21 things to see, do and eat in Montreux, Lausanne and Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva is the biggest lake in Europe and on the Swiss side, there is much to explore. It is easily accesible from Geneva, just an hours drive. You can start your trip from Lausanne and drive towards Montreux with a detour up the mountains.
I have only ever visited Switzerland in the winter, mostly to ski. So I used to by pass the cities and all the places around Lake Geneva. I discovered that summertime in Switzerland is full of delightlful things to do. Here are a list of funs things to see, eat and do around the Vaud and Fribourg region.
Most people don’t know much about Swiss history but this area, especially near Montreux, was a very significant point where Burgundy connects to other parts of Europe. Lake Geneva was a very busy waterway, transporting goods from one end to another. Today, we see it as a place for fab leisure pursuits.
Visit the medieval towns, explore the castles and taste some Swiss Cheese and Swiss wines.
Take the modern Grand Tour of Switzerland
This is a route that will take you through 1600 kms of the most stunning spots in Switzerland. It includes 45 top attractions, twelve of which UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 22 lakes, five mountain passes and two biospheres. Of course, the regions of Vaud and Fribourg are included on this tour. You will find special landmarks of significance with the distinctive red arches. You can drive this in either direction, taking you through roads that lead to stunning places. It is estimated to take about 7 days.
Plan your route here: https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/facts-about-the-grand-tour-of-switzerland.html
The Freddie Mercury Statue
Visit the Freddie Mercury Statue on the Montreux Promenade and be amazed at the constant flow of floral tributes to the star who made his life here. Freddie Mercury birthday celebrations happen yearly now where thousands of fans meet in the centre of Montreux. Fresh flowers and birthday cards adorn his statue on the Montreux promenade for his birthday.
Take the “Queen: The Studio experience” Tour
A must visit for Queen fans. This museum at the world-famous Montreux Mountain Studios at Casino Barrière Montreux houses an exhibition of the work of Queen in the 1970s.
Take the GoldenPass MOB train from Montreux to Les Haut de Caux
We took this MOB train from Montreux to Les Haut de Caux, not quite the end of the route at Les Rochers de Naye, but almost. This charming train takes you up the steep slopes above Montreux, heading into the clouds. Marvel at the view over Montreux and Lake Geneva as the train ascends thru the sleepy stations. As a special surprise on our train, a jazz trio played accompanied us up the mountain with New Orleans Jazz, giving us a little flavour of the Jazz Festival. We got off to have dinner at the CouCou restaurant, the haunt of a lot of jazz greats over the years (it happens to be next door to the home of the founder of the Jazz Festival). They run special themes train rides too, you can take the Chocolate train or the Cheese Train. Train tickets are free if you stay at any of the hotels in Montreux.
Enjoy a big pot of melty, cheese fondue at the CouCou Restaurant
The Cou Cou Restaurant is an institution as it has hosted a number of the great and good who have visited this city. It is is housed in an old Swiss chalet about 1150 metres above Montreux. It serves a bio cuisine with local products. It has an awesome terrace with views over Lake Geneva. Great place to watch the sunset.
I’ve had cheese fondue at a restaurant but nothing like this. They have tall fondue stations which house a pot of the steaming hot cheese. Fondue here is made of half Gruyere cheese and half Emmental and you eat it bu dunking chunks of bread, or if like one of our lot, you drink it with a spoon. Below that is a handy reticule for cold bottles of wine. Love the way that the Swiss celebrate the cheese fondue. This was set up on the terrace which can be quite chilly but it is so much fun. Make sure you order some local Swiss wine too.
Cycle along the Promenade in Montreux
All along the waterfront in Montreux, they have a beautiful flower-lined promenade. You can walk or cycle all the way along the banks of Lake Geneva, from one end of Montreux to the other. I took an early morning ride to visit the Chateau Chillon, an island castle on the lake, at the foothills of the Bernese Alps. Its strategic location was to control the route between Burgundy and the Great Saint Bernard pass. Today, it is the most visited historical monument in Switzerland. It was too early to visit but the views were stunning and the morning bike ride, invigorating. Most hotels have bicycles that you can borrow.
Explore the Unesco Heritage Lavaux Vineyards by ebikes or hiking
One of the best things to do around the Lake Geneva region is to visit the UNESCO listed Lavaux Vineyards. This is one of the most stunning wine regions I have ever visited. The steep slopes were originally cultivated by Cistercian and Benedictine monks in the 11th Century. They build these terraces on the steep lower slopes of the mountains down to the lake, separating each section by stone walls. The vineyards have been in continuous use for centuries using traditional methods where grape picking is still done by hand, which has gained them the UNESCO World Heritage status.
