t The revolving panoramic restaurant at the top of Berneuse, above Leysin
The village of Leysin, now a popular winter and summer resort, occupies a mountain terrace with views across to the Dents du Midi and down onto the Rhône Valley. Lying at an altitude of 1,260 m (4,135 ft), Leysin enjoys an unusually dry and sunny climate. Once a centre for the treatment of tuberculosis, the village later evolved into a ski resort. Cable cars carry visitors up to the Tour de Mayen (2,326 m/7,631 ft) and to Berneuse (2,037 m/6,683 ft).
t A statue of Charlie Chaplin in Vevey
With Montreux, Vevey is one of the two best-known holiday resorts of the Swiss Riviera – the stretch of land on the shore of Lake Geneva between Lausanne and Villeneuve. The region’s climate and culture attracted English Romantics Lord Byron and Mary Shelley in the 19th century, and later Charlie Chaplin, who spent the last 25 years of his life in Vevey.
Known in Roman times as Viviscus, Vevey was once Lake Geneva’s main port. By the 19th century it was the first industrial town in the canton of Vaud. It was here, in 1867, that Henri Nestlé established the powdered milk factory that revolutionized baby foods. Nestlé still has its international headquarters in Vevey.
The most attractive part of Vevey is its Grande Place (also known as Place du Marché). On Tuesday and Saturday mornings this huge square is filled with a market, and in summer regional growers offer wine tastings. A folk arts market is also held here on Saturday mornings in July and August.
Chaplin’s World, a museum dedicated to the comedian’s life and work, is located in Le Manoir-de-Ban, Chaplin’s former home. It features personal items, and an interactive studio, as well as re-created film sets.
East of the train station is the Musée Jenisch, housing paintings and sculpture by Switzerland’s prominent 19th- and 20th-century artists, as well as the vast Fondation Oskar Kokoschka, which contains 800 paintings by the Austrian artist. The museum also has the largest collection of lithographs by Rembrandt in Europe.
" ⌂ 2 Route de Fenil, Le Manoir-de-Ban # Jan–Mar & Oct–Dec: 10am–5pm daily; Apr–Sep: 9am–6pm daily ∑ chaplinsworld.com
" ⌂ 2 Avenue de la Gare # 10am–6pm Tue–Sun (to 9pm Thu) ∑ museejenisch.ch
For a thrilling and magical experience, try sledging in the dark. Take the cable car up Les Diablerets three evenings a week to sledge down its 7-km (4.5-mile) sledge run, one of the longest in the country.
Aigle is the capital of the Chablais, a wine-growing region that lies southeast of Lake Geneva and produces some of Switzerland’s best wines. Set among vineyards covering the foothills of the Alpes Vaudoises, the town is dominated by the turreted Château d’Aigle. Built in the 12th century by the Savoyards, it was severely damaged in the 15th century and later rebuilt as the residence of the region’s bailiffs.
The castle now houses the Musée de la Vigne et du Vin, whose exhibits illustrate the age-old methods of vine cultivation and winemaking. Opposite this museum is the Musée International de l’Etiquette, which documents the history of wine labels.
t The turreted Château d’Aigle, now a museum of wine and winemaking
" ⌂ Château d’Aigle, 1 Place du Château § 024 466 21 30 # Apr–Jun & Sep–Oct: 11am–6pm Tue–Sun; Jul–Aug: 11am–6pm daily ∑ museeduvin.ch
The jewel of the Swiss Riviera, Montreux is renowned for its annual jazz festival. The town began to develop as an international tourist resort in about 1815, and its golden age lasted until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
Montreux has many belle époque hotels. The most famous of them is the Montreux Palace on Grand Rue, west of the town centre. Opposite this hotel is the Centre des Congrès, containing the Auditorium Stravinsky, a concert hall built in 1990 and dedicated to Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971), who composed The Rite of Spring while in Montreux.
On the lakeshore is a statue of Freddie Mercury, vocalist in the band Queen, who made Montreux his second home.
