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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Switzerland, Land of Three Suns

Cheese, chocolates, wines, jazz and the Riviera — there’s a lot more than just the Alps to Switzerland.

Written by Sonal Sarin | Updated: August 12, 2018 5:00:39 am
Switzerland Nestled in Lake Geneva bay, one can see the breathtaking snow-covered Alps from Montreux Riviera. (Photo: Sonal Sarin)

As I gazed out at the breathtaking Jungfrau from our chalet in Wengen, I could not help but wonder what more is left to see besides the Alpine peaks? And then, a while later, I found myself increasingly drawn to the Swiss Riviera — stretching from Montreux to Lausanne, along the turquoise shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) at the base of Vaud Alps. A drive, of an hour and a half, from Bernese Oberland, gets us to the Montreux region.

The Francophone region of Lavaux, is best known for producing excellent white wine — only in small batches, because the vineyards are smaller. These sun-kissed slopes produce six different appellations — the classics Lutry and Villette and newer additions of Epesses, Calamin Grand Cru, Dezaley and St. Saphorin, sold under 300 different labels.

The region’s distinctive whites made from the Chasselas grape calls for a taste: light, crisp, with a hint of salt. The distinction, the locals say, is earned because it is the land of les trios soleils (the three suns): the sun in the sky, the lake that becomes a mirror doubling the heat, and, the stones of the terraced vineyards that retain the heat, so that even at night the grapes get warmth. The wines are still made using traditional recipes and minimal chemicals. Set up in Roman times by Benedictine and Cistercian monks, the terraced vineyards are among the steepest in the world. And some of the winegrowers have been in the business for 17 generations. All of this has earned the Lavaux region a Unesco World Heritage distinction.

Switzerland Swiss Delight: The Château de Chillon. (Photo: Sonal Sarin)

So, on Day one, we put on our walking shoes and headed to the vineyards in the evening, as the heat began to dip. The walks, touted as one of the best in the world, are lined with caves or tasting rooms, with wines from the closest vineyards on offer. The cobblestone alleys of Lavaux are flanked by patisseries and quirky restaurants. The young ones, as much as we, were enjoying what the world’s best chocolatiers had to offer.

Next day, we indulged in local cuisine and soaked in the sights of the region, which is flanked by the resort towns of Vevey and Montreux on one side and Lausanne on the other. Well fed, after a breakfast of Bircher muesli and croissants, we caught the bus to the island castle, Chateau de Chillon Castle, the country’s most visited monument — with its elaborate prisons, dining halls and the living quarters of the Counts of Savoy. We walked back along the tree-and-flower-lined promenade to the town centre, and later, took the cogwheel train to Rocher De Naye peak to wind down the day.

And if music is a draw, then the famous Montreux Jazz Festival, every July, might do the trick. Drenched in rock history, with a enviable features of jazz heavyweights, hip hop, and R&B artistes, this year’s line-up includes Deep Purple and Alice in Chains, to name just two. Lucky to be in town on the right dates, we had a riveting time listening to great music in a stunning setting. Come evening the town metamorphosed into a party city. With its free offerings — music in the park, rock concerts in the rock caves and free childcare for concert-goers — food counters, and people shaking a leg or two all around, the atmosphere was electric.

What more? Swiss chocolates and cheese. We just had to visit the beautiful town of Gruyères — home to the famous Swiss cheese of the same name. It is a walled medieval town with cobbled streets, making it a perfect destination for a day trip. The factory, La Maison Du Gruyère, had the children bouncing around with joy. The precision and technique which goes into the making of this hard yellow cheese from unpasteurised milk is now firmly entrenched in our memory. Next on the list was, you guessed it right, the chocolate factory in Broc, La Maison Cailler, which is now a part of the Nestlé group. Stepping out of our car, the heady whiff of the cocoa gripped our olfactory senses. Catering primarily to children, the tour started with the Aztec history of cocoa and took us through present-day techniques of chocolate-making. And at the end of the production line, one was free to eat to their heart’s content. It was amusing to have children drag you away because they just couldn’t eat anymore.

Switzerland Gruyères is a walled medieval town with cobbled streets, making it a perfect destination for a day trip. (Photo: Sonal Sarin)

The trip mandated a visit to the luxury resort village of Gstaad — the haunt of the rich and famous, the A-listers — with its soaring mountains, opulent chalets, prestigious international boarding schools, swanky boutiques and Michelin-star restaurants. The idyllic moors and waterfalls of Lake Lauenen, the ski slopes of Glacier 3000 give everyone something to do. Who would not want to live here?

Was I done exploring Switzerland? Are there places that could be prettier? Bookended by France, Italy and Germany, no matter where you go in this gorgeous country, it’s going to be visually stunning, easily accessible and well-connected. There will always be something to do and someplace to go.

Sonal Sarin is a California-based freelance travel writer.

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