Montreux

Montreux was already an important settlement in Roman times, lying on the northern shore of Lake Geneva and on the Simplon Pass, where the roads to Aventicum, the old Roman capital, and the road into Gaul through Besançon separated. When viticulture was introduced to the region in the 12th Century, the sunny slopes from Lavaux to Montreux became important wine-growing properties. Following the Burgundian Wars in the 15th Century, the Swiss in Bern took over the region, meeting no resistance, which largely indicated the weakness of the Princes of Savoy. The Reformation period marked Montreux’s popularity among the Huguenots from Italy, who as artisans imported their skills and launched workshops and businesses. In the 19th Century, as the tourist industry became a principal commercial outlet, the grand hotels of Montreux became one of the distinctive features of the city, attracting plenty of wealthy Europeans and Americans. 

The resort abounds in old houses on the crooked streets, along with a scenic quayside promenade. What’s more, Switzerland’s most formidable castle, the Château of Chillon, is set on the lake 3.2 kilometres south of Montreux, reached via a 3-kilometre lake path with impressive scenery. The majority of the castle dates back to the 13th Century and was built by Peter II of Savoy. Infamously, Chillon was the scene of sorcerers’ trials and Medieval tortures. François Bonivard, one of its famous prisoners, became the subject of Byron’s 'The Prisoner of Chillon'.

Another writer, the aforementioned Vladimir Nabokov, resided in a suite with his wife Vera at the Montreux Palace Hotel from 1960 until his death in 1977. This is also the city where he is buried. There’s also an interesting story connected with the legendary band Queen. Montreux is the home of Mountain Studios, which has been used by a long line of artists. In 1978, the band Queen bought the studio, and it’s still owned by their producer, David Richards. On the main square of the town, Place du Marché, there is a statue of Queen’s singer Freddie Mercury facing Lake Geneva.

Among the other attractions, the peak of Rochers-de-Naye rising at 2,042 metres is a really popular destination, worth a visit if you’re staying in the region of Lake Geneva. You can get there from Montreux by a cogwheel train that ascends the slopes above the lake, and reaches Caux (1,097 m), set on a natural balcony overhanging the lake. The peak of Rochers-de-Naye rises in the Vaudois Alps, with the Savoy Alps, Mont Blanc and the Jura Alps visible in the distance. At the end of the tour, you can visit a picturesque Alpine flower garden.

You can also count on a rich cultural offering. The Montreux Jazz Festival, held since 1967, is among the largest musical events in Europe. It begins in the first week of July and runs for 14 days. Tickets are expensive, but you can always listen to some of the 500-hour Open Jazz performances. Moreover, the town hosts several other noteworthy festivals, starting with Freddie Mercury's Montreux Memorial Day, held every year on September 1st and 2nd. Significantly, in 1990 the Wakker Prize was awarded to Montreux. It is given annually by the Swiss Heritage Society for the development and preservation of architectural heritage.