Freddie, Charlie and the Vaud Riviera (part 2).

An excellent decision – switching to first class more than paid off. The moment we stepped onto the coach of the GoldenPass Classic train, I was totally blown away by the beautiful interior decked out in the Belle Époque style. In case you’d forgotten: the first leg of my little trip took Pascal and me from Bern to the charming village of Gstaad.


Softly upholstered seats in an elegant textured green fabric, stucco work in the wooden ceiling and mock-golden luggage racks. For the next two hours from Gstaad to Montreux, I feel like a queen on her throne.

And as if that wasn’t enough, you can even order a selection of local speciality cheeses and sausages, if you fancy. Naturally we take advantage of this service and enjoy the delicious delicacies against the backdrop of a sunny Alpine landscape.

Incidentally, a trip in second class is well worth a try too – it’s every bit as good as first class. There may not be any upholstered royal seating but the padded wooden benches and sweet little lamps by the windows are delightful.

A day trip with the companion ticket.

Here’s how to save money when travelling together: the companion ticket is available from 27 February to 21 May 2017. If you have a GA travelcard or 1-day travelpass, for example, you can take a companion with you on a train trip for just 38 Swiss francs. Visit sbb.ch/companion for more ideas for leisure activities.

 

If the 11.37 from Gstaad is too early for you or you’d like to travel on the Montreux line at another time of day, you can take the GoldenPass Panoramic train. This glittering ride features a large panoramic window to offer passengers a 360° view.

The upper compartment at the front of the train boasts some VIP seats offering an even better view for an additional charge.

Experience winter, spring and summer in the space of a few hours.

The scenery on the Montreux line transforms abruptly after the many tunnels near Les Avants. The view dominated by alps, dark mountain forests and villages gives way to what I could almost believe to be a southern landscape – a Mediterranean flair hangs in the air. Lake Geneva glistens in the distance, with the French Alps towering up behind it.

Better enjoy our last few kilometres on the royal thrones quickly before we can finally explore the famous Vaud Riviera in Montreux. Having arrived at the station, though, we change our plans at the last minute. The “Marmot Paradise” cog railway, recognisable by the marmot painted on its side, is standing opposite, all set to climb up the Rochers-de-Naye – the Montreusiens’ version of the Gurten mountain in Bern or the Üetliberg in Zurich.

We quickly hop onto the little train and off we go. The cog railway scales the steep mountain in less than an hour, right up to 2,000 metres above Lake Geneva. Although the seats on the train aren’t half as comfortable as the ones on the nostalgia train, the route makes up for it with a magnificent view over the lake and Alps. The train wobbles, clatters and wheezes, crawling up the mountain, higher and higher into the picturesque mountain landscape; deeper and deeper into the snow.

The cog railway runs all year round and the Half-Fare, GA and Junior travelcards are all accepted.

On the way to Gipfel, we pass the “Buvette de Jaman”, which also functions as a stop with mini après ski to enjoy at the station itself. The benches and tables are so close to the platform that you could almost swipe the sausage, bread and cheese off the plate from the train. Winter sports enthusiasts and day trippers stop by here to round off the day or stop for a break.

After almost an hour’s travelling, we reach the completely snow-capped peak. Montreux’s local mountain is entirely in the hands of the skiers, most of whom are children whizzing about. After all, it makes a lot of sense to squeeze in a couple of runs down the snowy slopes straight after school and away from the crowds. A good antidote to boredom.

Anyone who doesn’t fancy skiing in the winter can drink in the spectacular view. You can spot the crescent-shaped Lake Geneva from up here. What an incredible view. If the weather’s nice like it is today, there’s a brilliant panoramic view over the Bernese, Valaisian and Savoy High Alps including Mont Blanc. When it’s really clear, you can even see the Jet d’Eau in Geneva.

Pascal’s in his element – hardly surprising with such a glorious panorama. For my part, I’m battling my fear of heights and cling like a little monkey to the safety railings.

