On Thursday we prepared ourselves for a trip by France by edging closer to the Swiss/French border by spending a day in Neuchatel. You can’t just show up in France out of nowhere. The shock can kill you. A gradual entry is required.
Neuchatel is only a 15-minute train ride from where we live, (and 12 miles from France) so we have swept past it many times while en route to other places, skipping by it without a thought, all because it is so near.
If familiarity breeds contempt, proximity breeds boredom and so it follows that in some strange way, Neuchatel’s nearness became equated with a certain ennui, a “we’ll see it later” attitude, only whenever we say that about a place, we almost never do see it.
The laws of devaluation and proximity are ancient. Jesus said “A prophet is without honour only in his own hometown,” and it is true. When someone comes from afar, we attach a certain aura of importance to them. When they are from nearby, we shrug.
Think of how Canadians are always exclaiming over Sweden’s government, social programs, and so forth, while Sweden’s bordering neighbour, Norway, recites Swedish idiocies with such regularity that it is a form of national liturgy. It should be pointed out that Norwegians know a lot more about Sweden than do Canadians.
This is only an observation and is not meant to denigrate Sweden, although I hear their cuisine is lousy.
All this is a long way of saying that we grossly under-estimated Neuchatel. It has a rambling Ville Ancienne full of Gallic architecture in golden sandstone – a luminous contrast against Switzerland’s usual dark quarried stone. It is a little Paris, a kiss of Spain’s glowing Salamanca, a sandy tropical beach – we loved it. And we nearly missed it, only because it is so easy to get to.
If you go to Switzerland, this is a good spot to hit. It has everything: A sweeping lakefront with a generous promenade, a 12th-17th century castle, ancient church, cobblestone avenues, shops, cafes, funky storefronts and free bikes.
Yes, free bikes. While waiting at the train station we ran into one of Dave’s co-workers. While informing us of more details about his personal life than we were prepared to hear, he also mentioned that Neuchatel maintains a fleet of bicycles that anyone can sign out.
Trust the Swiss to make a library out of bicycles. They are indeed a wonderful people.
The practice is to sign out a bike, then pedal along the lakeshore promenade, past vineyards and presumably dairy cows, to neighbouring villages where the Swiss hope you will stop at a Swiss inn, spend piles of money on an overnight stay and if that works out, pedal to the next Swiss village. By these means, the Swiss tourism industry stands and falls, and if we have learned anything about the Swiss, it is that they are better at hosting international guests than they are at exporting watches, and that is saying something.
We have not checked out the free bikes yet, although we saw a few while walking the promenade. We plan to test the Neuchatelese Swiss on their bike plan and let you know how it goes at a later date, but we can’t say when, although we’re sure we will do it because it is so convenient and, as I pointed out earlier, very near by.
Click on photos to enlarge.