Officials are hoping that "Hoppy", a satellite-powered audioguide – the first of its kind in Switzerland – will put a spring in the step of tourism in Watch Valley.
swissinfo went along to sample the guide, which covers the Swiss cantons in the western Jura valleys as well as the French department of Doubs.
Hoppy, which features a cartoon grasshopper as its mascot, allows tourists to get in their cars and “hop” between different locations in Watch Valley – the area from Geneva to Basel, which is the traditional home of the watchmaking industry.
“We cover 960 kilometres of roads with comments about nature, history, culture, economy, gastronomy and leisure,” says Fabian Claivaz from Watch Valley tourism.
“If you include the neighbouring French department of Doubs, it covers 2,500 kilometres altogether,” he adds.
The 170-gram machine looks somewhat like an old-fashioned mobile phone. The commentaries – in English, German and French – are automatically transmitted by satellite as soon as the driver approaches a specific point of interest.
Bern, home to artists
We start our tour in Bern where Claivaz sets up Hoppy by placing the machine on the dashboard and connecting it to the car radio.
Several minutes later, Hoppy springs to life, explaining how the Swiss capital has been home to artists such as Paul Klee, and how the city was founded.
Claivaz says Hoppy is designed to inform and entertain the visitor by providing nuggets of interesting information about the area.
After a few more details on canton Bern, we start driving towards Biel, following one of the routes on the special Hoppy map.
Claivaz says he hopes that Hoppy will go some way towards increasing the number of tourists visiting the Watch Valley region, as well as the number of overnight stays.
“We would be very happy if people decide to stay a little bit longer or return, because there are so many things to discover,” he says.
“They won’t have time to do 960 kilometres in a few days, so the aim is to give people ideas about what they can do in the area.”
We pass into the town of Biel, where Hoppy tells us about the town’s most famous watch brands, Swatch and Rolex, and then turn onto a road that wends its way along the lakeside.
Hoppy proceeds to supply a variety of information, starting with local winemaking, moving on to how the lake was formed and then explaining about St Peters Island, a local landmark, which was once home to the French philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
As we move on towards Murten – with an explanation of how a marauding elephant gave “Elephant Street” its name in the 19th century – Claivaz explains that the idea to launch Hoppy came about last year.
Watch Valley then worked with neighbouring Doubs, where the guide is called Navidoo.
Hoppy can be hired from one of 21 rental points in Switzerland and used on both sides of the border. In total there are 650 commentaries, of which 310 are about places in Switzerland.
Claivaz says this type of audio guide is totally unique to Switzerland, adding that other cantons, such as Bern and Geneva, have already shown interest in the concept.
The guide is currently in use in other regions of France, and Claivaz thinks that Hoppy could also be a great success throughout Switzerland.
“When you are in your car and driving across a landscape that you don’t know, you won’t have time to read guidebooks. With Hoppy, you discover many things just by listening,” he says.
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
Hoppy covers the cantons of Vaud, Jura, Neuchâtel, Fribourg, Bern and Solothurn, which are along the arc of the Jura mountains and Watch Valley.
The system is also in operation in the neighbouring French region of Doubs as Navidoo.
Hoppy starts at SFr23 ($18) for one day, rising to SFr45 for three days and then SFr7.50 per extra day.