At last….Kicking off my latest project in 2021 with MySwitzerland: OLLIECHINNY’S GRAND TOUR OF SWITZERLAND!
In this year-long travel series, I will be sharing TEN various bucket-list worthy destinations with activities to do in Switzerland, which I hope would serve as an inspiration for you when planning your next Swiss trip! It’s already my third year in Switzerland but really, the number of sights and places to discover is ENDLESS. I hope you will be equally excited as I am and follow along my adventures!
Our first destination is at canton Neuchâtel in the French-speaking part of Switzerland! I don’t know why, but this region tended to be missed out when people visit Swiss Romande, preferring the Montreux Riveria or Lausanne, the Olympic city. However, did you know that in Neuchâtel, there is actually a watch-making capital (A UNESCO world-heritage site, no less!)?
Get ready to find out the 7 BEST THINGS to do in Neuchâtel: From watch-making, Old-Town scavenger hunts, to scenic nature hikes!
FULL VLOG HERE:
1. Explore Neuchâtel Old Town with a Scavenger Hunt
My top recommended activity in Neuchâtel!
Any parent/ spouse who had tried cajoling their young children, (or in my case, a geeky husband) into going on a “nice walk around Old Town” knows this is probably about the LAMEST thing you could ask them to do. Walking is BORING, as are ancient buildings and beautiful scenery. But throw in a scavenger hunt with a mission impossible and puzzles to solve, and it can change a trudge into a fun afternoon activity!
Following the directions and solving the clues along the way in search of 12 Belle-Époque inspired character frescoes, the Scavenger hunt “Les Chenapans: takes you past all the beautiful local sights and attractions in Neuchâtel Old Town. More importantly, I felt that they actually helped me in looking around and opening my eyes to so many other things I might have otherwise just walked straight past! And surprisingly, even Vince and I as adults enjoyed it tremendously.
This is an extremely well thought-out scavenger hunt, and one could tell that a lot of effort went into planning the whole route. To give away any more would constitute a spoiler, so I would let you experience it for yourself!
You can pick up the kit from the Neuchâtel Tourism office, and it costs 20CHF for a family of 4. The entire activity took us approximately 2.5 hours. Make sure you wear sensible shoes, as it involves a good amount of walking and stair-climbing around the city!
1. Hop on a lake cruise around Lac du Neuchâtel
Neuchâtel is a situated along the serene waters of Lac du Neuchâtel, the largest lake wholly in Swiss territory. Connected to the Lake Bienne and Lake Morat, together these 3 lake brothers give the region its namesake, Le Jura & Trois-Lacs.
Hop on the lake cruise from Neuchatel – Cudrefin – Portalban to get a view of the lake in a different perspective. We did a round trip, and it was like a carefree cruise to nowhere. Just staring into the steely blue waters with a gorgeous view of the Alps and wind washing over our hairs…that experience is a treat on its own!
3. Stroll along the lake promenade
With its Belle Époque statues, long winding paths and white floating yachts against the backdrops of the Swiss alps, Neuchatel’s elegant lake promenade is simply asking to be strolled along. Thankfully, April weather was behaving that day, and the locals were out in full force enjoying a picnic, chilling by the lake, walking their fur-kids. There was even a fun carnival going on!
Lausannites would instantly be reminded of Ouchy, but really, the promande along Lac du Neuchâtel is more charming. Less student crowds, that’s for sure! :B
4. Visit the International Watch-Making Musuem at La Chaux-de-Fonds
Musems have since reopened in Switzerland, and in La-Chaux Fonds (a city in canton Neuchâtel), there is one specially dedicated to the most precious commodity in the world: TIME!
The Musée International d’Horlogerie (International Museum of Watchmaking) tells the story of time, through 4,500 extraordinary timepieces from all around the world. Spanning over 2 storeys, it is the world’s largest collection of time keeping devices, starting from the earliest recorded sundials ,the candle clock right up to the modern atomic clocks. You will also find other exquisite jeweller’s art, scientific planetary clocks, as well as limited collections of priceless watches…All those that I will never be able to afford in this lifetime, haha!
The admission to the museum includes an audio guide, but as most of the exhibits can be quite complicated, it would be good to engage a someone experienced from the watchmaking industry who can provide more history and context. Our guide was a jolly Swiss man called Wolfgang, who was so incredibly knowledgeable, we learnt so much in a short span of time thanks to him!
A trip to Neuchâtel/ La Chaux-de-Fonds simply wouldn’t be complete without a visit to this world-class museum. This is the ONE single attraction which I would highly recommend, if you are keen to learn about Swiss watchmaking!
5.Walk around the UNESCO city of La Chaux-de-Fonds
Tucked away at 1,000metres above sea level lies La Chaux-de-Fonds, where even the locals joke that there exists only two seasons: winter last year, and winter this year!
