Left Grindelwald and travelled via multiple train changes at Interlaken-Ost, Spiez, Visp, Montreaux to Villenueve where we were staying. Saw some windmills along the stretch from Visp to Montreaux. Needless to say, the trains were all perfectly on time, we made all our connections – even those only 3 minutes apart! – and arrived at Villenueve exactly as we had planned. I have VERY high praise for the extreme punctuality of the Swiss Trains! This kind of schedule would have been close to impossible to keep elsewhere.
We noticed the language change at the train station and with people greeting us with “Bonjour” instead of “Grit-zee” which we had got used to hearing and saying in the Lucerne and Grindelwald areas.
Villenueve is a pretty little town on Lake Leman. We had lunch in the Old-Town (basically a single street?). We experienced our first language problem here at two different stores. In both cases the owners spoke only French and we were reduced to basically sign language – but it worked! - with a lot of smiles all around!!
After lunch the plan was to visit Chillon Castle. We walked to the boat dock. We noticed there was graffiti and broken windows near the Villenueve boat dock and that surprised us since the Switzerland we’d seen so far had been very well maintained.
A boat-ride from Villenueve to Chillon Castle would have been about 8-10 minutes. We had a lot of time on our hands and so we hopped onto the first boat that arrived. We ended up travelling on Lake Leman from Villenueve to Le Bouveret, St.Gingolph, then Vevey, Montreaux and finally Chillon Castle! It took about one and a half hours – and it was fun! We also got to see a bit of France from the docks!
A group of school children came onboard at Le Bouveret. Had a great time talking to their teacher (she spoke English) and learning all about the local school system! We were pleasantly surprised to note how slim and trim kids look here. A similarly aged school group in the US could have at least a third of the class slightly on the plump to tubby side!
From the water, we could see the Lavaux vineyard stretch. Also saw the Vevey and Montreaux Riviera waterfronts.
Chateau Chillon truly looks very romantic especially when approached from the water. It looks more like a residence from the water side and more like a castle/fortress from the land side. We had the English Audio Tour iPods (they require your passports or any photo ID as security when handing out those iPods!) and that helped us appreciate the Castle a whole lot more than if we had wandered around on our own. Found it amusing that during its heyday the Chateau probably had plastered walls but because people like castles that are bare rock, they have not restored the walls to that original plastered look! I liked the room where they had shadows of a lady, a soldier, a prisoner, etc. It made the era come alive in a way. I wonder if a night-time light-and-sound show could be possible in this castle? I’ve seen them in other countries in forts and castles and they can be pretty awesome. We took our time exploring the Chateau and then had to rush back down from the topmost tower (great views!) to return the iPods (and collect our passports!) before the Gift Shop closed!
Saw a gorgeous sunset from Villenueve over Lake Leman that evening.
This was our cheese factory and chocolate factory day. We took the train to Montreaux and then switched to another train to go to Montbovon. Apparently this stretch is part of the Golden Panorama Train Route. When we got into our coach, we did a second take and walked out thinking we had gotten onto the First Class section. Nope, we were in the Second Class coach but what a LOVELY coach it was! Found out that we were on a Classic coach. It was like you see in the movies, old-style tall seats with rich green upholstery, nice foldable wooden tables with gold hinges, old-style baggage racks, etc. In this coach, I felt the Romance of train travel of bygone days!
As the train went uphill further away from the water, the lakeside scenery gave way to mountain views, grazing animals, etc. Pretty! We changed at Montbovon to the Gruyeres train with the crane logo on it.
The Gruyeres Cheese Factory is a short walk from the railway station. We got the English Audio Tour units which provided perky-voiced commentary from the cow’s point of view. I found it fascinating that the milk of these cows indicated over 70 different ingredients ranging from grasses to herbs to flowers to even woodchips! These cows are not just grazing on grass fields, these are pretty exotic salad fields!! The show dairy was interesting with the huge vats of milk at various stages of the cheese-making process. It was too early in the day to have Cheese Fondue so we had some meringues with double cream. Very rich!
Why is it that dairies do not get into ice-cream production as well? I’m sure it would be popular with the tourists!
We walked uphill to the town of Gruyeres. It is truly a picturesque little town – VERY pretty! Went up to Chateau Gruyeres. There were two school groups ahead of us and they had special guides dressed up in medieval clothes. Unfortunately neither was in English so we could only speculate what the guide was describing. Chateau Gruyeres clearly shows the affluence of its residents. Many of the rooms were furnished. There were some very beautiful paintings and tapestries in some of the rooms. I loved the well-kept manicured gardens! Splendid views of the surrounding countryside too.
From Gruyeres we took the train to Bulle. It is clearly a bigger town. From there we took the train to Broc Fabrique.
We could smell chocolate in the air as we got off the train! Heavenly!! We got to Caillers Chocolate Factory. There was a short wait for the English tour during which we explored the sales area. I liked the presentation on the history of chocolate and the history of Caillers merging with Nestle. There was a room where we could touch/smell the cocoa beans, sample/smell unroasted/roasted almonds/hazelnuts. The production line of chocolates was particularly interesting. There is a machine (robot) which individually picks up each piece of chocolate! Of course the last room where we got to sample the different chocolate ranges was a highlight! The attendant there kept replacing those big platters of chocolates as they emptied. We ate too many pieces, of course! Resistance is futile!
Our train journeys brought us together with lots of other tourists. On the trip back from Broc to Montreaux we met a young couple from the Czech Republic. Learnt much about their country from them!
When we returned to Montreaux, we spent some time in the city. We both enjoyed strolling down the waterfront riviera all the way to Territet. Very well maintained and lovely flowers blooming on both sides. Very pretty!
It had started raining last night and continued into the day. We had made a request about two months ago to join the English guided tour at CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research) and had a confirmation for 10:30 a.m. this morning. So this morning we headed to Geneva, then caught the bus from Cornavin to CERN. I was surprised how ordinary the buildings looked. I’d expected something very high-tech but I presume they save the money for the super high-tech work they are doing underground! Of course, there was no possibility of getting to see the Large Hadron Collider which runs for about 27 km beneath Geneva and France, and where recent collision experiments have resulted in what may be the “God” particle. We did have a Nuclear Physicist act as our guide who walked us through the exact nature of the work they do here and how the particle accelerator works. The World of Particles had an “exceptional closure” that day so we missed seeing that. It was all pretty interesting stuff but I had hoped to see more of the actual “hardware” so I was a bit disappointed!
It was pouring when we got back to Geneva. Neither of us wanted to walk around in the rain so we took the next train out towards Lausanne. It was raining in Lausanne too so we stayed on the train. At Vevey it looked like the rain had stopped so we got out and wandered around the city. I remembered the suggestion from TripAdvisor to visit the Lavaux vineyard region and we ended up doing just that.
We took the little train to Chexbres. Charming little town! From there we walked down a VERY scenic little path through the vineyards to St Saphorin. It was simply BEAUTIFUL! We could see the terraced vineyards stretching out in both directions (30 km!) and understood why this area has been protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We did this walk under overcast skies and light rain, yet we LOVED it! I can only imagine how beautiful this area looks on bright sunshiny days with deep blue skies reflected in the lake and the green, green stretches of terraced vineyards!
At St Saphorin, the next train was 45 min later so we ended up walking the 3 km to Vevey and then catching the very same train as it arrived in Vevey, back to Villenueve!
The next day we left for Zermatt which will be in the next part of my Trip report.