As I got off the plane in Zurich Airport, “tardis” in paw, something told me to go west, so I unpacked my sturdy ToulouseMobile and took the Freeway toward Bern and Neuchâtel. I was heading for Romandie, the predominantly French-speaking part of Switzerland, with its rolling hills, great cities and atmospheric medieval towns, small villages and ancient churches. A place whose strong French-Swiss cultural identity embraces the shores of Lake Geneva, on whose banks lie Geneva, Lausanne, Vevey and Montreux.
I stopped short of Neuchatel, at the medieval walled town of Murten (Morat in French). This charming village lies on the eastern shore of the Murten See (Lac de Morat) and is steeped in history. In 1476 the Swiss Confederation thwarted the onslaught of the army of overly ambitious Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Was it their impeccable sense of timing? The world-famous watch-making industry of the Swiss originated right here, after all, in western Switzerland.
The town was founded by the Zähringer dynasty in the 12th century and is still encircled by walls dating from the 12th to the 15th centuries. Hauptgasse, the main street through the old town, is lined with 16th century arcaded houses with overhanging eaves. The rampart walk, reached from several points along Deutsche Kirchgasse, offers views of the Murtensee, the castle and the old town’s brown-tiled houses. The courtyard of the 13th century castle commands a great view of the lake. The Berntor (Porte de Berne) with its baroque gatehouse and clock dating from 1712 forms an attractive entrance to this charming medieval village.
After driving through the gate, I parked in front of the 14th Century Adler Hotel — which
had been the guesthouse to various historic figures such as Goethe, Casanova, and the dukes of Savoy, among others — and took a room there. It was New Year’s Eve; so, close to midnight, I descended to the Irish pub below and enjoyed several beers accompanied by several pieces of flammkuchen (a kind of Swiss pizza made with bread dough rolled out very thin in the shape of a rectangle and covered with fromage blanc, thinly sliced onions, and in this case vegetables, mushrooms (forestière) and gratinée with added gruyère cheese. Flammkuchen—or Tarte flambée—is actually an Alsatian dish and cooked in a wood-fire oven.
It wasn’t long before a strange looking black “bear” with a red and white toque approached me. I caught his straying glances at my rather large flammkuchen. His incredulous expression spoke the obvious: you’re going to eat that whole thing???
Instead, he asked in a strong French accent, “May I join you?”
I tried not to stare at his toque whose design was the Canadian flag. He introduced himself as Jacques from Granby Québec and informed me that he was hitching rides across Switzerland (in the winter?!?) and was heading to Zermatt to do a little skiing. I thought: another crazy Canadian! And invited him to sit with me. It was, after all, lots to eat and the New Year not quite upon us…
We cheerfully saw-in the New Year and then met the following day for a late lunch. Hardly anything was open, being New Year’s Day. The streets appeared abandoned except for the odd sightseeing tourist and wandering local.
Smartly deciding to follow a couple of well-dressed locals, Jacques led us to an inviting place beneath the arcade of Hauptgasse: La Confiserie Monniere, a stylish tea-house in the tradition of a confiserie /patisserie / boulangerie / traiteur. It was open! We entered the bustling place and realized that this was where the town had ended up! We were instantly surrounded by exotic daily-made pastries and breads, fine artisanal chocolates, and
gourmet lunch treats—as customers crowded the counters in search of a gastronomic feast. We stood in a swirling aromatic sea of seductive fragrances. As I peered over their diverse chocolates, a friendly server informed me that one of their popular chocolate specialties is the plum praline, dried plums filled with delicious chocolate cream, coated with the finest chocolate and a dusting of unsweetened cocoa. Magical!
Jacques and I took a table in the tea-room in the back and the friendly waitress brought us a lovely gourmet sandwich followed by Black Forest cake and café crème.
I sat back and enjoyed the moment. Jacques had agreed to join me on my trip, since both our destinations were eventually the alpine resort town of Zermatt.
All in all, not a bad way to greet the first day of the New Year, I thought. Hello, 2012! Hello, café crème! Hello, Swiss pastry! Hello, Magic!
Ce sera un an merveilleux! Bonne Année!
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