Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Photo: Hôtel Palafitte
Photo: Hôtel Palafitte

Time is running out! You only have about two weeks left to find the perfect gift. You keep leaving the malls empty handed. Online stores don’t seem to have the amazing sales they keep claiming. Santa Claus hasn’t been very helpful either. Maybe you’re thinking about the holidays the wrong way, though. Wouldn’t an experience be better than stuff?

Once you change your mindset, the possibilities are endless. A cute European village with a historic Old Town sounds good. So does a trip to wine country or a peaceful lake. A room over the water sounds perfect, too. Suddenly, instead of having no ideas, you have way too many. If only it were possible to combine all of them. It is Christmas, the most magical time of year, after all.

There’s one spot in Switzerland that might meet all of your criteria. The charming town is Neuchâtel, which is near the French border, at the foot of the Jura Mountains, and along the shore of Lake Neuchâtel. Its Old Town has narrow cobblestone streets, more than 140 fountains, a grand gothic church, and even a château. The hills around the lake are lined with vineyards; they produce wine that’s rarely exported outside of the country. Plus Hôtel Palafitte is the only hotel in Europe whose rooms sit over the water on stilts.

Photo: Hôtel Palafitte
Photo: Hôtel Palafitte

That’s right, you can have an overwater bungalow—make that a pavilion—in Switzerland. The modern pavilions have hardwood floors, electronic blinds, and Nespresso machines. A curved glass-and-wood wall separates the bedroom from the bathroom, where you’ll find an oversized whirlpool tub and movable partitions that look onto the lake. While outside, there’s a large terrace with sun loungers, towels, and a ladder that dangles into the water. Right now, the water is dark gray, and the view is obscured by fog. But during the summer, it warms above 70 degrees, and you can see all the way to the Alps.

The rest of the hotel is just as relaxing. Le Bar has armchairs and a fireplace for morning coffee, afternoon tea, or a drink after dinner. French windows at La Table de Palafitte overlook the lake. The airy restaurant features bright pops of yellow, local market produce, and wine from nearby vineyards. Char and smoked pollan gravlax, and pike stuffed with chanterelle mushrooms are served for dinner this time of year. The restaurant’s terrace opens for waterfront dining in the spring, while another terrace, along the edge of the water, has snacks and paddleboards. There’s even a smoking room, stocked with cigars, if you can’t maintain your New Year’s resolution.

Plus, if you can tear yourself away from your cozy cocoon, there’s Neuchâtel itself. There are history museums, art museums, and film festivals. Some of the best Swiss watches have been made here for centuries. The Pinot Noir rivals famous vintages across the French border. Biking and hiking trails lead into the Jura Mountains. While the lake is never far from sight. Your Christmas shopping is finished.

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