Located on the shores of Lake Geneva and reaching up the sides of the surrounding mountains, Montreux is best known for the yearly Jazz Festival that brings people, and artists, from all over the world. Its beautiful location has earned the name Riviera of Switzerland, as implied in its regional name, Riviera-Pays-d’Enhaut. In mid-December the waterfront was lined with Christmas Market stalls, but it is easy to imagine summertime crowds enjoying jazz filling the air from multiple venues, especially the Miles Davis concert hall.
Montreux is a city existing on many levels, physical and cultural. The main street is lined with major hotels, upscale shopping, and lots of restaurants. Steep steps, or an escalator located between a couple of the shops filled with souvenirs for tourists, go up to another level of the city. Here the feel is more residential than tourist. Small grocery stores stock everyday items and cater to a multi-ethnic population. Restaurants are more low-key and informal. A third level, reached by steep, narrow streets, is even further removed from the affluent waterfront, but with stunning, panoramic views of the lake.
Montreux is a great location from which to explore other jewels around Lake Geneva. The most famous, and most visited, site is the medieval Crillon Castle, dating from the 11th century. With access to several important mountain passes and the Alpine Valley, the original Counts of Savoy recognized control of the area meant control of trade routes between France, Germany and Italy. Most important was controlling the flow of salt, the “white gold” of the Middle Ages. For almost 400 years the Counts of Savoy flourished and grew, extending their control over large areas of now present-day Italy and France. It was not until the 16th century, with the rise of the Bernese rule and the siege of 1536, that the castle changed from Catholic Savoy rule to Protestant Bernese. The Castle gradually fell into disrepair until a series of repairs began in the 1800’s. Since then it has grown to be a major tourist site and the most visited castle in Switzerland.
There is beautiful restoration of the reception areas, dining areas, and bedroom. The vaulted ceilings are impressive, with remnants of paintings on the medieval walls. Perhaps the best-known room is the prison. Thanks to Lord Bryon and his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”, the story of Francois Bonivard’s captivity is forever famous. Bonivard (1493-1570) was imprisoned by the Catholic Duke Charles III from 1530-1536 for his Protestant zeal, chained to one of the pillars in the Castle’s dungeons. The pillar is part of a castle tour, as is Lord Byron’s inscription on the wall. Bryon might have been the only author to leave graffiti on the walls, but he was far from the only writer to visit. The unique location, history, and fantastic views of the Alps has inspired multiple artists, including von Goethe, Percy Shelly, William Wordsworth, Victor Hugo, Alexander Dumas, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Henry James, and Ernest Hemingway.