This wine region stretches from Vevey to Lutry near Lausanne, encompassing about 800 hectares of vineyards. This area has been making wine continuously since the 11th century, since Cistercian monks started cultivating this area. You can explore this area by following the well marked trails or follow one of the 7 marked circuits.
Taste some Swiss wines from a Lavaux Vineyard in the Vaud Region
Chasselas wine is unique to the Lavaux region in the Canton of Vaud. They produce a fresh light white wine. Across the region there are many vineyards with Caves open for tastings. Most of the wineries don’t make very many bottles and almost all of it is in high demand locally. Make sure you stop in one of these wineries or have lunch in one of the wine hotels in the area. If you have space in your suitcase, buy a case to take home.
Sail into the sunset on the Demoiselle Sailboat
The Demoiselle Sailboats are beautiful replica barques that take school children or tourists on tours of the lake. ~They were originally used to transport goods from one end of the lake to the other. The boat is an exact replica of a barque called Le Demoiselle, which was built in 1828, and which sailed on the lake until the end of the 19th century. These boats are manned by volunteers and rely on commercial hires to provide free training to the children. We sailed from Montreux to Saint Saphorin, passing by Vevey and waving to the people in the Nestle headquarters. It is quite special to tread those larch timber decks and watch the sails unfurl as you watch the Alps gently pass by.
Shopping at the Friday Markets along the Montreux Promenade
Every Friday, the main section of the promenade houses a selection of market stalls selling local food and wine products. It all happens near the Freddie Mercury statue.
The Montreux Jazz Festival
The Montreux Jazz Festival is probably how everyone knows about this city. Every summer this city is swarmed with music lovers. It used to be just jazz music but today, all sorts of big names in music will plays some shows here.
Take a sunset dinner cruise on a historic Belle Epoque Paddle Steam Boat
These historic steamboats leave from the Lausanne-Ouchy Deck in Lausanne. These beautiful steam boats travel between Lausanne and Montreux as regular ferry routes. There are several classes of tickets and choices for meals. You can do lunch, dinner or sunset.
We set sail in time to see the sun setting over Lake Geneva while sipping cold glasses of Swiss wine. The boat passes slowly along the shores of lake Geneva, giving a stunning view of the Lavaux vineyards. The tour ends in Lausanne about 9ish, in time for a few cocktails in a waterfront bar before calling it a night.
Be wowed by the Narcissus Trails
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In the spring, the surrounding mountains above Montreux turn white, not from snow but fields of narcissus. It’s quite a phenomena and attracts tons of crowds. Check when they start blooming and where to see them here : https://www.montreuxriviera.com/en/Z4797/excursions-narcisses-en
Visit the Chaplin’s World Museum
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Newly built in 2016, Chaplin’s World Museum has quickly become one of the most visited attractions in the region. Charlie Chaplin loved this area and lived in Vevey for many years. His mansion is now open to public. In the museum, they have replicate life-sized scenes from his movies. If you are a Chaplin fan, this is a must visit.
Soak away the stress at thermal spa Les Bain de la Gruyere
In the mountain village of Charmey, in the pre-alps region in Vaud, you will find Hotel Cailler, which did belong to the famous Chocolate family. It is a charming hotel with traditional Swiss décor. But the best thing is that it is directly connected to the thermal spa, Les Bain de la Gruyere. Entry is free if you stay at the hotel. The complex is like a public swimming pool, but nothing like we have in the UK. There are 3 pools with differing temperatures. One of them is outdoors, so you can sit in the hot bubbles and watch the clouds float over the mountains in the distance. They have a wave machine and water jets for hydro therapy in the other pools. There is an adults only solarium, which like in Germany is clothes free.
After you have melted away the stress in your bones, indulge in a gastronomic meal at the hotel’s restaurant, Quatre Saisons.
More information at www.hotel-cailler.ch and www.bainsdelagruyere.ch
Hike in the nearby mountains or one of the regional nature parks
In the valleys of the Fribourg region, you can take one of the many sedate hiking routes which takes you past wild flower strewn meadows, fast flowing streams and some gorgeous chocolate box villages. If you have more time and enjoy hill walking and hiking, you can take the Grand Tour des Vanils, a long multi day hike or the Chemins de Gruyere which takes in not just the Alpine trails but also some historic cheese stops on the way. You can find hiking itineraries here: www.gruyerepaysdenhaut.ch
Day trip to Glacier 3000 in les Diablerets
As you drive through the Gruyere Pays-d-Enhaut regional nature park towards les Diableret and the Glacier, you will probably make multiple stops to take photos and gawp at the awesome scenery. We were taken up there in a vintage Swiss Post Bus which is convertible when you roll back the canvas roof. The best way to enjoy the mountain air and be closer to the scenery.
