Head to Lake Geneva Region for your fix of Lakeside Bliss

Chateau de Chillon Lake Geneva Region
Chateau de Chillon on Lake Geneva

When you think of visiting Switzerland, what are the destinations that come to your mind first? Jungfrau and Titlis? Without a doubt, these are fabulous. But we were traveling with our 8-month-old daughter and high altitudes were a strict no-no for us. Our trip to France took us to Annecy, barely 40km from the Swiss border and we were naturally itching to cross over to Switzerland to see what the hype was all about. So we decided to spend three lovely days in the Lake Geneva region. The region is packed with diverse attractions that make for a wholesome trip.

Geneva is well-connected to the world through its airport. It is also connected to major cities of Europe through high-speed rail networks.

Where to Stay in the Lake Geneva Region?

For those visiting the Lake Geneva region, there are several options for base location. Geneva is a big city with all the usual comforts and entrapments. Lausanne is also a fairly big city with a hip urban vibe. Montreux is relatively laid back and oozes glamour and old world charm. Vevey is quaint and quieter. Staying in any of these places sorts you out for connectivity through the rail and boat network. We chose Les Avants, a tiny village at about a 3.5km ascent from Montreux, reachable by a short but beautiful train journey. It does add 20mins of travel time each way if you have to get anywhere but it takes you far away from the crowds and into a scenic heaven. Les Avants gave us ample reasons to be thankful for our choice.

Day 1: Chateau de Chillon & Montreux Lakefront

We arrived in Geneva by bus from Annecy and made our way to Gare Cornavin that connects Geneva to the rest of Switzerland, including Montreux, by rail. Montreux station has automated left luggage lockers with rents varying by size of luggage. We utilized these to travel hands-free. Montreux defines lakeside glamour, with mansions dotting the lakefront having fancy cars parked outside and the aristocracy decked up in haute couture.

Fans posing with Freddie Mercury's Statue in Montreux in Lake Geneva Region
Fans posing with Freddie Mercury’s Statue in Montreux

Montreux is particularly significant for music buffs. Freddie Mercury’s band Queen bought Mountain Studios and recorded much of their music there. Fans of Freddie Mercury can visit “Queen: The Studio Experience”, their recording studio which is well preserved and accessible for free to the visitors (http://www.mercuryphoenixtrust.com/studioexperience/). Mercury’s statue on the lakefront was always a landmark and is now a famous selfie point. Deep Purple also came to Montreux to record their superhit album Machine Head. The Montreux Jazz festival is held annually in July and draws visitors from across the globe (http://www.montreuxjazz.com/).

We walked along the lakefront admiring the views. There are designated decks where people can be seen fishing and indulging in general joie de vivre.  A walk along the promenade is a quintessential Lake Geneva region experience. Views of the lakeside mansions on one side and the turquoise waters reflecting the Alps on the other side make sure that the walk doesn’t feel like an exertion.

Chateau de chillon in the Lake Geneva Region was built in the 11th century and is now a museum
Chateau de Chillon on Lake Geneva

After a relaxing walk along the promenade, we made our way to Chateau de Chillon. Chateau de Chillon is Switzerland’s most visited historic monument. It dates back to at least the early 11th Century AD and it used to be the summer residence of the Counts of Savoy. The towers and fortified walls still stand strong today and castle has now been converted into a museum. Entrance to the castle costs CHF 12.50 per adult (price as on 2017). The information leaflet handed out the counter has excellent descriptions of the exhibits and galleries inside. Additionally, there are excellent audio-video aids in the rooms describing the times of Savoyard Royalty and other important events in the Chateau’s long and rich history.

We had arrived here fresh from Chateau overkill in the Loire valley and were almost considering skipping the trip to Chillon. But I am so glad we didn’t because Chillon is completely different from the Chateaus in France. The undisputed highlight for me was the underground section. It was initially a store for weapons and was later converted to a prison. François de Bonivard was a prisoner here for four years. Lord Byron has immortalized him in his poem The Prisoner Of Chillon. Byron’s signature is there to be seen on a pillar in the dungeon.

Boat are a popular means of transport in the Lake Geneva Region
Boat to Chillon from Montreux

From Montreux, Chillon can be reached by road, boat or on foot. We took the boat on our way there and walked back and thoroughly enjoyed both the journeys. In fact, visitors with more time on their hands should consider taking a longer boat ride. Boats are a very popular means of transport in the Lake Geneva region among locals and tourists alike.

Lake Geneva at dusk viewed from the Goldenpass train from Montreux to Zweisimmen
Lake Geneva from onboard Goldenpass

We then boarded our train from Montreux for Les Avants. There’s one every hour. Within minutes of our journey, we were treated to jaw-dropping views. As the train wound up the hill, Lake Geneva looked ethereally beautiful under the diffused light of dusk. We stayed at this lovely and well appointed Airbnb (https://tinyurl.com/yceumdjy).

