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Bike – The Aargau Castle tour

    Aargau castle tour

    Photo: Schloss Wildegg above the Aare.

    This was a trip I had been throwing around in my mind for a few years now. I just waited for an April (or early May) weekend with nice weather to enjoy the blooming spring below whilst the higher areas above 1000m are still a bit brown. The risk of being clouded over/thunder at higher altitudes and the cool 20 °C weather made a low level bike tour seem like a good idea.

    I don’t think I would go out of my way to visit any of the places again, but it was nice to see them close up once. Plus a gloomy weekend at this time of year wasn’t good for much else.

    Goals: Tick off as many castles as possible, see the Seetal area (my expectations were not especially high beyond just ‘well this is pleasant’), visit Bremgarten and Baden.

    Castle count: 19 (19.5 if you count modern bunkers as half).

    Best castle: Lenzburg. Biggest, most impressive, and on it’s own hill.

    Best place: Bremgarten. If you only ever go to one place in Aargau (and that is one more than most people ever will) then make it Bremgarten.

    When:Friday 6th to Sunday 8th May 2022. The perfect time of year for the spring bloom at lower levels. Even the most boring place in the Mittelland can seem magical, especially after the winter. Many of the same places are probably utterly depressing in the colder months.

    Weather: 10-20 °C and gloomy. A few patches of minor drizzle. Annoyingly, the views were limited to 20km or less most of the time, I only saw a few hints of the Alps which were only 30km away.

    Resources for castles: Wikipedia (German) and Looking for castles in Switzerland can be a mixed bag. A Schloss might be a might be a sightly posh looking house or it might be an impressive fortress, and a Ruine might be most of the remains of a castle including a tower you can climb or it might be a few stones and a slightly rectangular lump of grass.

    Ohrwurm: This.

    Canton Aargau

    Aargau is one of the lesser known Cantons in Switzerland. In Switzerland they mostly suffer from the stereotype of being bad drivers (with the joke that the AG license plates stand for ’Achtung Gefahr!’ (warning! danger!)), and are host to Spreitenbach (a popular choice for ‘worst place in Switzerland’). When it is known then it is for two things; carrots (including an annual carrot market), and an impressive number of castles. I decided to investigate the latter. There is also one famous Aargauer, however I suspect most of them would rather forget about him.

    For the average visitor to Switzerland Aargau is part of what you pass through on the train from Zürich to Bern/Basel. It doesn’t really have much that makes it stand out, not least as most of what you see from the train or road is the industry and sprawl to the west of Zürich. Baden and Bremgarten sometimes show up on daytrips from Zürich. The odd castle nerd will head out to Lenzburg, Habsburg, and Halywil. But otherwise not many visitors will step foot in it. The only tourists I expected to see were very local Swiss people going for a walk or bike ride.

    Coming from the English Midlands I feel Aargau fills the same role in Switzerland; nothing spectacular in the landscape, no stand-out cities, kind of forgotten about other than being that place in the middle you transit through sometimes. And whilst there are some beautiful spots, most of it is non-offensive at best and often has the feeling it exists just to fill the map (this post was surprisingly not made in collaboration with Aargau Tourismus).

    In fairness there are a number of attractive little towns (including Baden which is the one thing that might be better known) and the gentler end of the Jura mountains passes through the northern half of the canton (Geissfluegrat at 908m is the highest point in the canton, only Basel-Stadt and Geneva have lower highest points). It isn’t anything to make you say ‘WOW’, but you might often think ‘well this is pleasant’. The little towns on the Rhine split between Germany and Switzerland like Laufenburg, Rheinfelden, Säcking can be pretty and are a nice novelty if you come from an island nation without easy to cross borders.


    • Connecting up a number of the castles quickly is only really practical by your own means of transport. I don’t have a car, so bike it was.
    • Day 1: castle hopping from Baden to a central base. Day 2: loop down and around the valleys. Day 3: homeward via a few more castles.
    • Access to the castles varies. Some are private, some are totally open, some are restaurants but you can still take a bit of a look inside, some are museums. Given the high number of castles and the fact that they all tend to blur together I decided to not go in beyond maybe a quick glance, especially if there was a 14 CHF entry fee.


    • I took the train to the start point.
    • Food was pretty simple with a village every few km. I was never more than 20 minutes away from a shop or restaurant of some kind.
    • Accommodation: BnB Bettwil. First time booking with which I always forget to check but does have many cheap rooms (70 CHF if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom. There aren’t a whole load of options in that region (I can’t imagine the demand is that high). It came with the possibly regrettable error of being 200m up a hill, but it was the nicest looking option. It turned out to be rather good; a beautiful 300 year old farmhouse and a great host. This was one of the best places I have stayed at in a long time. I would highly recommend it to anyone going to the area, the only problem is that there isn’t anything to make me want to go back to the region.

    Day 1 – Baden to Bettwill via many castles

    Key Information

    Route: Baden – Turgi – Brugg – Wildegg – Lenzburg – Teufenthal – Hallwil – Bettwil.

