Enjoy the best of Switzerland in one beautiful lakeside resort
Ask people to vote for the world’s greatest showmen and Queen front-man Freddie Mercury is sure to rank up there with the best. So as I stroll through Montreux in the early morning sunshine, I’m pleased to find a statue of him in typical pose on the edge of Lake Geneva, right arm punching the air in perpetuity against a backdrop of snow-capped Alpine peaks. A dramatic viewpoint for a man who did drama to the max.
The statue appeared in silhouette on the cover of Made in Heaven, Freddie’s final album with Queen that was released in 1995, five years after his death. The classic tracks were recorded here in Montreux, where Freddie Mercury is something of a local hero, his statue photographed by fans from far and wide.
Montreux combines the very best of Switzerland in one elegant package – sparkling water and elegant buildings, mountain views and some of the best floral displays I’ve seen outside Chelsea or Kew. In early spring, every bed along the lakeside promenade is filled with colour-coordinated blooms, floral frames for a host of photographic memories.
It’s all so utterly delightful that I can’t believe I’ve never been to Montreux before. Just one hour from Geneva airport – by train or panoramic dual-carriageway – it’s easily accessible for a short break, as well as a base for wider exploration.
Montreux is famous for its annual July jazz festival, its public gardens dotted with statues of illustrious performers such as Miles Davis and Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald and Carlos Santana. But Montreux isn’t just about jazz. Many high profile musicians have laid tracks at the town’s prestigious recording studios, and early September brings together the best symphonic and classical music in a popular two-week festival.
Music apart, Montreux is just a glorious place to chill out, the perfect antidote to real life with its blend of scenery, lifestyle and visitor attractions. Essential activities around town include the Castle of Chillon, immortalised in Byron’s epic poem The Prisoner of Chillon; the leisurely lake cruise which stops at points along the eastern shores; and of course that floral lakeside promenade.
Take the cog railway from Montreux to Rochers-de-Naye, more than 2,000 metres above sea level for sweeping panoramic views; catch the train to nearby Vevey with its pretty lakeside square and fascinating food museum; or book a tour of the UNESCO World Heritage vineyards of Lavaux vineyards, that cling to south-facing terraces.
If you’ve a hire car at your disposal, drive up to the medieval mountain village of Gruyère with its picturesque houses, imposing chateau and famous cheese dairy. And don’t miss nearby Broc, home to the Cailler chocolate factory, now part of the Nestlé group. Discover the history of chocolate, watch a packing demonstration, and enjoy unlimited tastings before succumbing to the temptations of the factory shop. In peak season, the Belle Epoque Chocolate Train links Montreux, Gruyère and Broc, to include coach transfers and entry fees (www.goldenpass.ch).
The steep slopes of Montreux are dotted with elegant hotels but for a special occasion, I can recommend cracking open the piggy bank and indulging in a couple of nights at Le Montreux Palace, part of the Fairmont group. This Belle Epoque hotel with its canary yellow awnings and wrought iron balconies is a local institution, separated from the lake by spacious gardens and a large spa complex with mountain views.
Enjoy a cocktail and live music in Harry’s New York Bar; try Swiss and international cuisine in La Brasserie du Palace; and, in summer, eat outside on La Terrasse du Petit Palais overlooking the lake. If you’re pulling out the stops to stay here, I’d recommend that you don’t skimp with a ‘Mountain Vew’ room, which actually looks over the city to the mountains behind the hotel. Go for a Lake View Room instead. One of the great pleasures of this stylish hotel is sitting on your own private balcony and sipping coffee – or something stronger – with a front row seat as the light changes over the lake and Alpine peaks. As Queen so rightly acknowledged with that final, epic album, this is a view that is truly Made In Heaven.