By Tonya Hennessey
Nestled into a sheltered bay on the far east side of Lac Léman Switzerland—that’s Lake Geneva to us tourists—the resort town of Montreux is a special place. This picturesque city sits at the foot of the Swiss Alps along the medieval road from London to the Eternal City, the Via Francigena. Montreux boasts an abundance of attractions, and just plain relaxation, at any time of the year, while best known for its annual summer Jazz Festival—the second largest in the world.
Last fall I stayed at a sweet Belle Époque hotel at the south end of the promenade, the Golf Hotel Rene Capt. I secured a cute room with a little balcony and stunning views of the lake and the snow-capped Alps. After dropping off my luggage, I grabbed a corner table on the roof deck, and the waiter brought me the perfect martini, in a cut crystal glass.
Upon checking in, I discovered a wonderful perk: local hotels give their guests a free Swiss Riviera Pass. Financed through a city tax, the pass affords free transport throughout the cities of Montreux, Vevey, and Veytaux on all the buses and trains. Numerous museums are 50% off, including Chaplin’s World, the Museum of Montreux, and the Château de Chillon; Queen the Studio Experience is free. Tickets for cruises on Lake Geneva with the world’s largest Belle Époque Fleet are 50% off, as are the funiculars up into the Alps.
Relax in the Alps with these three experiences-
1 – The Promenade
The Golf Hotel Rene Capt sits on the colorful flower-bordered promenade that hugs the sparkling lake. The next morning, I wanted to get my bearings, so off I went for a walk on the Quai des Fleurs, curious what lies around the bend.
On Saturdays, the lakeside flea market has vendors selling everything from food to vintage jewelry to dried spices and teas from faraway lands; I couldn’t resist an antique ring with a smoky topaz stone. I stopped to sip a glass of champagne at the famed Garden of Eden Hotel and took pictures at the tribute to Queen’s Freddie Mercury, who called Montreux his second home.
At about 4:00 pm, the lakefront fills with the Old-World tradition of people of all generations out dog walking. Hidden benches provide a precious bit of privacy to step away and take it all in. As I strolled, I came across a wonderfully vital atmosphere of artists painting and people chatting.
2 – The Funicular
The next day, I took the funicular, or cog-wheeled train, for a 45-minute ride up to 2,042 meters (6,126 feet) into the Alps. With my Swiss Riviera Pass, the trip was 26.50 francs at 50% off. As the train chugs along to Les Rochers de Naye, you get a sense of the quiet mountain life as you pass by alpine summer houses.
The vistas of Lake Geneva are spectacular. At the stops at Jaman and Plein Roc, you can join numerous hiking trails, and it soon becomes clear how and why the Swiss take their hiking so seriously. I disembarked at the last stop, ordered a cup of tea in the Plein Roc Restaurant, and savored the panoramic view from the crown of that part of the world.
3 – The Belle Époque Fleet
Once back to the promenade, I bought a 1st-class ticket to sit upstairs on a pre-WWI Belle Époque steamer ferry that was about to leave on a two-hour round-trip cruise. With my Pass at 50% off, the fare was 25 francs. The ferry was pretty, with old-time light fixtures on the ceiling, and white paneling with grey trim. It felt spacious and open and had an ornate formal dining room. The gourmet dinner cruises, serving local cuisines and wines, look fabulous. It was fun to hear the steam whistle and see the paddlewheel through the looking-glass. Upstairs there’s a small café and bar, and tables with wicker furniture. I ordered a charcuterie, which was generous and nicely plated on a piece of slate, and a local beer.
The classic steamer cruised southeast, first passing by the Château de Chillon, the setting of Lord Byron’s 1816 poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, which sits on a rocky island just off the shore, protected in past ages by fortified walls and towers. We slowly rounded the edge of the lake past small villages, and then across to Vevey, home of Charlie Chaplin in his later years, finally returning to Montreux.
Montreux is a special place. This picturesque city will capture your heart and call you back again.
If you would like to purchase this article for your publication, please click here to contact the author directly.