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VALLORBE, right on the Franco-Swiss frontier, is known – if at all these days – simply as a stop on the TGV line between Paris and Lausanne, but in times past this small, rather austere town (loomed over from the southwest by the 700m-high Dent de Vaulion) was the centre of a thriving iron industry. This is commemorated in the riverside Grandes-Forges building, dating from 1495 and now housing the Musée du Fer et du Chemin de Fer (Iron and Railway Museum; March–Oct daily 9.30am–noon & 1.30–6pm; Nov–Feb Mon–Fri same times; Fr.9). The main draw is the working smithy, powered by waterwheels on the River Orbe outside and still turning out iron tools and implements much as the whole town did throughout the Middle Ages. Upstairs is the rather romantic railway section, where loads of memorabilia and old signboards from the Venice-Simplon Orient Express do well to resurrect the exoticism of early twentieth-century train travel. There’s also a lengthy – and rather good – slide-show (in French only, but you can still enjoy the pictures) detailing the construction of the tunnel from Vallorbe through the Jura, and the expansion of rail travel.

Vallorbe’s train station is perched on a terrace high above the town and offers bike rental; it’s a ten-minute walk down to the tourist office (021/843 25 83, www.vallorbetourisme.ch), in the same building as the museum. The Fr.24 Carte Trèfle covers entry to the Musée du Fer, the Grottes and the Prè-Giroud fort. Aside from the switched-on Auberge Pour Tous hostel, 11 Rue du Simplon (021/843 13 49, fax 843 13 89), with good dorms from Fr.21, the only accommodation in the town is Hôtel de l’Orbe, 41 Rue de Lausanne (021/843 12 41, fax 843 36 27; a) with five serviceable rooms. The main street, Grand-Rue, has plenty of inexpensive eating and drinking options, including the pleasant Le France brasserie/pizzeria at no. 20, and cosy Café de la Poste on parallel Rue de l’Ancienne Poste. Several fast buses a day link Vallorbe with Yverdon, beating the tortuous train ride by more than an hour.

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