Chaplin, châteaus and cuisine: The magic of Montreux Riviera

A chi-chi along the lakeside promenade is the best way to immerse oneself into the relaxed pace of life upon the Montreux Rivera. A place where waterfront bars, paddleboats and a feeling of never-ending summer embrace travellers to the chic enclave.

Wandering the corridors of Hotel des Trois Couronnes on the shores of Lac Léman, I feel as though I have accidentally stepped into Wes Anderson’s 2014 movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel. This feeling does not stem from a rag-tag group of characters but from the feeling this magnificent property instils in its guests from the moment they ascend the grand entranceway. A red carpet uncoils ceremoniously down the front steps while golden bell carts groan under the weight of Louis Vuitton luggage and Hermès bags. 

I’m enveloped by a sense of old-world grandeur at this waterfront retreat bursting with quaint surprises, including a chain-pulled paternoster lift where an elevator would be expected. These peculiarities add to the charm of Hôtel des Trois Couronnes, a property that has hosted royalty, famous musicians and movie stars such as Tchaikovsky, Charlie Chaplin, Henry Miller and King Ibn of Saudia Arabia, during its century and a half history.

Hôtel des Trois Couronnes is a welcoming place to hole up for a few days of complete seclusion. Here, lavish accommodations give way to wrought iron balconies overlooking cobble streets and (of course) the lake. Whether you want to lounge in the plush king beds or take a dip in the 24-metre-long swimming pool flanked by a jacuzzi, sauna and hammam (as I did), there’s plenty to keep you occupied. However, with this five-star sanctuary proving the perfect base for exploration, a world of adventure awaits on the Montreux Riviera.

Vivacious Vevey

Vevey is easily one of Switzerland’s most charming towns, a picturesque place to while away a day or two amidst majestic hotels, robust restaurants and a flower-bedecked lakeside promenade backed by the terroir of the mountainous Alps. Easy to navigate on foot, the endearing locale affords plenty of excitement for visitors, from museums to the dining destinations – which is where I’ll start,

The unassuming La Coupole is tucked away on a busy corner close to Vevey’s train station. This historic Brasserie has stood proudly in the centre of town since 1912, offering street-side scenes through stained glass windows or al fresco dining in the lovely winter garden. A meal at La Coupole revolves around typical Swiss dishes paired with regional wines. It is here that I try Rösti for the first time. The dish of grated pan-fried potato is not dissimilar to a decadent hash brown, topped with cheese and cured meat. Locally caught Swiss Pike-perch fillets make for a lighter alternative, or for those preferring to embrace the heartiness of Swiss cuisine, the veal cordon bleu with ham and pungent Vacherin cheese comes highly recommended.

La Coupole Vevey
The world of silent cinema

Rolling my way out of the door and onto a northbound bus, a twenty-minute journey up meandering mountain roads brings me to Chaplin’s World. The interactive museum is an ode to silent cinema icon Charlie Chaplin and is housed within the ten-acre estate on which he lived.

I’m immediately immersed in the magic of the movies from the moment I step behind a cinema screen and onto the replica sets from Chaplin’s most famous films. I sit in the barbershop chair from The Great Dictator (1940), marvel at the machinery from Modern Times (1936) and walk the East London streets as seen in The Kid (1921). All the while learning about celluloid film and sound recording as I journey through the eras. 

Inside the Manoir, I view Chaplin’s tasteful furniture and personal belongings in this sprawling manor house where video screens and newspaper clippings bring the story of this screen icon to illustrious life.

© Bubbles Incorporated

Ze Fork

No visit to Vevey is complete without viewing the 24-foot-high stainless steel fork that protrudes out of the waters of the 225-square-mile Lac Léman. Initially constructed in 1995 to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Alimentarian Food Museum, this captivating structure has become the town’s most Instagrammable feature. 

As intriguing as the sculpture may be, the adjacent Ze Fork restaurant is the real attention grabber. Spilling out onto the promenade, the cosy establishment has staked its sterling reputation on an ever-changing menu themed around the sea, fields, and vegetable garden, using premium ingredients such as foie gras and chocolate.

Each course comprises a trio of dishes, so when I order the Les champs (fields), I’m treated to three appetisers comparing beef carpaccio with Botanico vinegar, smoked and grilled beef brisket, and beef and feta stuffed piquillos. It’s a novel approach for a menu that allows ravenous diners to sample many dishes anchored around seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. Similarly, the La Mer main course features mackerel in various forms, including marinated with Sicilian caponata and served alongside alici colatura and chive emulsion. Ze Fork provided the most elevated meal during my Swiss adventures, wrapped up in a cacophonous atmosphere.

© Padoriot

Castles and caviar

The following morning I traverse the Canton of Vaud aboard a breezy paddlewheel boat headed for Château de Chillon. Here the beauty of the Montreux Riviera is evident, with manicured vineyards tumbling down mountainous slopes before stopping abruptly at the water’s edge. That is until you arrive at Chillon, where a floating castle awaits.

Perched on a rocky island, Château de Chillon rises out of the emerald-coloured waters like something from a fantasy novel. However, this is not Game of Thrones of The Rings of Power but a centuries-old structure of intricate courtyards, crypts and watchtowers constructed for protection. High up on the castle walls is the best place to appreciate this 12th-century Medieval fortress in all its glory. Once occupied by the House of Savoy and the Bernese, Château de Chillon is now one of the most visited castles in Europe. I’d suggest partaking in the self-guided audio tour to get to grips with the building’s complicated history.

© Himmlisch7

Having worked up quite the appetite following all the talk of battles, prisoners and occupation, I stop at Terrasse du Petit Palais for lunch. This stunning al fresco restaurant at the Fairmont Le Montreux Palace serves seasonal Mediterranean cuisine in a brasserie-style environment with views across Montreux Riviera. Here, I happily slurp my way through a plate of lobster tagliatelle and a portion of cool and creamy burrata whilst a canopy of trees engulfs the leafy terrace, encasing me in nature. 

My final afternoon in Montreux inspires a stroll along the lakeside promenade, where cute coffee shops and sumptuous shisha lounges vie for tourist dollars. Although I’ve missed the Montreux Jazz festival by a matter of days, musical inspiration is found at the statue of Freddie Mercury in front of the Marché Couvert (covered market). Here, fans of the Queen frontman can be seen striking his signature pose with one arm raised skywards, fist clenched.

© ykaiavu

Mercury once said, “If you want peace of mind, come to Montreux” – we couldn’t agree more.

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David Tapley - Editor-in-Chief
As editor-in-chief of the region’s most fiercely local lifestyle publication, David is a self-proclaimed hip-hop aficionado, championing all things food, travel, street art, and streetwear across the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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