Friday, March 12, 2010

Switzerland for Levelers, part 3: Watching it bubble and tick

Mauler Cellars, Motiers

Examine the fine arts of sparkling wines and watch making on an easy side trip from Neuchatel to Motiers and Fleurier. You will be driving through mountainous landscapes, but the roads are broad, good and well marked.

Mauler Cellars in Motiers is a good introduction to the little-known Swiss expertise in wine culture. You won't see much Swiss wine in the states because what the Swiss don't drink themselves is snapped up by the French who are a mere 15 kilometers away and know a good deal when they taste it.

The family operation producing bubbling wine has been centered in Le Prieure St.-Pierre, an 11th century priory (Rousseau once lived in it), since 1829 and tours and tastings are available.

Warning: Cobblestones in the courtyard and stairs on the tour.

Next, head to the lovely little town of Fleurier, once the center of fine watchmaking and now coming back thanks to the presence of Atalier Parmigiani.

Little did the puritanical John Calvin realize when he banned the wearing of jewelry in the 16th century what an industry he would create. Jewelers turned from rings and necklaces to the unfrivilous keeping of time via watches. Winters are long here and craftsmen isolated in nooks and crannies of the Jura mountains had time to devote to the necessary tedious details. Thus this area of Neuchatel is known now as the Watch Valley.                             Parmigiani watches

You've probably never heard of Parmigiani watches. They aren't cheap ($8,000-$750,000) but they are beautiful and created with amazing intricacy and care.

The company welcomes opportunities to show off its precision as it is one of the few companies still making all parts of the watches themselves.  With axles thinner than a human hair, it takes more than two months to finish a single watch; 300 hours for assembling.

You will develop a new found appreciation for fine craftsmanship here and you might become a bit of a watch snob. When you find yourself checking out the wrists of passersby, you'll know you've been infected.

Warning: Walking by the many jewelry stores here can be hazardous to your American Express card.

For more information on Switzerland, go to and click on "Travel: Europe".


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