THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Lake Geneva is one of the most stunning and enjoyable road trips you could ever take
Driving anywhere in Europe is pretty stunning if your eyes are open. (And we hope they are!)
One of the most memorable drives is from Geneva to Montreux along the north (Swiss) side of Lake Geneva, known as Lac Léman by the French, which completely confuses some tourists. Mostly owned by the Swiss, and one of the largest lakes in Western Europe, it is shaped like a large French croissant. You can see the mountains of the thermal spa town Évian-les-Bains, where the bottled water comes from on the French side, opposite Lausanne, in Switzerland. You’re at the edge of the Alps and the Jura mountains, around 1200 feet above sea level, and the views are stunning.
Some of the main towns along the north lakeside are Morges, Lausanne, Vevey (home of mega-company Nestle) and Montreux, where the iconic Jazz Festival happens annually for two weeks starting the end of June.
The Comedy Festival and Montreux Christmas Market are also worth checking out in December.
Taking the coastal road Route 1, (as opposed to Highway 9, alright?), the entire drive from Geneva to Montreux takes just over two hours if you drive fast, although that’s not recommended as: 1) speeding tickets are expensive in Switzerland, and 2) you’ll miss the scenery. Remember: That’s the whole point of the drive. So here are a few cool things you can do on the way and places to stop and stay.
First, go to Geneva, the city where conventions are made, unmentionable deals signed and vast fortunes hidden. Rent a car with Elite Cars — OK, we’re being snobby here but on the other hand this is not a trip to be economical on, although you certainly can rent cheaper, good cars elsewhere. But Elite has Aston Martins at around $850 per day, and Ferraris, Audis, Porsches, SUVs and Minis to choose from, plus a Tesla Roadster (like the one Elon sent into space… I wonder how Spaceman is doing?) for around $280 per day, which is not bad! They can deliver or send a chauffeur-driven limousine to Geneva International Airport to get you and your bags and have several locations across Europe, so you can rent the Lamborghini in Geneva and drop it in Rome. If so disposed.
Head to Rte 1 (Route de Lausanne) to drive around the edge of the lake and through the lakeside villages with histories of Roman settlements. Your maps app may want to take you on Highway 9/E62. Unless you’re in a hurry and need to get to Montreux in just over an hour, ignore it. Take the scenic lake route. Slowly.
Drive north out of Geneva, away from the international terminals, and back in time.
No matter how many times you see the lake, it is, everyday, a gasping surprise. Around every corner, each view of the clear pristine blue sky and water and green reflecting mountains abound, and the sun warms brightly.
If you need to rest to recover from the airport, about five miles north of Geneva on the coast, pass through Chambesy and visit the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It’s free of charge, has a herbarium of medicinal and botanical plants, all sorts of spectacular flower gardens and green spaces to relax, and it’s on the lake. Take a picnic!
All along your drive there are opportunities to stop and walk lakeside. Morges is the next interesting town to enjoy. You can pull over and take a little red train (only on Thursday afternoons from mid July until the end of August, plan accordingly) on a wine tasting tour. It’s maybe a better idea than driving. We think. And the train’s not really a train, it just looks like a train….. It won’t matter after the second wine cellar!
In Morges town there’s a castle to explore, an artisan market at the weekends and plenty of cafes and patisseries (exquisite pastry shops) on cobbled streets where you can sit and watch the world go by, and it goes slowly there.
Lausanne is 38 miles from Geneva and was once inhabited by the Romans. It’s the fourth largest city in Switzerland. A university town, yet slow paced and chic with cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, boutiques, galleries and bars set in 13th century buildings and old monasteries. Through the years Lausanne has attracted great artists and poets such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Hemingway, TS Eliot, Shelley and Byron, it now headquarters the International Olympic Committee and is a haven for water enthusiasts. It has the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Switzerland, Cathédrale Notre-Dame, The Museum of Photography and The Museum of Raw Art (L’Art Brut).
Go to The Olympic Museum for the history of and all things Olympic.
Beau Rivage Palace in Ouchy, Lausanne
Stay in luxury with a balcony overlooking the lake and The Alps for around $650/night, or lounge by the pool overlooking the lake. Either way it’s peaceful for the soul. It has the time-stood-still feel of Hollywood in the 1950’s, a touch of elegance. The food and the Swiss hospitality is impeccable. There are a few restaurants to choose from at the hotel including the brasserie style relaxed Cafe Beau-Rivage on the terrace overlooking Lake Geneva. You will not want to leave.
Leaving Lausanne driving east on Rte.1, the steep terraced vineyards of Lavaux climb on your left for miles of green. They were created by monks 800 years ago. There are small wine caverns to visit in chocolate box villages with stunning views of the lake and the French Alps on the other side. This is where the fun begins. You can sit at a re-versioned wine barrel table on a barrel stool where you’ll be served the local Tomme cheese, a mild round white cheese, on a wooden board with a knife and a baguette, a delicious salami (even if you don’t like salami) and your demi-bouteille of wine of choice. But then who doesn’t eat salami after a bouteille or two…?
