Chronicles of a writer abroad

Neuchâtel’s Creux de Van


Of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, the one whose name sounds the most romantic to me is Neuchâtel. On paper, it has several things going for it: they speak French there (this is a pretty big advantage in my book), there are a number of castles and a large lake (Lac Neuchâtel), and it is the birthplace of absinthe. I was excited, therefore, when we ventured into this canton to hike this past Sunday.

We had to take two trains to get there — one ride was comparatively long (an hour and fifteen minutes) and the next comparatively short (20 minutes). The first train’s “next stop” signs switched partway through the journey from Nächste halt to Prochain arrêt and we knew then that we had crossed into Romandie, or French-speaking Switzerland. We disembarked in Neuchâtel (which like Zürich is a city as well as a canton name), and boarded the second train to Noiraigue. On this train everyone was speaking French, and my brain was momentarily overloaded, since I’m so used to not listening to what people around me are saying. Here I couldn’t help it — my poor brain, starved of eavesdropping!

We and our friends were the only ones speaking English, it seemed. A friendly older lady leaned across the aisle and inquired as to whether we spoke French. “Un peu,” I said cautiously, remembering last week’s debacle with the French-speaking Nespresso representative (besides, the Swiss way is to say that you speak a language “only a little” even when you are essentially fluent). “Regardez cette montagne,” she told me a little while later, “c’est tres beau. Connaissez-vous le Creux de Van?” I told her that this was where we were headed that day, and she was very pleased. As we left the train, she wished us a beautiful day. Several other people smiled and waved at us, echoing her wishes, and I realized how accustomed I’ve become to the silent German-speaking Swiss character (and how I could live in French Switzerland in a heartbeat!).

Anyway, the lady was right: the Creux de Van is exceptionally beautiful. The name refers to a large (1400 meter-wide) horseshoe-shaped, glacier-carved rock formation. And because its top (from which you get amazing views across the semicircle and, if you’re brave enough to stand near the edge, down the steep rock faces) sits at 1470 meters above sea level, and we began at 740, we had to undertake a real hike on this day. Of course, this area is also accessible by car, so as we triumphantly and sweatily summited the mountain, we once again saw kids playing and people drinking cafe-au-lait like it was no big deal.     

Le sigh.

Here are some pictures:

Le Creux de Van


More view

Our friend scrambling onto a rock ledge

These cows were hanging out in a wooded area

And there were more dotting the landscape

We finished our hike in the village of Môtiers, which boasts an absinthe bar every two paces

Oh, and Rousseau hung out here for a few years with his mistress

We came across these fake tombstones displaying typically French dark humour

And this very cool building

French Switzerland, I miss you already.

4 thoughts on “Neuchâtel’s Creux de Van

  1. The town has a very different look. I’m curious about absinthe. Is that a licorice drink and what gives it its flavour? I loved the photo of the rim and the long vistas. So beautiful! You climbed 700+ metres, that’s a real ‘hike!’

    • I’ve never tried absinthe, but I know it is anise-flavoured and naturally green in colour. It was once vilified as an addictive drug-like substance, but has now found to be no more dangerous than other spirits (it is a spirit rather than a liqueur because it contains no added sugar). Should have given it a taste on the day of the hike, but it was a Sunday, and so things were closed.

  2. Just stunning! Those pictures made my heart beat faster! And I think you’ll always be glad that you reached your goal by hiking rather than driving – you had a completely different experience because of it (in a good way 🙂 ).

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