La Chaux-de-Fonds is in the resplendent Swiss canton of Neuchatel, perched some 1000m above sea level in the Jura Mountains. It is an ancient and historic parish that has roots way back in the 1600s. Perhaps deemed at first glance not to be an obvious inclusion on a list of places to see in Switzerland because it doesn’t have any of the defining characteristics of a traditional Swiss city – like a medieval old town or being nudged up to a clutch of winter sports resorts, it is a hugely underrated tourist destination.
Thanks to incredible architecture (ref: Le Corbusier and see below) and being seeped in an historic air of culture and a magical showcase of legendary Swiss watching making, La Chaux de Fonds is a city that was some eons ahead of its time. It is a French speaking region in Switzerland and is a relatively small mountain community just a hop, skip and a jump away from the border with France.
The mountain territory actually consists of two small neighbor small towns – the other being Le Locle – and the towns were designed specifically to reflect the bustling industry of watch making, which has been beautifully preserved and has is still going strong today. However, it was only after a catastrophic fire destroyed ‘’Watch Valley’’ that they were built in the way you see it today. Both the towns have earned their place as UNESCO World Heritage sites because of their massive cultural and universal contributions.
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The Best Time To Go
The Jura Mountain range offers a climate that is particularly harsh and is touted as being the Siberia of Switzerland; no surprise then that is holds the record for having the lowest ever temperature every recorded for Switzerland entirely a whopping – 41.8°C (-43.2°F). The winter months are decidedly unpleasant and somewhat unbearable with average daytime temperatures about – 2°C (28°F) or so on any given day.
For visiting, the summer time is definitely best. The summer months of June, July and August are when the temperatures briefly rise out of their below freezing comfort zone and head out to a cool 12/13°C (54°F).
Summer is a fantastic time and locals emerge on their bicycles, get out into the fresh air and are seen jogging, walking the dog and enjoying each other’s company. During the freezing winter months, winter sports enthusiasts are out in full force, zipping about the mountain side. Because of the town’s elevation, there is no chance the summers get too hot here, and the warm weather is perfect for sightseeing. There is lots to see and do and the town is easy to get to by train from Zurich or flying in landing at Bern and hiring a car to make the short, picturesque route to the town.
Getting Around in La Chaux-de-Fonds
Being Switzerland, the public transport system is exceptionally well organized, on time and easy to navigate. Tickets for trams, highly efficient articulated trolley-buses and the mountain railway can be booked online and packages for your visitors travel requirements can be organized with the tourism office or your hotel. As with many of the small Swiss towns, La Chaux de Fonds is no exception and the town is easy to navigate on foot or meander around on a bicycle.
Bicycle hire can be arranged at a few spots throughout the town, but if you are planning to go a bit further afield, it may be preferable to hop on a train or use the tram system to see the countryside. You can rent a car to travel around in, although it is not necessary; the public transport system will more than suffice.
Major Attractions and Sights
There is an abundance of really fascinating local heritage and cultural sites to see and experience in the town, with lots of museums showcasing the history of this intriguing hilltop location.
The International Museum of Watches is a stunning exhibition in La Chaux de Fonds and is an exciting showcase of the history of watch making from both Switzerland and all over the world. This is a must see attraction for every age group – and even if you were not interested in watch making when you got there, you will certainly be so when you leave. The collection has more than 700 clocks and 2,700 watches.
The Museum of Natural History has a comprehensive showcase of the local flora and fauna. And there is a small zoo that will delight all visitors. It is easy to find and explore this attraction on foot, and has no entrance fee.
The Farming and Craft Museum is another attraction that will charm those who want to know about the area or just love history and rural life. Take a journey through the life and times of early 17th century farmers and their families. To make the trip a special one, enjoy it on the back of a horse drawn carriage.
The Museum of Fine Arts is an art lover’s haven, with some incredible works from artists from all over the world, as well as renowned Swiss artists. Le Corbusier has a lot of art work here as well as some from the 19th and 20th Century.
Le Corbusier was a renowned architect, touted as the Picasso of Swiss architecture and whose name and fame spread far beyond the realms of his home country. Born and bred here, Le Corbusier was considered to be one of the most influential architects of the first half of the 20th century. Although Le Corbusier became a naturalized Frenchman in 1930 and many wrongly assume he was French, it was in Le Chaux de Fonds that he cut his teeth, so to speak, and there are superb examples of his early work influenced by the Art Nouveau style he saw around him, standing in town as well as his birthplace. Students and lovers of architecture should definitely add these to their sightseeing itinerary – Villa Fallet, Villa Stotzer, Villa Jacquemet, Villa Turque and Villa Jeanneret as well as La Scala Cinema and there is a collection of furniture designed by him in the Museum of Fine Arts, along with some of his other works.