The average number of people who attend the annual Montreux Jazz Festival.
Set among alpine meadows in the Ormonts valley, the ski resort of Les Diablerets lies at an altitude of 1,150 m (3,775 ft). The peaks here are 3,210 m (10,531 ft) high and amid them lies the glacier of the same name.
Attractions include the Alpine Coaster, the world’s highest bobsleigh on rails, and the Monster Snowpark, for skilled freestyle skiers and snowboarders. There’s also the narrow Peak Walk – the world’s first suspension bridge to link two mountain peaks, the Scex Rouge and Glacier 3000. At 2,987 m (9,800 ft) above sea level, it is also the second-highest suspension bridge in the world after Titlis Cliff Walk in Obwalden. The platform offers stunning views of the Alps.
t The popular winter resort of Villars-sur-Ollon, with gentle slopes, ideal for beginners
One of the most popular ski resorts for families in the Vaud Alps, the village of Villars-sur-Ollon sits on a sunny plateau at 1,300 m (4,300 ft), from where a cogwheel train transports visitors to Col-de-Bretaye at 1,800 m (6,000 ft).
Up here on the summer meadows golfers can enjoy an 18-hole course with a view of Mont Blanc; come winter the whole area is taken over by skiers. There are some good gentle slopes, making it a decent resort for beginners, while the chairlift links to neighbouring Gryon and Les Diablerets mean more experienced skiers have plenty of challenging runs to keep them entertained.
The first tour of the world in a hot-air balloon set off from Château-d’Oex, in 1999.
A stop on the stunning train route from Montreux to Gstaad, the pretty Château d’Oex is immediately identifiable thanks to its 15th-century church, which sits proud on a steep hill in the centre of the village. An attractive, sleepy place, the village’s main draw is its special microclimate which is favourable to hot-air ballooning. Flights are avail- able all year, and it’s especially worth visiting in late January when it hosts the nine-day International Balloon Festival. Watching multicoloured balloons rise up off the white snow and ascend into (usually) clear blue skies is a supremely joyful experience.
t Sampling cheesy dishes at La Maison du Gruyère’s restaurant, Pringy
Visible from afar against the backdrop of alpine scenery, the well-preserved medieval village of Gruyères, in the district of Gruyère, is a popular destination for visitors, and is often crowded during the summer. As its only street is pedestrianized, vehicles must be left in the parking areas below.
The village has houses dating from the 15th to the 17th centuries and is crowned by a castle, the Château de Gruyères. Built in the 11th century, the castle was continuously inhabited by the counts of Gruyères until the mid-16th century, when the bankrupted 19th count fled and his lands were divided between the lords of Bern and Fribourg.
In 1848, the castle was acquired by the Bovys, a wealthy Genevan family who carried out extensive and much-needed restoration. In 1939 the castle passed into the ownership of the cantonal authorities of Fribourg. It now contains a museum. Displayed in rooms with frescoes and grand fireplaces, the exhibits include 16th-century Flemish tapestries and booty taken after the Battle of Murten (1476). Delicate landscapes by the French Impressionist painter Jean-Baptiste Corot (1796–1875), who stayed at the castle, are also on view. You can visit the château and grounds at your own pace or join one of the regular guided tours (in a number of languages, including English).
" ' ⌂ 8 Rue du Château # Apr–Oct: 9am–6pm daily; Nov–Mar: 10am–4:30pm daily ∑ chateau-gruyeres.ch
At La Maison du Gruyère (www.lamaisondugruyere.ch), a dairy in Pringy, at the foot of Gruyères, visitors can watch the famous cheese being made. Don’t forget to taste it at the restaurant.
The resort town of Murten (Morat in French) lies on the eastern shore of the Murtensee (Lac de Morat). It has strong historical associations. It was at Murten, on 22 June 1476, that the forces of the Swiss Confederation crushed the army of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, killing 12,000 of his soldiers, while losing only 410 of their own. According to legend, a messenger ran 17 km (10 miles) from Murten to Fribourg with news of the victory, dropping dead with exhaustion on his arrival. His sacrifice is commemorated by an annual run between Murten and Fribourg that takes place on the first Sunday in October.
