A Drive Around Lac Léman in Switzerland – the North and East Sides

by Nancy Bach

Views from the heights of Lausanne looking south to the lake with the surrounding Alps, in the crisp, clear Swiss air are impressive. City businessmen sponsored construction of the Sauvabelin Tower, with a 100-foot climb up a circular wooden stairway to make the views even better. Breathe in the tranquility; you may never have this opportunity again.

Lausanne, of course, is the home of the IOC, International Olympic Committee, with an interesting museum, worth a visit. Each January Lausanne is home to the Prix de Lausanne international amateur dance competition. We missed it during our one year in Geneva—wish we could get a do-over!Moving to the east is Vevey, home of Nestle, Inc. Take the time for a tour; the aroma of chocolate will make you salivate. You can do a chocolate tasting and shop in their chocolate store. The Alimentarium museum has numerous collections of food-related tools and demonstrations and offers Swiss cooking classes (extra charge, in French, booking required).

Farther east is Montreux, home of the annual jazz festival, each July since 1967. You might hear Tori Amos, Bob Dylan, or Van Morrison, or see a high school jazz band from Bloomington Illinois, like we did. The festival lasts for three days with formal concerts, casual jamming, and juried competitions.

At any time of year the Chateau de Chillon is a beautiful Montreux treat. The 1000-year-old turreted castle jutting out into the lake makes for a great sunset photo; it’s open for visits inside, and exhibits the medieval features that Lord Byron romanticized in The Prisoner of Chillon. The Territet-Glion funicular railway offers a steep and surprisingly long ride above Montreux for more beautiful views.

Continuing on, you cross the Rhone on its entry to Lac Léman; it exits at the south end of the lake through Geneva, so the lake is like a giant swimming hole along the river’s path. Another twenty kilometers south of Montreux you cross into France at the small village of Saint-Gingolph, with its feet in both countries. You are, however, entering the EU, so be sure to have your passport.

From here the road hugs the shoreline with excellent views through the trees. Another twenty kilometers later you’ll find a town with a familiar name: Evian, actually Évian-les-Bains. In the town center you can find a flowing spigot of water coming out of a wall. This is Evian spring water—the same thing you pay beaucoup d’argent for in a market. Take empty containers with you so you can catch some of the cool mineral water and bring it home to savor. The last part of the name, les-Bains, means baths. Between Evian-les-Bains and nearby Tholon-Les-Bains are some of the finest spa experiences on the continent.

On the tip of a small peninsula is tiny Yvoire, a 14th century city with a small fort, many interesting little shops, and several good restaurants. It’s been given the distinction of “one of the most beautiful villages of France.” I can’t argue with that. It was less than 20 kilometers from our home so we made several visits to enjoy the view and purchased some lovely table linens.

Soon you’re crossing the border back into Switzerland. Stop along the side of the road to gaze at Geneva with the Jet d’Eau in the foreground dwarfing the ancient three-story buildings behind. Closer to the city you’ll find the Genève Plage, a beach with plenty of activities and dive platforms up to ten meters. We lived just above it in the little village of Cologny, population several thousand, nearly a third expats. Of course, we didn’t see too many of our wealthy neighbors since many of the homes are behind tall, dense shrubs and walls. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the bakery and restaurant at the village center.

A myriad of restaurants await your return to Geneva. One of our favorites is Relais D’Entrecote, with its one item entrée menu of steakfrites—steak and French fries with a luscious sauce—followed by a choice from thirty or so desserts. Our favorite is the profiterole with real, dark Swiss chocolate.

The whole drive around Lake Geneva is only 180 kilometers, so clearly the trip could take as little as three hours. But that’s not the way to do it. Most of these suggestions are daytrips, maybe combining a couple items. The trips can even be accomplished with a combination of rail and ferry to take in both sides of the lake. One of my life goals is to go back to Geneva and bike around the lake. I’m planning on six or seven days with leisurely lunches, maybe a wine-tasting…or two or three.

Whatever activities you pick for your daytrip or outing, be sure to take photos to feature the two new members you’ve added to your family—the beautiful Lac Léman and the impressive Alps.