Mon Dieu, I am in Montreux!
The way is often the goal, so also on my journey across Italy, only to turn north again at some point, towards home.
With the motorcycle, the great Saint Bernard Pass has been on my list for a long time, so why not now that I’m already in the area anyway. But after I could not make out an attractive place on the southern side, I did not hesitate long and chose Lake Geneva as the final destination for the stage. In retrospect, the best choice I could make. When I looked at the cities around it, I got stuck at Montreux and immediately had “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple in my ear. Oh yes, the legendary recording studio where recordings are still made today (though no longer in Montreux). So let’s go to Montreux. More about the recording studio in a moment.
Montreux has the charm of a typical lakeside town in Europe, south of the Alps. But the city is located, still in front of the Alps, at the foot of the St. Bernard. Nevertheless, palm trees and all kinds of flowers can be found here, which are otherwise only found in the Mediterranean regions of France, Spain and Italy.
Montreux French is spoken and also the breakfast makes a clear French impression. Pan au chocolat, paired with a café au lait is just the right and probably also most sold breakfast.
Only that no false impression arises, Montreux is located in Switzerland and at the latest when paying you notice that, here is paid with Swiss francs, although usually the payment in euros is also possible without problems. You quickly forget that you are in Switzerland.
I had the incredible luck after a rainy day, to enjoy bright sunshine. The luck of the rain is quite simply explained. Due to the precipitation, the mountains around the lake were again covered in bright, fresh white and have shown themselves so the next morning purely washed and radiant from their most beautiful side. The mountains in general. Without the wonderful backdrop, the lake would probably only be half as beautiful.
Switzerland and its languages
Since I come from Italy across the border and think that I may now also parlieren again in familiar tongue. At the border also still quite friendly in the best Swiss German pointed out that the vignette for Switzerland costs € 40, – and if I wanted to use the highway, I should buy this but. Arrived in Montreux, I find that here only (and almost exclusively) French is spoken. At the bar, there is of course something to drink, no matter in what language you order, but just talk to someone, that arouses astonishment, in German and English.
Montreux hotel search
It is not so easy. Especially not when the ETU, the European Taekwondo Championships are taking place. There are plenty of signs for hotels on the main road and if you’re smart, you pre-book through one of the public portals on the Internet. I didn’t do that, I didn’t want to come here originally.
Very friendly but determined, I was turned away in the first hotel, but not without offering me a possible accommodation that would still have rooms, the Hotel Helvetie. The hotel is very centrally located and was already opened in 1865 as a pension.
Once there, I also got a room. Oh, what a room. I got a whole suite! The reason that I am allowed to inhabit this room landscape was actually the ETU, which probably makes the city burst. Also in this hotel are the teams of Azerbaijan, Czech Republic, Spain and other nations. Young people wearing tracksuits with their country’s lettering are the order of the day on the streets. But this is only temporary. Another time when finding a room will certainly be difficult is the Montreux Jazz Festival. After three days in the city, a fervent desire to be there. The city breathes music!
City architecture of contrasts
What will remain in the memory is the strikingly different architecture. This city has obviously had no one to work on its uniformity. Next to the Art Nouveau house stands confidently a box from the 1960s that would look out of place elsewhere, but not here. The different architecture is concept rather than off-putting or disconcerting. Overall, the mix of styles runs through the city in three stages.
The old town on the mountain is true to style throughout and evenly old. In the belt towards the lake, a slight mixture is noticeable and at the lake itself, everything is permitted. A close look at the building history would be really exciting.
Down by the lake, the main street runs through the town and the displays of supermarkets and boutiques accompany the traveler along its sides. Every now and then, the lake flashes through the gaps in the buildings, and just behind it are the mountains. A picturesque picture. Then uphill comes a clear separation by the railroad. A well-traveled line connects Montreux to the Swiss rail network. The line cuts through the city massively.
Above, directly on the mountain, the old town follows. The word picturesque comes to my mind. Without knowing it, I think that the view over the houses, the lake up to the mountains was certainly often captured in paintings. It is simply dreamlike.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the name of the town is inseparable from the song by Deep Purple in my mind. In 1971, the band Deep Purple was recording in Montreux at the Mountain recording studio when, during a Frank Zappa performance, the studio burst into flames, which the band members of Deep Purple could observe as smoke on the water. So a song was immediately written and also recorded on the spot. This song was to become the most successful for the band. Smoke on the water. Listen to the lyrics, the story should sound familiar to you now.
The recording studio was rebuilt and held by the band Queen until the death of Freddy Mercury. He often stayed in Montreux. After the sale of the studio, it moved away from Montreux and in place of the old recording studio now stands a casino, which contains a permanent exhibition about Queen and the old studio. The exhibition is only for true fans, otherwise it probably seems like a shrine fit for worship. Personally, I thought it was great.
Stroll along the promenade
Last but not least, art certainly has a grip on the city, both visual and musical. Music has an unmistakable influence on the city. Once a year, Montreux hosts the world-famous Jazz Festival, where greats such as Miles Davis have been heard and seen. However, the musical history of Montreux goes back much further, already Stravinsky settled here to write some of his great compositions. Numerous works of art are also dedicated to him and many other artists on the lake promenade.
The Montreux Jazz Festival had celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016.
In addition, many sculptures also deal with the theme of jazz and rock.
Freddy Mercury stands life-size in typical stage pose on the promenade and gives his best for the visitors, it is as if he were present. If you walk further along the lake, you will find countless works of art on the theme of music. Very occasionally, however, there are also bronze sculptures that seem to be much older. The bather is only one example. Obviously, Montreux already had a heyday in the late years of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.
It is also beautiful to walk through the streets of Montreux and hear music coming from the windows of the city again and again. Sometimes a clear practice, sometimes not really distinguishable from a recording and usually slightly jazzy touched.
If you do the work and climb the path to the old town, you will be rewarded by a breathtaking view. Across the city, the lake with the mountains appears in a great perspective. The small church of St. Vincent is enthroned at the very top. It is a pilgrimage church in Romanesque/Gothic style and radiates an incredible calm in its simplicity.
Many cafes and restaurants invite you to linger in the old town. Shopping has almost completely moved to the lake. Stores seem deserted in the high altitude old town. Nevertheless, this part of Montreux does not seem empty or forbidding. Rather enchanted but still alive. This is due to the fact that a sports field appears completely unexpectedly, where young people are playing a game. Here Montreux makes the impression I know from many small Italian towns. Real life takes place in the town center.
If you look a little further into the mountains, you will discover another large building that looks a lot like a castle. Formerly a hotel, this building now houses a school and is not open to the public.
It is also important to mention that from the mountains a tributary to Lake Geneva makes its way down through the city with a loud roar. It is held in place by an artificial bed that looks as if it would have to carry considerably more water than it already does. The sound is hard to classify at first, but then accompanies you the whole way to the old town and back.
Unfortunately, in the two days that I visited the city, I missed to visit the castle, which is also one of the attractions of Montreux. But this is actually not bad, so I have a reason to come back and see again this wonderful city with its musical flair.
There would certainly be much more to report. But it’s best to see for yourself. It is worth the trip!