Swish Swiss lake land exceeds grape expectations

Once a generation Swiss wine celebration has long been on my "bouquet" list - ha??ving heard of it, like marvellous Marvin, through the grapevine - and now it's fait accompli.

Monday, 12th August 2019, 2:32 pm
Lavaux lakeside vineyards

Fête des Vignerons in fact, staged only every 14 to 28 years since 1797, exceeding grape expectations and defying descriptions of most adroit author.

Suffice to say this twelfth spectacular featured cast of thousands - 5,500 to be exact, sporting 70 costumes, in 20 tableau - all toasting this fertile area's longstanding love affair with its lush land.

Pastoral and pantheistic, a powerful production Disney-Pixar would be proud of, this show's circle of life starts and ends with all-important harvest, musical accompaniment driven by Choeur de la Fête's 650 choristers - 150 of them children - and 300 percussionists. UNESCO intangible cultural heritage recognised, what is palpable is this unique event's global appeal, hailed by National Geographic as among "world's most exciting destinations" and lauded as "where to go" favourite location by travel experts from The Guardian to The New York Times.

Fete des Vignerons

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But you don't have to wait until Brotherhood of Winegrowers' next Vevey celebration to enjoy this captivating canton that oozes fashionable sophistication like an uncorked Benoit Dorsaz Fully Petite Arvine Grain de Folie. Let's be honest, those of us of more mature vintage daren't even buy green bananas!

No, live a little - nay a lot - by seizing the moment now to visit easily accessible area, less than two-hour flight from Blighty, attractive and appealing in equally impressive measure, its serene scenery so much more than sum of its precision watch parts.

Yes, there's clichéd cuckoo clocks, chocs, cheese and army knives - indispensable for those of us inclined to remove stones from horses' hooves - airport shops awash with just such souvenir staples.

Agreed, 200,000 festival-goers converge here for a fortnight each July for world's second largest such showcase. Admittedly, Montreux Noël attracts festive families aplenty to source seasonal gifts from 160 Christmas chalets.

Fabulous Fairmont Le Hotel Montreux Palace

But every season sees adventures aplenty to sate most voracious culture vulture, flourishing tourism flowing from among Europe's biggest bodies of water, one whose UK connections are celebrated in shape of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury's statue, close to "Queen: The Studio Experience," on shore that also proved inspiration, after '71 casino inferno, for Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water classic track.

Shared with France, it is its surface area that makes Lake Geneva - Lac Léman more acceptably to locals - such an aquatic monster. In parts 310 metres deep, it could submerge London's tallest building ... no bad thing, Shard-haters would argue!

There's no better base camp to explore settlements in shadow of Rochers de Naye than Fairmont Le Hotel Montreux Palace, patronised by guests from, 122 years past, French stage legend Sarah Bernhardt to, two summers ago, Tom and Grace Jones ... in separate rooms! True to its 1906 name, this prestigious venue is indeed palatial, "Belle Époque jewel" remaining a unique architectural gem. Swiss Riviera's largest hotel houses 236 five star rooms and suites, boasting Willow Stream Spa, MP's Bar & Grill, Jazz Café, La Terrasse du Petit Palais and Funky Claude's Bar. Perfectly positioned, it is located on an amazing avenue with Nobs on ... eponymous jazz fest founder, that is.

This most musical of monsieur's lasting legacy lives on in trio of magnificent mountain chalets, testament to his towering talent, the muso magpie's eclectic collections from jukeboxes to model trains, impeccable celebrity credentials, entertaining likes of late, great legends David Bowie and The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and state of the art sound system faithfully recreating concert atmosphere of 5,000 hours of live recordings, labelled “most important testimonial to history of music” by no less a luminary as multi-instrumental producer Quincy Jones.

Smoke on the water

Lausanne's Platforme 10 promises to be every bit as enchanting as Harry Potter's Platform 9¾, new station-side urban space taking its cue - and name - from Vaud capital's turntable. Designed by Italian-Spanish visionaries Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga in linear style reflecting lines underpinning wealth of railway heritage and prosperity, it is work in progress platform for many museums, displaying assorted exhibitions' fine art, photography and textiles, complemented by 14 viaduct arch arcades, offering from October cultural incentive to those not normally attracted to galleries.

Five ring-ing endorsement goes to nearby Olympic Museum, embodying original "faster, higher, stronger" spirit in city that has been home to International Olympic Committee for a century. This ultra-modern interactive installation, itself a winner, Lausanne's most visited museum, attracts annual 250,000-plus sport lovers. Memorable medals and torches, made famous since modern games' 1896 Greek re-imagining of ancient naked (literally!) ambition, appear pride of place across three floors, focusing on 150 screens and amazing 10,000 artefacts, world's largest collection celebrating summer and winter events.

And hats off to "laughter and learning" at Chaplin's World, tribute to The Little Tramp guests can't help but be bowled over by. Based at his family's former Corsier-sur-Vevey 14-hectare estate, Last year's European Museum Academy top choice captivates fans across 4,000 square metres of exhibition space, honouring everyone's favourite funnyman. From The Gold Rush to The Great Dictator, this great director's public and private life remain relevant in these Modern Times, celebrating silver screen star, London-born 130 summers ago, who overcame early poverty to enjoy global success.

Transports of delight don't come any better than this area's superb travel system from funicular linking Territet and Collonge, CGN Lavaux boat between Montreux and Vevey, Lavaux Express hour-long wheel train trip through Grandvaux, Les Echelettes and Aran, to Haut-de-Caux cogwheel track ascending 2,000 metres-plus to alpine altitude, nerves steadied by moonshine Schnapps!

Surrounded by Swiss misses, enchanting as Claude Nobs' chalet behind

And where better to wine and dine than vine region whose soil is richer than Gnomes of Zürich, Lavaux enjoying UNESCO World Heritage Programme and Google World Wonders Project status. Great plates await at likes of Maison Buttin-de-Loës in Grandvaux, whose garden terrace vistas are as stunning as well stocked cellar, beneath 18th century Patrician house whose Renaissance Room is mecca for marriage planners.

So, while 2000 Weingut Daniel & Marta Gantenbein Chardonnay - at £250-plus a bottle - may be among most sought after seasons for Swiss wine, this year and next promise to be simply the best to make "The Grape Escape," sampling captivating country of elixir of life - red, white or rosé - polymath philosopher Galileo Galilei correctly coined "sunlight, held together by water".

Switzerland Tourism: For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call Switzerland Travel Centre on International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or email for information info.uk@myswitzerland.com, for packages, trains and air tickets sales@stc.co.uk.

Swiss International Air Lines: SWISS operates up to 180 weekly flights to Switzerland from Manchester, London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham, Edinburgh (seasonal during summer) and Dublin. All-inclusive fares start from £84 one-way*, including all airport taxes, one piece of hold luggage and hand luggage, meals and drinks. Sports equipment, including bikes, can travel free if used as baggage allowance. Terms and conditions apply. For more information visit swiss.com or call 0345 601 0956. *Fare shown is London-Geneva Classic fare, subject to change and availability.

Swiss Travel System: STS provides dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. Swiss Travel Pass offers unlimited travel on consecutive days across rail, bus and boat network, also covering scenic routes as well as local trams and buses around 90 towns and cities. It also includes Swiss Museum Pass, allowing free entrance to 500 museums and exhibitions. Prices from £185 second class. Call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk.

Captivating Chaplin's World
Montreux Riviera transports of delight await
Maison Buttin-de-Los well-stocked cellar
Awe-inspiring Olympic Museum
Cheers ... toast to Swiss sunsets