Incidentally, the best view is to be had from the platform at the panorama restaurant “Plein Roc” (open from May each year), which is nestled in the rock face on the far side of the peak. The vantage point is accessed via a long tunnel through the mountain –  simply follow the arrows on the ground leading from the station.

Family-friendly tips for the coming spring and summer.

The Rochers-de-Naye are a popular destination for day trips and local recreation both in winter and in summer. There are all kinds of things to do and see up top:

  • Hiking: the Rochers-de-Naye are a good starting point for various walks; for example, routes 18 and 19 of the Swiss Hiking Foundation lead here. Popular hiking tours set out from Les Avantes or Les Cases from Montreux station and into the mountains.
  • Mountain biking and cycling: cycling from Les Paccots to Montreux (route no. 14) or by bike from Montbovon to Aigle.
  • Climbing: warning – only for experienced climbers! With its vertical rocky overhangs, the via ferrata climbing route is not for the faint-hearted but rather more the preserve of sports enthusiasts. You can reach the route from the stop in Jaman via Col de Bonaudon – simply follow the signs for via ferrata. You can rent climbing gear at the station in Glion or in the sports shops in Vevey and Montreux.
  • Discover marmots: the Rochers are a marmot paradise. Visitors can meet eleven species of marmot from various continents in an interactive and fun way at the instructive information centre, where you can observe the rodents through windows and gain a glimpse into their enclosure thanks to an in-built camera.
  • Alpine herbology: a collection of over 1,000 different Alpine plants are on show for all to admire at the “La Rambertia” botanical Alpine gardens from June to October.
  • Staying the night: for those that want to, there’s the option of staying the night on the Rochers, either at a hotel with modest little rooms or up close and personal with nature in authentic Mongolian yurts.
  • If that all sounds like too much exercise and effort, you can simply enjoy the view, take a nap on the sunny terrace or watch the paragliders and hang gliders taking off.

Palm trees, pizza and a celebrity.

The afternoon is rolling on and Pascal and I have finally reached the Vaud Riviera. The hour-long journey down from the Rochers dragged a little and our stomachs are grumbling because we still haven’t eaten. There are endless bars, restaurants and eateries along the lakeside promenade that stretches from Lutry to Villeneuve – the perfect chance to let the Mediterranean flair wash over you. So we join the other sunbathers and, in this exclusive spot by the lake, enjoy a lovely meal on the terrace of a restaurant called Molino. Pascal treats himself to a fresh wood-fired pizza as big as a wagon wheel, while I order a salad with grilled vegetables. The food is delicious – we’d certainly recommend this place.

Surrounded by palm trees, water and – like today – sunshine, the Riviera makes you feel like you’re in Ticino or Italy. Relaxed people ambling along the promenade and enjoying the first warm rays of springtime sunshine. Holiday fever quickly begins to spread through me. Just like all the other lakeside promenades in Switzerland, seeing and being seen is a matter of high importance in Montreux too, of course.

And then we stumble upon Freddie. The singer from the legendary band “Queen” lived in Montreux and recorded songs in his studio here. The bronze statue of Freddie Mercury stands as a memorial on the promenade right by the lake. It’s a tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage for fans.

Several luxury hotels sit enthroned along the Riviera: famous establishments like the Grand Hôtel Suisse Majestic and the Eden Palace au Lac, both modelled on the Belle Époque style, or the art nouveau Hotel du Grand Lac Excelsior. They’ve got themselves a prime location here. Anyone staying the night in one of these will have a view directly over the lake, mountains and palm trees when they wake up. I’d love to enjoy that view just once, so I add it to my bucket list.

A journey into the Middle Ages.

Pascal insists this late-afternoon sunlight would be ideal for taking some photos, so we head for Chillon Castle in Veytaux. We reach our destination by bus in around 7 minutes from the Marché stop. You can get to Chillon Castle from various stops in Montreux – simply get off at the Veytaux, Château de Chillon stop.

It’s a few minutes’ walk from the bus stop before you can admire Switzerland’s most-visited historic architectural monument on the lakeshore in all its splendour. The online testimonials, brochures and photos didn’t promise a great deal.