Day 2: Lavaux Wine Region

Les Avants is a great base to explore the Lake Geneva Region
View from our Airbnb Balcony at Les Avants

In the morning, we woke up to the clinking of cowbells. Vivid memories of reading Heidi as a child came flashing back to mind.

Les Avants is a nice base for some hiking trails like the one to Rochers- de-Naye. But we had a more leisurely day in mind. We spent our second day in the Lake Geneva region exploring the Lavuax vineyards in and around Rivaz and St Saphorin. The Lavaux wine region is a UNESCO world heritage site. The outstanding wine terraces envelope the hill slopes stretching down from the villages right up to the lakefront and date back to the 11th Century when monks cultivated the region.

Lavaux Vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva
Lavaux Vineyards overlooking Lake Geneva

Truth be told, the time of the year we were visiting in (early June) was not the best time to tour the vineyards. The vines were denuded and the sun was beating down. After ambling across the villages aimlessly and finding that all the wine caves were also closed, we headed towards Vinorama (http://www.lavaux-vinorama.ch/). Vinorama is a wine centre that has the largest collection of Lavaux wines to taste and purchase. The most famous varietal from the region is Chasselas which is fruity and dry.

The high point for me was a documentary feature called “The Winemaker’s Year” that we saw in their mini theatre. The documentary captures the winemaking journey with changing seasons. It provided a glimpse into the love that goes behind the labor and the emotional highs and lows that are an inevitable part of a winemaker’s life. Here is a link to the trailer of the documentary – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5sIqxxbkRo.

Day 3: Cailler Chocolate Factory & Gruyere Cheese Factory Tour

We spent our last day in the Lake Geneva Region touring the famous Chocolate and Cheese factories. We visited the Cailler Chocolate factory in Broc and Gruyere Cheese factory in, well, Gruyere. To get to these, one needs to take to Goldenpass from Montreux (we boarded from Les Avants) towards Zweisimmen and get down at Montbovon. From there take the train bound for Broc. Gruyere is on the way to Broc from Montbovon. Both the factories are very close to the respective rail stations.

Maison Cailler tour  

A visit to the Cailler Chocolate Factory at Broc Fabrique can be the highlight of any trip to the Lake Geneva Region
Cailler Chocolate Factory

Callier is a subsidiary of Nestle and a premium chocolate maker par excellence. Entry to the Callier factory (https://cailler.ch/en/maison-cailler/la-chocolaterie-suisse/) costs CHF 12 per adult and children under 16 get in free when accompanied by an adult! It includes a guided tour through the factory through audio-visual aids as well as a tasting of the chocolates. The tour begins with the origins of chocolate in South America and continues to its adoption in Europe ending with the modern methods of chocolate making employed by Cailler. There are cocoa beans, hazelnuts and other ingredients of chocolates for you to see, smell and taste to get a true flavor of what goes inside.

There is a small line that makes Cailler’s famous Original Branches chocolates specifically for visitors to consume fresh. Watching the chocolate being made and having it fresh off the line moments later was enough to awaken the child in me.  However, don’t repeat my mistake and stuff yourself up with these because the really good stuff awaits you at the end of the tour in the tasting section. The tasting is largely unsupervised and you are free to try as many of their chocolates as you want, each more delectable than the other. We introduced our daughter to chocolates here and she seemed to agree that they were excellent.

Chocolate tasting at Cailler Chocolate Factory
Nyra’s intro to Chocolates!

La Maison du Gruyere

On our way back from Broc towards Montreux, we hopped off at Gruyere and headed to the cheese factory (https://www.lamaisondugruyere.ch/landing-page-en/) right outside the station.

Entrance to the factory costs CHF 7 per adult. The audio guide and visual aids explain the various stages in the production of Gruyere cheese. There is an attempt to create an interaction with all five senses- hearing, smell, sight, touch and taste- as they relate to cheese-making. You also get three samples of Gruyere cheese of three different ages to demonstrate how it matures with age. Gruyere gained the AOC as a Swiss Cheese in 2001 and is extremely popular worldwide.

Gruyere Cheese Factory in Switzerland.
Gruyere Cheese Factory

 

Please refer to the latest cheese-making timetable on their site before visiting. Visiting the factory when cheese-making is not in progress can be a disappointing experience, as it was for us. Even more so after the very high bar set by the chocolate factory tour. I would advise people to skip it unless they are visiting the chocolate factory also and this is something they are covering on the way.

While in Gruyere, it is worth visiting the eponymous castle from the 13th century that has now been converted into a museum. From Gruyere, we came back to Les Avants for the night. Sadly, our stay in Switzerland was drawing to a close. Our train to Paris was on the next afternoon.

We spent our last morning lazing in our Airbnb, soaking in the views for one last time and going over the memories we made. We headed back with a promise to come back to explore more of this beautiful country. We had barely scratched the surface and there were so many treasures left unexplored.

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