Three Swiss cities, Geneva, Montreux and Gstaad, embody the essence of what the discerning traveler can expect.
Geneva, Montreux and Gstaad represent an attractive Swiss triangle, each independently sym-bolizing peace, music and lifestyle. All three have their charms, each captivating globetrotters with a myriad of attractions.
The first two, Geneva and Montreux, are at the ends of Lake Geneva, and Gstaad is located 37 miles from the second. To visit them is to know part of the essence of Switzerland: to enjoy a cosmopolitan and modern city like Geneva, headquarters of world organizations; to live intensely the music in Montreux; while Gstaad is host of celebrities, in combination with peaceful landscapes of the Alps.
The smallest metropolis in the world or the capital of peace – for being the headquarters of the Red Cross and the European office of the UN –, are some of the distinctions of Geneva, the host city of the largest number of international organizations – more than 200 – and of the exclusive watch manufacturers.
It appears to be only a glamorous city – which it is –, but without losing its charm of being the gateway to the Swiss Alps, with the Mont Blanc in the background, it is ideal for walking. Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, where the Jet d'Eau rises more than 459 ft above sea level, Geneva has parks and mountains within walking distance. In gastronomy, it offers from neighborhood bistros to Michelin-starred restaurants.
The Jet d'Eau is one of the most photographed attractions in Geneva and was originally created as a water pressure limiter for the machinery used in the manufacture of jewelry; in 1891 it was decided to increase the power and place a lighting, becoming a fountain, symbol of the city by throwing 132 gallons of water from the lake per second and a weight of five tons, at a speed of almost 124 mph.
A tour on Lake Geneva, the largest in Western Europe, is aboard a mouette (seagull), which are water cabs that transport visitors and locals from one shore of Lake Geneva to the other; for another maritime experience, there are boats that offer cruises along the lake.
Assemble your watch
In the cradle of watchmaking, where select consortiums have their offices and training centers, you could not miss the opportunity to assemble your own timepiece, and that happens in the Initium Watchmaking Workshop, for an initiation into the world of mechanical chronometers. The participant can start to work and with great delicacy, using screwdrivers and millimiter tweezers, assemble the mechanism of a chronometer under the expert guidance of talented master watchmakers.
For a cultural stroll, the Grand Théâtre becomes the stage for internationally renowned artists; another visit is to the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, and the Martin Bodner Foundation, a modern building designed by architect Mario Botta, which houses more than 150,000 copies from the world's largest private libraries, some printed before 1500. Highlights include a volume of the Bible by Johannes Gutenberg and ancient tablets with cuneiform characters, Greek and Coptic papyri.
The cradle of fine watchmaking has the Musée International de l'Horlogerie, with a collection of more than 4,500 models from different eras, and the Patek Philippe Museum, a 500-year journey that invites you to discover the origins of chronometry.
There is also the MAMCO (Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain), which, since its opening, has hosted 450 exhibitions, with works from the 1960s to the present day. This museum has 'infected' the neighborhood where it is located and three times a year they celebrate the Nuit des Bains – so called because it used to be an area dedicated to baths –, becoming today a gigantic gallery. Another site is the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva, worthy winner of the EMYA (European Museum of the Year Awards), with a permanent exhibition of more than a thousand objects from the five continents.
Visit the vineyards
As part of the experiences, visit the vineyards of Geneva aboard an electric bicycle to learn about a little-exhibited side of Switzerland, such as the wine industry, without missing a tasting, and don't forget to taste the truffles, chocolates and other delicacies of the multi-awarded Swiss chocolate.
In the Englischer Garten, the Horloge Fleuri, a huge clock decorated with flowers, symbolizes that you are in the 'capital of time'. There's also the Saint Pierre Cathedral, which had an initial construction phase in 1160 and almost a century later opened its doors; climb the stairs to the top of the tower and you'll get a 360° panoramic view of the city and the lake as your prize.
