The stunning Montreux Riviera, Switzerland
Strung between the Swiss Alps and the water’s edge, and dotted with fabulous adventures for five-star foodies and nature-lovers, the Montreux Riviera has long been considered the Pearl of Lake Geneva, writes Amelia Hungerford.
It’s the Belle Époque beauty of Lake Geneva with the legendary luxury hotels to match. Montreux and its Riviera, stretching from Lutry in the southwest to Villeneuve in the northeast, have long been destinations favoured by discerning travellers, with active summer visitors increasingly choosing to explore beyond the city.
Lovers of fine wine should make for the vineyard terraces of Lavaux, a 20-minute drive from the city’s grandest hotel, Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. Lavaux is a UNESCO World Heritage Site covering 830 hectares and four different Appellations d’Origine Contrôlées. Meander among some of the 250 winemakers (and their cellar doors) on the 10.4-kilometre-long self-guided walk or take a private tour, such as a five-hour discovery with Swiss Riviera Wine Tours. Whichever option you select, Lavaux is a region to be savoured, dotted with traditional winemaking hamlets and panoramas stretching to the lake below.
Wine on the water
Guests of the elegant Grand Hôtel du Lac in nearby Vevey can even take the hotel’s electric Renault Twizy out for a day of exploration, accompanied by a gourmet picnic basket prepared by Michelin-starred chef Thomas Neeser. For a more glamorous (and high-powered) adventure, the hotel also offers the Riva Experience aboard a 1966 Super Florida out on the lake.
Hôtel des Trois Couronnes has been a favourite of sophisticated travellers to Vevey since the 19th century and is home of Michelin-starred chef Lionel Rodriguez. Guests can take a more unusual gourmet expedition with the ‘Fish For Our Dinner’ experience. Hotel angler Patrice will show you his favourite fishing spots on Lake Geneva and share the best seafood found in its waters.
The most famous attraction on the lake itself, however, is the 900-year-old Château de Chillon, with waters lapping at its stone foundations. It’s been a site of bloody politics, a 16th-century prison and inspiration for literary giants; Lord Byron and Henry James both immortalised the château in their works.
Now, Switzerland’s most visited castle plays host to wine-lovers from around the world. Tasting the château’s own Grand Cru, stored in 40 oak barrels in its underground cellar, is the perfect way to finish a guided tour. The Verrée Vaudoise, as it’s known, is held in the specially redesigned Castellan’s Hall, lending a particularly stately air to this sophisticated wine tasting adventure.
The Montreux Riviera is also the perfect place to experience Switzerland’s stunning scenery at the foot of the Alps. Hiking and mountain climbing are accessible from the lakeside towns via funiculars and trains, with Rochers-de Naye one of the best destinations for nature-lovers. Climb to 1600 metres above sea level aboard the rack railway train and soak up the views stretching over the lake and to the Alps, where the cragged peak of the Dents du Midi (‘Teeth of Noon’) pierce the sky. You’ll find chocolate-box Switzerland in Gruyère, a region of rolling hills and wooden chalet villages about half-an-hour’s drive from the lake.
This region is renowned for cheese, particularly the namesake Gruyères, which you can sample during a two-hour self-guided dairy hike between Pringy and Moléson-Village. It winds below the mountaintop hamlet, guarded by the 13th-century Château de Gruyères, from dairy to dairy. Cheesemakers, such as the Murith family of La Ferme du Bourgoz B&B, share their craft with visitors in tranquil pastures where cows graze in the sun. The region’s most spectacular views are found at the summit of Teysachaux, the reward for a 9.5-kilometre hike between Le Moléson and Les Paccots.
Follow the idyllic descent through woodlands and flourishing meadows, then treat yourself to a multi-course dinner at La Pinte des Mossettes, one of Switzerland’s newest Michelin-starred restaurants. French chef Romain Paillereau contrasts the rustic surrounds of his traditional chalet with refined dishes inspired by international flavours.
Chocolate or hot air ballooning?
For more adventures around Montreux, take the GoldenPass train to air ballooning hot-spot Château D’Œx, or take the Chocolate Train to Broc via Gruyères. Broc is where you’ll find Maison Cailler-Nestlé, the home of Switzerland’s oldest chocolate brand.
Take a tour of the elegant headquarters or settle in with a creative chocolate-making class in the Atelier du Chocolat. At every turn, the Montreux region and beyond balances modernity and five-star refinement with handcrafted tradition and rustic appeal. For all its grand hotels and exquisite cuisine, however, it is rediscovering nature that is the greatest luxury in Switzerland.
This article appeared in volume 26 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.