With pristine waters, cute local beaches and an
impressive network of walking trails, the picturesque wine-growing region of
one of Europe's best-kept secrets.
Situated in French-speaking western Switzerland between
Lausanne and Vevey on the northern shores of Lake Geneva, Lavaux has all the
beauty of the Italian lakes but a low-key sense of chic and zero pollution
problems. Its microclimate gives it an almost-Mediterranean feel in during the
summer months, when locals don swimmers, shades and sandals to revel in the
best backyard in central Europe.
On the shores of Lake Geneva, 800-year-old vineyard terraces – a Unesco World Heritage Site -- rise from the lakefront to the hills
behind, peppered with picture-perfect medieval towns and plenty of walking
The golden glow that seems to infuse the area is not a
figment of your imagination. Locals say that there are three suns at work in
the vineyards of Lavaux: the actual sun; its reflection on the lake; and the
stones that trap its heat and keep the vines warm at night.
Lavaux wines rarely feature on lists outside
Switzerland, due to the relatively small size of the area, the strong Swiss
franc and the locals’ tendency to keep vintages to themselves. Local whites
tend to be fruity and vigorous, with chasselas being the most produced, and the
fine, well-balanced local pinot noir is also popular.
To sample the region’s best wines, the many caveaux (wine cellars) of the villages
in Lavaux should not be missed. The Caveau
des vignerons de Lutry in the lakefront town of Lutry, five kilometres east
of Lausanne, is a popular choice, and Rivaz's Lavaux Vinorama offers the region’s largest
selection of local wines for tasting and sale.
The jewel in the Lavaux crown, though, is the
stunningly pretty Saint-Saphorin which lies 15km southeast of Lausanne. Visit the
lakeside village’s Auberge de l’Onde,
a 475-year-old inn that is perched on the small town square. Its high-end restaurant
and casual pinte (cafe-bistro) are
loved by locals and out-of-towners alike. Expect to find high-end
French-influenced cuisine in the restaurant and delicious cakes and tarts in
Exploring Lavaux on foot is as easy or hard as you choose
to make it. The simple vineyard stroll from Lutry to the village of Cully is slightly
more than five kilometres and takes about 90 minutes. The “Grande Traversée de
Lavaux”, with its perfect panoramas of the lake, covers 36km from the majestic Château
de Chillon to Lausanne and takes eight hours. The 11.5km uphill trek from Cully
to Chexbres village (give yourself about four hours) rewards the effort with
Signs and multilingual information panels posted
throughout the region detail how long it will take to walk (or cycle) between towns,
and provide information about the local wine-production process.
The pristine (but admittedly bracing) waters of Lake Geneva,
with its casual plages (beaches), make
swimming and sunbathing obvious activities. Plus, the town of Evian, France is
just on the other side of the lake, so you can actually swim in Evian water.
For a social vibe, head five kilometres east of
Lausanne to the village of Lutry, home to a bustling pebble beach, a grass lawn
swarming with bronzed locals and its own funky little buvette (drinking spot) that doles out drinks, great grills and fondue.
For a more incognito swim, St-Saphorin's postage-stamp
of a plage is worth the search. From the train station, head on foot back in
the direction of Lausanne, cross over the train tracks via the little
footbridge and descend the stairs to the diminutive beach, complete with diving
board, change rooms and space for only a handful of people. Cully is another
good spot for peaceful lake swimming in the calm, deep waters.
Locals like to let their hair down in the summer, and the
town of Montreux, a quick 27km southeast of Lausanne, is the
place to be when the sun goes down. The town comes alive during its famous Montreux Jazz Festival (from 29 June to
14 July this year), a mix of rock royalty, jazz luminaries and up-and-comers. You
will want to book ahead for big-name gigs, but a roster of free open-air
concerts keeps things democratic.
Travelling in Switzerland is a well-ordered affair,
whether by car, train, boat or on foot. Saint-Saphorin lies on the train route
between Lausanne and Montreux. All other towns mentioned above can be accessed
by train and/or bus from Lausanne or Montreux (from Geneva, change trains at
By car, take the coast road, known as the Route du
Lac, from Lausanne.
If you want to arrive by boat, Compagnie Générale de Navigation has services in
summer to/between lakeside towns in both Switzerland and France.
There is a wide range of accommodation in Lausanne and
Montreux, plus small inns throughout the area. The brand-new Hotel Lavaux in Cully has 180-degree
views of the lake.
The article 'Switzerland’s summer secrets' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.