If you make it to Vevey, stop in the town for fondue made the traditional way with kirsch, white wine and gruyere, or, in winter, a mid-afternoon hot chocolate. You’re in the land of cheese, wine and chocolate, so you have to. Vevey is casual and relaxed.
Memorable in any restaurant along Lake Geneva are the Fillets de Perche. The small fish that come directly from the lake are a speciality from June to October. Try them simply Meunière (with brown butter, chopped parsley and lemon) with a good Cotes du Jura local Chardonnay.
Fifteen miles from Lausanne in the village of Corsier-sur-Vevey overlooking the lake, the Charlie Chaplin Museum is set on the large estate where Chaplin spent the last twenty five years of his life, with his fourth wife Oona and a few of his eleven children. Opened in 2016 it’s an immersive experience paying tribute to the silent era comedian who became one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars. You can see some of his early screen work from 1914 onwards. Chaplin moved to Switzerland in the 1950s after Senator McCarthy barred him from the U.S. over suspicion of his Soviet ties. He was later knighted by the Queen, in 1975, and received a 12-minute standing ovation at the Oscars in 1977. He died on Christmas Day that year.
Alimentarium – the food museum – on the lake shores of Vevey marked by the extremely large silver fork protruding from the lake (it’s big). It’s the first museum to focus on nutrition.
The first commercial milk chocolate bar was created in Vevey in 1876 by Daniel Peter, and three years later was produced for the first time by Lindt in the city of Bern, an hour away.
There are folk markets every Saturday in Vevey from the second week of July through August.
The Hotel Victoria in Glion, in the municipality of Montreux.
The old magnificent — and a member of the discerning Relais & Chateaux family — Victoria Hotel in Glion is the perfect place to stay if you need to be around Montreux for a few days, and who doesn’t? It sits in a peaceful setting above the town with gorgeous views of the lake and the Alps and is connected by a funicular (a hillside steep cable train) leaving four times an hour and taking six minutes. There’s free parking and Wi-Fi at the hotel to upload all your great photos and the food is hand-picked by the chef, and divine.
The hotel is convenient for Montreux Casino, the festivals, Chillon Castle and has an outdoor pool. Pretty hip people stay here. And if you’re reading this you’re already hip.
Luxury retreat and spa Clinique La Prairie, Montreux. You may know the $500 La Prairie caviar face creams sold in high-end department stores? They work by the way but this is where it all started. The clinic used to be famed for injecting a lamb cell fetus recipe into celebrity clients for the sake of virility and rejuvenation. It apparently worked so well that clients came back for more. Michael Jackson and Liz Taylor were reported fans as was good ol’ J.R., Larry Hagman. It consisted of around sixteen buttock injections spaced over a number of days in the luxurious old chateau. Ouch, I guess.
The clinic is now an expanded state of the art medi-spa, where just about anything beautification-wise can happen, inside and out. However they no longer inject you with lamb’s fetus (now you want it, right?) and they have another aesthetic line, as La Prairie cream was sold off in 1990. It’s good to know there are some alternatives.
Bookings are taken for up to six days of treatment and are tailor made. They do medical checkups, master detox, blood analysis, rebalancing and a plethora of skin, beauty treatments and cell therapies. You will not be the same person when you leave as when you arrived. You may not even look the same. You will certainly be lighter in the pocket.
Do this as a whole separate trip and they’ll pick you up in Geneva in their luxury limo and whisk you away to extreme relaxation. (At Geneva airport it seems like one can be in serious danger of being run over by rampaging luxury limos.)
Pont de Brent
For lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Mondays.
You just must. It’s another Relais & Châteaux so you know they’ll take extra care of you.
Montreux is famed for its flower pathways – stroll thirty minutes along the lakeside to Chillon Castle – an old Roman outpost to guard the Alpine passes. The first record of the castle comes from 1005 when it belonged to the Bishops of Sion.
The huge castle also has boat access from Lausanne and is incredible to approach from the lake against the backdrop of the mountains. It really is stunning. It will take your breath away.
For hiking and views – take the train from Montreux station to Les Rochers-de-Naye. It’s the highest point near Montreux. You’ll reach almost 7000 ft in an hour. It’s an incredible place to view the lake and the train takes you through a number of small Swiss villages with wooden chalet and old stone houses. There is often snow on the peaks here so it’s not advised to arrive in your flip flops. If you still have them.
You like cheese and you like chocolate? This is the trip for you: Take the vintage chocolate train from Montreux to the Cailler chocolate factory in Broc. You’ll stop in Gruyere, where you can see how the cheese is made. Golden cows, bells around their necks, soft gentle sounds of tink-a-tink through the crisp clean mountain air. It’s another place and time, full of really good cheese and chocolate!
After Montreux keep driving east through Switzerland. It’s a great route to take into northern Italy, through the Alpine Pass and up through the Grand St Bernard tunnel at 8000 ft is a magical experience through the mountains. Crossing the border into Italy, wind down James Bond hairpin turns to the hip town of Aosta, and on to Milan, and Rome. Where you’re dropping off that car, right?!
Just to note, Geneva to Rome, if you pack sandwiches and don’t stop and there’s no traffic, you can make it in a day. But we don’t advise you do it that way.