The Bell Foundry is an interesting place to visit, and the local tourism office will be able to help you find out when the best time to visit may be. The Fonderie de Cloches at Clochettes still casts bells here a couple of mornings a week and it is a great place to see how it is still done.
The underground mills in Le Locle is a tour that you will never forget. Join a 90 minute guided trip through these historic underground mills and learn the fascinating history of how they started, what they were used for and how they were restored in the 1970s for visitors to enjoy.
Acro Land is a zip line adventure park that takes visitors right through the tree tops on a multi hour adventure of a lifetime. This is perfect opportunity to be immersed completely in nature and chill out and enjoy a delicious fondue at the park afterwards.
All terrain scooters is an activity for the adventurous traveler that is visiting the town. Go up to the top of Val de Travers in a chairlift and come down on one of the 3 courses on an all-terrain scooter. The 3 paths offer different terrain experiences for different fitness levels, so everyone can enjoy this activity.
Paragliding is an exciting activity for the fearless adrenalin junkie. Swoop down over breathtaking mountain cliffs and look down over the ‘Watch Valley’. Definitely not for the faint hearted.
The Peasant Museum is a chance for visitors to step back into time and see how the peasant locals of La Chaux de Fonds lived and worked here in their hillside community.
Eating Out in La Chaux-de-Fonds
La Ferme des Brandt is a fantastic, high-end restaurant in La Chaux de Fonds – pricey but worth it as the food is in a class of its own and is set in an historic homestead with spectacular surroundings.
Restaurant du Raymonds has an exceptional seasonal menu, including a great selection of seafood and meat. The staff is friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed and amiable, and the wine list is described as excellent by those in the know.
Creperie Poivre et Sel is a hugely popular restaurant with some of the best pancakes and filling choices. The excellent food and friendly service is popular among families, but it’s always very busy and sometimes packed to capacity. Get there early.
Pizzeria Friggitoria Napoli has the best pizza in the area – hands down. Their thick, crispy crust that is filled with delicious fillings is a huge local favorite. Definitely worth a visit while you are staying in La Chaux de Fonds.
Grand Hotel les Endroits has superb views, excellent service, a superior menu and is definitely the place for anyone looking for somewhere special to celebrate a special occasion like a birthday or an anniversary.
Porc & Poivre or the Pig and Pepper has an unassuming entrance, but you must go through and experience the great food, good music, excellent vibe and their delicious cheese fondue.
Nightlife in La Chaux-de-Fonds
In La Chaux de Fonds there isn’t a great deal of nightlife options; it isn’t a bustling city as you know one, but that would deter from its charm if it was. There are number of places to head for a night out, and there are some great restaurants, lounges, side walk cafes and bars to start off with, as well as some excellent live music venues both in La Chaux de Fonds and Le Locle. There is an excellent line up of theatre and cultural events which are particularly popular during the summer months. Check with the concierge at your hotel for all the event information on during the time of your stay.
IN OX Bar is an up market lounge bar with a fantastic cocktail menu and is the perfect place to enjoy an early evening drink with friends.
Dublins is a typical Irish pub that has live music twice a month. Good value for money, and it’s a popular drinking spot among locals and visitors alike.
Popular Theatre Romand is a theater company that brings ballets, music, cultural events, exhibitions and live performances to the town. They have a great summer festival line up.
Bikini Test is a live music venue that has a number of excellent performances lined up throughout the year. The venue has been going strong since the 90s and is the perfect place to see anything from classical, jazz, heavy rock and metal.
Of Local Interest in
Despite not having the best reputation for the greatest weather for the better part of the year, the town is very organized in terms of festivals and events, most of them which are completely covered and heated, protecting performers and patrons from the uncomfortable chill. This means that right throughout the year there is something on to see or do, or experience, no matter if it is rain, shine or sleet. La Chaux de Fonds and Le Locle are very enthusiastic about their music and culture and not matter whether your taste is opera, ballet, jazz, choral or heavy metal, there is something on that will delight you and your traveling companion’s right throughout the year. So if you are indeed brave enough to visit during the middle of winter, you will still be able to be entertained.
Rock Altitude Festival
Held every year, the Rock Altitude Festival takes over La Locle for a weekend every August. A funk rock and metal festival, there is an exciting line up of artists, camping is free on site and the venue is covered and heated for the duration of the concerts.
Neuchâtel International Choral Festival
Held over a week in August, the international choral festival is a showcase of local and international choirs and musical ensembles, art and culture.
Cully Jazz Festival
An exciting Jazz fest held during the chilly month of April. Bands local and international converge on the small mountain town for a week of excellent music and the event has been going strong for 31 years.
Held during March each year, this is a games festival like no other. Players come from all over the world to take part in over 300 games and tournaments of every kind.