Neuchâtel is the capital of the canton of Neuchâtel, situated in western Switzerland on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel. The city has 32,000 residents and the canton has 170,000; most are French-speaking. In fact, Neuchâtel has the reputation of having the purest French in the world and many foreigners come here to study the language.
The canton is in the centre of the Jura mountains and includes three distinct regions: the wine-growing region located along the lake, the Les Vallées region to the north, with the Ruz Valley and the Val-de-Travers at about 700m, and the Neuchâtel mountains (900m-1065m), a long valley that is home to La Chaux-de-Fonds, Le Locle and La Brévine. The canton of Neuchâtel is well known for its wines, absinthe, dairy farming, cattle breeding, horse breeding, watch-making, micro-technology and high-tech industries.
The city of Neuchâtel has been a students’ town for generations. It is home to some light industries, but the local schools and University are what has earned Neuchâtel an enviable academic reputation. The city has a good library system and enjoys frequent concerts, lectures and plays by prominent artists. Neuchâtel was founded over 1,000 years ago, when the castle from which the town gets its name (“New Castle”) was completed in 1011. The castle is well worth a visit, as is the “Old Town”, which is closed to vehicular traffic and is where most of Neuchâtel’s shops, restaurants and cafés are located.
The climate is mild, with a lengthy autumn. Snow is rare in the winter months in the city, but excellent alpine conditions are just a 20-minute bus ride away for those who enjoy snowboarding and skiing. Best of all, Neuchâtel is ideally situated as a centre from which to visit other places of interest. Good roads and excellent train service connect the city to Lausanne and Geneva to the west, and with Bâle, Berne and Zurich to the east. The French frontier lies 32 km (20 miles) away, the Black Forest of Germany is 120 km (75 miles) distant, and the Italian border is 160 km (100 miles) away.