Neuchâtel - Wodey Suchard


Nestled between the Lake of Neuchâtel and the Jura mountain range, the atmospheric old town of French-speaking Neuchâtel emanates a Gallic flair with its pavement cafés and designer boutiques. This picturesque Swiss town is especially renowned for its 140 fountains, which once quenched the thirst of residents, horses and gossipers alike. One of the fountains, the Griffin Fountain on rue du Château, was reportedly filled with more than a thousand gallons of red wine to inaugurate the arrival of Henri II of Orléans, one of Neuchâtel’s sovereign princes during the 17th century.

Most of the historic architecture in Neuchâtel was constructed using local yellow limestone, which inspired an 18th-century visitor, namely French writer Alexandre Dumas, to describe Neuchâtel as un joujou taillé dans une motte de beurre (a toy carved out of a pat of butter). As I meandered through the steep alleys, I wondered if the buildings used to be more brightly colored in Dumas’ days. Comparing their present yellow ochre hue to the pale yellow of butter called for a stretch of my imagination. In fact, I would liken the color of Neuchâtel to butter mixed with dark brown sugar, a color familiar to anyone who has ever made chocolate chip cookies from scratch.

While my thoughts inadvertently took a sugary turn, my stomach gently reminded me that it did not accompany me to Neuchâtel only to be neglected. Since I did not have enough time to savor a meal, I went in search for souvenirs of a sweet and delicious sort. By chance, I stumbled upon two of Neuchâtel's top confectioneries. First stop was the Confiserie Walder on Grand-Rue. On the advice of the shopkeeper, I sampled the Pavés du Château—Walder’s signature handmade chocolates that turned out to be more precious than pavements of gold. Their bittersweet intensity and melting smoothness captured my taste buds after just one bite.

With a box of my new found love in hand, I wandered for a few minutes and found myself at the Confiserie Wodey Suchard on the old town’s main artery rue du Seyon. Among the assorted pastry on display was a sublime mousse cake covered with a lustrous glaze the color of passion, and adorned with berries resembling three crown jewels of sapphire, garnet and ruby. Enraptured by the lusciousness of this rosy confection, I began to feel a delectable tingling sensation radiate from the tip of my tongue...

« Bonjour! Je peux vous aider? » The shopkeeper asked, waiting for me to place my order.

« Euh…non merci. » I smiled at the puzzled shopkeeper and walked out of the door.

Mystery has a way of intriguing the mind and inviting imagination, in the realm of which unbounded possibilities abound and unattainable perfection awaits. Not knowing if this mousse cake could indeed fulfill the intense craving it evoked in me, I opted to savor its taste in my imagination where it will forever tantalize—much like an unconsummated romance...

Having seen my fair share of stained glass windows, I thought I was somewhat jaded with respect to this pictorial art form—until I visited the Museum of Art and History in Neuchâtel.

I was making a rather cursory round in the museum when the immense stained glass window by the staircase landing cast a spell on me. I stood basking in the soft filtered light, awed by the sheer size of the three-paneled window and the rich details that impart an elegant sense of fluidity rarely found in other stained glass artwork. Surrounding the frolic young women on the brilliant multi-colored glass was an aura of mystery that somehow reminded me of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Vermeer’s Het meisje met de parel (Girl with a Pearl Earring).

As I later learned from the museum’s kind assistant conservator, the window dates from 1908 and was designed by Neuchâtel artist Léo-Paul Robert (1851-1923). It took six years for Clement Heaton (1861-1940), an English stain glass artist who resided in Neuchâtel between 1893 and 1914, to render Robert’s design on glass. The window forms an integral part of the whole staircase landing on the second floor of the museum, an area designed in the decorative Art Nouveau style and in line with the English Arts and Crafts Movement, which placed an emphasis on exquisite craftsmanship that brings pleasure to both the artist and the viewer.