If you are a frequent traveler to Switzerland, have been to all of the big cities and now want to see something a bit more unique, consider a day trip to Murten and Neuchatel. These are two of the main towns on two of the largest lakes in the Jura Region of Switzerland. Murten can be reached in about 1.5 hours by train from Zurich. But be warned, the S5 train we were on from Bern separates in Kerzers, with one car going to Neuchatel and the other going to Murten. If you take this train, make certain you are in the correct car.
Murten (Morat in French) is a very well preserved medieval village. What makes Murten unique is that the stone walls which surround the village are still very much intact. Almost hidden behind the old church on the corner of Franzoiche Kirchgasse and Deutsche Kirchgasse, you will find a flight of stairs leading to the top of the wall. Once on top, you can walk the passage where sentries would make their patrol to look out for invaders. Up on the wall you get a view of the entire village and the countryside and experience the same feeling that a medieval knight may have seen as he protected his townspeople from potential attackers.
The town walls of Murten were originally built in 1238 when King Conrad IV granted the citizens of Murten a four year tax break for building a wall around the town. Most of the houses burnt down in a fire in 1416 and were rebuilt in stone. Many of the structures seen now date back to then.
The entire town is only three streets wide. The main street, Hauptgasse has restaurants on the sunny side and shops on the other. Most of the hotels are on Rathausgasse facing the lovely Murten Lake. The walk on the wall is along Deutsche Kirchgasse.
A trip to Murten can easily be combined with Neuchatel, which can be reached in two hours by a lovely boat ride, taking you through the Broye or Sauge Canal. Alternatively, if you are short on time, you can reach Neuchatel in 30 minutes by train.
The name of the town "Neuchatel" literally means "New Castle".
Neuchatel contrasts with Murten in several ways. Neuchatel is much larger, with a population of over 30,000 compared to Murten’s 3,000. Neuchatel is French speaking part of Switzerland, while Murten is in the German speaking part of Switzerland. Neuchatel is built directly on the lake, while Murten towers above the lake. Finally Neuchatel, while having a beautiful and well preserved old town, has a much larger and more vibrant new-town surrounding it.
The Neuchatel train station is on a hill above the town. If you arrive at Neuchatel by train, look for the Funicular, better known as Fun'ambule. The Fun'ambule is located downstairs inside the Neuchatel train station. For a small fee the Fun'ambule will take you to the Jardin Anglais, located very near the lake.
Once you arrive, walk along the pretty lake front path, past the lovely boat harbor. Turn right on Rue Pury and you will soon find yourself in the old town of Neuchatel, walking on Rue Seylon. In areas such as Place des Halles, you will see lively sidewalk cafes and pubs overflowing with people enjoying their summer afternoon, and feel a sharp contrast to the relatively sedate Murten.
To see the main sight of the town the Castle (Château) and the Collégiale Church you will have to climb uphill. Turn left on Rue Chateau and look for the stairs to the Castle. In summer until the end of September there is a free tour of the castle in French, German and English everyday except Monday.
If you do not feel like taking the tour, you will enjoy a beautiful view over the city from the walls surrounding the castle.