Among the many things the Swiss do very well are two standouts: watchmaking and hospitality. The Swiss Jura, off the beaten track as far as tourism in this country is concerned, offers prime examples of both. Just as a trip to Neuchatel would not be complete without a watchmaking manufacture or museum visit, nor should anyone miss an opportunity to stay at the amazing Hotel Palafitte – while they still can.
Slated for possible demolition in 2021, the hotel was built by the Sandoz family (Swiss media/pharmaceutical/hotel conglomerate that also owns several watchmaking enterprises, including Parmigiani Fleurier and Vaucher), as part of the Swiss National Exposition in 2002. Several of the hotel’s 40 rooms are built as individual bungalows on piles over Lake Neuchatel, with stunning views of the lake and Alps from private decks. The overwater bungalow is a convention in Tahitian resorts (many of them Swiss-owned), where snorkling off the deck is standard, but the Palafitte is Europe’s only hotel built on water.
Why slated for demolition? The Sandoz family received a kind of environmental regulation waiver to build it for the Exposition, a nationwide festival held every 20 years designed to showcase not just the history but also the modernity of Swiss culture and its technical capabilities. The operating permit originally stipulated that the hotel would remain in place until the autumn of 2003, but it was so popular that the government allowed the Sandoz family to keep it open, with another review to be held in 2021. According to a receptionist at the hotel (which I checked into this afternoon), “all of the other hotels on the lake are asking why they can’t build in the water as well,” so evidently there is some concern about setting a precedent that could ravage Lake Neuchatel. The Palafitte’s owners are now campaigning for the regulatory changes needed for the hotel to be kept open permanently.
Just look at these pictures of my room. Amazing. The perfect respite before embarking on a week of watch manufacture tours.