1. Built environment
July 3, 2015

No. 2: The hotel that's half in France, and half in Switzerland

By City Monitor Staff

On Monday, we ran a story under the provocative headline, “Is this the most ridiculous city boundary on earth?” At risk of revealing the man behind the curtain, we had an inkling, even then, that it wasn’t, but we thought it might make a good headline for a piece on a boundary that was, to be fair, pretty blody silly.

Anyway. The internet being what it is, we were overwhelmed by the response from people wanting to tell us that, no, it obviously wasn’t the most ridiculous boundary, because hadn’t we heard of this one. And, to be fair to the internet, some of these are pretty bloody silly, too.

Over the next few weeks, then, we thought we’d tell you about them. So here, for your delectation, we present the next installment in a continuing series:

The hotel that straddles the Franco-Swiss border

Image: Google Maps.

The tiny village of La Cure, just north of Geneva, was once entirely in France – until suddenly one day in 1863, it wasn’t.

Actually, it wasn’t that sudden: the change had been agreed in a treaty the year before. The French were very keen on getting hold of the Vallee des Dappes, which provided a military route to nearby Savoy, and which they’d briefly held during the Napoleonic wars, until they’d been forced to give it up at the Congress of Vienna. In the half century since, those awkward Swiss had proved a bit bloody minded about giivng it back.

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So, in 1862, they came up with a plan. The French would get their valley back; in return, the Swiss would get a similarly sized patch nearby. That included a chunk of La Cure. 

More than that, in fact, it included chunks of certain buildings: the new boundary ran right through the middle of the town. The treaty, hilariously, went to the trouble of stipulating that any building divided by the new border was to be left undisturbed, presumably to stop their owners getting the hump when one side or other decided to knock half of their house down.

The Treaty didn’t come into force until the Swiss ratified it the next year. But in the intervening months, one enteprising local (“Cureé?”) had spotted a business opportunity. His own land was bisected by the new border – why not stick up a new buiulding and use it to flog stuff to all the cross-border traffic he expected to materialise from somewhere?

And so, he did. The Swiss side got a grocery store; the French side got a bar. 

How profitable this cross border trade was in the short term, history doesn’t record, but what is clear is that by the 1920s, the business was struggling, and the place was bought out by one Jules-Jean Arbeze. He decided to remodel the building as a hotel which, with great modesty, he named after himself.

The Hotel Arbez is not only bisected by an international border. Its dining room is bisected by that border. So, in fact, is the bed in the honeymoon suite. Another room has a French bathroom but a Swiss bedroom. The lower half of the stars are French; the upper half are Swiss. The bar – this may or may not be a significant piece of information – is entirely Swiss.

According to some reports, during the Second World War, the Germans occupied the French side of the hotel; the Swiss side, though, remained neutral, and consequently the Germans weren’t allowed upstairs where the resistance was hiding.

This feels just a tad unlikely to us – Nazis that can’t go upstairs? They’re Nazis, not Daleks – but okay.

Anyway, the hotel is still there, and you can still, if you so wish, spend the first night of your marriage, next to your loved one, in the next country along. So there you go.

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