    Length: 65km, +1300m, +1020m.

    Date: 2020-May-06.

    Aarau castle bike

    Train to Baden. It is always a pain with a bike when changing at Olten or Biel. The faster inter-city train requires faffing with a reservation and if it is delayed by a few minutes the connection might be too tight. So I often take the slower regional train to have a relaxed start (I wouldn’t be doing much with those extra 20 minutes anyway).

    Not the most promising start to the day; grey, low cloud hanging down, and I just missed rain with more expected an hour or so later.

    I had a quick spin around Baden old town but didn’t really give it a proper look. I tend to want to get a move on at the start of a trip, and on a grey drizzly Friday morning it clearly wasn’t at its best. I will have a more detailed look another time.

    From Baden to Brugg really did remind me of the English Midlands; industry, suburbs, and roads. I took the more northerly route along the Limmat (from Zürich) to where it joins the Aare, and then to the confluence of the Aare and Ruess (from Luzern), which then all flows into the Rhine a few km further downstream. Mostly this was dominated by industry and wasn’t very exciting. The most interesting thing along here was the rather more modern defensive fortification at the point where the Aare and Reuss joined.

    Typical Aarau landscape. Somewhere around Turgi.
    Aare Reuss
    Confluence of the Aare and Reuss, with a gun bunker because Switzerland.
    Aare Reuss Turgi
    Bunker at the Aare/Reuss.

    I could have gone north to Ruine Freudenau before crossing the Aare, but then there was always another castle just a few km away.

    Instead I followed the Aare along to Brugg. I have changed train here many many times, but never ventured beyond the platforms. I knew there was a bit of old town by the river which turned out to be nice enough but nothing exceptional (other than having what must be the deepest fountain in Switzerland). The Aare narrows here and is almost a bit gorge-like, which looks cool when seen from the bridge but the busy road takes away from the scene a bit (a constant theme in the area).

    Brugg at the Aare.
    Brugg. With possibly the deepest fountain in Switzerland.

    A short climb up from Brugg to the first big name of the day Schloss Habsburg (the home of the Habsburg dynasty). Not much remains compared to what it once was (and much of what remains is a restaurant now). Entry into the building is free and you can climb up the tower for a view and there is a little exhibition and some information panels around. I had the place to myself; which on a grey slightly rainy Friday lunchtime in May perhaps isn’t that big a shock. The roar from the motorway in the valley below took away from the scene a bit.

    Schloss Habsburg
    Schloss Habsburg

    From Habsburg I could see the next stop at Schloss Wildenstein. Each of the next few castles would all be clearly within sight of each other which was a nice touch.

    Dropped down to the Aare and followed the bike path along with a diversion to Schloss Wildenstein. Looked nice, but private so a look is all you get.

    Schloss Wildenstein.
    Schloss Wildegg Aare
    The Aare with Schloss Wildegg.

    Entering Wildegg the traffic was not fun. There is plenty of industry (meaning big trucks) and the roads are small. The climb up to Schloss Wildegg was worth it for possibly the prettiest castle of the day. I had wondered how it would feel given the industry at its feet, but you approach from the other side and get a rather bucolic series of farmhouses and cows/sheep.

    Schloss Wildegg
    Schloss Wildegg.

    Carrying along the hillside to Schloss Brunegg was an option, but I decided to skip that.

    Through some suburbs and briefly on a busy road to Schloss Lenzburg. It must be among the most impressive in Switzerland. The old town of Lenzburg itself is worth a quick look too. The climb up to the castle is a bit steep (especially with a bike) but you can enter the outer defenses and walk a loop of the base of the walls for free, plus a good look at the inner courtyard from the point where you have to pay. Just doing that was impressive enough.

    Lenzburg old town
    Lenzburg old town.
    Schloss Lenzburg
    Schloss Lenzburg.

    From Lenzburg I could have gone south to the Esterliturm. But that was a bit out of the way and very pointless given the poor visibility that day.

    Passed by Schloss Schafisheim. Nothing special, but another one for the list.

    I detoured off the official bike route to take a more direct route into Wynatal. Crashing from Schafisheim through to Bleien via a little hidden valley and some woods.

    Climbed a little bit of the way up to Schloss Liebegg to see the caves in the forest next to it. This was one of my favourite spots (not least because of the lack of traffic).

    Caves by Schloss Liebegg
    Caves by Schloss Liebegg.
    Caves by Schloss Liebegg
    Caves by Schloss Liebegg.

    Further along the Wynatal then past Schloss Trostburg (looked cool, didn’t do anything but pass by it).

    Schloss Liebegg
    Schloss Liebegg.
    Schloss Trostburg
    Schloss Trostburg.

    Over the hill and down to Schloss Hallwyl. A compact but impressive looking moated castle. If this was located near Interlaken then you would be lucky to squeeze in past the crowds, but as it is it is located in a valley nobody goes near. As with Lenzburg you can stick your head in the gate and see the inner courtyard for free before hitting the payment threshold.

