Editor’s Note: The situation in Switzerland is on the up is still a little uncertain. Wearing a mask is not compulsory, except on public transport, but is recommended, especially in confined spaces such as bars and restaurants. The Swiss government made some good decisions early on which enabled the country to come out of their strict restrictions last month. Switzerland Tourism together with hotels and restaurants has produced “Clean & Safe” labels for hotels and restaurants that have implemented safety procedures to prevent contamination. Borders in Europe have opened and slowly people are starting to return to Switzerland on holiday or plan their winter getaway.
Chillon Castle in Montreux
Standing at the edge of the rickety pier at Chillon Castle overlooking a mirror flat Lake Geneva, whose clear surface glistens with the reflection of the snow-covered Alps beyond, I am reminded of the words of beloved singer-songwriter Freddie Mercury: “Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy?”
It should come as no surprise that one of the world’s greatest musical geniuses took inspiration from one of the world’s most beautiful spots, but standing here on what seems like a precipice to heaven, I am surprised. I am surprised, that despite my love for all things Queen, I didn’t even know this place existed.
Montreux is often passed over. Literally, the highway from busy Geneva runs right above this small lakeside town and it’s that highway that many simply speed along on their way to a mountain holiday in the Alps, forgetting or not knowing, about Montreux, her exquisite beauty and her musical and medieval history.
With its castles, lakes, mountains and vineyards, the Montreux Riviera, as the region is often called, offers a postcard-perfect landscape.
My Discovery of Montreux
In fact, I too, nearly skipped Montreux entirely when planning a three-week sojourn to Switzerland. If it wasn’t for some extra few nights that stared blankly up at me from my itinerary and the need to be close to the Geneva airport for my flight, I’m not sure I would have ever thought to stop here, but I’m glad I did.
When Google mapping showed how to make the journey from the airport to Montreux, I discovered that while that highway was no doubt the quickest route, a more winding road followed the lakeside all the way to my hotel.
The first hours in Switzerland were spent on this road, flanked on one side by wintry vineyards and cute crumbling castles, and on the other by nothing but the lake and train tracks for what has to be one of the most scenic commuter train journeys in the world.
Walking down the “Riviera of Switzerland” as it is referred to by locals, it was clear to see that this was a land of real money. Grocery stores and simple cafes were hard to find as boutique stores and fine-dining establishments lined the streets. Men in suits and perfectly manicured women in high heels sipped on Champagne-laden cocktails on the street.
However, turning down toward the lake itself, a simpler life revealed itself. Here couples basked in the pink hues of the setting winter sun, picnicking on benches alongside statues of what could be their younger selves. And amid them all, a bronze Mr. Mercury raised his fist toward those jagged mountains across the water in that iconic pose that would freeze him in time for all of history.
However, during my brief time there, Montreux revealed herself to me as more than just a pretty face.
The Casino Barrière de Montreux allowed me to walk into the real studios where Queen wrote and recorded much of its music between 1979 and 1996. I stood where legends had, in an area untouched since the band departed from this Swiss town that had become its muse, its inspiration and its escape from reality. I even admit to letting a tear slide down my cheek as I was transported to a tiny room in the back of the casino where the band’s final album was recorded.
While on the other hand, the drawbridge at Chillon Castle led me past the picture-perfect façade to embark on a quirky trail where I met up with Dukes of Chavoy and walked on ancient paths to learn about a time of conquests, conflicts, wines grown within the castle walls, hidden armies, midnight escapades on the lake and torturing deaths.
And while there was so much more to Montreux, from wine tasting to hiking, markets, boating and museums, I struggled to tear myself away from that view. Sitting on the balcony of my apartment at Hotel Bristol upon departure, I truly felt as if I were in a fairy tale.
That castle sat almost atop the water on my left, while on my right the lake seemed to stretch for eternity, not a ripple on its surface. I couldn’t draw my eyes away as I popped my breakfast berries into my gaping mouth.
And I thought back again to the words of Freddie and the very last lyrics he wrote in Montreux before his untimely demise: “Am I dreaming? So quiet and peaceful. Tranquil and blissful. There’s a kind of magic in the air. What a truly magnificent view. A breathtaking scene…”
If You Go
At just an hour from Geneva airport, a visit to Montreux is easily tagged on the beginning or end of a longer getaway to Switzerland. However, I highly recommend not rushing your visit here. I for one definitely didn’t plan enough time just simply to sit and stare and remember to breathe and stare some more.
There are a variety of scenic viewpoints to visit, while the nearby towns of Lausanne and Gruyere also offer a host of things to do. However, the real reason to visit Montreux is just to stop, relax and soak in the stunning views. I highly recommend splurging for a hotel with a balcony view to make the most of your stay here, no matter the season. Being the realm of the wealthy, this type of accommodation in Montreux can set you back a bit.
That is why I was delighted to discover Hotel Bristol. The hotel’s spacious self-catering apartments meant I didn’t need to spend a fortune eating out and could conjure up something delicious to enjoy on the balcony. That said, the hotel’s breakfast, which I also enjoyed on the balcony, was really special.
Some of the hotel’s building is rented out as private residences to the elderly, but with private elevators and their own section of the hotel, it is unlikely you will come into contact with any of the locals lucky enough to call this their home. As a three-star property, the Hotel Bristol offers the views you want in Montreux without the price tag of some of the other properties in the area. Check it out here: https://www.bristol-montreux.ch/en/
A visit to Montreux is not complete with stopping at Chillon Castle. You can enjoy guided tours of the castle, wine tastings and even concerts and a variety of exhibitions here.
This iconic castle makes for some stunning photographs and is the most-visited historic monument in Switzerland and one of the best-preserved castles in Europe. You can find more details about the castle’s visiting hours and entry fees here: https://www.chillon.ch/en/
For more information on what to do in and around Montreux or particular events happening in the region visit: https://www.region-du-leman.ch/en/Z138/montreux-riviera-pure-inspiration
Author bio: Janine Avery was born and bred in Cape Town, South Africa, and says there is nowhere she would rather call home. She is a lover of all things nature and loves to explore new places, enjoying any form of travel from basic tenting to lazing in luxury lodges. She also loves to dabble in digital marketing, spread messages on social media, and take audiences on a journey through her travel stories.