The Michelin guide staff was very active in the Geneva area, and they placed 49 Geneva restaurants on their list, including Domaine de Châteauvieux, holder of two Michelin stars, and eight more: Il Lago, La Chaumière by Serge Labrosse, Le Cigalon, Le Flacon, Tosca, L'Aparté, Le Chat-Botté, and Bayview by Michel Roth, the latter with one Michelin star.
Come spring, Bains des Pâquis is ideal for indulging in the pleasures of a spa or hammam, or simply sunbathing and swimming in Lake Geneva, at the Plage des Eaux-Vives, both close to the Jet d'Eau. A little further away, on Quai de Cologny, are a couple of sustainable constructions, made of Swiss oak; they are a circular platform with a diameter of 131 ft that resembles a floating island, and a 147 ft bridge, ideal for admiring the lake.
The offer of luxury hospitality is varied and includes famous chains such as the Four Seasons Hôtel des Bergues Geneva, Fairmont Grand Hotel Geneva, Hotel Beau-Rivage Geneva, Hôtel d'Angleterre, Mandarin Oriental Geneva, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel de la Paix, Geneva, InterContinental Geneva, The Hamlet, Hotel Metropole Geneva and The Woodward, Hôtel de la Cigogne.
La Réserve Genève Hotel, Spa and Villa, located on 2.5 acres on the shores of Lake Geneva, stands out; it offers five restaurants, including the Michelin-starred Le Tsé Fung, Le Loti and the spa restaurant, Le Café Lauren. Traveler care is complemented by the 27,000 sq. ft. Nescens Spa and a menu of anti-aging, osteopathic, nutritional and aesthetic treatments.
For shopping, the Avenue du Rhône features the main boutiques of the most renowned designers, with their most recent collections, as well as fine jewelry and watches. There is also via du Marché, home to Bongénie, a seven-story department store with exclusive brands, and du Mont-Blanc, with high-end Swiss products.
With a multicultural atmosphere, Geneva has restaurants, taverns and bars to enjoy the local cuisine, as well as art galleries and antique stores, not forgetting that just a few minutes away is Carouge, a town with two centuries of history, which retains the Latin-Mediterranean charm imposed by the Italian architects in charge of designing it.
The idyllic landscapes of Montreux have seduced artists and writers, such as Freddie Mercury, who lived there for periods of time. His love for the city was such that the cover of his last album with Queen – Made in Heaven –, recorded in Montreux, features the statue erected in his honor on the shores of Lake Geneva. Inspired by the place, the musician Prince composed the song Lavaux dedicated to the vineyards of the same name, near Montreux.
These vineyards, located on 1,977 acres, considered World Heritage by Unesco, are located between the Alps and the forest, and their Mediterranean microclimate has allowed the vines of the producing wineries to grow. To learn about the wineries, there is a 20 miles route for cycling, divided into seven circuits, with information panels. Do not miss the opportunity to witness the process of creating wine and at the end attend a tasting in a local cellar.
Whether you're a Queen fan or not, it's well worth checking out Queen: The Studio Experience, a museum set up in what was once the Montreux Mountain Studio, where the band recorded six albums. The exhibit features numerous exhibits including original manuscripts of song lyrics and musical instruments. The main attraction is the studio once occupied by Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
Next to the Montreux Mountain Studio is the Casino Barrière in Montreux, with 107,000 sq. ft. of space dedicated to entertainment with slot machines, gaming tables, electronic games, poker and more. And if you are a Freddie Mercury fan, you have the option of renting the Duck House, where the singer stayed for periods of time.
Music floods the site
If you like music, you can't miss the Montreux Jazz Festival at the Auditorium Stravinski, a stage where David Bowie, James Brown, B.B. King, Keith Jarrett, Carlos Santana, Etta James, Patti Smith, Massive Attack, Björk, Radiohead, Leonard Cohen, Deep Purple and even Prince himself, among other stars, have performed. There is also the Montreux Jazz Lab, which offers the opportunity to listen to rising stars and experimental music, as well as free concerts at other venues.
Montreux is ideal for walks on dedicated trails, especially along the 8 miles of the shore of Lake Geneva, where hundreds of strategically placed flowers bloom, or visit the pier and board a historic steamboat to ride the calm waves of Lake Geneva.
