Shouting "I do" from the mountaintops
It’s the perfect marriage. The authorities and tourism officials in canton Bern have come together to say "I do", permitting couples to wed in scenic locations.
The offer is on a scale never seen before in Switzerland. As of July 1, couples can marry atop mountains, aboard trains and inside medieval castles.
The cantonal authorities have sanctioned ten scenic locations where the official ceremony can take place (see "key facts" for the list).
"We don’t want the region to become known as a 'mini Las Vegas’ but we have to do something to catch up with the competition abroad," says Gisela Basler, head of Bern’s migration and registry offices.
According to Swiss law, marriages are only recognised if they are conducted by registry office officials.
Although many couples choose to complement the civil service with a church ceremony, a growing number are going abroad in search of more exotic and romantic locales, where they can combine the official with the memorable.
Basler says about ten per cent of Bern residents getting married do so each year.
Basler’s office has launched the pilot project to reverse the trend and is also counting on the marketing prowess of the tourist locations to attract more foreign couples.
Already about one in ten couples marrying in Interlaken and the surrounding towns and villages comes from abroad.
"They often arrive at the registry office by horse-drawn carriage or fancy car, get married and then travel with the rest of the wedding party to the top of the Jungfraujoch or the Schilthorn for lunch, or they take a cruise on the lake," says Stephan Walther, head of the district office in Interlaken.
Walther believes demand will increase now that the railway and cable car companies running the Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn services are licensed to host the official ceremony themselves.
He adds that non-residents can take care of most of the formalities by submitting their marriage application and necessary documents to the Swiss embassy or their nearest consulate.
"The marriage can take place at the very top of the mountain," says Peter Feuz, general manager of the Schilthorn cable car company. "Normally, you only marry once in your life so it should be a highlight," he smiles, pun intended.
Feuz has yet to receive any bookings for his designated mountaintop room, but he thinks if the Schilthorn could serve as a set for the 1969 James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, then it is a good enough stage for weddings too.
However, having a view to kill – or choosing any of the other nine exclusive alpine settings – comes at a price. Couples are charged a supplementary fee to cover the additional expenses incurred by the registry office.
Not included in the cost are rail or cable car tickets, meals, drinks and other frills.
The choice of the ten locations was based on a questionnaire which found that castles and other historical settings, followed by mountains, boats, hotels and railways topped the list among engaged couples.
The cantonal authorities made sure that every district in the Bernese Oberland was represented.
The authorities also loosely interpreted "location" as mentioned in Swiss law to include boats, trains and mountaintops. This enables people to marry on the small steamboat, the MS Spiez, or the heritage train, the Eiger Ambassador Express.
Are they locations? The authorities say anchored ships have often been used to host exhibitions and history has been made inside rail carriages, where many an army has capitulated.
So the MS Spiez will have to drop anchor just offshore from a 19th-century villa in Thun, and the "Express" train will have to grind to a halt on top of the Kleine Scheidegg pass.
It seems as long as you’re not moving when you say "I do", the sky’s the limit.
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel on the Schilthorn
The ten new locations are:
The historic restaurant at the Blue Lake near Kandersteg.
Grand hotel Giessbach on the shores of Lake Brienz.
Heritage train, Eiger Ambassador Express, on top of the Kleine Scheidegg pass.
Harder Kulm restaurant above Interlaken.
The revolving restaurant on the Schilthorn mountain.
Spiez castle on the shores of Lake Thun.
The panorama restaurant, Alpen Tower, at the top of the Meiringen-Hasliberg ski resort.
The mountain hotel, Leiterli, in the alpine resort of Lenk-Betelberg.
The mountain restaurant, Rellerli, near Gstaad.
The heritage steamboat, MS Spiez, anchored offshore from the Schadau villa outside Thun.
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