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Border hotel offers a taste of two cultures

The Arbez Hotel as seen from the Swiss side of the border swissinfo.ch

Nestled deep in the Jura mountains, the Arbez Hotel in La Cure offers visitors a one-of-a-kind overnight experience.

This content was published on June 26, 2004 - 14:00

Thanks to its unique location straddling the Franco-Swiss border, guests can eat and sleep in both countries at the same time.

“In many of our rooms, the border runs right across the bed,” explains the hotel’s owner, Alexandre Peyron. “People just love the idea of sleeping with their head in Switzerland and their feet in France.”

One-of-a-kind

Opening the door to one of the hotel’s ten guest rooms, Peyron points out that the toilet is on one side of the border while the sink and shower are on the other.

“It’s not every day that you have to cross into France to wash your hands,” he says with a wink.

Downstairs, in the hotel’s comfortable yet upmarket restaurant, Peyron uncorks a bottle of Jurassian wine, known as “vin jaune”, and pours some of the amber-coloured liquid into a wide-rimmed glass.

“Here, the border divides the table in half,” he explains, setting the glass down in Switzerland and the bottle in France.

“So we’ve made a real effort to offer specialities that reflect the cross-border character of the hotel, such as Swiss fondue or French foie gras.”

Peyron says his is the only cross-border hotel in Europe.

Golden opportunity

The building itself was constructed in 1863 by an enterprising Swiss landowner, Alphonse Ponthus, whose empty field was cut in half by a deal negotiated under France’s last emperor, Napoleon III, to redraw the border.

According to local legend, the Swiss government refused to grant Ponthus permission to build on the border, but a loophole in the law meant that once the house existed, it could not be demolished.

“A bunch of French craftsmen worked all through the night to help Ponthus put a roof on the building,” says Peyron. “Once that was done, there was nothing anyone could do about it.”

The house was purchased in 1921 by Peyron’s great grandfather, Jules Arbez, who turned it into a hotel.

Wartime legacy

Showing the way to a room on the second floor known as “The Hideaway”, Peyron explains how the building became a hotbed of resistance activity during the Second World War.

“When the Germans occupied this part of France in 1940, the hotel became a strategic location,” he says. “The bottom of the staircase is in France but by the time you reach the top, you’re in Switzerland.

"So my grandfather was able to hide many British and American soldiers upstairs, where the German troops were not allowed to go.”

Peyron’s grandfather, Max Arbez, also helped many Jewish families escape Nazi persecution in France by allowing them to flee into neutral Switzerland via the hotel.

“If only these walls could talk… they would have some amazing stories to tell,” Peyron says.

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in La Cure

In brief

The Arbez Hotel, which straddles two borders, is the only establishment of its kind in Europe.

Constructed in 1863 by a Swiss landowner, the building became a hotel in 1920 and was used as a safe house by resistance leaders during the Second World War.

Today, it offers guests a unique opportunity to sleep with their head in Switzerland and their feet in France.

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