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From the Rhône to the Rhine: Lake Geneva

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One thing I'd never known about Lake Geneva was that in France it is known as Lac Léman. Perhaps that's something to do with nationalism as Geneva is a Swiss city and most of the southern shoreline belongs to France. I never got to find out what they call the lake in Geneva. Regardless of the name it is one of the iconic lakes of Switzerland and has been a haunt of celebrities from the English Romantic poets to contemporary rock stars and Hollywood actors. It had been an easy decision for us to take the longer eastern route around the lake rather than drive directly from Lausanne to Geneva. An added benefit of the longer route was that Airbnb's on the French shoreline were half the price of those in Geneva.

Regretfully I allowed the vehicle GPS to select our initial route and it brought us down a boring inland highway towards Vevey so that we were denied any view of the lake. Eventually I realized my mistake and switched to a handcrafted coastal route on Google Maps which was much more pleasant. The blue lake was covered with fine ripples that gave it a glassy texture and we could see that the entire eastern coastline was ringed by low mountains.

Vevey is a popular stop on the route around Lake Geneva. It's part of a long built-up coastal area that also includes Montreux, and it has an old town and several museums. Having lingered so long in central Lausanne we were behind schedule and our main priority was finding a place to have lunch before the window of opportunity closed. We parked and raced through the town to the shoreline where most of the highly recommended restaurants were concentrated. Although some restaurants had already closed there was a string of crowded bistros right on the lakeside promenade and we chose one called Ze Fork. We had to wait about twenty minutes for a table but we were able to enjoy some cold refreshments and bask in the breeze that was coming off the lake. It seemed the restaurant took its name from the giant fork sculpture just offshore that marked the presence of the Alimentarium food museum. The food was expensive but much better than I had expected given the touristy location, a good preview of sophisticated French cuisine.

After lunch we spent a little time enjoying the promenade. People were taking advantage of recreational activities such as paddleboats and sunbathing but our schedule was way too tight for anything like that. I had kept the Alimentarium in reserve in case we found ourselves with time to kill but by the time we had completed lunch it was clear that we would have to push directly onward to our next stop. Our last stop on the promenade was the bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin, who spent the last twenty-five years of his life in Vevey.

Vevey has a small but atmospheric old town set back a block from the water. It only took us about fifteen minutes to wander through the small network of cobblestone streets and window shop at a variety of interesting little stores. The buildings that lined the streets had colorful pastel facades, wrought iron grills, and white shutters similar to those of La Cité in Lausanne.

Time constraints forced us to pass through the iconic town of Montreux without stopping. Montreux is best known for its annual jazz festival and for its association with the rock band Queen but from the highway the town blended in with the rest of the lakeside conurbation that had begun in Vevey. The main event of the afternoon was our visit to Château de Chillon, possibly the most famous castle in all of Switzerland. The castle is built on a rocky island just off the shore of Lake Geneva that was once accessed by a drawbridge but is now connected to the mainland by a concrete platform. The building was extensively restored in the late 19th century and presents as a prototypical romantic medieval castle, although the best views with a mountainous backdrop can only be obtained from the lake.

Despite having been relatively unimpressed by the interior of Château de Gruyères the previous day we bought tickets for the interior and found it quite worthwhile. The stone walls had a much older feel than the other Swiss castles we had seen and the structure of the interior was more intricate and mysterious. In the depths of the castle we found the dungeon that housed the famous prisoner of Chillon, François Bonivard, for six dreary years. In the early 19th century the English Romantic poet Lord Byron toured the castle and was inspired to write the poem "The Prisoner of Chillon" based on Bonivard's story. When the Bernese eventually captured the castle and freed Bonivard the lord of the castle fled by boat via a back door that exited the very dungeon where Bonivard had been imprisoned.

From the keep we had an excellent view over beautiful Lake Geneva. Next to the castle was a small courtyard and garden from which we got the best perspective of the entirety of the castle that could be obtained from land. The steep slopes that rose upward from the shore reminded me of Iceland, although these were much more densely vegetated.

From the castle we continued our drive around the lake and soon crossed the border into France, an exciting moment. We passed through a succession of small lakeside resort towns such as Lugrin and Évian-les-Bains before arriving at our destination of Thonon-les-Bains. Our Airbnb was the upper floor of a cute house on an alley just outside the old town. The house belonged to an older married couple who insisted on welcoming us personally, as is typical in France. I was pleased to find they didn't speak a word of English but of course that also meant I had to rise to the challenge of communicating exclusively in French. I did my best to absorb a series of complicated instructions regarding such matters as the opening and closing of the driveway gate and then collected the family together for our first foray into a French town on this journey.

Posted by zzlangerhans 20:48 Archived in Switzerland Tagged road_trip family chillon family_travel vevey travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog

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