Friday, April 18, 2014

Montreux and Chateau Chillon et La Chasse aux Sorcières

My travels through Western Switzerland naturally took me through vineyard country and the breathtaking shores of Lake Geneva. And finally to the resort town of Montreux.

Attractions in Montreux

Surrounded by undulating vineyards, Montreux is an unpretentious though charming upmarket resort town gracing the shores of Lake Geneva. Often described as the jewel of the Swiss Riviera, Montreux comes alive in a big way every July for its annual jazz/rock festival. This is the best-known music festival in Switzerland and one of the most prestigious in Europe, being the second largest annual music festival in the world (after Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival). The festival has attracted names like Marianne Faithfull, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Deep Purple, Prince, Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, B.B. King, Santana, and Van Morrison. Freddy Mercury of Queen made Montreux his second home. Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water” tells of the events of 1971, when a Frank Zappa fan with a flare gun set the Montreux Casino on fire and destroyed it. The Casino was reopened in 1975.

Long before it became known for its international music festival, Montreux had already become an international tourist resort since the early 1800s. This charming lake-shore town with its stylish Belle Epoche hotels and cobble windy streets captivated artists, writes and musicians over the years. Some that bear mentioning include Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Victor Hugo and Hans Christian Anderson. The Empress Elisabeth “Sissi” of Austria also enjoyed strolling the streets of Montreux.

The most famous of the Belle Epoche hotels is probably the Montreux Palace on Grand Rue. The Centre des Congrès across the street houses a concert hall dedicated to Igor Stravinsky who composed his Rite of Spring in Montreux.

Bed & Breakfast Accommodation in Montreux

Castel les Chenes
I decided against the mad bustle of downtown and opted for a different experience. I chose a charming bed and breakfast in the residential quarter of Montreux (Territet) at the foot of Mont Fleuri and above the bay of Territet. Originally built for a French countess in 1928, Castel les Chênes became the home of Hermann & Ulla Schusterbauer, who used it as a language school (it still functions as one) and currently operate it as a bed and breakfast. Set in the midst of a beautiful terraced garden, the charming castle perches over a steep cobblestone road that winds its way above the town. Castel les Chênes enjoys a splendid 180 ° view that spans the Alps of Valais and Vaud, Lake Geneva, Chillon Castle, Montreux, Haute Savoie (in nearby France) and the Jura. This bed and breakfast is barely a 10-minute walk from the Lake, Territet station, the bus service to Montreux and the funicular railway to Glion.

Rooms vary from the stylish chambers on the ground floor to the cosy beamed rooms on the top floor. Each bedroom (1 to 3 single beds) has its own wash-basin and most, like mine, have a balcony with a panoramic view. Communal shower and toilet facilities are available on each floor.
After a warm bath and one of Ulla’s signature hot chocolates, I was ready for adventure. The Chateau de Chillon—possibly the most visited castle in Switzerland—lay just southeast of Montreux in the charming town of Veytaux. I could see it from my balcony on the second floor. I fetched my hat and scarf and was scampering out the door.

Chateau de Chillon

Chateau de Chillon
Easily one of Switzerland’s most majestic medieval castles, Chateau de Chillon is set on a rocky spur on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva. The castle ramparts command a marvelous view of the entire lake. Although it originated around the 11th century, its present structure reflects its 13th century renovations. Chillon was built for the Dukes of Savoy, who once ruled this region. The duke built a number of castles to guard the verdant valleys from the Bernese to the north.

I overheard one tourist attest that the castle was, “romantic, beautiful, fascinating and with the most impressive and scary outside toilet I have ever seen, 50 meters free fall and with strong ventilation.” Hmmm… There are many paths to exhilaration, I suppose.

Inner courtyard of Chateau de Chillon
While it was the centre of court life for the dukes of Savoy, the castle also served as a prison. Its most famous captive was Francois de Bonivard, imprisoned there for six years in the 1530s for political incitement. Lord Byron immortalized him in a poem called “The Prisoner of Chillon”. Francois Bonivard was imprisoned in the underground cellar, previously used as a storeroom for supplies and weapons. Bonivard was held captive there for over xx years before he was liberated by the Bernese.

La Chasse aux Sorcières
dungeons of Chillon

Chateau de Chillon was also the epicenter for witch hunts during the 1400s through to 1500s and many “witches” were kept there. I toured the castle during a witch-hunt exhibit and learned that the Pays de Vaud was the site of major witch-hunts between the 15th and the 17th centuries. During that time, more than 2,000 “witches” were burned there. On an aside, did you know that Switzerland holds not only the record for the longest-lasting repression of witchcraft but also for the largest number of people persecuted as witches, in relation to the population.
Chillon Castle became an important detention centre for individuals suspected of witchcraft, either awaiting trial or execution.
Gölden Anna was the last person in Europe to be condemned as a witch. She was executed in 1782 in the Protestant canton of Glarus, Switzerland.

Outer rampart of Chillon
Nina Munteanu explores the “witch-hunt” in her historical fantasy “The Last Summoner” (Starfire), which takes place in Poland and France. The main character, a young baroness living in 1410, discovers she has strange powers and is hunted as a witch.

The Charm of Villeneuve

Feeling rather peckish after scampering all over the castle grounds and dark dungeons, I leapt into my ToulouseMobile and drove in search of a place to eat. Within five minutes I found myself driving along one of old Villeneuve’s narrow cobbled lanes and spotted an attractive looking restaurant crowded with patrons—always a good sign.

The Bienveillance, avec Specialities Chinoises, is a gem inside this quiet old town. I walked into a rather exotic setting of high ceilings, old lamps, jade dragons and palm trees.
I started out with hot and sour soup, which was a perfect blend of hot and sour soup and full of goodness like seaweed, tofu and other vegetables. It was a hard choice between the canard aux germes de soja and the chicken with red curry. The curry won; and so did I. I ended my delicious meal with a wonderful signature Swiss café crème. Magnifique!  

Montreux and its nearby villages is its own destination; but it also provides a strategic centre for adventurous forays to other places in Western Switzerland like Geneva, Lausanne, Neuchatel, le Molésons, Gruyères, Aigle, Sion, les Diablerets, Glacier 3000, Mont Blanc, and Zermatt.

Contact Information:
B & B: Résidence Castel Les Chênes 
Hermann & Ulla Schusterbauer 
Avenue de Naye 15 
CH 1820 Montreux-Territet; tel: +41 (0)21 963 0880; fax: +41 (0)21 963 7334; email:; website:

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