Exploring the best of the Swiss Riviera
Wow – what a day! We went up, down and around the Swiss Riviera today, exploring 3 of this region’s best known sites and loving every minute of it. First we climbed to the top of Rochers de Naye by cog rail to hike around for a bit; then we sped back down the mountain by funicular train to see Switzerland’s most famous castle: Chateau de Chillon. Finally, we cruised around the Eastern end of Lake Geneva on a boat for the afternoon. absolutely splendid day that definitely goes on the list of “Best Days of Lives”.
The day started as all days should, I think: cafe au lait in a quaint little French cafe accompanied by hand-made pain du chocolat and croissants, enjoyed whilst in the company of a cherished loved one. As we sat there sipping our coffee, watching the morning sunlight dance across the surface of Lake Geneva, we stopped and shared a moment of gratitude. We are so truly fortunate to be able to enjoy days like this…
Believe it or not people, the day just got better. After breakfast we headed up to Les Rochers de Naye (translation = the rocks of Naye). This cluster of 4 mountain peaks 2,042m above Lake Geneva is accessible from Montreux station via cog railway and provides a brilliant vantage point from which you can enjoy the most amazing views of the Swiss Riviera. During winter the mountain is packed with skiers, and in summer the hikers come out. You can actually hike all the way to the top of the mountain, though the last bit is rated “Extreme” in terms of difficulty due to the rock climbing involved. I am neither good with heights nor a rock climber (Shane would give it a go though, I’m sure), so we had to take the easy option and just catch the train up. And thank goodness we did – that is one hell of a climb! It took the little cog train an hour to crank its way up the mountain and at times the incline was so steep it felt like we were on a roller coaster. Swiss rail engineers are amazing I tell you! As you would expect, the views back down across the lake and the town of Montreux were amazing…
When we reached the top of Les Rochers de Naye, however, the views went to a whole other level of AWESOME. It was a spectacularly clear day and we could see for miles in every direction. We walked all over the summit – from one side to the other and back again, busily taking photos and uttering one “wow” after another. Anyone overhearing us would think we were simpletons really; I think our vocabulary dwindled down to just 2 words: “wow” and “ohmygod” (said as one word). As much as I would love to show you every photo, that would just be ridiculous, so here are just a few samples of why Les Rochers de Naye enraptured us so very completely.
Before we’d realised it a couple of hours had gone by and given we still had a castle to fit in before the day’s end, we thought we had better head back down the mountain. So we caught the train down, but instead of going all the way back to Montreux we hopped off half way down at the small town of Glion. Here we caught the tiniest funicular train we’ve ever seen down to lake shore. Why? Because the funicular train got us nice and close to one of the oldest castles in Switzerland: Chateau de Chillon.
Built as a defensive fortress in 1005 the castle sits on a small island on the lake; it is connected to the mainland via a covered wooden bridge and is open to the public. The castle was owned by the Dukes of Savoy, who ruled the Savoy region from the 11th century and who went on to rule Italy from 1861 to 1946, when Italy became a republic. Chateau of Chillon has been a popular tourist attraction for almost 200 years due to Lord Byron’s 1816 poem “The Prisoner Of Chillon” (1816) about François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk and politician who was imprisoned there from 1530 to 1536. We got to see a bit of 19th century vandalism at the castle, where Lord Byron carved his name into a pillar of the dungeon.
The castle is a well preserved example of Gothic architecture and medieval fortress living. The tour through the castles many courtyards, dungeons, turrets and princely rooms was great, as were the views of the lake and mountains through the castle’s windows
After a good dose of history we were starving; some foraging found us a couple of 8CHF ($10AUD) sandwiches* (nothing too exciting but enough to sustain us for the afternoon) and a view to compensate for what our lunch lacked in volume.
*Have I mentioned that Switzerland is EXPENSIVE? We asked a local for some advice on how to save money on food whilst in Switzerland and his reply was “Eat a lot before you arrive and then wait until you leave to fill up again”. Lucky we topped up on schnitzel in Germany then! And with Austria next on the itinerary we should be able to fill up once we leave Switzerland, so for now our philosophy is to eat sparingly and only dream of schnitzel….
Our final adventure for the day actually came to us: as we were sitting by the lake enjoying our late lunch one of the boats that cruises around Lake Geneva pulled in to the quay beside us and on a whim we decided to jump on. The cruise took up the rest of our afternoon and allowed us to gape at the mountains and the lake a bit more, just from a different vantage point. We even got to stop in at St Gingolph, a tiny village on the other side of the lake that straddles Switzerland and France. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to actually go to France, but we got damn close!
As the boat pulled back into Montreux late this afternoon and we strolled home along the promenade, it hit us again how lucky we are to be having this adventure. La vie est belle n’est-ce pa?