There’s inherent beauty evident across Switzerland, but the region around Lac Léman has a unique individual charm that is further amplified by the terraced vineyards that border it.
The entire region of the Swiss Riviera is in dramatic contrast with each other. The snow-covered Alps are to the south of the lake – on the opposite side of the vineyards. The deep blue of Lake Geneva changes colour with the movement of the sun, occasionally dotted by a boat passing through with the bright red Swiss flag fluttering in the wind. And then there is the endless green of the vineyards in the North. It’s majestic, it’s romantic, and it’ll make you feel drunk with splendour much before you taste the wine that’s on offer here.
This 30-kilometre region of Lavaux stretches from the city of Lausanne all the way to Chateau de Chillon in Montreaux, and because of its cultural importance, the locality has been given the distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage site.
I had the pleasure of spending a few weeks bang in the middle of this belt, staying amidst the vineyards, exploring the tiny Swiss-French villages that showcase a very different side of Switzerland as compared to some of the famous – more mountainous – provinces.
Wine growing is a particularly personal and passionate characteristic that impacts this territory and all the people who live in it. Strict building regulations, wine associations that are 100 years old and promote working together, and healthy competition between different wine producers make this a hidden gem that is often overlooked by visitors.
California with Napa and Australia with its Yarra valley have romanticised wine culture to an extreme, but it’s the subtleness and non-commercial, more personal, aspects of the Swiss wine growers that makes it characteristic and praiseworthy. There’s no hullabaloo over wine resorts or mansions here. Instead, it’s only about manufacturing good wine and working together as a community to achieve that.
There are enough touristy attractions such as the Lavaux Vinorama, or Toy Train rides through the Vineyards that help promote the wine culturally, but what attracted me was discovering cute sounding and looking villages – Pully (pronounced Pu-yee), Cully (pronounced Ku-yee), Lutry, Chexbres (pronounced Shebre), Rivaz… that makes Lavaux such a beautiful detour.
Now, technically the small roads that serpent through the Vineyards are private, and you cannot take your own car on them – the wine growers use them for their day to day work. However, the best way to be among the vines is to either walk/hike on these roads or take one of the small toy train rides that usually include wine tasting.
The best season to be here is obviously around or just before harvest time (October-ish), but when we visited in June, the grapes had started to show and the leaves were already a beautiful shade of green. Being among the vineyards and appreciating wine is an activity that suits all ages, and as for the tasting part, most places have grape juice for kids.
Reading and researching about Switzerland has led me to believe that unfortunately most travellers skip this area either limiting their visit to some of the nearby bigger towns – Montreux, Vevey, Lausanne, Geneva – or else going higher up in the mountains to popular and well-known places like Gstaad and Gruyere.
Here are a few photographs (and a few videos), that should convince you of the beauty that the region bestows upon us all. Taken at various different places in this stretch, these ought to tempt you, to explore this spectacular province of Switzerland, the next time you’re there.