Updated: Dec 8, 2022
From Lord Byron and Mary Shelley to Charlie Chaplin and Freddie Mercury, Lake Geneva has both inspired and provided a sanctuary for the celebrated and the infamous for generations.
Guest Blogger: Pearce Gunne-Jones, Xcapia
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Lake Geneva in Switzerland
For any visitor to the Lake, (known as Lac Leman to the locals), it is not hard to see why. Vineyard-clad hillsides gently descend to the crystal clear, deep blue waters of the lake, with the snow-capped Alpine peaks providing the most dramatic of backdrops. Throughout the day, the lake takes on different colors for an ever-changing panorama of nature, reflecting the sky and mountains. The lake waters are typically smooth and serene, gently lapping onto the shore. The historic belle epoque paddle steamers that ply the waters of the lake seemingly cut through the water like glass, momentarily disturbing the stillness of the lake.
Along the northern shore of the lake, a string of classic resorts faces out across the water. One is never far from a palatial Belle Epoque mansion or hotel, for the lake is as appealing now as it was for the tourists of the Grand Tour. From Lausanne to Montreux, each of the Lake’s resorts has its own character and attraction. Vevey, the former home of Charlie Chaplin, is surely one of the most picturesque. Its delightful quayside of graceful mature trees, home to a regular antique market, and the odd street performer is a favored spot for a gentle lakeside walk. Here on the lakefront, one can find the Grand Hotel du Lac, its magnificent setting almost, but not quite, surpassed by its intricate belle epoque façade and elegant grounds. One could easily while away many an hour under the white parasols, overlooking the pristine green lawn to the lake, and be none the wiser. The hotel was notably the inspiration for Anita Brookner’s novel, Hotel du Lac.
The old town of Vevey is a delightful melee of narrow lanes and small alleys, with the briefest of glimpses of the lake around every corner. Shutter-clad buildings house an eclectic range of independent shops and art galleries. Charlie Chaplin certainly made an inspired choice to make Vevey his home. Nearby Montreux has a similar collection of Belle Epoque masterpieces, interspersed with the odd modern addition.
Along its lakefront, subtropical palms and radiantly colored flowers give it a Mediterranean feel. The town is famous for its annual jazz festival, with a stage aptly positioned on the lakefront itself. However, the town’s most celebrated music connection is surely that of Freddie Mercury of Queen infamy. He famously once said that ‘if you want peace of mind, come to Montreux.’ As well as being a resident here, he also recorded six of his Queen albums during his time in the resort. The legendary statue of Freddie Mercury now stands on Montreux’s lakefront, with the view that undoubtedly inspired him so much, and provided him with sanctuary in his more troubled times.
Further around the lake from Montreux lies one of Switzerland’s most iconic sites, which has frequented many a tourist poster for hundreds of years, the Chateau Chillon. Located adrift in the lake, attached to land via a wooden bridge, it appears like a medieval warship moored to the lakeshore. It is an architectural masterpiece with a dramatic flourish of turrets and rounded towers, surrounded by the most insurmountable of walls.
A visit to this region would surely not be complete without spending time in the city of Geneva itself. Set in the far western corner of the lake, this city belies its size on the world stage. Countless international organizations have their headquarters here, and the city has a decidedly cosmopolitan feel, akin to Paris or London. On its streets, one is likely to hear a full repertoire of languages. Characterized by wide boulevards of elegant buildings with trams and outdoor cafes, the city’s principal attraction unsurprisingly is its setting on the lake, with the iconic Jet d’eau as its centerpiece. Set on the grand Rhone river, the city is spread over several small islands at its center, and one is never far from the water. Whilst Geneva may not have the same number of traditional tourist attractions as some of Europe’s great cities, its setting and environment are undoubtedly one of the most sublime, set around the lake, with views of Alpine peaks. It is not hard to see why the city is frequently near the top of the countless quality of life indices.
The Lake Geneva region is relatively small, and one that can be explored easily in a few days. However, the real attraction for the casual visitor is taking the time to enjoy lakeside living in this most beautiful of locations, where Alpine mountains meet the silky smooth lake waters. A view that has remained unchanged for hundreds of years. Only then will you be able to truly appreciate why this spot has been a sanctuary and source of creative inspiration for so many, and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
Travel Plan Your Next Geneva Trip
This is a Travel Guide to Geneva and Guide to Lake Geneva. To start planning your travel to Geneva, check out these helpful Travel Tips and Travel Resources:
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Guest Blogger Xcapia is a Travel Website created by Pearce Gunne-Jones and designed to give you an insight into Global Destinations - both familiar ones and new ones. Xcapia will show how well-traveled destinations still can be experienced with new eyes as they are ever-changing. Visit Xcapia and follow on Instagram.