In a few moments more the train halted at Le Locle and we climbed down onto the platform, just as you would at Stamford, and the little train set off to its last stop just along the line. We gazed about a bit: high over the town was the premises of Tissot, where our own watches were made, and just above the station was the Zenith factory. Through the subway and just down the road was our home for the next three nights at Maison DuBois, where Alison's several-times great grandfather was born! We had looked at the maps and descriptions of the town and the house long ago on the World Wide Web and knew exactly where we were going: of all the houses in the world this one was so simple to reach, just a few metres from the station and such an easy and exciting ride.
|The former office, just as it was left|
We enquired of those in the café downstairs about where we might sample the traditional Swiss Fondue but the recommended Café des Sports did not do food that evening so after a trek round the town looking for affordable alternatives we fetched up at a place serving pizza, not very Swiss, but we did have local Neuchatel wine with it. However, when we returned to the recommended place the following evening the proprietor had prepared a table for us and the (English-speaking!) chef was all ready for us.
Again the Neuchatel wine and a fantastic meal. We came back the following evening to try other Swiss cuisine, rosti potatoes and some mushroom dishes which were unlike anything we'd ever tried before. On neither evening was there anyone else in the dining room; a handful of men in the bar - how this business survives I cannot imagine. We were given a half-litre of wine to bring home as a souvenir, too. Next time we visit Le Locle we shall return there (if it's still open!). Although we asked for and, after much discussion of trade secrets, were given the recipes for these delicious meals we could probably never get the right cheeses and the right mushrooms to attempt it here.
During our stay the sun shone much of the time and there was a slow thaw, so that by the time we left there was very little snow. But it had been just perfect to arrive in Switzerland with snow on the ground and to see it just as one imagines.
On the first full day in Switzerland we walked up the hill to the watch and clock museum, a former house on a hillside overlooking Le Locle
On the second day we took the train to La Chaud de Fonds and explored there. From the train we passed the premises of some of the most famous watchmaking firms in the world. Much bigger than Le Locle, La Chaud de Fonds has a grid street pattern after its rebuilding following a disastrous fire two hundred years ago. It was the birthplace of the architect known as Le Corbusier. We visited a carillon clock which we just came across in a park and explored the town. We finally managed to find a shop that sold something we could take back as gifts (Swiss chocolate seemed a bit more practical and affordable than watches or clocks): Le Locle just had nothing like that at all.
We returned to Paris by a very different route, leaving Le Locle the opposite way, via La Chaud de Fonds and down to the lakeside at Neuchatel: again a series of fascinating views from the train of landscape often very different from our own. Neuchatel has a large station in the city centre and from there we caught a fast Pendolino train to Geneva, passing along the shores of two of Switzerland's huge lakes.
At Geneva we had a few moments for coffee, using up most of the last of our Swiss currency, before we caught the TGV to Paris. It looked like a bit more fuss was being made of the border here than there had been on our branch line train earlier in the week. There were dedicated platforms for trains to France, and customs and passport facilities were provided on the approach to the platforms: I wondered if we needed to declare the half-litre of Neuchatel wine … but in fact there was no-one manning either the passport or the customs counters and we just walked onto the platform. Our TGV was already there and we sought our reserved seats and settled down. Again, this train was looking a little age-worn, but the high-speed service to and from Switzerland is fairly new and I wonder if perhaps they do not yet have all the new trains and are having to press some into service that might otherwise be refurbished … anyway, the views from the train for the first part of the journey were stunning. It ambles slowly for a long way until it reaches the high speed line at Macon and we were treated to sights such as a motorway high above us on a viaduct just disappearing straight into a mountainside and through a tunnel, motorways being far too wide the thread through the river valley below as the railway does, where the river itself and the villages make a splendid scene.