Saturday, March 20, 2010

Switzerland for Levelers, part 4: Canaling

Most of us think of Switzerland as a country for hiking, mountain climbing and skiing, but few if any associate it with commuting by boat. Yet that is exactly what I did, traveling from Neuchatel to Murten/Morat along the Canal de la Broye.

In the process I arrived in the Fribourg region, the pre-Alps. The Navigation Company runs regular service in the Three Lakes area and is a perfect vehicle for levelers. Seats on deck or inside are comfortable and the boat's slow speed makes photography a joy. You'll pass bicyclists and walkers going along the lakeside paths, swans cruising by, cornfields, vineyards sloping up from the lake and other picturesque, camera-worthy sights.

 Tip: You can get off at a stop, look around and pick up the next boat that comes along.

I did just that, stopping for lunch in the shady garden of the Hotel de l'Ours in Sugiez. With Mont-Vully at our backs, the Broye River in front of us, I feasted on local perch fillets and local wine before ambling along the "Wine Path" and having a tasting at one of the country's smallest vineyards.

Refreshed, I boarded another boat and continued to the town with a split personality. For 400 years it was shared by two cantons, one French, one German, thus the two names. Murten is the one most people use.

Two wedding receptions aboard separate barges were in full swing when our boat arrived, a festive welcome.

Warning: You'll do some walking here, but it's worth the effort, especially the  climb atop the walled city's battlements.

At one time a retirement area for Roman soldiers, Morat/Murten became a stop on the roadway between north and south Europe, making it strategically important.

Atop the walls you can picture the awesome forces of the undefeated Charles the Bold who camped outside the city and boasted, "I will have Murten for breakfast and Lausanne for lunch."

So valiantly was the undermanned city defended, he failed.

You won't fail to live and eat well here; the cows are milked at 5 p.m. and by 5:55 the milk arrives at the town's gruyer -making plant.

Tip: Take time for a beverage at the Cafe Bern Tor (road to Bern) next to the city gate. Its owner is tasked with tending and cranking the huge clock each day.

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

Leia Mais…
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".

Leia Mais…
Friday, March 5, 2010

Switzerland for Levelers, Part 2

We're still in Pays de Neuchatel and I suggest a great, full day side trip up to La Chaux-de-Fonds.

Trains leave Neuchatel hourly for the 30-minute-long trip, but it's better by car. There's a great view around every turn and some truly grand overlooks where you'll want to stop and grab the camera.

Tip: A car will help keep your walking and climbing to a minimum.

 The town, where Switzerland's watch-making reputation was solidified, burned to the ground in the 18th century. Instead of recreating age, the city fathers looked ahead with modern architecture. The standout is "Villa Turque" (Turkish house) by Le Corbusier which now serves as the public relations center for the fine watchmaker Ebel.

The International Watchmaking Museum (Musee International d'Horlogerie) is a must see even if you think viewing over 4,000 examples of time keeping sounds as dull as I did. Trust me, it's fascinating.

Hit the road in time to have a lunch of delicious trout at Les Rives du Doubs, then take the mini-cruise on the Lake of Les Brenets. Deep gorges, serene surroundings and at the end, the Saut-du-Doubs waterfall.

Tip: It takes a bit of walking to get to the waterfall but the grade is gentle and the surface is pretty good. Give it a go.

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

Leia Mais…