The Rough Guide to Switzerland

Beam yourself down into Neuchâtel, and for a while you might think you’ve landed up in France. The Neuchâtelois people are the most French-oriented in Switzerland, speaking a dialect of Swiss-French that is celebrated – by those for whom such a thing is significant – as the “purest” in the country (that’s to say, the closest to the “true” French spoken over the border).

The town’s air of dignity and easy grace is fuelled by a profusion of French-influenced architecture: many of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century buildings are made from local yellow sandstone, a fact which led Alexandre Dumas to describe Neuchâtel as looking “like a toytown carved out of butter”.

The modern and disarmingly Gallic street life of pavement cafés and studenty night bars, upscale street markets and hip designer boutiques, has the slightly unreal flavour of a town actively seeking influences from beyond its own borders – a rare thing indeed in Switzerland.

The Neuchâtelois, for whom the issue of joining the EU is a matter of the plainest common sense, are perhaps the epitome of the Swiss mystery: they are about as far removed in attitude, values, style and language from the people of Lucerne – with whom their future is inextricably linked – to the east, as they are closely related to the people of Dijon – the supposed foreigners – to the west.

You get the feeling while in Neuchâtel that the locals have thrown up their hands in disbelief at such injustice, and, ensconced between their broad lake and the mountain border, have sought solace in a life of fine wines, rich foods and French TV while waiting for their compatriots to see sense.

[Taken from the Rough Guide to Switzerland © Matthew Teller, 2010]