Château de Chillon
On the easternmost shores of Lac Léman sits one of the most famous attractions in all of Switzerland, the iconic medieval castle, Château de Chillon. Since the 10th century, this magnificent lakeside fortress has guarded the strategic route along the Rhone valley, leading south through the Alps and the Great Saint Bernard pass, and Italy. 1000 years before the present fortifications, there is even evidence of a Roman garrison that served the same purpose. Today the castle appears much as it did in the 1200’s, when the Savoys greatly expanded it, at the beginning of their nearly 400 years of control. Restorations have been ongoing at the Château since the 1890’s, making Chillon one of the best preserved medieval castles in the world, still for the most part in it’s original form.
Our visit to the castle took place in low season, fortunate for us. During high season, hoards and masses of tourists can make the visit overwhelming, as evidenced by “one way only” signage at many narrow points and passageways within. While we didn’t have the place quite to ourselves, there was only one large tour group, and mostly only smaller groups and families. The castle lacks that typical tourist trap atmosphere, because this is a really unique place. If medieval history isn’t your thing, you’ll still be amazed at the excellent state of preservation, and remarkable restoration work that has taken place over the last 100 years. For the history buffs, a plethora of exhibits ranging from Swiss wooden trunks, to armor and weaponry, can be found within the castle walls.
Driving into Lausanne this past weekend and seeing signs for Montreaux, the first thing that came to my mind was the “Montreux Convention” – the 1936 agreement that gives Turkey control over the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles and regulates the transit of naval warships. To normal people, Montreux is probably better known as resort town of the rich and famous, occupying a key position on the Swiss Riviera on the north shore of Lake Geneva. With such notable residents as Freddie Mercury, Igor Stravinsky, Shania Twain, Charlie Chaplin, and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, Montreux has been home to the who’s who of society for over 125 years. Today, Montreux is a tourist hot-spot on the lake, with majestic hotels, including the Montreux Palace Hotel, where the famous “Montreux Convention” was hosted. Our visit today included an idyllic walk along the promenade, lunch at Confiserie Zurcher, and window shopping along the high end Avenue du Casino.
Our only UNESCO World Heritage Site of the day, the Lavaux region, which sits between Montreux and Lausanne is world famous for wine! We had no idea, knowing nothing about Swiss wine, and only stumbled across it on our drive back to Lausanne along the lakeshore road. The entire region stretches 30km along the north shore of the lake, and is most famous for the varietal Chasselas blanc. The vineyards are unique in that they are terraced up the mountainsides from the lakeshore in the same way they have been since the 11th century… about the same time as the rise to significance of the nearby Château de Chillon. The terraces are all facing the south, so as to best capture the rays of the sun. The rock walls of the terraces serve to absorb the sun’s heat during the day, and protect the vulnerable vines from late spring and early fall frosts, transforming the temperate climate of Switzerland into a more Mediterranean one more conducive to the cultivation of grapes.
Our day concluded with a visit to the Lavaux Vinorama, quite by accident, although it turned out to be the highlight of our day. In one location, directly beneath the terraces, one can have a complete Lavaux wine experience, tasting, and presentation of the history and culture of the region. We opted for the Lavaux Discovery package, which included two whites and a red, although PashbyMaul Adventures recommends you stick with the whites. In Switzerland, everything is expensive, including the wine, although after learning about what goes into making it so special, you won’t mind so much paying for the experience.