The town was founded by the Zähringer dynasty in the 12th century, and is still encircled by walls dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Hauptgasse, the main street through the old town, is lined with 16th-century arcaded houses with overhanging eaves. The rampart walk, reached from several points along Deutsche Kirchgasse, offers views of the Murtensee, the castle and of the Old Town’s brown-tiled houses. At the western end of the town is a 13th-century castle, with a courtyard that provides a fine view over the lake. At the eastern end stands Berntor (or Porte de Berne), a striking Baroque gatehouse with a clock dating from 1712. The Musée Historique, in a disused mill on the lakeshore, displays prehistoric finds from local archaeological excavations, and items relating to the Burgundian Wars. It also stages frequent temporary exhibitions.
" ⌂ 4 Ryf, Murten # Apr–Oct: 2–5pm Tue–Sat, 10am–5pm Sun ∑ museummurten.ch
Each autumn after several happy months munching on alpine flowers on the high mountain pastures, it’s time for the cows to come home to the valley for the winter. Many villages, including Charmey, near Gruyères, host a day-long celebration with plenty of local wine, cheese and bell-ringing as the cows and their farmers parade through the streets.
t Vallorbe’s engaging Musée du Fer et du Chemin de Fer (Iron and Railway Museum)
This small industrial town lies near the Franco-Swiss border. From the Middle Ages until recently, the town was an iron-smelting centre. It was also at Vallorbe that the tunnel under the Jura was built, thus creating the Paris–Istanbul rail route.
The history of both the Swiss iron and railway industries is reflected in the Musée du Fer et du Chemin de Fer (Iron and Railway Museum), which sits on the bank of the River Orbe.
About 3 km (2 miles) southwest of Vallorbe are the Grottes de Vallorbe. These are caves with spectacular stalactites and stalagmites. The caves form a tunnel over the Orbe’s passage, which surges through a gorge.
' " ⌂ 11 Rue des Grandes-Forges # Mar–Oct: 2–6pm daily (from 10am Mon); Nov–Apr: 10am–6pm Tue–Fri ∑ museedufer.ch
" # Apr, May, Sep & Oct: 9:30am–4:30pm daily; Jun–Aug: 9:30am–5:30pm daily ∑ grottesdevallorbe.ch
Situated at the southwestern extremity of Lake Neuchâtel, Yverdon-les-Bains is Vaud’s second town after Lausanne. The Romans built thermal baths here to take advantage of the hot sulphurous springs. Yverdon’s town centre overlies the Roman settlement. The focal point is the Château d’Yverdon, a massive castle built by Peter II of Savoy in the 13th century.
Part of the castle now houses a museum of local history, with a collection of Gallo-Roman finds and other exhibits. A section of the museum is devoted to the life and work of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (1746–1827), the Swiss educational reformer who was influenced by the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and set up a school for deprived children in the castle in 1805.
Place Pestalozzi, opposite the castle, is dominated by the Hôtel de Ville, the town hall built in 1768–73 on the site of a former market hall. The collegiate church on the west side of the square dates from 1757. The arched pediment of its Baroque façade features an allegory of Faith. To the east, the otherworldly Maison d’Ailleurs (House of Elsewhere) is of interest to science fiction fans. This museum presents temporary exhibits related to science fiction, utopian worlds and fantasy.
Yverdon’s thermal baths, the Centre Thermal, is one of Switzerland’s largest and most modern spa centres, with indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and physiotherapy.
