Five reasons to visit Montreux — jazz aside

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Marianne Burkhardt - [email protected]
Five reasons to visit Montreux —  jazz aside
Montreux's Christmas market ran until December 24th. Photo:

Montreux is famed for its summer jazz festival but expat resident Marianne Burkhardt says there are five great reasons to visit this Swiss town with its spectacular lake-meets-mountain scenery — in the winter.


Christmas market: November 20th — December 24th

Montreux’s month-long Christmas market attracts some 420,000 people each year. 

Fairylight-festooned chalets line the lakeside and high street and the air fills with the rich fragrance of mulled wine. 

The 150 chalets sell everything from oysters and champagne to festive decorations, jewellery and clothes, while a ferris wheel offers a swooping bird’s eye view over Lake Geneva and the hills beyond Montreux.

British expat Laura Pearman has visited the market since it began in 1994.

”It’s a great build-up to Christmas and it improves every year, “ she tells The Local.

Food is omnipresent, ranging from wood-fired pizzas in the Lumberjack Cabin to seafood, mouth-wateringly displayed outside the restaurant La Rouvenaz.

Further along the lakeside, Chillon Castle stages medieval entertainment over the first three weekends in December. Knights and jugglers welcome visitors into the castle’s cobbled courtyards, meat roasts on spits and costumed craftspeople show off their skills.

From Montreux, families can board a train to the Christmas Village in Caux at an altitude of 1,000 metres.

Attractions there include Santa’s post office and encounters with elves and animals.

For more information, check here.

Permanent exhibition “Queen: the studio experience”, Casino Barrière

British rock band Queen first recorded at Montreux’s Mountain Studios in 1978 and bought the facility a few months later.

When a studio staff member asked the new owners what they were going to do with it, the flamboyant Freddie Mercury replied: “Chuck it in the lake dear – this place is so boring!”

But Mercury grew to like Montreux and even bought an apartment there. Between 1979 until Mercury’s death from AIDS in 1991, Queen recorded seven albums at Mountain Studios, whose clients included the Rolling Stones, Iggy Pop and David Bowie.

“Queen: the studio experience” traces the Montreux years of the band’s career with memorabilia, hand-written lyrics, stage costumes and instruments.

A video combines concert footage with the band’s anecdotes about Mercury, Montreux and making music. In the studio’s original control room, a mixing desk enables you to create your own versions of Queen tracks.

The exhibition, dedicated to Mercury, was mounted by the Mercury Phoenix Trust, the AIDS charity set up by Queen members Roger Taylor and Brian May and their manager.

Vicky Vocat, the trust’s spokesperson, worked at Mountain Studios from 1980 until it was sold in 1992.

“They were extraordinary years,” she tells The Local. “Queen were very perfectionist and I never had time to ask myself what it was like to work for a superstar band.”

Whether you’re a Queen fan or not, this exhibition gives fascinating insight into an important time in the history of one of the world’s best-selling bands.

Admission is free but visitors are encouraged to make a donation to the Mercury Phoenix Trust, which has funded more than 800 AIDS-related projects worldwide.

For more information, check here.

Clinique La Prairie’s Medical Spa

Photo: Clinique La Prairie

The rich and famous have for decades sought rejuvenation at Clinique La Prairie, a short lakeside walk from the town centre. The clinic’s 1,600-square-metre multiple award-winning medical spa was entirely refurbished in 2013 and combines tasteful minimalism with relaxing muted colours.

Pampering here is high tech. It serves as a complement to the clinic’s medical programmes or a treat for guests of a few hours or days.

Facilities include a natural light-flooded indoor pool area, a fitness centre with a TRX room, saunas, a fragrant mist shower and a LED phototherapy room.

A Kneipp path — a series of pebble-lined basins containing water at different temperatures — is negotiated with bare feet to alternately relax and invigorate them and stimulate blood circulation.

Included in the vast array of treatments and programmes are seven-hour “Spa Journeys” and three-hour “Spa Days”, which both include lunch at the Spa Café and use of all the facilities.

A Spa Day consists of one of four different facials or body treatments and cellular "photostimulation" to boost collagen production.

Spa Journeys are offered in male or female versions and a third is Thai-themed.

For more information, check here.

Fairmont Le Montreux Palace Hotel

Photo: Fairmont Le Montreux Palace Hotel

When you enter Fairmont Le Montreux Palace Hotel, you follow in the footsteps of celebrities of the past 109 years. Its lavish, soaring-ceilinged Belle Epoque architecture has hosted European aristocrats, Russian princes, actors, politicians and a multitude of music megastars.

The vast lobby and three metre-wide corridors were designed to give crinoline-clad female guests space to move around. Nowadays, only a bathrobe is needed to walk through an underground passageway to the 2,000-square-metre lake-facing spa, which is open to the public.

Sunday brunch (85 francs for as much as you like from the cooking stations and generously laden buffets) or the new MP’s Grill & Bar are opportunities to admire the hotel’s frescoes, stained glass and moulded stucco without paying full whack for a room.

For a taste of the town’s most famous event, head to the Montreux Jazz Café. Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, was an avid collector, his home a wonder of eclecticism. The Café aims to mirror this, with an assortment of objects that belonged to Nobs and festival photos.

Next door, at Funky Claude’s Bar, more food and an imaginative cocktail list are accompanied by live music every night except Sunday.

For further details, check here.

Lakeside promenade

Montreux’s greatest asset is its location on a seven kilometre-long lakeside promenade lined with exotic flowers and trees.

Between Montreux and Territet, in the direction of Chillon Castle, look out for the themed vegetal sculptures created by the city gardeners. Every year, new sculptures appear in time for the Christmas market.

The 2015/2016 theme is “A journey around the world” and includes vegetal recreations of Easter Island’s statues, a Buddha and the Bull of Wall Street.

Montreux’s head gardener Bertrand Nanchen tells The Local that each sculpture takes two people between two to four days to create.

“We’ve been making them since 1992 and every year we become more perfectionist,” he says.

Walk on to medieval Chillon Castle. After the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815), this fortress made famous by Lord Byron’s 1816 poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” was a stopping point for travellers heading to Italy. Those early tourists ventured into nearby villages in search of refreshments, prompting enterprising winegrowers to rent out rooms.

By the 1890s, hotels had sprung up all over Montreux and a tourist destination was born.

For more information about Chillon, check here.


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