|Neuchâtel : the Town|
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Neuchâtel’s atmospheric Old Town is extremely attractive, and random wanderings through its steep alleys are as good a way as any to appreciate the golden beauty of the architecture, as well as the 140-odd street fountains, a handful of which date from the sixteenth century. From the rather anonymous Place Pury – hub of buses and shoppers alike – with the main artery of Rue du Seyon leading northwards, alleys to the west bring you to Place des Halles, perpetually filled with talkers and drinkers spilling out of a handful of cafés. The square itself is overlooked by fine Louis XIV architecture – shuttered facades and the turreted orioles of the sixteenth-century Maison des Halles. You’ll find informal lunchtime boules sessions on the nearby Rue du Coq d’Inde, a broad, tranquil courtyard away from the bustle. A two-minute walk east, on Rue de l’Hôpital, is the grand 1790 Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), designed by Louis XVI’s chief architect Pierre-Adrien Paris.
The highlights of the Old Town are poised on the very top of the hill, accessed by the steeply winding Rue du Château. The Collégiale church, begun in 1185 and consecrated in 1276, is a graceful example of early Gothic. Stairs from Rue du Château bring you up to the east end of the church, with its three Norman apses. The main entrance (daily 8am–6pm), to the west, is crowned by a giant rose window of stained glass. Within the vaulted interior, the nave draws you along to the glowing transept, lit by a lantern tower, and the unique Cenotaph of the Counts of Neuchâtel on the north wall of the choir (shielded for renovations since 1997, and due for re-display in 2000). Begun in 1372, and the only artwork of its kind to survive north of the Alps, the monument comprises fifteen near-life-size painted statues of various knights and ladies from Neuchâtel’s past, framed by fifteenth-century arches and gables. Beside the church is the imposing Château, begun in the twelfth century and still in use as the offices of the cantonal government: entry is only on guided tours, which start from the signposted Door no. 1 (on the hour: April–Sept Mon–Fri 10am–noon & 2–4pm, Sat 10am, 11am & 2–4pm, Sun 2–4pm; free). The nearby turreted Tour des Prisons (daily 8am–6pm; 50c), remains of a medieval bastion, has panoramic views over the town, along with interesting models of Neuchâtel in different eras.
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