Standing with both feet in two different countries at the same time - you know that from some border crossings. But lying in a hotel bed with your head in one country and your legs in another is probably unique in the world. This is exactly what is possible in a hotel on the border between France and Switzerland.
The scene of this unusual regulation is the small Hotel Arbez: there the border between France and Switzerland runs through the middle of the restaurant and some of the rooms. The unusual location of the hotel is by no means a coincidence: in 1862, France and Switzerland signed the Treaty of Dappes. The agreement was intended to settle the longstanding territorial border dispute between the countries.
At that time, a local entrepreneur opened a shop and bar right on the border. This enabled him to benefit from cross-border trade. Later he also opened the Hotel Arbez, through which the national border runs right in the middle.
The extraordinary location of L'Arbézie has repeatedly caused unusual circumstances over the past 100 years. A painting on the wall of the hotel's restaurant also refers to this. It depicts Paul Cézanne's "The Card Players" and alludes to an incident in the 1920s: a Swiss customs officer fined a group of hotel guests he had caught playing cards. Their mistake: They had played on the Swiss side of the hotel with a deck of cards from France without first paying customs duties.
The event at that time still influences the rules in the hotel today: Although games are generally allowed in the hotel, no cards are allowed to cross the invisible national border.
The border also plays an important role in the choice of food in the restaurant: if you are sitting at a table on the French side, you are not allowed to order a portion of Tomme Vaudoise. That's because of the strict European regulations for unpasteurized dairy products, which is why the Swiss cheese isn't allowed to make its way onto the French side. Some French specialties such as the Saucisse de Morteau cannot be ordered in the entire hotel restaurant either, since the type of sausage is not allowed to be sold in Switzerland.
During the Second World War, the hotel even played an important role: the occupied zone of France met free Switzerland in the hotel. The Germans occupied the French half of the hotel. However, the stairs to the rooms were partly on Swiss territory, which is why the upper floors were taboo for the Germans.
This made the upper floors relatively safe for people fleeing, as Alexandre Peyron, manager of the hotel that has been run by his family for generations, explains. While the Germans ate or drank at the bar, the refugees were smuggled to safety in front of them through neutral Switzerland.
A letter of thanks from Allied Commander Marshal Montgomery hangs next to the "Stairs of Liberty" today. The Israeli memorial Yad Vashem also recognized the hotel's then-owner, Max Arbez, as "Righteous Among the Nations" for his role in rescuing Jewish refugees.
Most recently, the corona pandemic and the country-specific, changing regulations caused a special situation. Typically, the hotel opted to implement the more stringent regulations of the two countries, most of which were French. As a result of the quarantine regulation and the long closed and impassable country border, L'Arbézie became a meeting place for couples stranded on different sides of the border. Finally, the hotel is accessible from both countries.
Sources: Hotel Arbez, CNN