Jura - Watch Valley
The Jura Mountains are a sub-alpine mountain range located north of the western Alps, separating the Rhine and Rhone rivers and forming part of the watershed of each. The Swiss Jurassic Arc is one of the three distinct geographical regions of Switzerland; it stretches from the Lake Geneva region in the south to Basel in the north forming the Swiss border to France, and includes the Swiss Canton of Jura, as well as parts of the Cantons Vaud, Neuchatel, Bern and Basel-Land. The Swiss Jura is considered a Mecca for Swiss watchmaking tradition and the Jura mountain range offers a variety of outdoor activities including hiking, cycling, skiing and cross-country skiing.
The southern part of the Swiss Jurassic Arc belongs to the Canton Vaud, and therefore, is considered part of the Lake Geneva Tourism region, while the others are forming the Jura - Watch Valley Tourism region, including:
Canton Jura Neuchatel Bernese Jura
Delémont, the capital of the Canton Jura, is embedded in the densely forested, hilly Jurassic landscape and boasts of having the warmest summer in the Jura. From the meadows to the foothills, winding mountain streams sculpt magnificent gorges in the countryside, and unique features in the region as well as museums and galleries enhance this ancient and charming town. The town gates of Delémont and parts of the former city wall are still in good condition, and the squares of the Old Town are decorated by five monumental Renaissance-style figure fountains dating from the 16th century. Delémont also is home of the Wenger knife factory, the genuine Swiss Army pocket knife.
Porrentruy is the second largest town and is considered the cultural center of the region and the historical capital of the Canton Jura. The cityscape is dominated by the mighty medieval castle, which is dating back to 1271 and served as the residence of the prince bishops of Basel for 200 years. The surrounding region, called the Ajoie, offers vast green plains, damson trees, vineyards, caves as well as a prehistoric park, an aerodrome, wagon tours and magical ponds. Porrentruy and the Ajoie with their almost sixty churches and chapels also is home of the largest concentration of stained glass windows createing a museum of art – modern, alive and open.
In the heart of the Jura, the nature reserve of the Clos du Doubs reveals itself between the mountains and the river. The Doubs River, a tributary of the Saône, is very popular with fishermen since people say that the best river trouts are to be found in the Doubs. The ancient medieval town of Saint-Ursanne is the point of reference of a prestigious history with secular witness such as the Collégiale and the cloister dating back to the 12th century. This region offers numerous outdoor activities such as canoe and kayak excursions, hiking and biking, as well as the "Grottes de Réclère" – impressive caves with stalactites and stalagmites, of European importance (1.5 km / 1 mile of the cave system can be visited with a guide).
Saignelégier and the High-Plateau of the Franches-Montagnes (Freiberg Mountains) at an altitude of 1,000 meters (3,000 ft) asl, is the meeting place between man and horse. Being the home of the "Franches Montagnes Horses", the Jura with its wide open spaces is a true paradise for riders: over 200 kilometers (125 miles) of marked riding trails and the possibility to enjoy rides in covered wagons and carriages. The horse foundation in Le Roselet is definitely worth visiting - a home for retired horses, ponies and donkeys as well as a Franches Montagnes horses breeder. The annual horse market in Saignelegier is nowadays the biggest horse festival in Switzerland. This region is a paradise for outdoor activities on foot, bicycle, water, cross country skis and snow-shoes. An ice-skating rink, swimming pool, horse riding school and indoor-tennis complement leisure time options whatever the weather. Near Saignelégier lies the "Etang de la Gruère", a high moor which was created 12'000 years ago and is of national importance featuring animals and plants which are rare or even in danger of becoming extinct.
Charming black fir tree forests, bluish rivers, deep lakes and green pastures, covered in snow when winter comes, the Neuchâtel Mountains are merely a paradise for nature lovers and sportsmen alike offering numerous options for sports and leisure activities such as hiking, cycling, mountain biking, swimming, canoeing, hockey playing, skating, and rock climbing. The Neuchâtel Mountains also offer a collection of wonders of precision set in the magnificent International Watchmaking Museum in La Chaux-de-Fonds and the Château des Monts Watch Museum in Le Locle. Both watch-making towns have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for their exceptional value.
