Lakeshore walk: St. Peter’s Island in Lake Biel
easy | 1.50 h | ↔ 7.4 km | ↑ 63 m ↓ 60 m
In an unspoilt natural environment and inspired by the beauty of this exceptional place, you can take a relaxing stroll on St. Peter’s Island, Lake Biel’s only island. You may come here with thoughts of St. Peter or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps with an eye to the natural environment – no matter, it’s wonderful simply to be here and enjoy a leisurely stroll on this peaceful island with its enticing cuisine at the monastery. A powerful place!
Starting point: St. Peter’s Island North, boat station
End point: Erlach, post office – bus stop
Stop: Accommodations and board: Restaurant & Monastery Hotel St. Petersinsel
Requirements: yellow marking
- 00.00 h St. Peter’s Island North, boat station
- 00.30 h Monastery
- 00.40 h Pavilion
- 01.00 h Chüngeli Island
- 01.50 h Erlach, post office – bus stop
Let us try to see this enchanted island as Jean-Jacques Rousseau saw it when he sought refuge in the natural riches of St. Peter’s Island in 1765 and enjoy its peace, beauty, relaxation and power. Perhaps we too will then also have the desire “to wish to return to nature” and to be guided by his words: “Take care of yourself while doing the least possible harm to others”. From 12 September to 25 October 1765, Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived on this island in a spacious double room at the monastery, which is now open to visitors. Many famous – and more recent, not so famous – visitors have left their mark on the ceiling beams and window frames. Rousseau was a philosopher, teacher, natural scientist, and composer of the Enlightenment period and an important pioneer of the French Revolution. In 1764 he began his botanical studies, which he then continued during his time on St. Peter ‘s Island, collecting and describing the local flora. But before you visit his room, you first have to get there.
One wonderful, varied and relaxing travel option is the Bielersee-Schifffahrt ship “Rousseau”. It starts from Biel, passing places with special-sounding names and the impressive vineyards of Tüscherz, Engelberg, Twann and Ligerz before arriving at St. Peter’s Island North. A long jetty leads directly to the shore with a well-stocked kiosk, where you can soak up the views from the tree-lined beach and feel almost as if you were on the Maldives or in the Caribbean.
If you want to make the circuit of the island, take the path to the left that leads to the monastery on the opposite side. After about 40 minutes of leisurely walking you will arrive at the monastery restaurant, or you could walk straight over the top of the hill and be at your table in just 15 minutes. In that case, however, you would not experience the magical forest and the tangible power of this unique place. You need time and leisure to really experience it. The crown of the hill with its pavilion in which people actually used to dance long ago seems to be a very special place. But this place also seems to have been used for ceremonies in prehistoric times – an ideal location which radiates a strange power.
The island has a long history of settlement. The Romans lived here, and the island was probably settled in the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. On 10 February 1127 the son of Count Wilhelm III was buried here. Recent archaeological research has revealed that this tomb was part of a long tradition (Merovingian burial place, Carolingian wooden monastery), which explains the derivation of the name “Island of the Counts”. A Cluniac monastery was built on the island around 1127 and today serves as an inn. The vineyard on St. Peter’s Island dates back to the time of the Cluniac Order which came to the island in the 12th century.
The only building on this car-free island which is inhabited all year round nowadays is the organic farm of the island farmer. You could also spend the night there if you want to be really close to nature. Otherwise the comfortable monastery hotel in which Rousseau stayed offers excellent accommodation. Goethe, Empress Josephine Bonaparte and the Kings of Prussia, Sweden and Bavaria are just a few of the famous people to have visited the island and the monastery after Rousseau.
Today the whole island has been designated a nature reserve, with the species-rich Heidenweg path and the forest in particular offering something really special. There are barbecue sites close to the water and numerous spots where visitors can simply stop and stare. The Heidenweg path which leads from the monastery to Erlach for about 4.5 km through the moorland and floodplain landscape of the island, may need some patience, but it is also ideal for pondering, chatting, discussing and daydreaming. Once you reach the end of the path at the port of Erlach, you can fortify yourself in the Cabane du Pecheur or one of the other Erlach restaurants. Erlach: another location with long traditions, especially in viticulture. A visit to the Stettler winery is well worthwhile – does anyone know what a “Treberwurst” is?
You can also extend your visit to include the castle’s extensive wine cellar or simply let your gaze wander over the island. “I have often lived in enchanting places, but I owe nowhere such truly happy hours and long for no other place so deeply as St. Peter’s Island in Lake Biel.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau).
Incidentally, you could also stay at a campsite after your walk. We recommend Camping mon plaisir**.
For other exciting hikes and tips on the topic, visit wegwandern.ch.