If you dream of waking up in the morning and going for a swim from your bedroom without having to travel through three times zones, look no further. Your next destination may be closer to home than you think. After an hour’s train journey from Geneva airport we arrived at Neuchâtel in the early afternoon greeted by the staff of a most exceptional hotel, Hotel Palafitte.
The only hotel in Europe built on stilts, extending onto Lac de Neuchâtel just east of the city centre, the Palafitte enjoys an exceptional setting. To put one foot into this unique and unusual establishment is to dive into a cocooning and relaxing environment. There is a complete and instant change of scenery and the architecture has been carefully designed to enhance the breath taking surrounding view as you can enjoy the Alps in all their glory rising above the horizon across the lake.
We chose to take full advantage of the comfort of our pavilion and the hotel , our first afternoon and evening was spent relaxing, watching the sunset from our lake pavilion, complemented by a delicious Perch fillet from the lake.The room service was without fault and our waiter prepared a complete table in front of us on white table cloth. Waking after the best of sleeps it was tempting to plunge into the clean green lake from our terrace. This original and unique construction, one of a kind stretching out into the water, was allowed to enjoy an extended life after its initial role as part of the National Expo 2002. This is most probably the most unusual place we have been privileged to stay in and the most relaxing one.
Good as it is to unwind we were happy to discover the next morning the many ways you can enjoy the immediate environment, whether you want a lingering afternoon in Neuchâtel or be more sportive, taking advantage of the hotel’s bicycle service. An excellent choice would be to combine a moderated ride with one of many crossings of the lake boats, stopping several times each day nearby. We chose to bicycle and stop at the Laténium discovery Park which is easily accessible by foot from the hotel. It tells the story of the shores of Lake Neuchâtel and its people, from the end of the Würm Ice Age until today. On our way back we stopped for a refreshment in one of many recreation areas by the lake, drawn in by thirst and in fact the choice of music to be heard playing from the radio, golden hits of the early seventies.
After canoeing leisurely for while on the lake it was time to put chef David Sauvignet’s culinary arts to the test. Recently the restaurant has been presenting its menu in a newly renovated setting. La Table de Palafitte favours local market produce with a menu which follows the seasons. Totally encased in large French windows, the restaurant opens onto the sumptuous surrounding nature with the terrace as the only barrier. Mr Sauvignet took over the reins in the kitchen earlier this year, continuing his successful career and bringing his expertise to the banks of Lac de Neuchâtel. With a solid experience, he offers an authentic cuisine that showcases products of the region. To this we can testify having tasted the roasted local pollan with pioppini mushrooms, potatoes and watercress sauce along with the John Dory fillet with crispy Mediterranean vegetables and aniseed flavoured juice followed by selection of local cheeses matched by excellent local wines, a very crisp Pinot Gris, Cave des Lauriers from Jungo & Fellmann and a Pinot Noir, L’Esprit de Chambleau from Caves de Chambleau in the hillside just west of Neuchâtel. Needless to say the chef and his team passed with flying colours.
The hotel comprises 40 pavilions, all built on stilts of which 24 are on the lake and 16 on the shore. Each of the 24 lake pavilions, where we had the privilege to stay, has an individual bedroom, a bathroom with movable partitions that allow a view onto the lake from the bath tub, a separate toilet, an office corner and a large terrace where you can completely forget where you are if it wasn’t for the magnificent view of the Alps across the lake on a sunny day. Each pavilion has direct access to the lake through a small ladder from the private lake facing terrace. In the summer the temperature of the water is around 23° and, though fresh, felt quite comfortable for swimming.
We were told that the hotel is popular among business people, not surprisingly as it is a beautiful setting for meetings. The small scale and position of the hotel, nestled between the lake and the surrounding nature, makes it an ideal venue for holding a seminar in a calm setting. You might argue that the tranquillity of the place encourages productive and creative thinking. Whether for business or pleasure you can’t have enough of that.
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