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Lake Neuchatel is the largest lake entirely within the borders of Switzerland, spanning almost 54,000 acres and reaching into four Swiss cantons (states): Neuchatel, Bern, Vaud and Fribourg. This region of Switzerland, known as Swiss Seeland, lies at the base of the Jura Mountains and includes three lakes: Lake Neuchatel, Lake Biel, and Lake Morat. Lake Neuchatel is less-visited by tourists than other, more centrally located lakes. Holiday-makers obviously don't know what they're missing; this oft-overlooked treasure has every amenity necessary to make for a memorable holiday.
Neuchatel is a deep lake with depths reaching to almost 500 feet, but there are many shallow areas with beaches for swimming. Water sports are popular here, including water skiing, sailing, wake-boarding, diving, rowing and kite-surfing. Several campgrounds located around the lake specialize in sports-minded holidays, with hiking, cycling, mountain biking, skating, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing and snowshoeing joining the usual campground standards such as volleyball, tennis, golf and beach games. The Lake Neuchatel region has nearly 250 miles of trails designated to cycling and mountain biking and an additional 800 miles of signed and maintained hiking trails. Hang-gliding and parachuting hold a prominent place in the local sports scene. There are few well-maintained roads in the area, except for the main routes in and out.
Much travel here is by ship; regular passenger cruise ships ply the lake's surface from town to town and are a delightful way to travel around the lake. The well-developed schedules allow visitors to take a cruise ship over part of their itinerary, then disembark with their bicycle and continue on their way under pedal-power. Visitors can travel the entire three-lake system by ship, going from Lake Neuchatel to Lake Biel (Bienne in French) or Lake Murton via a system of rivers and canals. Some commercial fishing still occurs on Lake Neuchatel, but the majority of angling is performed by sport fishermen attempting to hook whitefish, perch, brown trout, brook trout, lake trout, pike and other species.
The area around Lake Neuchatel is a well-known agricultural area, with vineyards in neat rows lining the foothill slopes of the Jura Mountains down to the water. Several water improvement projects beginning in the 1800s drained much of the formerly swampy plateau and allowed for an expansion of farming in the region. Now, the lake receives water from the Thielle, Arnon, Areuse, Seyon and Mentue Rivers and from the Canal de la Sauge which drains Lake Murten. Water drains from Lake Neuchatel through the Canal of Thielle into Lake Biel-Bienne where it joins the Aare River, a tributary of the Rhine.
The confluence of so many rivers no doubt added to the region's allure among prehistoric people. Metalwork and pottery found at La Tene, at the eastern end of Lake Neuchatel, are dated to the 5th century BC and display the swirling geometric patterns that have been compared with the art of the Celts. Yverdon-les-Bains at the west end of Lake Neuchatel has a unique site featuring 45 Neolithic menhirs (megaliths) dating back to 5000 BC. Lake Neuchatel was important in both Roman and Swiss history, as evidenced by the many castles and fortresses located along its shores. Museums located at Yverdon-les-Bains and Neuchatel detail the long history of human settlement at Lake Neuchatel. Many of the castles and historic buildings also contain museums and mementos of Lake Neuchatel history and the precision watch-making trades the area is known for. Neuchatel's Old Town in particular contains fine examples of medieval buildings and structures.
La Grande Caricaie, enclosing the majority of the south shore of the lake, is a World Heritage Nature Reserve. Over 200 bird species live in the series of eight nature reserves, either permanently or seasonally, to the delight of birdwatchers. A funicular or cable railway transports passengers up the Chaumont, the closest mountain, to heights of 3600 feet. Several other excursions are available to other destinations, such as a visit to the Vine and Wine Museum at Boudry Castle.
The towns along Lake Neuchatels's shoreline offer every type of lodging and vacation rental for visitors. Several resorts provide rare amenities such as the hot sulphur baths at Yverdon-les-Bains, in use since Roman times. Neuchatel has a five-star hotel located on stilts in the lake itself; nearly every inch of the facility offers lovely lake and mountain views. Hotels, hostels, chalets and guest houses are plentiful. Holiday apartments in several of the towns provide an economical way to enjoy the region like a Lake Neuchatel native. Even the rare rainy day can easily be filled with adventure, exploring the many museums, castles, churches, manor houses, shops and eateries around the lake. The winter season is nearly as popular as summer, as visitors arrive to enjoy a ski holiday in either the Jura or the Bernese Alps. And for the visitor who wishes to make every day a holiday, real estate is often found in the surrounding countryside. So, take the road less traveled; explore Lake Neuchatel and experience Switzerland like a native.
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