" # Jun–Sep: 11am–5pm Tue–Sun; Oct–May: 2–5pm Tue–Sun
" ⌂ 14 Place Pestalozzi # 2–6pm Tue–Fri, 11am–6pm Sat & Sun ∑ ailleurs.ch
⌂ 22 Avenue les Bains # 8am–10pm Mon–Sat, 8am–8pm Sun & public hols ∑ cty.ch
t The château at Estavayer-le-Lac seen from Lake Neuchâtel
Surrounded on three sides by the canton of Vaud, this small town on the southern shore of Lake Neuchâtel lies within an enclave of the canton of Fribourg. A popular yachting centre, Estavayer-le-Lac is also a pleasant medieval town with arcaded streets. Its focal point is the Château de Cheneaux, a fine Gothic castle that is now the seat of local government.
The Musée des Grenouilles (Frog Museum) , housed in a 15th-century mansion, contains an eclectic assemblage of exhibits, including kitchen implements. It also boasts an unusual curiosity, namely a collection of 108 stuffed frogs (grenouilles) and other creatures arranged in poses that parody the social life of the mid-19th century. The scenes, including dinner parties and playing pool, were created by François Perrier, an eccentric resident of Estavayer who served in the Vatican’s Swiss Guard and who put together this somewhat bizarre display in the 1860s.
" ⌂ 13 Rue du Musée # Mar–Oct: 10am–noon & 2–5pm Tue–Sun; Nov– Feb: 2–5pm Sat & Sun ∑ museedesgrenouilles.ch
Originally the capital of the Helveti, the Celtic tribe that once ruled this part of the country, Avenches was conquered by the Romans in the 1st century BC. Named Aventicum, it became the capital of the Roman province of Helvetia. Vestiges of the Roman city can still be seen to the east of the medieval town centre. The most complete of these remains is the amphitheatre, with seating for 6,000. Other features include the Tornallaz, a tower that is the only surviving part of the old city walls, the forum, the baths and a 12-m (40-ft) Corinthian column known as the Tour du Cigognier. The Musée Romain, set within the amphitheatre, contains an impressive display of Roman artifacts discovered during excavations at Aventicum. The exhibits range from items of daily life to statues of Roman deities, mosaics and wall paintings.
Avenches is famous for its music festivals, including an eclectic rock festival that has drawn international artists for nearly 30 years to perform in the Roman amphitheatre each August.
" ⌂ Tour de l’Amphithéâtre # Apr–Sep: 10am–5pm Tue–Sun; Oct, Feb & Mar: 2–5pm Tue–Sun; Nov–Jan: 2–5pm Wed–Sun ∑ aventicum.org
The Roman settlement of Aventicum was named after the Helvetian goddess of spring, Aventia.
Dominated by its medieval castle, the town of Grandson is associated with a momentous event in the history of the Swiss Confederation: the defeat of Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, at the Battle of Grandson on 2 March 1476.
In February 1476, the duke’s army laid siege to Grandson and its castle, eventually securing the surrender of the garrison, which was put to death. After raising an army of 18,000, the Confederates marched on Grandson to wreak revenge on the duke and his army. The Burgundians fled, abandoning their arms and horses, as well as the ducal treasury. The trove is now displayed in Bern’s Historisches Museum.
Built between the 11th and 14th centuries, the Château de Grandson rises proudly from the magnificent shores of Lake Neuchâtel. It contains a model of the battlefield and a diorama illustrating the town’s history from the Middle Ages to the present day. In the basement is an automobile museum with a white Rolls-Royce that belonged to Greta Garbo and Winston Churchill’s Austin Cambridge.
" ⌂ Place du Château § 024 445 29 26 # Apr–Oct: 8:15am–6pm daily; Nov–Mar: 8:15am–5pm daily
The elevated terrace at Ste-Croix enjoys panoramic views from Santis, in the Alpstein massif, to Mont Blanc on clear days, but even on cloudy days it’s worth the trip here for the chance to see the Swiss plateau blanketed in a thick sea of fog.
t An exhibit from the museum of mechanical devices in Ste-Croix
Appropriately known as the Balcony of the Jura, the town of Ste-Croix lies at an altitude of 1,092 m (3,583 ft) and commands a wide view of the Alps, the Swiss Upland and the Jura mountains.