    Schloss Hallwyl
    Schloss Hallwyl.
    Schloss Hallwyl
    Schloss Hallwyl.

    Final castle of the Schloss Brestenberg. Just gave it a glance as I passed by before climbing up to Bettwil.

    Up to Bettwil which was a pleasant enough little village. Dinner at the Bauerhof restaurant which was the only business in the village (you know it is tiny when there isn’t even a Volg supermarket). I seemed to be the only person not to know every other guest, the table next to me were getting up every 5 minutes to heartily great each new party that walked in. Had a wander around through the village and fields; very bucolic with meadows, big farm houses, and sheep everywhere. There probably would have been fantastic views of the Alps if the weather had been clearer.

    Day 2 – A loop through the Seetal and up to Bremgarten

    Key Information

    Route: Betwill – Müswangen – Hochdorf – Sins – Bremgarten – Wohl – Hilfikon – Bettwil.

    Length: 83 km, +1090m, -1090m.

    Date: 2020-May-07.

    Aarau bike day 2

    Along the ridge on Route 399 at first. On a clear day this would probably have great views of the Alps (but not on that day). The biggest surprise of the day was the Ostrich farm just before Müswangen.

    Ostrich farm by Müswangen.
    Ostrich farm by Müswangen.

    Dropped down by Schloss Heidegg. Not the most impressive but it is open as a museum and sits on a pretty bit of hillside.

    Schloss Heidegg
    Schloss Heidegg.

    Along the Baldeggersee and then through farmland. Still very gloomy/hazy; at the southernmost point I could just make out the silhouettes of the pre-Alps only 15km away.

    From Sins up to Bremgarten was rather dull. If it hadn’t been gloomy, with light drizzle and a headwind then maybe I would have enjoyed it more. As it was I just fought against the weather with the intent of getting to Bremgarten for food and a rest. A riverside path would also have been better.

    I really liked Bremgarten. Arriving just as it turned sunny and leaving a busy road to be met with the historic buildings at the river made a very good first impression. Despite being 1pm on the sort of Saturday where you go somewhere like this the town was rather quiet. The only English voice I heard was a man who told me I had a blessed face. I had thought it was at least a little bit known, but there are very few blog posts on it, almost nothing on Reddit, and nothing on English Wikivoyage.


    Carried on the bike route to Niederwil. Didn’t really add anything much: just a few more km of fields but the climb after was probably a bit easier, or at least quieter. Over the hill on a quiet side road and down into the next valley to Wohlen which really felt like it was just there to fill in the map. I had never heard of it until then and would have been very happy if I was still unaware of its existence.

    Joined route 399 which goes past the front door of Schloss Hilfikon before climbing back up to Bettwil.

    Schloss Hilfikon.
    Schloss Hilfikon.
    Along the hillside to Bettwil.
    Along the hillside to Bettwil.

    Day 3 – To Solothurn via the Oberaargau and Emmental

    Key Information

    Route: Bettwil – Beromünster – Sursee – Huttwil – Herzogenbuchsee – Solothurn.

    Length: 97 km, +1150m, -1400m.

    Date: 2020-May-08.

    Aarau bike day 3

    A more proper Aargauer castle tour would have been via the impressive fortress at Festung Aarburg, but dropping south is a bit more scenic and less built up.

    Straight down the hillside, across the valley, then up and over into the next valley to Beromünster. A hidden town with a handsome little old town street (slightly ruined by traffic).

    Climbing up above the Baldeggersee.
    Climbing up above the Baldeggersee.
    Approaching Beromünster.
    Approaching Beromünster.

    Sursee has a pretty little old town which you would never guess from passing by on the train line (because it is surrounded by quite a bit of bland modern development).

    Passed by Schloss Mauensee, a bit boring being just a big house but it does occupy an island in the middle of a lake.

    The traffic/infrastructure from Sursee through the main roads in the Emmental are not the nicest. Bikes are usually off the road but you just get shoved to one side.

    A little diversion to Wasserschloss Wyher. The castle is now a restaurant, but you can walk around it and into the courtyard for free (the official footpath network even takes a little detour to go through the garden). This is the only place I heard English the whole weekend, from what I am guessing must have been an expat family. Looks like it could put up a decent defense.

    Wasserschloss Wyher
    Wasserschloss Wyher

    Passed by the base of Ruine Kastelen. I didn’t bother diverting to climb up, but it seems you can climb the tower for a view.

    I followed the bike route up to Ufusen. This adds a climb which isn’t so bad on the main road (I presume you are pushed up there to keep you away from the traffic). There would have been a great view of the Emmental hills and Alps, that is if I could see more than a few km….

    Ufusen Emmental
    The view from Ufusen.

    I had wanted to go from Huttwil through Dürrenroth to Affoltern to close a little gap in my travels of the the ring around Napf which I hadn’t done before. But it was just so grey and gloomy that I couldn’t be bothered and took the flatter and easier route home via Langenthal instead.

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