Neuchatel and the Jura

The Jura Mountains, although less impressive than the Alps, have a melancholy beauty all their own with their stately pine woods and their wind-swept summits where cattle graze during the summer months. Neuchatel, with its exclusive old families, is the capital of the canton. Its cultural and aristocratic tradition is in sharp contrast to both the socialistic atmosphere of La Chaux-de-Fonds and the modern commercialism of Bienne. In this countryside lies the centre of the Swiss watch-making industry. Here also there is wine growing, horsebreeding and agriculture.

French is the common language, except for small German speaking settlements in the northern part of the canton. The French spoken in Neuchatel is the purest spoken in Switzerland and is even admired by the French themselves. There is the so-called low country, a long narrow strip of land between the lake of Neuchatel and the first hills. Then come the valleys, cut deep into the mountains, like the Val-de-Travers, through which the defeated Bourbaki army retreated from France in 1871 to seek refuge in Switzerland, or open plateaus like the Val-de-Ruz which again received regiments of a defeated French army in 1940.

The Jura mountains reach an attitude of between 4200-4800 feet. Their slopes are covered with dark pine forests, but their peaks are bare and wind swept. The majestic regularity of these mountains changes slightly in the north but without detriment to the picturesque severity and impressive, seductive melancholy of the countryside. The valleys and highlands are wild and often deserted except for the echo of cowbells. The towns and villages are small but there are plenty of inns and hotels to give a hearty welcome to the tourist. Life is hard in the Jura. The summers are short, the winters long and the cold, clear north wind -- "la bise" -- blows a great deal of the time. There is also a local wind known as the Joran which sweeps down from the Jura, causing sudden squalls on the lake of Neuchatel and making it very treacherous for sailing. However, despite the fact that life is hard in the Jura, the Neucha, telois know how to enjoy themselves when the day's work is done. It was in the Jura mountains that Hans Andersen wrote some of his loveliest fairy tales and it was here that the First International was started. In a little village at the foot of the Jura, there is a mill called the "Middle of the World", because from its mill pond flow two streams, one into the Aare and the Rhine, the other into the lake of Geneva and the Rhone. When Germany declared war in 1914, the miller closed the sluice gate which led to the Rhine, announcing quite simply : "They shan't have any water in Germany!"

Neuchatel, the capital of the canton, is a small, picturesque city with its yellow sandstone buildings making it seem, as Alexander Dumas said, "as if it were carved out of butter." Neuchatel was among the last cantons to join the Swiss Confederation, but in 1848 it finally overthrew its last sovereign who, curiously enough, happened to be a Hohenzollern, although the canton is so definitely French in feeling.

Neuchatel still offers the visitor many vestiges of its eventful past when first it belonged to the ducal house of Orleans″Longueville, then to the Kings of Prussia and lastly gained its political independence. Following the Swiss tradition of mercenary service, many Neuchatel aristocrats served under the King of Prussia. And a regiment from Neuchatel took the city of Seringapa, tam for the British East India Company. There has always been a definite international tradition among the old families of Neuchatel. A member of the Pourtales family helped found Colorado Springs over a century ago, another was German ambassador to Petrograd and many members of the family served in the French army: In the Second World War, several sons of old Neu, chatel families were killed fighting as volunteers in the Royal Air Force.

The Neuchatelois have a special way of thinking and of speaking. They are alert diplomats and extremely conscious of their culture. But they have a definite feeling of superiority and are convinced that, as far as the important things in life are concerned, the world begins and ends within the confines of their canton. Yet although they are even more famous for their grumbling than other Swiss, they know how to extricate themselves from any kind of trouble.

Neuchatel, this lovely town where the charms of the lake, the gardens, and the old houses are enchantingly combined, is essentially a town of study. It has a university, several high schools and many boarding schools. From the shady quayside on sunny, clear days there is a magnificent panorama of the Alps, beginning with the Bernese chain and ending with Mt. Blanc in the far distance.

No comments: