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

The border runs lengthwise through the two buildings, passing just to the left of the mural. The mural and everything to the right of it lies in Switzerland; France lies to the left. Image: Roland Zumbuehl/Wikimedia Commons.

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.

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.

 
 
 
 

CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.