My journey began in the charming medieval village of Solothurn, on the River Aare, and followed the Jura Mountains and Joux Valley of Switzerland all the way to the lakeside city of Geneva.The route stays close to Switzerland's border with France as it meanders south toward Geneva, showing more variety in a few days than almost any other week long excursion in the country.
From Solothurn, I took the half day river cruise to Neuchatel on Lake Neuchatel, a hillside city steeped in history that was once part of the Holy Roman Empire. Impressive castles and churches remain from that era. After several days exploring the city, it was time to board Swiss Rail for the journey to Noiraigue and the famed Jacot family Chocolaterie. Here one learns how Swiss chocolates are made in all their great variety, and how best to pair chocolate with wines. The next stop was the historic asphalt mines at Travers, which includes not only a stroll through the mine, but an elaborate lunch featuring ham cooked in asphalt. To round out the incredible variety of the region, my next stop was the Maison de l'Absynthe, a celebration of the famous distilled liqueur, a mythical drink made from grande wormwood, which comes exclusively from this valley.
From my new base in the city of Yverdon-les-Bains, at the southern end of Lake Neuchatel, it was a short trip to Espace Horloger, a combination museum and celebration of the Swiss tradition of fine watch-making here in the Joux Valley. The farmers in the valley learned watch making to fill the long winter months, and from that evolved the making of fine mechanical watches and time pieces. Nearby, in Sainte-Croix, is the CIMA Museum, which celebrates and protects the long Swiss heritage of fine music boxes--which, in reality, are like big watches in their complicated movements. From there, it was a short drive to the Grottes de Vallorbe, the largest cave system in Switzerland, where a subterranean river has created an enchanting world of stalagmites, stalactites and exposed crystals. I finished up my trip later that day with a wine tasting at Chateau de Valeyres winery, one of many here in the valley.
Reluctantly I said goodbye to the Jura Mountains the next day and took Swiss Rail down to Geneva, perhaps the most international city in all of Europe. A day spent strolling around the old town, taking the "yellow boat" ferries across the lake between the new and old parts of the city, and enjoying lunch on the venerable steamer Savoie, is a day to be treasured. A 24-hour Geneva Pass provides easy access to all the city's museum and transit modes. A favorite neighborhood of mine is Carouge, sometimes called the Greenwich Village of Geneva, where 18th century Italian style brings a Mediterranean ambience.
Reluctantly, I took the train to the Geneva airport the next morning for my international flight home, marveling at the variety of the Jura Mountains and this off the beaten path part of Switzerland.