Tuesday 12 July 2011

The French part of Switzerland

Switzerland: famous for rolling green hills, crystal clear lakes, dramatic mountain landscapes, cheese and chocolate. In my first few days here I managed to sample all of the key drawcards to this breathtaking country.

The friends I made in San Sebastian at Arzak, Per-Henrik and Annik, were kind enough to offer me to stay with them; an offer I accepted. Splitting my time between the Montreux/Villeneuve region (on the shores of Lake Geneva) and a lovely mountain chalet (address to remain undisclosed) I was fortunate to have the best of both vistas.

During my stay, the Montreux Jazz Festival was on so I was able to spend some time visiting it, as well as riding a bicycle (that was too large for me as my feet couldn’t reach the floor) around Lake Geneva and swimming in its waters.

Lake Geneva

Another day I took the cog-rail up to Rochers de Naye (a 2000m peak near Montreux) and Annik and I hiked down. In hindsight, it was maybe a little foolish hiking down in the wrong shoes, a shoulder bag (so I was unbalanced) and ignoring a “caution, danger” sign. I probably fell over about eight times but only drew blood twice; luckily we made it.

Not an encouraging sign to see before the hike

After we made it down from the peak

I also had the pleasure of experiencing mountain life, waking up to the sound of cowbells, watching the clouds roll across the mountain peaks and relaxing in the thermal baths whilst staying at the chalet.

The chaletAlign Centre

Hanging out with the neighbours

My view at breakfast

There is a marketing campaign run by the tourist board here that says “Switzerland: more than chocolate and cheese” but that was all I had on my mind when I boarded the Chocolate Train, a scenic rail trip to the town of Gruyere and Callier chocolate factory.

My chocolate train

The visit to the Gruyere factory was a huge letdown; the only “tour” component was a juvenile audio guide and a glass screen where you could see some milk being poured into a vat. We were only given a tiny sample of cheese (about five hours after the factory visit whilst we were on the train back).

The town of Gruyere

The Callier factory, however, was excellent. There was an information section at the beginning (similar to a Disney ride where you move from one room to the next with animatronic figures to explain the history of chocolate), a tour of the chocolates being made and a sample room with endless offerings. Extreme amounts of self control were required to avoid becoming that fat kid from Willa Wonka who falls in the lake.

The sample room. There were about a dozen trays like this each with different chocolates to try

During my time with Per-Henrik and Annik, it was so nice to catch up with them again and to have a base for a few days to relax and recharge; I can’t thank them enough.

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