La Chaux-de-Fonds is the city for all Swiss watch lovers and produced once half of the watches in the world. Located in the Jura mountains it is a region to discover. Since 2009 La-Chaux-de-Fonds is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Text and images by Marc Gottwald
Are you in love with Swiss watches? Or are you interested in the 19th-century urban design of famous designers such as Le Corbusier? La Chaux-de-Fond is the place you should visit to learn about the watches and more. For more than 100 years, this was the world’s watchmaking center and is part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 2009.
It is a French-speaking city in Western Switzerland found in the Canton of Neuchâtel. The city is located in 1000 m in the Jura Mountains, a few kilometres south of the French border. La Chaux de Fonds is the fourth largest city in the French speaking part of Switzerland after Geneva, Lausanne, and Fribourg. To get to this Swiss city, you will use the train from Biel/Bienne and Neuchâtel/Neuenburg or you go by car.
In this Guide we show you history of the the city, places you should visit in and around the town and what else you can do in this beautiful region.
History of La Chaux de Fonds in a nutshell
The cities history started with farmers settled down in the 14th century.
However, the place grew very slowly because there was no surface water which is important for farming and the future industries. Since the Jura consists mainly of a karst system, the water usually flows very quickly into the underground, except there is a river or a lake.
La Chaux de Fonds was then officially founded in 1656, and watchmakers settled in the 18th century, making the town a world center of the watchmaking industry. Here they have produced once half of the watches worldwide!
1794, ¾ of the city burned down by a fire inferno. Since then, the place made a grid street plan which is still a trademark among other Swiss cities. Walking through the streets of the place, you can feel the “French Spirit”. The wide streets and the way the houses are built are very untypical for Switzerland.
UNESCO awarded this city 2009 as a World Heritage status for its exceptional value. This makes the city one of the most interesting places to visit in Switzerland. Today, however, the glory days of the watch industry are over, but numerous companies are still located here and in the neighboring town of Le Locle like for example “Rolex Switzerland”.
Sights to see in La Chaux de Fonds
A visit to the Swiss city can’t be complete without visiting some of the region’s historical places that made UNESCO award the city world heritage status. These sights include:
1). Acien Manége
This is an architectural marvel in the middle of the city of La-Chaux-de-Fonds. The inner courtyard of this building, which was a riding hall was converted in the 19th century into apartments and has smalls fountains that will leave you marveled. The entry is for free.
2). La Grande Fontaine in Chaux de Fonds
This is the first decorative monument in this city, built in 1888 and restored in 2007. This fountain was constructed to recall the arrival of water a year earlier from the Areuse river in the Val-de-Travers. It also expressed the Parisianism spirits of Chaux-de-Fond.
3). Tour Espacité
Here you have the best view over the town. On the 14th level of the tower, you have an amazing view over the town and it’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built-in 1994 by Avenue Léopold- Robert, it dominates the city. This building started the construction in 1987 to commemorate Les Corbusier on his 100th
Sights from the watch industry in La Chaux de Fonds
4). Espace de l’Urbanisme Horloger
It’s an exhibition house in the Halle aux Enchéres ( auction hall). This house provides visitors with information on the global importance of watchmaking in la Chaux de Fonds. Visitors also get the information of interest about the heritage of watchmaking city and the industry.
5). International Watch Museum in La Chaux de Fonds
The placewas once the world center of watch making. Almost all the famous Swiss watch brands were here. That’s why it makes sense that the “International Watch Museum” is in this city. You can see in the museum more than 4500 watches.
6). Villa Schwob
Also known as Villa Turque, is a house in this Swiss city by the native famous architect Le Corbusier. The construction was started in 1912 by the watchmaker Anatole Schwob and was completed in 1916. It’s the most impressive and famous building of Le Corbusier in the city of La-Chaux-de-Fonds.
7). La Maison Blanche-Le Corbusier
The very first house of Le Corbusier and his Maison Blanche was built in La Chaux de Fonds. It was designed by Le Corbusier himself at the age of 25 for his parents in the year 1912. It earned him international recognition due to its difference from the modern architecture at that time.
The great thing about the Swiss city is, that they have made a city tour with written information in front of every sight due to its UNESCO World Heritage Status.
What else to do in La Chaux de Fonds
While you are in the town you can take part in fun activities at various places. These activities include:
8). Camping Bois-du-Couvent
This is the camping area at the edge of the forest. Here you can camp or rent a chalet. It is a great place for nature lovers who want to discover the beautiful Jura region.
9). XL Bowling
A leisure center suitable for families or individuals to bowl on the 18 American bowling lanes. Also available here are music and lighting show on weekends.
10). Stade De La Charriére
Welcome to the multifunctional stadium where you can watch football matches. It serves the home of the football club FC La Chaux-de-Fonds.
The Robosphére is technology center in de la Graviére where you can visit to learn about robots, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and gyropods.
What to do in the region of La Chaux de Fonds?
Many people are going to the Jura region in summer for hiking and in winter for cross-country skiing. That’s why the place is also a good place to stay in a hotel, Airbnb or camping. Here I want to show you some of my favorite places near La-Chaux-de-Fonds for hiking in the Jura region and enoying the time in nature.
12). La Brevine
La Brévine is a very special place. It is the Siberia of Switzerland, one of the coldest regions in Switzerland in winter. It has already measured -42 degrees here, although La Brévine is not very high with 1000 metres altitude. There are annual differences between summer and winter of sometimes more than 70 degrees!
The beautiful lake Lac des Tailleres is very close to this village and perfect for a “Jura hike” or enjoying the peace and quiet. The village and the valley, or rather the Swiss lake, can be reached in 30 minutes from La Chaux de Fonds.
13). Creux du Van
The Creux du Van respectively the parking at the Restaurant Le Soliat can be reached within 50 minutes from the Swiss City. It is one of the biggest natural wonders of Switzerland. You can do “Creux du Van Hiking”, relaxing, eating in the restaurant or even observe with a bit luck wild animals like ibexes.
14). Etang de la Gruere
The Etang de la Gruere is a moorland lake in the Jura that is hard to beat for its idyllic setting. Honestly, it is one of my favorite places to enjoy nature. By now it has become quite famous, so I would rather visit this Swiss lake during the week. It can be reached in only half an hour from La-Chaux-de-Fonds.
15). Saut du Doubs
The 27-metre-high Saut du Doubs is the most famous waterfall in western Switzerland and flows along the border between Switzerland and France. Between May and October (please check in advance), there are even boats. Otherwise, you can also take a beautiful hike from Les Brenets to the Saut du Doubs, which takes about 1.5 hours each way.
Les Brenets is only 20 minutes from La Chaux de Fonds. If you want to get closer to the Saut du Doubs, you can do so in 30 minutes via France.
As a visitor in la Chaux-de-Fond, you will never feel disappointed due to the numerous historical activities and the watches available in this Swiss City. You will learn a lot from the national heritage and the rich cultural history. The city is also a great place to stay in a hotel, Airbnb or do camping and visit some of the most beautiful places in Jura, Switzerland. You can always refer to this guide to get you around and choose new ideas to visit.