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Lakefront in Yverdon : Click to enlarge picture
© Office du Tourisme et du Thermalisme d'Yverdon

A busy, attractive market town on the southern tip of Lac de Neuchâtel, YVERDON-LES-BAINS, is best known for its thermal springs – celebrated at least since Roman times – and is handy as a jumping-off point both for the terrific old castle at nearby Grandson, and for trips into the Vaudois hinterland around Vallorbe and into the little-visited Vallée de Joux.

The town was founded in 1260 when Pierre of Savoy, who worked on the Château de Chillon, built a castle on what was then the lakefront to defend against attack from the east (the lake has since silted up so that the fortress is now the best part of a kilometre inland). However, the presence of prehistoric standing stones, and also of Roman remains scattered throughout the area, indicates that the Savoyards were not the first to see the strategic importance of Yverdon’s location. In fact, Yverdon – known as Eburodunum (the Fortress of the Yew Tree) in Gallo-Roman times – lies on one of Europe’s most significant ancient crossroads. The shortest routes from central France to Italy, and from southern France to Middle Europe and Germany, not to mention the vital water route linking the Rhône and the Rhine, all passed through Yverdon.

These days, though, Yverdon lies second in Vaud to Lausanne, and is a gentle place, with its solid castle, a pleasant and compact Old Town with many baroque and neoclassical facades, 5km of sandy beaches, and a marshland nature reserve stretching along the lakeshore northeast of town. It’s also one of the main locations for the much-fêted Swiss national expo in 2002.

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