Tourist board has designs on Langenthal
The manufacturing town of Langenthal in canton Bern has little in common with the jet set resorts of Gstaad and St Moritz, attracting few tourists.
But like them Langenthal is one of the stops on a new "Luxury and Design" tour of Switzerland.
The tour is one of a series of theme routes launched by Switzerland Tourism, and it's the first time the Bernese town has been promoted in such a way abroad.
The "Luxury and Design" booklet is a glossy 70-page affair, listing the places to see and be seen during a cross-country tour.
The places to see are the boutiques, designer ateliers and swanky hotels and spas between Geneva and Zurich, with stops at the fashionable resorts of Montreux, Gstaad, Lucerne and St Moritz.
Admittedly, only one page in the guide is devoted to Langenthal, compared with five or six for the others.
But being in the guide still puts Langenthal in the top ten Swiss locations - ahead of Interlaken, Davos and the southern towns of Locarno and Lugano. The latter three are not even mentioned.
Lacking luxury, Langenthal makes up for this deficiency with a reputation it has gained over the years for high quality design. It is this design that has put it on the map - and the new tour.
The accent in the Bernese town is on fabrics, furniture, porcelain and carpets.
The booklet recommends visits to the Design Center Langenthal, factory floors and trendy restaurants.
"Langenthal factories are small- to medium-size enterprises but they have a presence in many different countries abroad," says Sergio Cavero, director of the Design Center, which is a platform for events, exhibitions and exchanges.
"They have developed innovative strategies to be able to export their products from a small country like Switzerland." (See interview with Cavero under 'related items'.)
"They are all manufacturers who have discovered a niche for their products," Cavero adds.
Ruckstuhl Carpet Company is a good example, specialising in natural fibre carpets, produced in small quantities.
More than two-thirds of the coir, sisal, wool and other natural fibre carpets produced in Langenthal are sold abroad.
Its carpets cover the floors at the Helsinki International Airport and the Rijksmuseum in the Dutch town of Leiden, and have been chosen for the interiors of buildings designed by leading architects such as Norman Foster and Herzog and de Meuron.
Not "Swiss made"
But unlike Swiss army knives, chocolate or watches, the Langenthal goods are not marketed as Swiss-made products.
"I think it's quality that counts the most," says Peter Ruckstuhl, owner and director of the company.
"If someone wants to know where a carpet is made then we explain, but I think it would be wrong to put a label on the back saying that it has been manufactured in Switzerland."
This attitude does not necessarily lend Langenthal the profile its mayor thinks it deserves.
"We are different from Montreux or Gstaad," says Hansjürg Käser. "Langenthal is one of the few places on the tour where design is actually produced. All the others benefit from the items that are made here."
Cavero says Langenthal started to develop its reputation as a centre for high-quality design years ago when its small manufacturers decided to draw attention to the town by setting up an interior design trade show called "Designers' Saturday".
The show has become the best known of its kind in Switzerland, and its reputation has spread beyond its borders.
Switzerland Tourism has now jumped on the bandwagon and the business community in Langenthal hopes the new tour will make the town better known among a wider public.
"Design is typical for this region, and it provides us with an enormous chance to promote tourism," says Ulrich Sinzig, director of the regional transport and tourism company, Aare Seeland Mobil.
swissinfo, Dale Bechtel in Langenthal
The Luxury and Design tour is the first of a series of theme tours to be launched by Switzerland Tourism.
The focus is on luxury shops and accommodation in Swiss cities and resorts, and emphasises leading centres of Swiss design, including Langenthal and the watchmaking region in the Jura mountains.
The Luxury and Design booklet (see links) is broken down into several categories; shopping, eating and drinking, special events, hotels, museums, workshop visits, insider tips etc.
It also includes practical tips on distances from the town centre and travel recommendations for the onward journey.
An introductory chapter translated from a leading architecture and design magazine, Hochparterre, tries to define Swiss design from a socio-historical perspective.
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