For a country where sun seekers have to make do with a scattering of lakeside beaches, Switzerland more than makes up for it with jaw-dropping scenery. And there’s plenty of that – and much more - around the biggest lake in Central Europe. John Newton took in some of the stunning sights.
As perfect summer days go, they don’t come much better than in land-locked Switzerland - whether it’s on lakes and rivers, mountains and valleys or glaciers and forests. And the captivating Swiss Riviera - with its Mediterranean climate along Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman as it’s known in French-speaking Switzerland) - offers a matchless array of entertainment, events, recreation, sports facilities and gastronomic delights.
While Vevey has often played second fiddle in the popularity stakes to nearby Montreux, this quaint little town has a charm all of its own.
A few years ago, Vevey did an about-turn and overshadowed its more glamorous neighbour with one of the great Baccanalian summer events of the century – the Fete des Vignerons, or Winegrowers’ Festival. Organised by the more than 400 year-old Confrerie des Vignerons (Brotherhood of Winegrowers), the event – staged only 11 times since its origins in 1783 because of the complex production and cost – attracted visitors from all over the world to the town’s Grand-Place – the second biggest marketplace in Europe after Lisbon. A museum dedicated to the festival is open daily in Vevey.
The idyllic town even has its own wine train to the vineyards of the Lavaux - as different as they are lustrous - in the canton of Vaud.
From Vevey, it takes just 20 minutes for the wine train to reach Chexbres, where you can take a nice and easy stroll through the picturesque World Heritage-listed terraced vineyards which slope down to the shoreline of Lake Geneva. There’s a choice of 26 wine-tasting stops.
A region to delight the eye, as well as the palate, it has attracted many celebrities – including Charlie Chaplin, who lived at the Manoir de Ban, a large property in Corsier, north of Vevey, for almost a quarter of a century before his death in 1977. A bronze statue – ‘The Tramp’ – created by the English sculptor, John Doubleday, was erected by the lakeside in Vevey in 1982 as a local tribute to Chaplin, whose daughter Geraldine (of Dr Zhivago fame) and son Michael still live close to the town.
This year, another Chaplin tribute has been unveiled near Vevey – a 20 million Swiss franc investment on renovated low-cost rental apartments featuring frescos of Chaplin on the outside of the buildings.
Not far from the lakeside is Chaplin's statue, locals and visitors alike can sunbathe on a man-made beach on the marketplace, while those who want to get even closer to the lake can jostle for chairs built into rocks near the water’s edge.
Just a short steam boat or train ride along the lakeside, Lausanne has been dubbed the Olympic capital even though it has never held either a summer or winter Olympic Games. The city’s Olympic Museum is one of Switzerland’s national treasures and houses the most prestigious collection of Olympic objects in the world - from sports equipment, torches, medals, mascots, stamps and coins and pins to official outfits and ceremony costumes and a rare collection of statuettes, vases and jewels which bear witness to the splendour of the Ancient Games.
Also on display in the ‘temple of sports’ is one of Cathy Freeman’s shoes which she wore to blitz the field and win gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Well-known for its medical tourism with five clinics specialising in aesthetic surgery, Lausanne is built on three hills with two rivers running underground in between them.
No visit to Lausanne would be complete without stepping into the 13th century cathedral built on the hill of the old city overlooking Lake Geneva. It’s the biggest gothic monument in Switzerland and was constructed over 80 years, but never finished (it’s missing a tower). The cathedral’s Italian-designed, US-built organ has 6600 pipes and when installed it took 12 months to tune it.
Like Vevey, Lausanne also has been home to celebrities, including Coco Chanel who lived near the city for 30 years. Her real name was Gabrielle – not Coco.
When they’re not on the water or scrambling for a spot to sunbathe, the locals head up to the mountains, glaciers and forests around the Joux Valley, where only the sound of cow bells can be heard.
Even if there’s no snow on the peaks, young and old, couples, families or groups can take a stroll, cycle, roller skate or go hiking along the many alpine trails. The less energetic will be captivated by the lakeside villages, tranquil countryside, medieval castles, and ancient market towns and villages (don’t miss Switzerland’s oldest monastery founded in Romainmotier in AD 450), while indulging in some mouth-watering Swiss fondue.
The Joux Valley is a stronghold of precision Swiss watch-making. A former watch factory at Le Sentier, the Espace Horloger displays:
The history of watch-making the area from 1720 to 1950;
A watch-making workshop from the past;
A collection of watches dating from the 16th to the 19th century; and
current watch production from the Joux Valley.
Throughout the year – and particularly in the summertime - the Lake Geneva region sways to the rhythm of major festivals and out-of-the ordinary events that are of international interest – the stand-out being the famous Montreux Jazz Festival which lures more than 220,000 spectators to the sumptuous Stravinsky Auditorium or in the Miles Davis Hall.
But wherever you go in this breathtaking region you can be assured of perfect days in a country as near perfect as you will find.
The writer was a guest of the Lake Geneva Region www.lake-geneva-region.ch and travelled by train in Switzerland courtesy of Rail Plus in Melbourne (tel: 03-96428644; fax: 03-96428403; firstname.lastname@example.org
For complete details on Rail Plus and their wonderful journeys: www.railplus.com.au
Cathay Pacific was the airline of choice for John Newton to fly to Europe from Australia.
Please check out their web site for the latest in flight details and specials:www.cathaypacific.com.au
In Switzerland, you are never more than 20 kilometres away from a lake or a river. The country has 1484 lakes, 1 national park, 16 natural parks and five UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Swiss people travel more kilometres by train than their counterparts anywhere else in the world. On average, each person travels about 2103 kilometres a year – that’s 127 kilometres a year more than those in Japan, the nearest rival.