This summer, I visited many different regions of Western Switzerland in a week. It was interesting to be in one place, take a train, and an hour later a different language was heard. Journeying through French-speaking cantons (provinces) or places where only Swiss German is spoken, can be intimidating if you don’t speak the languages, but don’t worry because English is generally understood throughout Switzerland. I toured an organic dairy farm on top of a mountain in Chateau- d’Oex, took a train up the tallest mountain in Switzerland to the Jungfrau, and enjoyed a wine tasting after strolling through the terraced vineyards of the UNESCO world heritage in Lavaux. In French-speaking Jura, known for outdoor adventure and farm stays, I hiked through a gorge, rode a magnificent horse from the region, and was then treated to an outdoor lunch on a farm with a glorious view. We all tried the formerly forbidden Absinthe made from mountain herbs. Switzerland has a variety of topography, but very rooted cuisine and customs. It is just the way you picture it, and anything but boring! Of course, a love of traditional cheese, the best chocolate, fine wine, and fresh mountain air will help you transition into the Swiss way of life! This series of georgiejet travel stories, based on the different Western Swiss regions I traveled to, will be featured for four consecutive weeks, starting with the wine country of Vevey.
Vevey region of Switzerland
I arrived in Vevey after flying into Zurich by Swiss Air (6 1//2 hours from Boston) and taking two trains. The Swiss trains took about 3 hours total and were a cinch to navigate. Vevey is located right on Lake Geneva and is French speaking. This region is called the Swiss Riviera, because of its beautiful scenery and mild micro-climate. You can get a Montreaux Riviera pass online or at the hotels which offer in-town discounts and free admission to museums.
The four-star Astra Hotel was walking distance from the train station and right in the middle of town. My small, quiet, and modern room faced the city center with its backdrop of the lovely vineyards in the distance. It had a petite balcony with a table and two chairs to soak in the lively city sounds. There was a Starbucks right across the street with free Wifi, but I was shocked when I ordered my usual iced green tea and was charged double US price. Switzerland does have a reputation for being expensive. One way to get around that is to get discounts with the Swiss Pass which includes all transportation from trains to buses to steam ships. The Rail Europe website also has all the information and an iphone app to check schedules and book tickets. Some trains that take you up steep mountains like the ride up the Jungfrau are not included, (but it did give a 50% discount – more about that in article 3).
Many hotels in Switzerland have spa facilities and the Astra, was no exception. It was on the fifth and top floor. There was a rooftop outdoor Jacuzzi with a breathtaking view of Vevey and its vineyards. The breakfast buffet was served on the first floor in the Bistro and included fruits, muesli, hams, whole grain breads, and the many strong flavored cheeses I was soon to become very familiar with. Dark Swiss coffee came in large pots with steamed milk. On the first night, I had dinner in the hotel’s main restaurant and it was delicious. The first course, a tartar of various fish combined with avocado and smoked salmon was followed by sautéed Jera (like a perch) from Lake Geneva, with a cream sauce and potatoes. Desserts are quite rich, but luckily served in small portions.
The next morning was Saturday, fortunate for me, because it was the day of the Farmer’s Folkloric Market. (Every Saturday from 7am to 1pm in July and August). Fresh and colorful fruits, vegetables, local mushrooms (tantalizing Chanterelles), soaps and other handcrafts are sold by local vendors. This market has been going on since the middle ages! Along with the visual display, you can hear the orchestra which was set up on the open-air Grand Place. For 15 Swiss Francs, you can get a glass in which to drink as much of the local wines as you would like, from the delicious local grapes which create Chasslas, a dry white wine, to Pinot Noir, a light, dry red. These wines have been made for the last 1000 years, so you can say they are experts! As you can imagine, there was much merriment. I also walked the lovely historic section of Vevey, and went to Poyret chocolate shop to buy some Swiss Chocolate and drink real hot chocolate – the thick dark variety that almost holds a spoon upright. It is like nothing what we drink back in the states.
There is a promenade along the lake with a Charlie Chaplin sculpture, homage to the legendary actor that made Vevey his home, and a large artistic sculptural stainless steel fork, the size of three men, sticking out of the lake! Many white swans live on Lake Geneva, creating a romantic atmosphere. There is also an historic carousel. I boarded the nostalgic steam ship – “La Suisse”, built in 1909 and renovated in 2007, and took it to Cully. The ship is part of a Belle Epoch fleet and the trip can be combined with a tourist “train” in the vineyards if you don’t want to walk Montreux Riviera. From Cully I walked through the vineyards to Epesses. I love walking, and when the scenery is like this, it can’t be beat. The trails are clearly marked. The walk was unbelievably gorgeous and good exercise too, since a lot of it was uphill. Switzerland caters to hikers and bikers by making trails easy to recognize with clearly marked labels and by having the convenient service of luggage sent from one train station to your next destination where they will hold it securely until you pick it up. Some train stations will even transfer it to the airport.
This area, Lavaux, is part of a UNESCO world heritage site, where the tradition of growing grapes goes back to the time when the Romans lived here. The methods from the monks of the 11th century are still used. We ended our uphill walk at a restaurant. At Auberge du Vigneron, a lively, intimate bistro where we dined on an appetizer that looked like a crab cake, but was actually a local melted cheese called Tomme Vaudoise, covered in ground hazelnuts and served with a salad with authentic Dijon French dressing. The entrée was lake fish and for dessert we had raisins a la lee. The lee is the remainder or end of the barrel of wine and is quite strong. It was served with a reduction of pear juice and a lemon tartlet! Of course, we drank the wines of the region, Chasslas and Pinot Noir. The experience was wonderful. Afterward, we walked to the winery Domaine Bovy, for a wine tasting from the three hundred year old vineyard. The oak casks are adorned with paintings by the owner’s grandfather. He copied old master paintings but replaced faces with those of his family. The tasting was out on the patio overlooking the terraced vineyards and Lake Geneva. There were men playing boules in the garden, the French version of bocce. It was like being in a 19th C Renoir painting. We took the wine train back to Vevey, happy and content.
One train stop away is the beautiful lakeside city of Montreux, also known as the world’s most famous jazz festival town. During the seventies, Montreux was THE place for rock musicians. Many made there home here (Freddie Mercury of Queen was one). The Deep Purple song “Smoke on the Water” was written about the time when a fan through a firecracker during a Frank Zappa concert and burned down the entire historic Montreux casino. Next week I leave Vevey and go to Gruyere to find out how their cheese is made, visit a Swiss milk chocolate factory, and mountain bike in the rustic and stunning Chateau-d’Oex.
NOTE: This trip was sponsored in part by My Switzerland.
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