I’m not going to deny. Compared to other picturesque Swiss cities, La Chaux-de-Fonds appear unremarkable on first glance. It doesn’t check your atypical tourist list of perfect alpine views, amazing cheese and chocolate, or beautiful weather, (the last we heard, it snowed for 7 months straight!)) BUT the devil really lies in the details.
Little do people know of its extraordinary rags-to-riches history and its heavy significance as Switzerland’s watchmaking capital!
Back in the 1900s, this city transformed from a sleepy town, to the glorious Silicon Valley of the watch-making industry. In fact during its hey-days, La-Chaux Fonds alone actually produced more than HALF of the world’s highly sought-after Swiss watches and watch components!
Walking around the streets of La Chaux-de-Fonds, we were immediately struck by its distinct rectilinear appearance. This was in fact a purposeful design by the city planners after a destructive fire. Inspired by New York’s Manhattan, La Chaux-de-Fonds was rebuilt in a chessboard layout with wide, parallel streets and huge glass windows lining every building. WHY SO, you may ask? Well, to avoid a repeat of a fire disaster, and to guarantee sunlight streaming through the windows: the key tool for any watchmaker back in the older days!
Even the front steps of all the houses are built with white limestones, so that the front doors would remain accessible and watch parts could be exchanged smoothly like clockwork amongst the city’s watchmakers, no matter the amount of snow piled up on the streets!
Given its architectural heritage, that La Chaux-de-Fonds was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007, Today, La Chaux-de-Fonds has shifted its economic focus to the luxury watch sector, with power names in the horlorgy industry e.g. Patek Philippe, TAG Heuer, Breitling, Jaquet Droz setting up factories in its industrial zone.
To better appreciate La Chaux-de-Fonds chessboard layout, head up up the Espacité tower (You won’t miss it, it’s the sole circular high rise building in the city!)
And for the FINAL, most extraordinary discovery on our city-tour: we found this abandoned watchmaker’s room, filled with the remnants of watchmaking tools and machines. Completely FROZEN IN TIME!
The former watchmaker has since passed, and his family had initially nearly discarded and cleared everything. Thankfully. the local authorities found this treasure trove in time, and there are now plans to preserve and convert it into a little heritage musuem on its own. I think it’s a wonderful idea, for the world to discover for themselves the secret life of a watchmaker, and what really goes on behind the rows and rows of glass windows in La Chaux-de-Fonds!
6.Attend a Watch-Making Workshop
Switzerland prides itself in being one of the top world’s watch producers. Living in the land of watches, how could we pass off the chance of learning more on this highly respected Swiss craftmanship?
We got the rare chance to step into the shoes of a watchmaker under the expert supervision of a master watchmaker, Ms Dominique from Garde-Temps. In a 1.5 hour atelier, we learnt basic savoir-faire of watch-making, starting from assembling and disassembling a watch!
Being a watch-maker certainly requires all senses on alert. Touch, sight, and hearing are the primary tools of the trade, along with the need for unrivalled dexterity and precision! I wasn’t that nimble with the all tiny springs and gears, and took quite awhile putting all the mechanisms together. But the sense of thrill and accomplishment was REAL, once the clockwork moved and the watch started ticking to life!
For those of you who are more into unique experiences, I personally think that a a watch-making atelier would make a very interesting Swiss gift for your special someone. At the end of the workshop, you will also receive an initiation certificate for the job well done!
Rue du Locle 11 CH-2300 La Chaux-de-fonds
0041 79 873 80 50
Cost for introductory watchmaking-session for 2 persons: 310CHF.
7. Go on a hike at Gorges de l’Areuse
Here in Switzerland, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to hiking trails. From rugged mountain trails to undulating hill-walks or wide open landscapes – every region has something to offer, without having to travel out far!
Just 45 minutes away from Neuchatel lies the magnificent Gorges de l’Areuse. We started our trial in the opposite direction from Boundry to Noraigue, (usually it’s done in the opposite direction!) since Vince just recently completed a knee surgery, and its easier to walk uphill than downslope.
At every turn, the Areuse Gorges has something beautiful out in display: spectacular waterfall, tiny rivers, to cliff side tunnels and bridges. A relaxing trail, you will enjoy the tranquillity of the cool air down and the tinkling sound of streaming waters.
Since we had to keep the hike not too strenuous, a we didn’t continue the full route (which would have normally taken up to 3 hours). But if you head up further, you will see the star attraction of the trail: The stone arch bridge spanning across gorges, which is an absolute natural feast for the eyes!
I hope I’d gotten you enough excited about visiting Neuchâtel after reading this itinerary post!!
If you are looking for more Travel ideas, and would like to follow along my Grand Tour of Switzerland, you can follow me the vlog series on Youtube channel! Be sure to check out my other blog posts here:
This post is in collaboration with Neuchatêl Tourism and MySwitzerland. All opinions are my own.