What an amazing 48 hours we spent in beautiful Neuchâtel! We explored this beautiful city located at the junction of the Three-Lakes-Region and Jura.
I visited Neuchâtel once before for an office outing years ago so it was wonderful to go back with a bit more time to spare.
We set off on Saturday morning and our first stop was our hotel where we could collect our Neuchâtel Tourist Card. These are given to all hotel guests and entitle you to free transport, entry to museums, exhibitions, boat trips, funicular railways and much more. We would need these a little later.
Following that, we parked the car next to the port and went to the Tourism office to collect the things we would need for our scavenger hunt "les-chenapans” around the town. We were expecting to be given a notebook and pencil but this was really next level scavenger hunting equipment with lots of bits and pieces we would need to crack the clues. The price is CHF20 per family (2 adults + 2 children) plus a CHF20 deposit for the materials which can be collected during the opening hours of the tourism office.
Jude quickly commandeered the backpack and off we went to find our first clue! I won’t spoil it by going into too much detail but we LOVED it! The Belle Epoque themed hunt took us through the busy market, historical corners and landmarks as we helped the characters we encountered solve their puzzles. The area covered in the hunt isn’t too large so it was perfect for us with the pushchair and the clues all involved the participation of the children so it kept them engaged and excited to keep going. It's a really lovely way to explore the city and there is a sweet surprise along the way :-)
All this scavenger hunting had given us quite an appetite so we headed to our lunch destination for a break. The Brasserie Le Cardinal is located in the heart of the bustling city and we were fortunate to have a table on the terrace which was perfect for watching the world go by. The food was very good (Jean had some fish and I tried the mussels) and the service was excellent. The children’s options were good too and it really is a great spot for a bite to eat in the sunshine.
Next on our list was the adventure park in Chaumont.
You can get here in the car although the car park was busy, or you can take the funicular railway from La Coudre which takes you directly to the entrance of the park in 13 minutes!
The adventure park itself wasn’t accessible for Elio in his pushchair and Alba got cold feet at the last minute so Jean and Jude went off to try the trails while I stayed with Elio and Alba in the large play ground next door while we waited. Jude had a wonderful time and completed the yellow trail where he tried bridges, zip lines, tunnels and swinging logs. He has gained so much confidence, Jean was really impressed to see him getting stuck in. Back at the playground, Elio enjoyed a little swing while Alba tested every single piece of equipment….at least 5 times. Then we saw some goats in the corner and went to say hello. It's a great place for active children :-). We saw there is also a place nearby where you can do pony rides!
The children were quite tired at the end of all this so we went to get checked into the hotel. We were staying at the Eco Hotel L’Aubier which is located just outside Neuchâtel in Montézillon. It's a really beautiful spot in a peaceful, leafy corner with plenty to interest the children. We were given La Tanière Room which is a family sized space split over two levels. The accommodation is basic but there was plenty of space for us all and everything we needed for one night. It's worth pointing out that there is no air conditioning so the mezzanine level of the bedroom got quite warm.
Once settled in, we headed down to the lovely terrace area for a drink and early dinner. The bio restaurant of the hotel propose a 4 course menu for guests with vegetarian and meat options for the main and it was all really good. They also have a nice selection of wines. On the night of our stay we had a delicious soup, flavourful salad, then we tried the lamb and vegetarian strudel mains and sorbet for dessert. It was all really fresh and delicious.
Given that we had eaten early, we had time for a walk after dinner. We took the direction of the swings we had seen when we arrived and spent a while taking turns on those before following the lane where we came across a farm. The pigs were very excited to have visitors and were soon rushing up to say hello, as did the calves next door, much to our delight. It was really lovely and even Elio was happy to see the animals (especially when one of the calves licked his feet). Next door were some rabbits which has sparked a few requests that we get some as family pets! :-)
Back in the room and we installed the children in the upper level of the room while Jean and I slept downstairs. Elio had a bit of a difficult night and it took him a very long time to get to sleep so we had to shuffle the arrangements around a few times in the night and were grateful to have the space. We were all up by 7 the following morning and ready for a new day! We headed down to breakfast which was a really lovely selection of breads, pastries, jams and cheeses with yoghurts and juices available too. I love this kind of breakfast and we all ate well before setting off for the next item on the programme.
From Spring to Autumn, you can take a free boat from the centre of Neuchâtel to the Laténium museum which is where we were headed. We split the teams again here since Elio was extremely fractious after a difficult night. Jean dropped Jude, Alba and I at port where we took the short boat trip to Hauterive while Jean and Elio drove to the Laténium where we would meet them. The Laténium is right on the shore of Lake Neuchâtel and is the largest archeological museum in Switzerland which covers about 500 centuries of history! It's a truly fascinating place which an enormous amount of things to see (more than 525,000 items) so it’s really worth setting aside a few hours to cover it properly. Jude loved looking at the ancient weaponry and the skeleton, and Jean and I were fascinated by the partial remains of a huge barge.
The museum is set in 3 hectares of park land which is freely accessible all year round so it's a perfect place for a stroll along the lakeside while you learn about the climatic and environmental changes over the years. It has the feel of an open air museum with full size reconstructions and authentic archaeological artefacts to discover. There is also a café with a nice sunny terrance and a playground for children so its a great spot for the whole family.
We could probably have stayed much longer to explore, but we had a lunch booked just down the road at Le Silex restaurant which was a short walk away. It's a fabulous location right next to the water and boasts a large terrace. We had a lovely table close to the lake and were soon faced with the difficult choice of deciding what to eat! Jean and I both settled on the “La Fresh” plate of salad, tuna tataki, salmon tartare and ceviche of sea bream and potatoes and Jean couldn’t resist the chocolate dessert. It's a lovely spot with great service and very friendly staff.
The restaurant is ideally located right next to the beach which is perfect for a visit in the summer with a sand and stone beach, plenty of places to lounge and picnic, and even an electric car track (which was closed when we visited). We didn’t stay here long as the sky was turning dark and we decided we had better head back to the car before it rained but there are plenty of activities to keep you busy including water sports, a playground, swimming, pedal boats etc. It felt very safe as it was set away from the road and there was plenty of space for the children to run around.
Neuchâtel is utterly charming and its lakeside position really gave us the feeling of being on holiday. We discovered so many wonderful things but came away with the impression we had only just scratched the surface. There is just so much to do including hiking, lots more museums, boat cruises, water sports, animal parks, a large maze, mini golf and a wealth of other things besides. A really great family destination.
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