About a year ago we were in Switzerland, hoping for a snowy holiday. Instead we just had perfectly clear skies and freezing temperatures. I wrote about the first part of our trip, to Zermatt, in this post. This post follows on from that, taking us to Verbier, Montreux and Geneva.
We left Zermatt on the train/shuttle in the morning and picked up our car from the very narrow carpark and headed north then west towards the town of Verbier. I knew nothing about this town except for what I’d seen on the race on Top Gear. My brother had the unenviable task of getting our lumbering SUV up the mountain switchbacks until we arrived at the town.
Anticipating zero parking and general chaos we dived straight into the first (or perhaps second) car park we found and parked up. It took us all of about 15 minutes to explore the town before we settled on a restaurant for lunch – which might have been the Relais des Neiges. Despite the quite nippy temperatures we sat outside for the view. Mum practiced her French and German on the wait staff and we enjoyed various sandwiches.
With that done we left town and headed in the direction of Montreux, another hour straight north. All was well on the road until we reached the outskirts of the town where we found ourselves at the end of a humongous traffic jam. It turned out there was a Christmas Market in town, and this being a Sunday everyone in Switzerland was trying to get there.
We crawled down the main street and thankfully our hotel was before the market and on the right side of the street, so my brother dropped us off at the front door. They were heading back to Geneva that night before flying back to the UK the next day.
We checked into the Eurotel Montreux, one of the two tallest buildings in town and probably quite an eyesore if you’re not staying in it.
In our room we loafed about for a few minutes before opening the door to the tiny balcony and seeing the most spectacular sunset of our lives. It wasn’t just the colors reflecting off the lake and the snowy mountains, or the length of time it lasted, it was the extent of it: easily 50% of the whole sky was some shade of red. It was truly spectacular.
Buoyed by the sunset we decided to brave the Christmas markets. Not really sure what dinner was going to entail we decided we’d have something from the market. It was absolutely heaving with people elbowing each other out of the way to get to the stalls selling wooden things, leather things, soap, food, toys and games and other excellent Christmas presents. We stocked up on gifts then I broke out my minimal French and managed to get us a couple of chocolate crepes. They were delicious.
After this we struggled out of the market and walked along in the dark around the shoreline to see the city lights from a distance. Not having a tripod meant all my photos were hopeless, but it was pretty nonetheless.
The next morning we used free tickets provided by the hotel (the Montreux Riviera card) to take a local train to Chillon Castle. We wanted to get off at the station right next to the castle, but I overheard an announcement in French that “this train goes direct to Villeneuve.” No matter, we got off at Villeneuve and walked along the lake for about 20 minutes back to the castle.
Chillon Castle has undergone several centuries of change of ownership and renovations, including one currently taking place. According to the information sheet, the oldest written mention of the castle is in 1150. It sits on a small island and it apparently acted as a strategic location to control movement between north and south of Europe.
We followed the map around the whole castle exploring all the way from the cellar and the dungeons below the waterline to the very highest point of the castle – the keep. It was an impressive place.
After this we headed across the road to the Restaurant Taverne du Château de Chillon for soup and hot chocolate then walked by the side of the lake back to Montreux, passing manicured apartment blocks, the occasional restaurant, and a statue of Freddie Mercury.
Back in Montreux we collected our luggage then went back to the train station to catch the train to our friends’ place in Versoix, just outside of Geneva. Unfortunately, our faith in the clockwork Swiss rail system was misplaced. There was some issue on the line which meant our connecting train in Lausanne was delayed, or we would need to get a different train, or something, and whatever was going on, the platform had changed. This was quite hard to figure out despite the announcement being in three languages. The conductor started in German (no clue), then went to French where I could pick up something of what was going on, but by the time he got to the English version, he obviously felt like he’d done enough, and just gave the barest of information. All of this was over a train intercom which sounded like the speaker was at the bottom of a well.
Anyway, because of this chaos, the train out of Lausanne was absolutely packed to the rafters, and at each stop about 10 school kids tried to board each carriage. There wasn’t an inch of space to be had, and of course, everyone was wearing their big coats because it was freezing outside. Lack of oxygen quickly became an issue. After about 45 mins of this, things settled down and we were able to get our coats off. Then it was straight into Versoix where our friends greeted us on the platform and took us to their apartment.
We spent the next 2 days in Geneva – post coming soon!