In a very special edition of The Swiss Family Carlson, we follow our intrepid family on a quest! The brother Erik of the Swiss Family is playing at a festival in Cernier, and we bravely trek through the mountains to find him and hear him play. And we drove! In a foreign country! Let’s see how we did!
(Like it’s some big test or game show. Jeez.)
As you can see from the map below, that is Lake Neuchatel. It is a big freakin’ lake. HUGE. And, no, it is not a lower fat cream cheese. That is neufchatel. But that is only where we end up. FIRST we drove our rented Ford European-model station wagon to Dombresson, located at the top of the map.
The city of Neuchatel is on Lake Neuchatel. The city of Dombresson is located to the north and east and Cernier is down the road from Dombresson, not quite to Fontainemelon.
The lovely people at Hertz actually trusted us enough to agree to give us a car! Well, we paid money for it. And we got full insurance. And we asked for a navigational system. I have never been happier to have a pretentious British woman order me around.
We made it out of the city with no issues, except me trying to haul a suitcase, my purse, a shopping bag full of dinner items for us to have in the car, *2* car seats, and 2 children onto the tram to meet Mark. Children in Switzerland are required to ride in a booster seat until the age of 12, which means E is back in a car seat. He’s a trooper about it.
After we got off the motorway, as it is called by our GPS, we were taken through some narrow, winding roads into and over the lower mountains. Soon we unexpectedly drove through a few small towns and the roads were even more narrow and more windy. I would have taken pictures, except I was having heart palpitations every time we met a car.
And we drove into the small and charming hamlet of Dombresson. Dombresson is one old, old town. It was first mentioned in 1178. It is on the list of Swiss Heritage Sites. It is a really rural town. Cobblestone streets, houses with flower boxes, and goats and sheep and cows everywhere. And it was really French. All the signs were in French and the people spoke to us in French. There is a huge swath of Switzerland that is French and a huge swath that is German. You kind of need to know both languages in order to get around here.
Our hotel, the Hotel de Commune, was right there on the main street immediately after the one stop light in the town, which was there only because some road work had narrowed the road from one and a half car widths to three-quarters of a car width. We went to the front door and found a sign reading “Gone to the Festival” and our key was in an envelope in the flower box next to the door. Our second clue that this was a small town. The third clue was the man walking his dog who yelled to us that we just needed to really crank the door handle down hard to get inside. It sort of reminded me of the time my hometown mayor told someone who needed to get into the county museum to just kick the door hard about one foot down from the door handle in order to pop the lock.
We threw our bags into our room, freshened up, and then headed to Cernier for Les Jardins Musicaux. Cernier was formed in 1324 so it is just a kid compared to Dombresson. They have a lovely botanical garden there call Evologica and they host a music festival there every year. It helps bring in revenue to a city that is mostly dependent on winter skiers.
Erik was part of the JACK Quartet for the evening playing some selections by Iannis Xenakis, Gesualdo, DuFay, and Rodericus. It was a really wonderful concert and they were called back three times for more adulations. I can’t really tell you how awesome they were. They were really, really awesome. Look for the JACK Quartet. It will be worth your time. The tone was beautiful and the pieces were thought provoking.
Since the stage was in a barn and the whole festival was in a farm-type setting, it made me think about what Charles City could do. Luckily my cousin is the head of the Chamber of Commerce so he can hear all my great ideas. (Lucky for me, not for him!)
And for one of the highlights of the trip. BREAKFAST!!! OMG. This breakfast was amazing and makes me want to only stay in very small towns in the Alsace region of Switzerland.
After the breakfast to end all breakfasts we journeyed south to Neuchatel.
Neuchatel is hard core. There is evidence that the cite of Neuchatel has been populated on and off from 13,000 BC (Thirteen Thousand BC). Modern history records a castle, or chatel, being built in the 1011 and Neuchatel was officially declared a city around 1214. Now that is some history.
Also, we have no pictures of the inside of the tower because I was too busy willing the wooden floor and very narrow steps into not collapsing. Mark says I’m being dramatic because they were very sturdy and extremely well made and they were built in the last 50 years. He can believe what he likes and I will believe what I like (or The Truth).
And after that we went into the streets and ran into a vast market. Musicians and street actors abounded. We chose to have lunch at a street cafe (literally a cafe that had set up tables in the middle of the street) and got crepes. We were serenaded by a saxophone trio that showed the good taste to play Menah-Menah from the Muppets and we enjoyed watching people wander through with their packages and bags and very small dogs.
All-in-all, very enjoyable.
We did learn one thing. Small towns that embrace their smallness rock. They know what they are good at (feeding people amazing food and making the cool and historic parts of themselves available) and they work at perfecting it. Also, even the smallest thing has value. Whether it’s having a small bouquet of flowers on the table at breakfast or having actual musicians hang around and play while you shop for zucchini. This town has had a thousand years to figure this out and they have totally perfected how to display the charm and peacefulness that people from bigger cities crave on their weekends.