Travel: Montreux and all that jazz

ee-aug26-swisshotelview142.jpgThink of holidays in Switzerland and the automatic association is skiing - but there's a lot more to see and do in the cuckoo clock capital of Europe than you'd imagine.

While plenty of Wharfers will have visited for work this is a country of dramatic scenery, interesting history, good food and surprising wines, making it an ideal holiday destination.

It's easy to get to from Canary Wharf, with Swiss International Airlines operating daily flights from London City Airport to Zurich, Geneva and Basle.

Montreux, on the shores of Lake Geneva, is a popular destination. An hour by train from Geneva airport, it's ideal as a base to explore the varied delights of the region.

In Montreux there's really only one place to stay and that's the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace (fairmont.com/montreux). This five-star hotel overlooks the lake and has been a hang-out for the rich and famous ever since it opened in 1906.

lemontreuxpalace.jpgBuilt in the "belle epoque" style it resembles a yellow-iced wedding cake from the outside, but inside it's top-class luxury all the way.

A favourite with stars who stay during the annual Jazz Festival, the Montreux Palace has 236 rooms, all of a very high standard and most of which have fabulous views across the lake.

Those feeling particularly flush can stay in one of the three suites on the top floor, named after muscial celebrities associated with the hotel. So Queen fans can sleep in the room Freddie Mercury used when he recorded at the band's studios in the town.

As the top hotel in town the Montreux Palace boasts two high-quality restaurants, including the Terrasse du Petit Palais with spectacular views across the Lake. Food is sourced locally where possible, with fish from the lake a definite recommendation.

If cocktails are your thing, check out Harry's Bar next door. Also make a point of trying some Swiss wine. The Vaud region in which Montreux lies produces some very high quality vintages.

They are a well-kept secret, but that's not surprising since the Swiss like to keep these crisp whites and fruity reds to themselves, with very little finding its way to the export market.

ee-aug26-swissspa220.jpgApart from first-class accommodation and food the hotel also has its own spa, making it an ideal retreat for Wharfers looking to kick-back and relax.

Whether it's a face or full body treatment you're after, there's something for everyone here, all delivered in a subtle, understated way. Top off your experience with a swim or a sauna, and if you really like what they do, there are lotions and potions to buy to pamper yourself with at home.

Those with a more active bent can take advantage of the hotel's bike hire facility to unleash their inner Fabian Cancellara, although given the hilly nature of the local terrain it's best to restrict your cycling activities to a spin along the lakeside.

If you prefer a stroll - and it's certainly a pedestrian-friendly town - a walk along the shore is very rewarding, particularly in the evening when the sun sets at the western end of the lake.

ee-aug26-chateauchillon.jpgQueen fans usually find their way to the statue of Mercury that stands on the shore, but there anyone interested in slightly older history should head to Chateau de Chillon (chillon.ch).

Built on a rocky outcrop just down the shore, and with parts dating from the 12th Century, this little castle has seen plenty of action. The excellent guides will give you the background, but this is a place to linger and breathe in the history.

It's inspired writers and artists for centuries. Lord Byron stopped here and you can still see his name carved on a pillar in the old dungeon.

On the other side of Montreux lies the town of Vevey, for many years home to Charlie Chaplin. Visit on a Saturday and head for the market where, for five Swiss Francs, you can sample as much of the region's wine as you can manage.

Foodies should visit the picturesque village of Gruyeres, about an hour's drive from Montreux. Home of the epnoymous cheese, it's the perfect place for fondue. Get the full experience at Le Chalet de Gruyeres, but don't overdo dipping your hunks of bread into the molten cheese, it's pretty filling.

The artist HR Giger lives in the village and it's not hard to think his design for the creature from the Alien films originated after a particularly heavy night on the cheese. Visit the small museum dedicated to him there.

ee-aug26-lakegeneva480.jpgThere's plenty to recommend Montreux as a summer holiday destination. The weather can be mixed, thanks to the close proximity of the Alps, and it's not cheap.

But even if you aren't a millionaire, you'll leave feeling like one - relaxed, refreshed and ready to face the daily grind of Canary Wharf once again.

Getting there:

Swiss International Airlines operates 32 daily flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham, and Manchester to Zurich, Geneva and Basle in Switzerland.

There are seven daily flights from London City to Zurich, four to Geneva and two to Basle. Fares start from £77 return, including all airport taxes.

For reservations call 0845 601 0956 or visit www.swiss.com/uk.

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