A historical outing: the enchanting Château has been enthroned upon its island of rocks every since the 12th century. The castle was a natural defence and a strategically important location for regulating passage between northern and southern Europe. At that time, the Counts of Savoy had control of the fortress. Later, in the 16th century, the people of Bern conquered the Waadtland region and Chillon Castle with it. The castle then passed into state ownership and belonged to the new Canton of Vaud. It was subsequently used as a weapons and munitions store and as a cantonal prison, achieving fame thanks to the poem by English poet Lord Byron.

You can visit the castle almost every day, either with or without a guided tour. If you want to find out more, the guided tour is really worth it. Various options are available: a journey into the Middle Ages, an in-depth guided tour of the castle complete with a wine-tasting session, a tour of the workshop or an audio-visual experience. There’s also the Drako tour for children including a little treasure map. The castle also plays host to regular exhibitions and cultural events.

Sadly, there wasn’t time for us to look round the castle. You should definitely pay Montreux a visit if you’d like to know more about the castle’s underground vaults, castle courtyards, chapel or defences. I really liked the atmosphere around the fortress. The site is enveloped in an aura of secrecy and just as the sun is setting, the dwindling beams of sunshine bathe the castle in a touch of mystery.

Pascal is excited to be in the right place at the right time and has taken a couple of brilliant photos. It’s kind of cheesy this sunset, don’t you think?

If you’ve had enough of castles, lakes and relaxing, there’s loads more to do in Montreux and the wider region. Here are a couple of tips:

  • Walking through the vineyards of Lavaux: recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site, this wine-growing region between Lausanne and Chillon is begging to be explored. The winegrowers here are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Lavaux is an extraordinary experience, as our blogger funambuline discovered. Read her article (in German) here.
  • Hiking and cycling in the “Les Grangettes” nature reserve: the conservation area is famous for its species of animals and birds like herons, kingfishers, beavers and some migratory birds. Three marked and accessible trails that take 30 minutes, 90 minutes and 1½ hours respectively
  • Bopping to the beat at the Montreux Jazz Festival: this famous festival is held over 16 days every July, bringing the crème-de-la-crème of music together.
  • Enjoying a 360° view from the Plein Ciel tower: a panoramic lift takes you up to the top of the Mont Pèlerin TV tower. You can reach it in an hour from the final station of the Vevey-Mont-Pèlerin funicular.
  • Rediscover the man with the bowler hat at “Chaplin’s World by Grévin”: a museum experience for Chaplin fans, with a bronze statue on the lakeside promenade in Vevey in memory of his era.
  • Immersing yourself in a world of orientalism: The “Galerie du Palais Orientale” art museum hosts exhibitions of various artists, with an adjacent restaurant serving culinary specialities from Iran, Lebanon and Morocco.
  • Queen, the Studio Experience: not just for Queen fans. This little museum has a range of memorabilia on display from the life of Freddie Mercury and Queen. The band recorded many of their most successful albums at Montreux’s Mountain Studios.There is a memorial dedicated to Freddie on the promenade right by the lake.
  • Montreux historic centre: idyllic and located a short distance from the promenade, beautiful architecture, sweet little alleyways, old houses and charming cafés. Warning: it’s on a hillside so there’s a lot of up!
  • Riding on the chocolate train: from Montreux, a 1st-class ticket will take you to the demonstration cheese-dairy “La Maison du Gruyère”, where they tell you all there is to know about producing the famous Gruyères cheese. After that, you can visit the medieval town of Gruyères and its castle. The trip continues to the Maison Cailler in Broc, where there’s a chocolate-tasting session and you can find out how chocolate is made.
  • Riding on the cheese train: from Montreux, you travel to Zwisimmen or Château-d’Oex, where you watch how cheese is produced. With a fondue to round it off.

Tired but happy and awestruck by the beauty of the region, Pascal and I now make our way back home and get back onto the train one last time for the day.

Have you ever travelled anywhere with the companion ticket? If so, who did you travel with and where did you go? I look forward to reading your comments.

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