Photo and Story by Greg Aragon
As I plan a fall trip to Ticino, the Italian region of Switzerland, I would like to look back on my most recent trip to the Alpine country. It was last October and I still dream of that memorable boat trip across Lake Geneva, along the Swiss Riviera, past classic, French-styled structures and the historic Chillon Castle.
Vevey is known as a “pearl” on the Swiss Riviera. Sitting on the shores of Lake Geneva, in the shadow of the majestic Alps, the city has a small, resort town feel, with classic architecture and a past speckled with some big name, world figures.
My visit to Vevey began at the Astra Hotel (www.astra-hotel.ch), a modern 100-room hotel, located in the center of town, a few steps from the rail station and a block from the lake. Here, a friend and I checked into a cozy, efficient room, overlooking a public plaza. Once unpacked, we walked across the street, through historic Old Town, to the Lake Geneva shoreline, where we used our Swiss Travel Passes (www.swisstravelsystem.com/) to board a 100-yr-old, diesel-electric paddle wheel boat for a lake tour.
The voyage offered an awesome perspective on the Montreux-Riviera, with its iconic “Belle époque” styled lake front hotels that were built in the late 19th century to cater to an influx of English tourists. It also passes the historic Chillon Castle.
Originally constructed around the year 1005, the castle sits on the rocky shore of Lake Geneva, between Vevey and Montreux. It was built to control the road from Burgundy to the Great Saint Bernard Pass and in the mid-12th century, it was summer home to the Counts of Savoy. During the 16th century, the castle was used by the Dukes of Savoy to house prisoners. Today, Chillon is open to the public.
After the cruise, we walked along the Lake Promenade, a beautiful palm tree and flower-lined path that stretches from Vevey to Montreux. Along the way, we passed a giant fork sitting in the middle of the lake and a statue of Charlie Chaplin. The 26-ft-tall fork is located in front of the Alimentarium, the first museum in the world devoted exclusively to nutrition; and the statue is a reminder to the legacy of the famous comedian who retired in Vevey.
A historical structure, built of sandstone, in neo-classical style, the Alimentarium building was the headquarters of the Nestlé & Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in 1921. Today, visitors come to learn about the culinary habits of people around the world, as all facets of the human diet and eating habits are on display in scientific and interactive exhibits.
After strolling along the lake, we went back to the Astra Hotel and enjoyed a memorable dinner at hotel’s Historical Brasserie La Coupole 1912. Here, while admiring the restaurant’s incredible stained glass windows and frescoes, we dined on fresh venison from the Alps and sipped local wine from the nearby Lavaux vineyards.
In the morning, we explored one of Vevey’s newest museums: Chaplin’s World. The sprawling museum – a must for any Charlie Chaplin fan – is located on the former country estate of the Chaplin family, “Manoir de Ban,” where the comedian spent the last 25 years of his life.
Highlights of Chaplin’s World include the main mansion with original furnished rooms, photographs and memorabilia from the actor/comedian’s life. Near here is an exhibition hall, with a multi-media theater, original and recreated movie props, and pieces of Chaplin’s original movie wardrobe. Surrounding the buildings is a serene and lush 34-acre park with trees, walking paths and benches.
After lunch at the museum, we took a train to the stunning wine region of Lavaux, located above Lake Geneva, just outside Vevey. Here we met winemaker Salomon Dubois and learned about his family’s generations of wine growing on 800-yr-old vineyards. Besides authentic local wine, Dubois also uses his idyllic chateaux as a bed and breakfast. Located in the heart of Lavaux’s terraced hills, the B & B boasts that it is perfect for wine lovers, boasting unforgettable vistas of colorful vineyards lined with cobble stone streets and the peaceful lake sitting just below.