Tue. Jun 6th, 2023

The “Belle Epoch” paddlewheel boat leaves Vevey’s dock promptly at 1:30 pm, headed to Chillon Castle, the most visited historical monument in Switzerland. Everything is Switzerland is prompt – the boats, the trains the buses — not surprising for a country which has dominated the time-telling industry since the 1600s. Two friends and me, in Lausanne for a writers’ conference, have tagged on a couple of days to play in the town of Vevey. The day is warm and sunny, so we’re sitting on the outside deck, mesmerized by the Swiss Alps on one side and the terraced vineyards of Lavaux on the other.

Vevey, one of Switzerland’s most charming towns, is in the Canton of Vaud, just ten miles from Lausanne and 40 minutes by train from Geneva. We spend the morning walking the cobblestone streets of Old Town, strolling down alleyways where, if you extend your arms, you can just about touch the buildings on either side. We peruse the menus of restaurants ranging from Swiss and Italian to Moroccan, Indian and Thai, but because this is Switzerland, we are constantly thinking of chocolate and cheese.

We walk along Vevey’s Promenade where swans float on the lake and boats pass by. We stroll past gum trees and flowers and statues dotting the concrete boardwalk. A 24 foot-high stainless steel fork sticks straight up out of the water and I look at the plaque; it’s not by sculptor Claes Oldenburg. The fork was designed in 1995 to commemorate the Alimentarian Food Museum’s 10th Anniversary. It was also created to reflect the serenity of Lac Léman, the largest lake in Central Europe. This 225-square-mile lake is known as Lac Léman to the Swiss, but the Americans call it Lake Geneva.

On the quay is a bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin who was blacklisted in America and lived in Manoir de Ban in Corsier-sur-Vevey for 25 years. His former home has become “Chaplin’s World,” an attraction where visitors discover the Little Tramp through film, multimedia, and virtual reality.

With only two days, it’s impossible to do everything: just a train or bus ride away is the medieval town of Gruyeres, where they make the famous cheese. You can walk or ride to Montreux, where there’s a statue of Freddie Mercury who always said, “If you want peace, come to Montreux.” We’ve chosen to visit Chillon Castle, a 12th Century fortress which appears to float on the surface of the lake. Chillon was built on a rocky islet as natural protection and a strategic location to control movement between Europe’s north and south. The site has been occupied since the Bronze Age, and the castle has been restored in its entirety.

We deboard and walk along the lake to the castle entrance. I‘ve seen plenty of European castles, but nothing which comes close to this. Inside are 46 different rooms including the gatehouse, infamous prison, Constable’s Dining Room, and a Bernese bedroom. My favorite is the Coat of Arms Hall where, lining every wall are the different Coats of Arms of the rulers who lived in the castle from 1536 to 1733. The colors are faded, but you can still see many details and notice how the visual design changed slightly with each new sovereign.

On our way back to Vevey, we look up at some of the 10,000 steep terraced vineyards which plunge straight down to the lake. Lavaux is one of the largest vineyards in Switzerland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We decide we’ll visit tomorrow.

Right now, I’m ready for a massage. My two friends are staying close by and I’m at the Grand Hotel du Lac whose lobby is a warren of cozy nooks with plush armchairs. There are two small bars and both an indoor and outdoor restaurant. During the summer at the outdoor pool, there’s a beach pop-up Buddha Bar.

The elegant hotel was built in 1887 and still retains some of its original fixtures. The gilded sconces, once gas-lit, are now electric. The colors are warm and inviting, and everywhere are eclectic antiques from French to English to Moroccan. Originally, the hotel had 150 rooms, but to add ensuites for each accommodation, the room count was reduced to 120. No two accommodations are the same, including the Tower Room at the top of the building and the 1,292-square-foot palatial Suite Léman with jaw-dropping views of Lake Léman and the Alps.

Many of the other rooms also overlook the lake including mine, a plushy junior suite with every modern convenience including free WIFI. There’s an espresso machine, two huge Smart TVs (one in each room), and a terrace with a little table and two chairs. I kick off my shoes and sit on the terrace, mesmerized by a perfect view of the Promenade, boats on the lake, and the snow-peaked mountains in the distance. I could sit here all day, but it’s time for my Signature Massage at the hotel’s SPA by Valmont.

I love that you can go down to the spa in just your robe and slippers. The spa is soothing, and extremely comfortable. I head for the steam room, then the sauna, and by the time I’m slouching on a daybed, Sandy, my masseuse, leads me to the treatment room. I am so relaxed that I sleep through most of the treatment, though I vaguely remember a facial and my feet being massaged, I am in a trance when she gently wakes me and leads me to the relaxation room for a tray of water, hand towels, a bowl of nuts, and a note on which she has drawn a heart and written:

Dear Margie, It was a great pleasure for me to pamper you. I hope to have transported you on a little cloud of sweetness. I wish you an excellent end of stay with us and I hope to see you very soon. Sandy

A little cloud of sweetness! The perfect way to describe not only the hotel, but all of Vevey.

Tonight, my friends and I dine in the Grand Hotel du Lac’s one Michelin-starred restaurant, Les Saisons. In the bar next to the dining room, a pianist sings and plays just loud enough to hear, but happily, not preventing us from trying to talk. I choose foie gras de Canard followed by perch (the signature dish of Vevey) and then a selection of cheeses.

The waiter explains each cheese and says to make sure to eat from left to right, starting with the sweeter Chevre Doux, then Tomme de Vaudois, blue cheese, Gruyere, Robuchon and finally, Holzige Geiss Chevre. One of my friends chooses the Coffee Crème brûlée with strawberry tartare.

As if that weren’t enough food, they’ve left Swiss chocolates on my bed. Talk about a little cloud of sweetness!

I wake up to a text from my friends who are staying two blocks away at Hotel des Trois Couronnes, Do I want to join them for a swim, then do yoga on their terrace overlooking the lake? (One of them is a yoga teacher). Grand Hotel du Lac has an outdoor pool, but it’s not yet open for the season. Trois Couronnes has a 26-yard indoor pool. I walk beneath the gum trees and flowers on the Promenade to their hotel.

Except for us, the pool at Hotel des Trois Couronnes is empty and the water is bathtub warm. After, we go to their room, whose terrace is the size of a large living room with a perfect view of the lake and do yoga in the morning sun, staring out at the glittering lake. I return to my hotel for breakfast, a huge buffet selection of fruits, nuts, cheeses, pastries, breads, smoked salmon, sausages, bacon, eggs (anyway you want them), and coffee. (I chose cappuccino with chocolate sprinkled on top).

Regrouped, we head to the town’s main square for our vineyard adventure. Some walk or bike the vineyard trail, but the most fun and relaxing way to go is by the miniature green and white tourist train.

The little train looks as though it’s right out of Disneyland, but it’s the ideal way to see endless panoramic views of the vineyards, the lake, and the mountains beyond. We start out on the streets of Vevey and are soon chugging up the hills and winding around the many terraces. We make plenty of stops including to sample the local white wine, St Saphorin (delicious).

When we return to Vevey, we pick up a bottle of the wine and sit on my friends’ gigantic terrace at Hotel des Trois Couronnes, taking in our final view of the Promenade, the lake, and the majestic Alps. It’s hard to believe we’re going back home tomorrow. None of us want to leave this cloud of sweetness.

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