Neuchâtel, As Cute As Any French Town…But Swiss

Last weekend, we stopped for a peak at Neuchâtel.  I’d heard it was cute, so we had to check it out.  From the French influenced architecture to the cafes that spill out onto squares, it looks and feels more French than the rest of Switzerland.

People have lived there since about 13,000 B.C., but a castle was built on the site in 1011.  From the name Neuchâtel, it’s assumed that it replaced an older one on the site (In French, Neuf = New and Chateau = Castle).  A town soon followed.  Needless to say, it’s been around long enough to develop some cool, quirky features.

The Seyon River  used to flow through the town (where Rue Seyon is now located).  It’s flooding was devastating and a tunnel was built diverting the river a few blocs.   To mark where the river once flowed, there is a little water feature running through the street.

Footbridge across castle moat.  Pretty sweet.  The best part is that it connects to a park.  How much would you like to play capture the fort here?

Empress Josephine slept here.

The Swiss officials drained millions of cubic feet from Lake Neuchâtel, in 1870, lowering the lake level by 10 feet.  As a result, formerly lakeside chateaus  and their stone banks now sit inland.  A good amount of Neuchatel’s lakeside is now lined with elegant promenades.  The Promenade Noir was urban infill on the new lakefront property.  The buildings on one side of the street date from the 1600’s and the other side date from the 1800’s.  The building above is across the street from the building below!

Nice looking post office on new lakefront property.

Many of Neuchâtel’s older buildings are made from the local, yellow sandstone.  It’s an amazing, rich, color.

It’s even got its own cheese.  I prefer Neuchâtel to Philadelphia Cream Cheese on a bagel.  It healthier too.  Heck, it may even be healthier than Philly light.  You can blow the calories you saved on some Swiss chocolate.

Although the lakeside had a pretty view of the Alps and Jura, we like the views from our lake (Lac Leman/Lake Geneva) better.  The views get better as you get higher.  Some of the surrounding areas have stunning views.  Sorry I couldn’t get any decent ones from the car window.

Neuchâtel watchmakers made delightful little mechanical figurines that are displayed in the Musée d’Art.  We visited on a holiday morning so it was closed.  We hear it’s worth a peek if you get the chance to visit though.



What You Can Learn From License Plates In Switzerland

In Switzerland, license plates are assigned based on experience, thus low number plates usually indicate someone who has been driving a long time (i.e., an old person). Larger cantons (GE, ZH, etc.) have more cars and so the numbers on the plates extend much higher.

Very low numbers (e.g., “GE 3”) usually are assigned to taxis. On government cars have a single letter (instead of the canton): “A” for administration, “M” for military. There are no personalized license plates.

Diplomatic plates are all over Geneva.  They have CD in a blue square on the left of the plate.

Each canton (like a state) has its own abbreviation.  When you are in the parking lot of a ski resort, you are easily able to tell where the other skiers live in Switzerland.  I find looking at them is helpful in learning the coat of arms for each canton.

The abbreviations for the cantons (listed in German, French Italian and English) are:

Often, you see EU (European Union) plates in Geneva.  It’s understandable given our proximity to France.  Sometimes, you even see foreign plates.

I once saw US plates while I was riding on the bus.  Sorry, I couldn’t get a photo.


Fondue In Switzerland = Cheesy, Gooey Goodness

If you come visit, expect to eat fondue.  Fondue restaurants are pervasive and even a non-cook like me can make fondue at home.  Our friends Pitbull and TNT came to visit and we had a fondue extravagaza.  Here’s how we made it:

  • Cut the bread into cubes of less than an inch. Some people like the bread a bit dry (to better absorb the cheese) and will use day old bread and/or cut it a few hours ahead.
  • Split a piece of garlic in two.  Rub the inside of the fondue pot it.
  • Pour a bit of white wine (preferably Swiss, it should be dry not sweet) in the bottom of the pot.
  • Pour the shredded cheese (see below for which ones) in the pot and stir.
  • Add more wine, bit by bit to ensure a smooth texture.  I find it helpful to leave a bit of cheese in reserve to add if the mixture becomes a bit thin and/or runny.
  • Stir the mixture so that the cheese melts and cooks evenly.
  • While you want the cheese to melt, you don’t want it to burn.  Check the temperature to make sure that it is not too hot.
  • Raise your glass, toast and begin eating.
  • While eating, adjust the heat so that the cheese stays at a constant temperature and does not overcook.

Eating fondue is easy.  The largest problem associated with eating fondue is overeating.  Put a small piece of bread on the fork/dipper/fondue skewer, stir it in the cheese and enjoy. Although I can’t help you with the overeating part, here are some tips and etiquette for eating fondue:

  • Even though you will want to pop the cheesy goodness right into your mouth, try to be patient and let the cheese drip/cool for a second.
  • To avoid sharing too many germs, people avoid touching their mouths to the fork/dipper/fondue skewer.
  • Drink only white wine or room temperature water while eating fondue to avoid indigestion.  You will thank yourself if you do this and curse yourself if you don’t.
  • If you lose your bread in the cheese, custom dictates that you buy the next round of drinks or be thrown in the lake (Lac Leman/Lake Geneva).  Given Geneva’s expensive prices, you may be in for a dunking in Geneva’s approximately 5 degree waters (41 Fahrenheit).  You were warned.
  • La religieuse (French for the nun) refers to the well-cooked remnants of cheese that stick to the bottom of the pot.  They are scraped out and eaten.  Yum.

The Swiss debate the best type of cheese fondue.  The most popular types include (in order of popularity):

Sometimes, a shot of Kirsh, tomatoes, peppers (red and green), or mushrooms will be placed in the cheese.  Of course, the French (Comté savoyard, Beaufort, and Emmental or just different types of Comté)  and Italians (Fontina, milk, eggs and truffles) have their own versions.

There is, apparently, a much larger world of fondue out there, just waiting to be discovered (and eaten).  Other types of fondue include:

  • Chocolate fondue, where pieces of fruit are dipped into a melted chocolate mixture,
  • Fondue bourguignonne, where pieces of meat are cooked in hot oil
  • Fondue chinoise, a hot pot, where pieces of meat are cooked in broth.

Although it will be burdensome, we will do the research and report back.