The calming power of water is well known, so if you’re looking for some late summer rest and recuperation, head for the lakes. In the first of a three-part series, Jake Cordell travels to the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace on Lake Geneva
After covering a long general election campaign, I was weary and needed to escape from Westminster. With just a weekend to spare, I wanted somewhere that was close and preferably didn’t have busy trains, aimless tourists and city skyscrapers
Switzerland might not spring to mind as an ideal place for a three-night break, being better known for skiing or summer hiking. And people wearing anything other than business attire at Geneva airport were in short supply on the bright morning I arrived. However, strolling through with a carry-on containing sunglasses and books, not briefing papers and suits, meant I was off to a good start.
Montreux is a short train ride along the northern shore of Lake Geneva. The town, famous for its annual jazz festival attracting over 200,000 visitors, has a distinctly bohemian character, enveloping both its lakeside surroundings and the region’s rich cultural history. Much of this charm is down to Le Montreux Palace, which overlooks the lake. The hotel has a quirky elegance typical of the Jazz Age, without compromising on modern luxury or comfort. Signed photographs of the great musicians to have played there sit alongside period ballrooms and endless cocktail lists paying tribute to this centre of artistic flair.
After a night at Funky Claude’s Bar – the only place to be seen in Montreux on a Friday night – well-rested execs should take the train journey up Rochers-de-Naye. Atop the mountain, lazy hours breeze by and noses grow softly pink while gazing across the pristine Swiss and French landscapes. You struggle to find a bad panorama in the Alps, but there are few quite as unique as one where you can capture snow-capped mountains, paragliders, climbers, mountain bikers, lakes and vineyards in just one photo.
Heading back to Montreux on the single-track railway overlooking the south-facing valleys that sweep down from the Alps, I marvelled at some 300 of those vineyards, many of which date back to the Middle Ages. The 30km stretch between the Château de Chillon – a stunning Savoy castle perched over Lake Geneva – and the city of Lausanne was recently declared a Unesco World Heritage site, ensuring it’ll be there for centuries to come. But less than two per cent of the wine grown and bottled there makes it out of Switzerland – in order to try some it really is best to visit.
It’s easy to get accustomed to the gentle pace of a sunny weekend in Montreux. But the sign of a really good trip is in the return. When the queue at Heathrow’s passport control had me looking up recipes for Quincy Jones’s favourite cocktails instead of fretting about the line that was moving fastest, it is safe to say that my break away was a profitable one.
Next week: a family-run spa resort on magical Lake Garda
Getting to the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace
British Airways flies daily to Geneva from Heathrow.
A three-night weekend autumn break in a Deluxe Lake View room costs CHF1,677 (£1,145).