|The Vallée de Joux|
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About 5km southwest of Vallorbe, the sharp Dent de Vaulion rises to 1483m, standing guard over the secluded Vallée de Joux, a long thin valley sandwiched at 1000m between the Grand Risoud pine forest, which conceals it from France, and the parallel Mont Tendre range, which cuts it off from Lake Geneva. It’s perfect summer walking country, with many routes along the valley floor beside the Lac de Joux, while the thickly wooded valley sides turn into cross-country skiing heaven in winter. The valley has its own, bracing microclimate, reminiscent of Alpine areas 400m higher in altitude: temperatures of -20°C on the valley floor are not unknown in winter, and precipitation tops 1800mm a year. High winds can also rip their way along the valley. It’s no surprise that the first people to consider settling in the valley were ascetic monks: even by 1700 there were still just 173 inhabitants, plus 22 bears.
Between the small Lac Brenet and Lac de Joux is LE PONT village. In front of the train station is what’s left of a colossal hangar, used between 1880 and 1936 (before the age of fridges) to store ice which was hacked from the lakes and then transported by fast train to Paris, Lyon and Geneva. (In April 1927, the hangar was somehow gutted by fire.) Roads run west from Le Pont along both shores of the Lac de Joux: the south road passes through L’Abbaye with ruins of a medieval abbey, meeting up at the end of the lake with the northern road and LE SENTIER, chief town of the valley and a one-time watchmaking centre to rival those in the Neuchâtel mountains (such prestigious names as Audemars Piguet, Blancpain and Breguet still make watches in the valley). LE BRASSUS, 4km southwest, is being developed as a resort, although you’d barely notice much actual development going on: the place is pretty, quiet and boasts nothing at all to divert you from the wilds of nature all around. From here all the way southwest to the Col de la Givrine is the huge Parc Jurassien Vaudois – Switzerland’s second-largest protected natural environment.
Hourly trains from Vallorbe (connecting with services from Lausanne at Le Day) run along the north shore of the lake, terminating at Le Brassus. One boat a day in summer does a circular cruise of the lake, to and from Le Pont. A summer road from Le Brassus surfs over the mountains at Marchairuz before dropping down to Lake Geneva.
The tourist office for the valley is in the giant sports centre at the southern end of Le Sentier (daily 9am–noon & 1–6pm; 021/845 17 77, www.valleedejoux.ch). They have plenty of leaflets and brochures, as well as a useful 1:25,000 map and guide touristique (in French; Fr.15) detailing walks. You can hire ice skates here (Fr.5) for either the indoor ice stadium (Fr.6) or, when everyone is skating on it, the lake itself. They also have mountain bikes (Fr.40/day), cross-country skis (Fr.20), a climbing wall, tennis courts, and even plain dorms (Fr.15). Most amenable hotels are in Le Brassus: De La Lande (021/845 44 41, fax 845 45 40, firstname.lastname@example.org; b) is fresh and pleasant, as is the De France nearby (021/845 44 33, fax 845 44 31; b) – but the former is family-owned, whereas the latter is a generic chain. Hôtel du Cygne in Les Charbonnières on the south side of the lake (021/841 12 81, fax 841 12 82; a) wins no prizes for charm, but has plenty of dorm beds. Camp year-round at Le Rocheray in Le Sentier (021/845 51 74). Eating and drinking is a hotel experience, but for one or two small brasseries in Le Pont and Le Brassus.
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