Since the early 19th century Ste-Croix has been the world capital of musical-box manufacture. Two local museums are devoted to this art. In the town centre, the Musée du CIMA (Centre International de la Méchanique d’Art) has every mechanical toy and device imaginable, while the Musée Baud, in the village of L’Auberson, features music boxes collected by the Baud family, as well as singing birds and animated figures.
" ' ⌂ 2 Rue de l’Industrie # Guided tours only; see website for times (free last Sun of month) ∑ musees.ch
" ' ⌂ 23 Grand-Rue, L’Auberson # Jul–Sep: 2–5pm daily; Oct–Jun: 2–5pm Sat & Sun (guided tours onl) ∑ museebaud.ch
t The Fête des Vendanges (Grape Harvest Festival), in late September, Neuchâtel
Lying on the northwestern shore of Lake Neuchâtel, Neuchâtel is a graceful town with a strikingly Gallic atmosphere. Its main attractions are its castle, early Gothic church (the Église Collégiale) and Renaissance market hall. It also has two museums of note. The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire displays paintings by some of the Swiss and French Impressionists, as well as fascinating automata. The town’s other main museum, the Laténium, Parc et Musée d’Archéologie de Neuchâtel, is a large and modern museum complex illustrating the history of human activity and the settlement around the lake. Once a year the town’s century-old Grape Harvest Festival celebrates the bounty from the region’s vineyards.
The Jura may not be as dramatic as the Alps, but its moderate peaks and valleys offer a more accessible, family-friendly way to make the most of the great outdoors. One of the loveliest places in the Swiss Jura is the Vallée de Joux and its centrepiece, the sprawling Lac de Joux, the largest lake in the Jura. In summer, the lake is a playground for swimmers, boaters and windsurfers, while hikers and cyclists take to the surrounding trails. Many are suitable for all abilities, including the hike up Mont Tendre – at 1,679 m (5,500 ft) it’s the highest peak in the region, but a mere hillock compared to the Alps. When snow descends, the trails on the gentle slopes around the lake provide some wonderful cross-country skiing. At 1,004 m (3,300 ft)altitude, the lake sometimes freezes over in the coldest weeks, creating the largest natural ice rink in Europe.
t Highly decorated clocks in the Musée de l’Horlogerie
The town of Le Locle is renowned the world over as being the birthplace of Swiss watchmaking, and has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO. In 1705 the young watchmaker Daniel Jeanrichard arrived from Neuchâtel to settle in Le Locle, where he set up a workshop. The apprentices that he trained then established workshops of their own in La Chaux-de-Fonds, thus launching the now-famous Swiss watchmaking industry.
The Musée d’Horlogerie, which occupies a stately 18th-century mansion (the elegant Château des Monts), presents a large collection of timepieces from around the world, as well as several elaborate automata.
Experience Western Switzerland
Himalayan food in a vintage setting.
⌂ Fbg de l’Hôpital 31, Neuchâtel § 032 721 34 44
Mediterranean dishes served with a twist.
⌂ Quai Perdonnet 22, Vevey ∑ q-vevey.ch
t Ornate clocks at the Musée International d’Horlogerie at La Chaux-de-Fonds
If Le Locle is the birthplace of the Swiss watchmaking industry, La Chaux-de-Fonds may be regarded as its cradle. The largest town in the canton of Neuchâtel, La Chaux-de-Fonds lies in the Jura at an altitude of 1,000 m (3,280 ft). Introduced to the town in the early 18th century, watchmaking was initially a cottage industry. In time it was industrialized, and La Chaux-de-Fonds became the leading centre of Swiss watchmaking. The industry reached its peak in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
After it was destroyed by a fire in 1794, the town was rebuilt to a grid pattern, with long, wide avenues. It is now dotted with a number of modernist buildings.
