A Drive Around Lac Léman in Switzerland – the West Side

by Nancy Bach

In other parts of the world, it is known as Lake Geneva. But the Swiss and French know this lovely glacial lake as Lac Leman. I like to call it that so it’s not confused with Geneva Lake, Wisconsin! Its southernmost tip is at Geneva Switzerland; then it stretches up to Lausanne and curls to Montreux. In summer the beautiful blue waters are dotted by sailboats.

In autumn the hillsides are redolent with the aroma of vineyards yielding their bountiful crops. In winter icy blasts whip lake waters up over the banks, creating ice statues of trees and benches. And in spring the glorious wildflowers and fields and mountains beyond the lake are direct from the triumphant ending of “The Sound of Music.”The trip around Lac Lman can start in Geneva. From the cobblestone streets of Old Town, you look down toward the lake and see the Jet d’Eau rising 400 feet above the water, a unique fountain that must, of course, be photographed to document the start of the journey. The fun way to do this is standing with arm raised and finger stretched out, positioned so your fingertip appears to be touching the top of the fountain-a humorous first photo of your new country to share with family back home.

Take your shot from a walk along the boardwalk next to the lake, where people-watching is great. You’re likely to see and hear people of every nationality; most visibly foreign are the wives of wealthy Middle Easterners in full burka-with designer jeans and high heels peeking below their hems.

Driving to the north along the lake you’ll pass many international buildings: the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, the European UN headquarters, the international offices for WTO, and consulates galore. A tour of the Palais des Nations is a great way to build awareness of the important role that Geneva and Switzerland play in global politics and peace. Watch for news on regular UN happenings in the city; there is always something educational going on.

Continuing north, a popular destination is St. Cergue for La Desalpe. This autumn celebration is a one-of-a-kind experience (actually two-of-a-kind; Charmey has a similar event). Park near the lake in Nyon and take the little red train up into the Jura Mountains to St. Cergue. The train ride up the mountain is a treat in itself and it’s a lovely hike down throughout the year. The moving-date festival centers on the annual practice of bringing the cows down from the mountains where they have summered on tender grasses.

Cowherds dress in colorful costumes that are outshone only by those of the cows themselves. If the colorful hats and cloaks don’t make the cows stand out, the bells will catch your attention. Imagine hundreds of cows dressed in unique finery with herds walking at 15-minute intervals through village streets delivering a pleasant cacophony of bells, and that is La Desalpe. Christopher Walken would be in cowbell heaven! The Sonneurs des Cloches perform with a more melodious carillon of bells. Typical of any festival, there is food galore.

And slow down for the drive through Morges district. Zurich, of course, is the home of the original “Cows on Parade” that has spread to nearly 100 cities worldwide. But every fall Denens in Morges has its own unique take on citywide statuary with pouvantails. Scarecrows! The larger-than-life scarecrows are generally made of found items. Many are so-so, but some are impressive works of art, nestled into streetside corners or towering above trees. The scarecrow safari is a great family activity with children and adults alike competing to see who can spot the next surprise. They show up at harvest time, but most stay up for the full year and even last beyond a single season, decorating barns. It’s a very impressive show from a village of around 700 people!

The short drive up the west side of the lake offers many sidetrips: a scouting visit to Collge de Lman, a boarding school alternative for pre-college international students; a quick visit to the expansive Sunday farmers’ market or a more luxurious spa weekend in Divonne les Bains, France; a furniture fix at the huge IKEA store in Aubonne; a skating outing on Lac de Joux or cross country skiing around it; or simply lunch and a glass of wine or two at any restaurant or vineyard along the way.