Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The other Swiss mountains

A guest post from a fellow citizen of the world. (Thanks so much to Ursina for writing about her native Switzerland while I'm away on vacation!)

Many images come to mind when thinking of Switzerland. For me they include my family and childhood memories. You might be thinking about cheeses and chocolates, watches and army knives, even tax havens and banks, and of course the Alps. The Alps do cover about 60% of the country and are the geographical aspect most important in our history, culture, and tourism. But when I think of Swiss mountains, I also think of the Jura Mountains, which cover about a tenth of the country stretching from Geneva in the Southwest to Basel in the North.  If you are thinking Jurassic Park right now, you are spot on. The Jurassic time period’s name is derived from the mountains. Lindsey would probably explain the etymology of the word right about now… so Wikipedia tells me "The name 'Jura' is derived from the Celtic root 'jor' which was latinized into 'juria,' meaning forest," thus forest mountains.

To me the name “Jura” means much more, it is also the name my family uses for the house from 1667 that my Mamama and grandfather bought over 40 years ago.  My parents recently renovated the house and it is frequently full of cousins, aunts, and assorted family dogs.  In fact, my parents are up there right now with Clemens (our German pointer). To further complicate these matters, there is also a Swiss canton (similar to a state) in the Jura Mountains region! The area has a very interesting history; it is here that Swiss watch making was born (the Watch Museum in Chaux-de-Fonds is a must), because the high altitude made farming in the area inefficient. This also makes it one of the poorest areas of Switzerland. This forms the backdrop to the creation of Switzerland’s youngest canton, Jura. After what my mom calls “an almost civil war” (which was just some uncivilized protests), the inhabitants of the area who speak French and are predominantly Catholic decided to secede from the predominantly German-speaking Protestant canton of Bern, the largest Swiss canton, and like anything in Switzerland, the entire country voted on it and approved the decision.  Interestingly, the southern part of the area decided to remain Bernese, and that’s where my family’s “Jura” house lies.

Beyond the history and fascinating geology, the area is a haven for any outdoor enthusiast (except the type looking for sharks). Hiking and biking, swimming and horseback riding, cross country skiing and even scooter rentals; there’s a trail, map, and place for everything. One of my favorite hikes is around the Étang de Gruère, a bog lake that you can swim in during the summertime. It’s refreshing, but if you kick up the bog bottom you come out covered in black stuff. Another favorite is climbing up the ladders and steep path through the Combe Grède chine to the top of Mount Chasseral; from the top you can see Mont Blanc in the Alps on a clear day. The scenery in the area is made even more beautiful by the many cows and horses that often graze together on the same meadows. Hiking paths routinely lead through the meadows and cows might even come up to you and give you a cow’s lick.

 Mount Chasseral, via

So next time you’re in Switzerland, consider a trip to the Jura, the other mountains, and stop by for a beer and some local cheese at our “Jura” and maybe you’ll even spot these twenty donkeys I encountered nearby last year.

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