La Chaux-de-Fonds
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Aerial night winter view : Click to enlarge picture
Aerial night winter view
© Vincent Bourrut

LA CHAUX-DE-FONDS is an oddity. To start with, more people live there than in Neuchâtel, although you’d never guess it from the sparsity of street life. Then it touts itself as Switzerland’s highest city, though at 1000m that’s no great shakes, and with just 37,000 people it would barely qualify as a town in most countries. Strangest of all, however, is the fact that this rather unprepossessing place was once a household name across Europe and the world, the humming centre of the Swiss watchmaking industry, which in its heyday of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was largely responsible for establishing Switzerland’s reputation – which survives today – for producing refined luxury goods of the highest quality. The town was burned to the ground in 1794, and was rebuilt shortly after on a strict grid system, characterized by enormously long, very broad parallel boulevards. Over the decades, the authorities have placed a high value on modern and postmodern architecture, with glass-built towers featuring prominently. This combination has given La Chaux-de-Fonds today the rather unfortunate air – very odd for Switzerland, and frankly bizarre for such an historic place – of a new town transported from somewhere in anonymous Middle America. It’s rather an exhausting place to walk around, even though its museums definitely merit a visit.

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