One place to visit is the historic Château de Chillon and its 14th-century murals, subway vaults and once-inhabited halls, preserving the décor of days gone by, with the Café Byron to chat about the past. At the Musée Suisse de l'Appareil Photographique you will learn about the history of photography, from its beginnings to the present day, with permanent and traveling photography exhibits.
Recognition for gastronomy
In Montreux, there are 25 restaurants listed in the Michelin Guide and Gault&Millau, with L'Ermitage, where chef Serge Coletta constantly alternates menus. In Vevey, there is Denis Martin, with Michelin-starred molecular cuisine, as well as Les Ateliers, located in a former stainless steel workshop, and Les Saisons, in the Grand Hôtel du Lac. Les Ateliers Brasserie and Le 3C, inside the Hotel Des Trois Couronnes, complete the distinguished list.
The Montreux hotel industry offers the services of the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, Le Mirador Resort & Spa, Hotel Royal Plaza Montreux & Spa and Grand Hôtel du Lac, in addition to the chalets.
Health tourism is another attraction in Montreux, with anti-aging and revitalizing clinics, including Clinique La Prairie, a medical center with more than 50 doctors and therapists specializing in preventive medicine, combined with renowned Swiss hospitality. Since 1905, Clinique Valmont has been a hospital for neurological rehabilitation, orthopedic and spinal disorders; there, patients are cared for by multidisciplinary teams, from internists to physiotherapists and dieticians; it is noted for its luxurious suites and a gourmet restaurant.
The unforgettable mime
Near Montreux is Chaplin's World, a site in honor of Charles Chaplin, who spent the last 25 years of his life at the Manoir de Ban residence in Corsier-sur-Vevey, where visitors can delve into the history of the famous mime, played by Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin. Opened to the public in 2016, the 34 acres villa houses items from the comedian, sets from some of his films and multimedia experiences. Do not forget to go to the Vevey pier and take a picture next to the bronze statue of Charlot.
While in Vevey, a few minutes from Montreux, board the Train des Etoiles and hitch a ride to Les Pléiades Mountain, at 4,462 ft elevation, to learn about astronomy at the AstroPléiades observatory. Board the electric Train des Vignes – train of the vineyards – that runs through the Lavaux wine-growing area, while a vertical cable car will transport you to Chardonne and Mont-Pèlerin, a recreation area with panoramic views from the heights (6,562 ft) of the Alps and Lake Léman. Another visit is the Chaulin-Chamby train depot, with the Railway Museum.
At 18 miles from Montreux is located Lausanne, called the Capital of the Olympic Movement, for being the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, since 1914. It is the only Swiss city with a subway metro, fully automated and remote controlled. In addition to the Olympic Museum, which houses interactive exhibits, documents, films and collections of objects from Greek antiquity to the present day, there are art sites to see, including the Collection de l'Art Brut, with works by self-taught artists and inmates of psychiatric clinics or prisons, collected by painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet.
Sumptuousness. This is how Gstaad is defined, frequented by distinguished personalities, who usually spend their vacation seasons, especially in winter, in these latitudes, in chalets or Grand Turism hotels.
Such a glamorous city has Promenade, one of the most famous shopping avenues – and the shortest – in the world, with the presence of major designer brands and art galleries such as Gagosian, which recently opened its third space in Swiss territory; other venues to acquire artistic creations are Bel-Air Fine Art and Simple Gallery. Another original showroom is Tarmak22, located at the Gstaad-Saanen airport, named after the airport runway.
On the culinary side, Gstaad has restaurants designed for gourmet dinners, headed by the traditional bistro bar Rialto, a must-visit. Other establishments include Sommet, which received a Michelin star, as well as Avenue Montagne, Gildo's Ristorante, Esprit Ravet, La Bagatelle and Megu, each with diverse specialties, from local to international cuisine.
Another select site is Eagle Ski Club, founded in 1957, with its distinctive facilities in a chalet on top of Wasserngrat, a private mountain, accessible only to members via chairlifts. The site includes ski slopes for members' entertainment.