Other attractions of the Neuchatel Mountains include typical and joyful villages with beautiful Neuchatel farmhouses, nature in all her finery such as the charming and wild banks of the Doubs River, Lake Les Taillères which is turning into a natural ice rink when winter comes, the Creux du Van, a spectacular rock semi-circle with a large nature preserve with ibexes, wild boars, badgers, and many more wild animals, and the Val de Travers which is characterised by the watch industry and extends from Lake Neuenburg all the way to the French border. Asphalt mines, steam trains and the TGV high-speed train, and the sparkling wine production at the former Benedictine monastery of St. Pierre in Môtiers are features of the Val de Tavers. However, the valley's secret star is the "Grüne Fee" (green fairy), the Absinthe Schnaps which was prohibited for over 90 years until 2005 and now is experiencing a bit of a revival.
The city of Neuchâtel (called Neuenburg in German), situated in the middle of vineyards on the shores of Lake Neuchatel, has a rich cultural and architectural past. The Castle and the Collegiate Church, built in the Gothic style in the Middle Ages, which can both be seen from afar, are the city's landmarks. Neuchatel offers a medieval heart, pedestrian areas, numerous "bistrots" and restaurants, an authentic local produce market, surprising museums and exciting events. Places of interest include all kinds of museums presenting archeology, nature, ethnography, art and history, and Friedrich Dürrenmatt, the famous Swiss poet and artist. Lake Neuchâtel is an invitation to relaxation and water activities on approximately 15 km (10 miles) of accessible shores, beaches, picnic areas and exclusively pedestrian and cycling paths.
The Bernese Jura (Jura Bernois in French) forms the French-speaking area of the Canton of Bern. It encompasses the western shores of Lake Biel including its vineyards and picturesque villages, hills and Jura mountains bordering the Canton of Jura, and the city of Bienne at the northern end of the lake. Marked by nature and tradition, the Bernese Jura offers its visitors an abundance of free spaces between valleys, mountains and meadows of flowers, the ideal place for hiking and biking. The Chasseral (1,607 m / 5,271 ft asl), the highest point of the region, is a nature reserve park and provides for an incredible all-around panorama across lakes and valleys. With 23 marked trails the Chasseral is a popular excursion for hikers during summer months, and in winter time, a heaven for cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing enthusiasts. In addition, the local tourist office offers guided tours to discover the park, including tasting regional specialties.
St. Peter's Island, the peninsula of Lake Biel (French: Lac de Bienne) where the famous writer and philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau once lived and was said to have experienced "veritable happiness", is a destination prized for its stillness and beauty. Several small medieval towns such as Erlach or La Neuveville, and romantic wine-making villages such as Twann or Ligerz are surrounding the lake offering interesting sights (e.g. Castle of Erlach or the viticulture museum in Ligerz) and excursions by bike or on foot (e.g. the "Wine Trail" between Twann and Ligerz). And of course, Lake Biel allows for numerous activities in and on the water.
Biel / Bienne is Switzerland's largest bilingual city and the only one in which German and French are spoken side by side in equal measure. Biel / Bienne is well known as a tradition-imbued watch metropolis in which this Swiss craft is still fostered - Rolex, Omega, Tissot and Swatch are all located here. The charm of bilingualism, the intact old town and its location as the gateway to the three lakes (Lake Biel, Lake Neuchâtel, Lake Murten) and the Jura Mountains make the city an attractive starting point for numerous excursions. Also worth a visit are the nearby towns of Aarberg with its famous wooden bridge and the city square with cozy restaurants, and Büren an der Aare, a historic small town listed in the National Inventory of Cultural Heritage, which is home to the castle of the former Bernese bailiffs, a town hall with marvellous gothic windows, and a mighty wooden bridge.
For more detailed descriptions of the destinations of the Jura - Watch Valley, including a section with attractions and activities, and a list of recommended hotels, click on the respective destination: