Travel writer Inka Piesga, who grew up in the north of Germany where the landscape is as flat as a pancake, has a thing for mountains. Here she shares her journey through the Swiss Alps where she went wine tasting in the vineyards above Charlie Chaplin’s hometown of Vevey, embarked on an unforgettable super romantic sunset and dinner cruise on Lake Geneva and fell in love with the old-world charm, beauty, art and culture of Geneva, Lausanne and Montreux.
Bucket list Adventure
I have always been drawn to mountains. And as far as mountains are concerned, they don’t get more epic or beautiful than in Switzerland. Not that I have ever felt the urge to climb them, I prefer the easy way up by cable car and cog railway, but the sight of these snow-covered majestic peaks never fails to elate me.
Although I have visited the Swiss Alps many times, I had long wanted to visit the French speaking part of Switzerland, in particular Geneva, Lausanne and Montreux to see the world-famous fountain in the middle of Lake Geneva. This past summer I rectified that and the memories from my three-day trip will last for a lifetime.
DAY 1: Lausanne
I caught a very early morning flight from my home in Alicante, Spain to Geneva, Switzerland and from there a train to Lausanne. The journey takes around an hour and the scenery is spectacular, especially of Lake Geneva which would become my ‘travel companion’ for the next three days. Once I arrived in Lausanne, I learned – fast – that the city is built on several levels, connected either by public elevators (very convenient), or steep, narrow streets and plenty of stairs. Insider tip: Rule number one to negotiate Lausanne: flat, comfortable shoes.
I love my creature comforts and luxurious, old fashioned hotels albeit with all the mod cons. The beautiful Lausanne Palace Hotel fits the bill. It’s located on the highest level with views over the lake and elevator right across the street that also connects to the tram/train to Ouchy and other parts of the city. The trains run frequently, are inexpensive and the stops are minutes apart. After a quick, refreshing treatment in the hotel’s excellent spa, I was ready to explore this beautiful town.
Making use of the elevator and tram station across the road from the hotel, I made my way to the leafy suburb of Ouchy with its long promenade along the shore of Lake Geneva. Lausanne is closely connected to the Olympics and is the seat of the Olympic Museum which was my first stop. It’s an interactive museum with screens, documenting the history of the Olympics. There is a lovely cafe on the top floor with views over the lake and the park surrounding the museum. Back down, I made my way along the promenade to visit Chateau d’Ouchy, now a luxury hotel, built on the site of a medieval castle. Many original features are incorporated in the walls of the hotel. As it was right opposite, I went to the quay and ticket counter of CGN who runs ferry and cruise services all around Lake Geneva and looked for the departure times of my next day’s planned trip to Montreux and the sunset dinner cruise.
Last stop on my trip to Ouchy was the legendary hotel Beau-Rivage Palace, an art deco jewel surrounded by fabulous gardens. It has been host to many celebrities throughout its 150 years among them Coco Chanel who is buried in the nearby Bois de Vaux cemetery. Strolling through the hotel and looking at all the photographs and memorabilia is a culture trip all on its own.
Back in Lausanne, I went to visit the Gothic cathedral that towers over the city. By chance, I ran into Renato Hausler, one of the few town criers left in Europe. For the last 28 years he has circled the bell tower every night, calling out the hour. Sadly this icon will soon retire.
I went up to the cathedral first because I wanted to experience another of Lausanne’s hidden gems: the Escalier du Marche. This is a very steep covered wooden staircase that connects the cathedral with Flon, the old town of Lausanne. Of course, walking down is a lot easier than climbing up.
After having seen all these historical sites, I wanted to explore where the chic ladies of Lausanne do their shopping. It’s all along the elegant Rue de Bourg with boutiques of Dior, Hermes, YSL and the like. This being Switzerland, there is also a chocolatier, Blondel, announced by the statue of a very life-like cow near the entrance.
You can’t escape art and culture anywhere in Lausanne and half way down Rue de Bourg stands the church of St. Francois. The interior is truly remarkable, an art installation made from huge, charred ladders that represent a fire that damaged the church many years ago. From there it was an easy walk back to my hotel to get ready for dinner.
As l’Hermitage, the park by the waterfront wasn’t far from my hotel either, I opted for dinner at the romantic L’Equisse Lausanne. I didn’t feel up for a cheese fondue but wanted to experience Swiss food, so I went for excellent Kalbsgeschnetzeltes with Roesti (veal stripes in a rich cream and mushroom sauce with potato pancakes). The hotel also has a very good brasserie with a terrace for outdoor dining and an excellent Japanese restaurant called Sushi Zen.
DAY 2 – Montreux and Vevey
It was an early start because I made my way back to Ouchy to take the boat to Montreux (swimsuit and towel at the ready). Lake Geneva is incredibly clean and clear and there are spots to swim everywhere, some even with free sun loungers.
Montreux is rather small and quiet, but lovely because it has one of the most beautiful promenades in all of Switzerland, lined with an abundance of flowers and greenery. Right next to the water stands the statue of Freddy Mercury, the famed rock star from Queen. The anniversary of his untimely death is this November. Being a huge Queen fan, I had to pay homage.
Afterwards I found a spot where I could have a refreshing dip in the soft waves of Lake Geneva. I passed on a visit to Chateau Chillon because of my next plans for the day.
Next on my agenda was another boat trip to the culture-filled town of Vevey, Charlie Chaplin made this his home for many years. Then I headed to the vineyard of Chexbres, by train. I had booked a wine tasting tour in Montreux and enjoyed the vineyards and a sip or two at Domain Bovy. I could have sat there for hours, but Chaplin’s World awaited in Vevey. Everything you ever wanted to know about the celebrated star of the silent movie era you can find here.
Then I was back on the boat to Lausanne for the evening’s entertainment, a sunset and dinner cruise, departing from the CGN pier in Ouchy. I had booked La Suisse, a paddle steam boat belonging to the Belle Epoque Fleet. Dinner was served in the dining room below deck; a three course meal with a choice of red or white wine. It wasn’t the best meal of my life, but watching the sunset of the shimmering lake with the Alps in the background was an experience I’ll remember forever. I passed on dessert and went to the upper deck to lounge around on comfortable cushions and enjoy an open bar and the wind on my face as I took in the sunset. I returned to Lausanne Palace for the night.
DAY 3 – Geneva
My final day was a welcomed slower pace. In the evening, I would return to Geneva to fly home but first there was one culture stop in Lausanne, which I absolutely had to see; Collection l’Art Brut. Housed in the magnificent mansion Chateau de Beaulieu in the centre of Lausanne, the museum is a showcase of a unique collection of works of art by self taught artists, many of them prisoners or inmates of mental institutions. It started out as a private collection and is an object lesson in the many ways art always finds an expression.
After my visit, I took the train to Geneva because a boat trip would have taken too long and I wanted to see more of Geneva’s beautiful scenery before my adventure came to an end.
I finally got to see the Water fountain, Jet d’Eau, a famed Geneva landmark. I had already seen it from the air but up close is something truly special. This massive fountain which spews water 460 ft high into the air, is located at the end of Lake Geneva where it empties into the Rhone and reached by a stone jetty. As expected, I did get drenched but it was well worth it.
Then I took a taxi to see the bohemian district of Carouge, often called the ‘Little Italy of Geneva’. This is because construction was initiated by the King of Sardinia in 1786. The place has a distinct Italian atmosphere about it of which the residents are quite proud. If you want to see a part of Geneva that is totally different from the posh avenues, banking and business generally associated with the city, this is the place. Cafes, restaurants (I had a delicious pasta lunch) , antique and handicraft shops dominate the scene.
Sadly, after lunch it was time to leave for the airport. I could easily have spent many more days whizzing around Lake Geneva and all the beautiful places that line its shores. But this 3-day journey will give you a good introduction to this picturesque, culture-filled part of the world.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Born in Germany, Inka Piegsa-Quischotte worked as an international attorney for many years before turning novelist and travel writer. A nomad at heart, she has lived in seven countries and stopped counting how many she has visited. She has written for BBC/Travel, The Culture Trip, BBC/Sky at Night, Atlas Obscura, Elysian magazine and after four years in Turkey, she now calls a small town near Alicante in Spain home. She speaks five laa Aaaaaa mug she’s fluently and a few more “rather badly”.