the village just off Burgweg. But it can get busy, so mostly I just find a nice quiet spot elsewhere along the river and jump in.
- The presence of so many large birds flying around is a little surprising given that the flight path for the fairly busy nearby Grenchen airport passes right through the same airspace. Though it seems to work; I have yet to see any clouds of feathers or planes with burning engines coming down.
- To date it is the only Swiss village whose name gives me flashbacks to a Metal band
Cycling to Altreu along the Aare
I think the best way to visit Altreu is by bike along the Aare. Altreu is easy enough to reach from Solothurn with a cheap city bike (8km and flat), but for a longer tour the Aare Route – Stage 5, Biel (Nidau) – Solothurn (31km, +90m, -100m) is a nice ride.
This route isn’t the most spectacular in Switzerland, but it is pretty and a nice way to spend a few hours on a spring/summer afternoon.
A few points of interest along the way:
- Haftli. A little island between the course of the Alte Aare and the engineered canal. It doesn’t look different to any other bit of farmland but this was the site of the biggest internment camp in Switzerland during WW2. There is not much to see now except a little memorial and the remains of a building, and even then you have to go exploring and look at a map to find them.
- Büren an der Aare. A pretty little old town with a covered wooden bridge and some Bern-like arcades. The single lane wooden bridge is the main crossing point for miles around so tends to be quite busy, and drivers often decide that they don’t need to wait on bikes going against them.
- Roman villa. A bit of a detour from the river, but it is a cool little spot and by far the most interesting sight in Grenchen.
- After Altreu the official route veers away from the river. You still get open views of the Jura, but it isn’t as nice as being by the river. You can still follow the riverside path which has been improved and made much smoother in recent years, but it is a bit narrow at times. Expect to be squeezing past walkers on sunny weekends.
- Observation Tower Altreu. A few minutes downstream is the exciting new tourism draw for the village. Enjoy expansive views from a platform 3 metres higher than you were before. Something to amuse the kids for 5 minutes, birdwatchers might appreciate the view into a lagoon in the river too.
- If you are passing by around June then there is strawberry picking near Selzach (this really is a local post for local people).
- You could also head a bit away from the river and recreate the 1798 steamrolling of the Swiss Federation by the French army.
- Another good Stork spot is by the Kanti in Solothurn where a pair nest on a chimney next to a well placed statue.