The Jura and Three Lakes region became more widely known thanks to the Swiss national exposition in 2002. Although you can no longer see the massive barges of Expo 02 on Lake Neuchâtel, the villages of Jura and the Three Lakes (Lake Morat, Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Biel) are still worth discovering.
SBB has lots of lovely travel ideas for discovering this delightful region which don’t involve too much planning.You can travel westwards comfortably and conveniently, discovering not just spectacular scenery, but also experiencing the culinary heritage.
Just like a school trip.
My good friend Jochen Gsell and I board the train to Solothurn and the Three Lakes at half past seven in the morning in Zurich. Jochen bought his ticket shortly before doing so in the SBB app.
We reach Solothurn in less than an hour. Known as the most beautiful baroque town in Switzerland with its elegant patrician houses in the old town and its countless churches, chapels, fountains and towers, Solothurn exudes a mixture of French and Italian flair. We are impressed. Unfortunately our tight schedule does not accommodate an in-depth visit to the little town as the riverboat is waiting for us. There is a five-minute public transport connection from the station to the dock, or you can just walk it in 15 minutes. Although the temperature is still cool, we walk to the pier – perfect for taking a couple of lovely photos.
The double-decker riverboat is already waiting and we take a seat on the upper deck next to an amusing primary school class. Shortly after, we are served and fed by very friendly staff.
The pleasant cruise along the River Aare from Solothurn to Biel/Bienne takes almost two hours. Along the way we are particularly impressed by the stork colony in Altreu, where we find five stork nests with chicks. Almost at the end of the river journey, the boat travels through a lock at the Stauwehr Port; a once-in-a-lifetime-experience. Although it’s quite cloudy, I must say that, in hindsight, I should have thought about sun cream…
A special sort of ham for lunch.
From Biel/Bienne, our journey continues to Val-de-Travers after a short change in Neuchâtel. The asphalt mines in La Presta are our destination. I’d heard of them before when I visited Jean-Claude Alain from the La Clandestine absinthe distillery seven years ago. The La Presta stop for the asphalt mine is very inconspicuous – apart from the white canteen building and a hut, there are only meadows, trees and a couple of buffalo to be seen.
Nevertheless, we find the Café des Mines, which is already full of guests. There is just one dish (the world-famous asphalt ham), which is fermented in hot asphalt for four hours, wrapped in many layers of baking paper. The simple but very tasty dish is served with potato gratin and green beans. Maurizio, our mine guide, explains to us that he has actually hosted visitors from the most far-flung countries of the world who could not resist the ham or the absinthe.
Deep inside the mountain in the asphalt mine.
After lunch, we follow Maurizio into the old mine. He is still one of the few living employees of the asphalt mine, which was shut down in 1986. Contrary to the 25-degree temperature outside, it is a chilly 8 degrees deep inside the mines. The tour group also comprises visitors from Quebec in Canada and we share the tour information in French, German and English.
We walk a couple of hundred metres into the mountain with protective helmets and lamps just like real miners. The air is fresh and everything is very damp. The total length of the various tunnels amounts to more than 100 kilometres. Deep in the mountain, the light suddenly turns out and we experience absolute darkness for two minutes (I can’t see my hand in front of my nose any more!).
The excellent tour alone makes the site very worthy of a visit. After the tour finishes, there is the opportunity to buy regional products such as absinthe, honey, jam, chocolate and beer from the souvenir shop. After taking a few minutes to “thaw out”, we continue towards Neuchâtel by train and alight in Noiraigue after two stops.
The magical world of the Areuse Gorge.
For nature lovers and photographers, the short hike through the Areuse Gorge to Champ-du-Moulin is a real highlight. The small river, with its many gushing waterfalls, flows gently through the area.
After some time, we reach an old storybook-like stone bridge – the Saut du Brot. At the end of the hike, we discover the Maison de la Nature Neuchâteloise. It seems to be the perfect place for family trips. On the other side of the road, you can even buy fossils from the region – certainly exciting for both young and old.
We would have liked to have had more time to be able to discover even more of the region, visit a distillery or do chocolate tasting at Goût & Region.Or to rent a bike and cycle from Chapeau de Napoleon back to Neuchâtel, simply hike a bit further or marvel at the highlight of the region, the Creux du Van.