The illustrious past of La Chaux-de-Fonds is celebrated in the magnificent Musée International d’Horlogerie. The museum’s collection of some 3,000 pieces from around the world illustrates the history of timekeeping from its beginnings in antiquity to state-of-the-art instruments able to record time lapses of infinitesimal fractions of a second. Many of the most impressive-looking pieces on display were made in La Chaux-de-Fonds during the town’s apogee. Musical, astrononomical, atomic and quartz clocks are also on display. The museum has audiovisual facilities, a library and a restoration workshop for antique clocks and watches. At the entrance is a tubular steel carillon that sounds every 15 minutes.
La Chaux-de-Fonds is also the birthplace of the modern- ist architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (1887–1965), known as Le Corbusier, from the French word “le corbeau” or “the raven”. Before he moved to Paris in 1917, Le Corbusier built several houses here, and an itinerary taking in buildings that he designed and places associated with him is available from the town’s tourist office.
" ⌂ 29 Rue des Musées # 10am–5pm Tue–Sun ∑ mih.ch
La Brevine has the record for the coldest temperature on the lowlands(-41.5° C/ -42.7° F)
The part of the Jura mountains that lies within the canton of Jura itself are known as the Franches-Montagnes. The area received its name in the 14th century, when the prince-bishop of Basel, who owned the territory that now constitutes the canton of Jura, granted its inhabitants a franchise, or exemption from taxation, in order to encourage migration to this sparsely populated region.
The Franches-Montagnes lie at an altitude of 1,000–1,100 m (3,300–3,600 ft). With spruce and fir forests, undulating pastures and prettily picturesque low houses, this outstandingly beautiful plateau has extensive hiking trails, and cycling and cross-country skiing routes. It is also famous for its sturdy breed of horses.
The region’s principal town is Saignelégier. Every year, in the second week of August, it hosts the Marché Concours National des Chevaux, a showpiece for the area’s unique breed of Franches-Montagnes horses.
t The Creux de Van, Western Switzerland’s “Grand Canyon”
This horseshoe-shaped rock formation in the Jura is sometimes nicknamed Western Switzerland’s “Grand Canyon” (the Rhine gorge stakes its claim for the east of the country). That may be a bit of a stretch, but still, the 160-m- (525-ft-) high cliffs are impressive and offer far-reaching views of the Jura mountains and the lush valley below – if you dare look over the vertigo-inducing edge. The easiest way to access it is to drive up the road to the restaurant near the top, though it’s much more satisfying to earn the views by hiking up the steep path through the woods from the village of Noiraigue. To descend, take an alternative path down through the centre of the horseshoe. You’ll pass by the fontaine froide, a natural spring where the water is a chilly 4° C (39° F) year-round. It’s a peaceful, isolated spot with a mythical status – during the century that absinthe was banned in Switzerland, covert drinkers would come here to enjoy it in secret, preparing it in the traditional way, by slowly adding water, a process known as “troubling”.
A charming medieval walled town with fortified gates, St-Ursanne is set in a deep canyon washed by the River Doubs. The town grew up around the hermitage that Ursicinus, a disciple of St Columba, established here in the early 7th century.
The focal point of the town is its beautiful Romanesque and Gothic church. It has a fine Romanesque portal, with statues of the Virgin and St Ursicinus. There are many fine old medieval houses, as well as graceful arched stone bridge, built in 1728 across the River Doubs on the south side of St-Ursanne, which provides a good view of the town and its setting. The bridge features a statue of St John Nepomucene, who is often considered the patron saint of bridges.
Experience Western Switzerland
Absinthe may be the preferred tipple of anguished poets and painters in Paris, but the Green Fairy (left) actually comes from the canton of Neuchâtel. The spirit was banned for a century, though many continued to distil it in secret, creating colourful anecdotes of clandestine activity that are told in the Maison de l’Absinthe in Môtiers (www.maison-absinthe.ch). Walk or cycle the Absinthe Trail, which connects distilleries, restaurants and even a chocolate shop that uses absinthe in its products.