Head for the Lake Retaud in les Diableret for lunch. This fab restaurant overlooks the mountain lake and faces the snow covered peaks of the glacier. In the summer, you can take the cable car the top and take a guided tour of the glacier. Follow up with a walk across the scary suspension bridge.
For details about how to visit the glacier, visit www.villars-diablerets.ch
Take a foraging walk around the Lake Retaud at Les Diableret
Enhance your knowledge of wild Swiss plants and herbs with a foraging walk. We were taken around Lake Retaud and shown a lot of herbs which I previously thought of as weeds. Our very knowledgeable guide showed us how to pick and eat nettle leaves without being stung. Within just yards of where we had lunch, there were dozens of edible and medicinal plants that are quite delicious too. Keep your eyes open for the local wild bilberries, they are delish.
Visit the medieval town of Gruyeres
Perched on a strategic point on the mountains above Lake Geneva, you will find the medieval town of Gruyeres. The town seems untouched by time, with the same cobble stone courtyard lined with shops and cafes leading up to the castle or the Chateau as they call it here. On most days, you will be greeted by a traditional pipe band and a flag twirler, one of the forgotten arts of Switzerland.
On the way up to the Chateau, you will find the oldest restaurant in town, Le Chalet de Gruyeres, serving the local fondue, made with half Gruyere and half Emmental cheese. It’s a cheese lover’s delight.
After lunch, head to the unique Giger Bar, modelled by the artist H.R. Giger who drew the original monster in “Alien”. Sit in one of the alien swivel chairs at the bar while you have a beer. A great place for selfies. If you are a big fan of gruesome art, you must visit the Giger Museum opposite. It houses a massive collection of sketches and models made by the artist, including some recognisable models used in the film. If you are a bit squeamish, avoid the “Adult Only” room behind the curtains.
Rather bizarrely, there is a Tibet Museum right next door. They have a large collection of Buddhist and pre Buddhist art and artefacts housed in a serene building.
The Chateau is uninhabited but is open as a museum. The beautiful formal garden at the back is kept intact and is beautiful. From the grounds of the Chateau, you get an amazing view of the valley and mountains beyond.
More information: www.la-gruyere.ch/gruyeres
Visit a Gruyere Cheesemaker and milk a cow at Buvette des Invuettes
Gruyere AOP cheese is only made within this small area. Since the 12th century, they have been making this cheese here. We spent a morning with Gérard Biland who runs a small dairy farm in Buvette des Invuettes, where he farms and makes his Gruyere. He is one of the many small producers who make this iconic cheese. Our visit included trying our hand at milking the cow, Joyeux. Then we were shown how this milk was made into cheese in his historic farmhouse.
You can find cheese factories to visit on their main website. There are cheese tours where you see the cheese making and maybe milk a cow too. After the visit, head to the nearest restaurant for an authentic Swiss fondue.
More information about Gerry’s farm www.petit-bil.ch or about Gruyere itself https://gruyere.com/
Tour a Swiss Chocolate factory and learn to taste chocolate at Maison Cailler in Broc
One of the biggest attractions in the region is the fabulous Cailler chocolate factory. Maison Cailler has been making chocolate here since 1898. The interactive tour takes you through the process of buying in the cacao, explaining all the people involved and walks you through their factory and showing you the whole process. It is a very well organised tour, very entertaining and informative.
The best part is at the end of the tour where you end up in the tasting room where you can taste all their chocolate truffles. Their shop has an enormous selection of chocolates that you need to buy to take home. Truly a chocolate lovers heaven.
Where to stay in the Lake Geneva Area and how to get there
We flew to Geneva with Swiss Air. From there, you can rent a car or take the very efficient Swiss trains which run frequently between Geneva to Montreux . The train takes just 57 minutes and its a very scenic journey.
We stayed at the charming Hotel Cailler in Charmey, in the Fribourg Pre-alps. This hotel connects directly to Les Bains des Gruyere with the outdoor thermal pool.
We stayed in the heart of Montreux at the Montreux Eurotel, comfortable rooms with private balcony and stunning views over Lake Geneva and the Alps.
EatCookExplore travelled to the Lake Geneva Region as a guest of Switzerland Tourist Board