The serenity of Lake Geneva.
The serenity of Lake Geneva. Picasa

A country made in heaven

I want to live in Switzerland.

I'm not the first person to say this, but almost certainly the least important person to do so.

Sipping a local Chasselas wine in the midday sunshine at one of the cafes on the boardwalk running along the shore of Lake Geneva, I voiced that thought aloud.

The smooth surface of the blue lake stretching leisurely towards the white-capped mountains was a Swiss postcard, a cliche if you like, but an alpine reality right before our eyes.

The Swiss have it all, no question. Serene lakes, majestic mountains, clean air, sumptuous food, exquisite wines, efficiency in all the infrastructure, and probably the best lifestyle in the world. They know this, they are proud of it, they work hard to keep it so.

It was Freddie Mercury whose words I copied when I said "I want to live in Switzerland''. When he visited the small town of Montreux on Lake Geneva for the famous jazz festival in 1978, he probably sat right where we sat sipping our wine, took one look at the lake and mountain views and decided to stay. His rock band Queen bought Mountain Recording Studio in Montreux, where he recorded his last album, Made In Heaven.

"If you want peace of soul, come to Montreux," he said of the town and we couldn't agree more. To commemorate his time there, a bronze statue of him was placed on the waterfront in 1996, and it attracts fans from all over the world, devotees who come to place flowers at its base every day.

Lake Geneva in the south, bordering France, is a glorious part of a glorious country in the canton of Vaud. It abounds with nature, wineries, culture, history and eye-watering beauty.

Freddie Mercury is just one of many famous names who settled or bought holiday villas in the area, but we will never know of most of them as discretion and privacy is de rigueur in Switzerland. Locals wouldn't dream of pestering celebrities in this country.


Hotel Le Coucou.
Hotel Le Coucou. Picasa

On our visit we stayed at Le Coucou, a quirky alpine hotel 1200 metres above Montreux in a dot of a town called Haut-de-Caux.

Just getting up to Le Coucou was an adventure itself. A small cogwheel train climbed the steep mountain and we held our breath as it made near vertical stops at tiny towns along the way. The countryside was summer green and dotted with pine trees and alpine houses and verdant forests where handsome cows looked as though they had been painted as backdrop to the gorgeous scene.

Up there the air was so pure and sweet and filled with the scent of wild flowers we had to throw open our hotel windows, stick our heads out to take in the hollows and inclines of the valley...and to fight the urge to yodel.

We settled instead for a fondue on the hotel's panoramic terrace, rich and thick (the fondue, not the terrace) with melted local cheeses and with traditional bread chunks and boiled potatoes to swirl and dip into it.


Fondue, a cliche, but perfectly right.
Fondue, a cliche, but perfectly right.

It would be easy to perch on the mountain top and do nothing but take in the views and breathe in the fresh air, although hiking and walking trails beckoned, and then down in Montreux there was much to explore, from ancient castles to wineries, and then there were lake cruises to enjoy ... we had to force ourselves to move.

Ann Rickard continues her Lake Geneva experience next week.

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