Swiss hospitality is reflected in its hotels, and Gstaad is no exception; The Alpina Gstaad, Park Gstaad, Le Grand Bellevue, Ultima Gstaad Resort. Gstaad Palace, Hotel Oden AG, Huus Gstaad, Golfhotel Les Hauts de Gstaad & Spa and Ermitage Wellness & Spa-Hotel, are some of the essentials, most with spa services and body treatments.
A sports paradise
If sports are your passion, Gstaad has an interesting calendar of professional sports competitions. Headlined by the ATP Tour's Swiss Open Gstaad in July, once conquered by local star Roger Federer and Mexico's Raul Ramirez; the thrills are at the Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Gstaad, also in July, and the Polo Gold Cup Gstaad in August, with free admission. For a round of 18 holes of golf, there is the Gstaad-Saanenland Golf Course, and less than two hours away there are six other golfing venues.
Music is alive and kicking here too
On the musical side, the Menuhin Festival Gstaad & Academy, between July and September, reaches its 66th edition, honoring violinist Yehudi Menuhin; while the young promises of music are in the Sommets Musicaux, with presentations at the beginning of the year in the churches of Saanen and Rougemont, and the chapel of Gstaad, and in September comes the atmosphere with the Country Night Gstaad, ideal for dancing.
If you are looking to get away from the luxury and bustle, in the region of Gstaad are located the neighboring villages Saanen, Schönried, Saanenmöser, Zweisimmen, Gsteig, Lauenen, Feutersoey, Turbach and Abländschen, belonging to the commune of Saanen, with quiet attractions, including the nature reserve of Lake Lauenensee and rent a cabin among the hills to live a unique sensation.
Saanen has a network of trails of more than 186 miles, ideal for hiking and mountain biking, and the option of hang-gliding to see the panorama from the sky. Another choice is the Wispile-Lake Lauenen trail, which starts at the top of Mount Wispile, at 6,233 ft above sea level, and descends to the famous Lake Lauenen nature reserve.
In Saane there is adventure in the rapids of the Saane River, where rafting can be practiced. Another fun are the 310 miles of roads to be traveled by road, mountain or electric bike, with signs and in constant contact through GPS, to avoid getting lost.
A unique experience is lived at Glacier 3000, a mountain station designed by Mario Botta, at an elevation of 9,842 ft, connected with a cable car, from where you get a view of the Alps, including Mont Blanc; because of the altitude, snow remains almost all year round, and allowing cross-country skiing in summer. If you want to try the adrenaline, dare to cross the Peak Walk, a 351 ft suspension bridge located between two peaks, or go down the Alpine Coaster, a fast 3,280 ft ride with 520° turns. Remember to go to Refuge de l'Espace, and be enraptured by the scenery of the Alps.
Switzerland is famous for its cheeses, so go to the Chessler and Bodmen huts in Schönried and Saanemöser, near Gstaad, and enjoy a fondue; another possibility is to rent a backpack with everything you need to prepare a fondue and prepare it on a picnic.
For cheese fanatics, visit the Cheese Grotto, where 3,000 wheels of Alpine cheese, considered the "Alpine gold" for its quality and denomination of origin, are kept at a depth of more than 82 ft. In its different varieties, they are hard rind cheeses, made with unpasteurized Alpine milk and a round presentation, traditionally cut into thin slices before being tasted on the spot.
During the winter season, Gstaad is very attractive, with more than 125 miles of downhill slopes, a playground and 25 miles of cross-country ski trails; for hikers, there are 115 miles of alpine trails. Here is located the Gstaad campus of the famous Le Rosey Institute, visited at the end of the year by professors and students to spend the winter season of the institution where seven kings and princes have studied, in order to meet with their families.
Text: Ricardo Villanueva ± Photo: Sam 74100 / Eugene Sergeev, Grantotufo, Bogdan Lazar / Elena Duvernay, Ericc 2005 / Cedric Gelissen, Makasana Photo / cgtn, Diego Grandi / Eva Bocek, APL, Viorel Dudau / PRT, Suisse Tourisme / Gstaad Palace, Pavalache Ste-lian