Switzerland by Train: Magical Montreux

It was a bit jarring at first when we arrived in Montreux, a beautiful but bustling waterside city. We’d just spent several days in tiny mountain towns and on trains that snaked through rural land. For a moment I felt completely overwhelmed. But it took surprisingly little time to get used to Monteux. Also, the local language instantaneously switched from German to French, which was much easier for me to decode. Our first activity was a visit to Chillon Castle via public bus, which was (unsurprisingly for Switzerland) perfectly on time and easy to navigate. Chillon Castle dates back to the 11th century and was built on a strategically protective chunk of rocky land, serving many purposes including a prison, a weapons storage facility, a summer residence, and a winery. Wine making is said to have taken place on site since the 13th Century, and they still use the original wine cellar to make wine that is sold in the gift shop today (obviously this was the most interesting area of history for us and led to a generous purchase). We strolled through vast rooms with creaking floors, touching original wood columns in the constable’s dining room that dated back to the 11th Century. Some rooms smelled faintly of char, and others had visible remnants of wall paintings from the castle’s earliest days.

Just in front of the castle is a local swimming area. Lacking swimsuits, we went in only to our ankles, painfully jealous of the gaggle of kids that kept flinging themselves off the nearby rock path and into the crisp lake. For a moment I contemplated how deeply Katie would have judged me if I belly flopped in my all my clothes. It was getting unseasonably hot out, especially for Switzerland (thank you global warming).

The next day, with no agenda, we wandered up and down the promenade that hugged the water’s edge, stopping to snap a photo of the famous Freddie Mercury statue (he lived in Montreux for some time). The whole city had begun to resemble a waterside Paris, but with sweeping mountains as a backdrop behind ornate and delicate buildings. It’s bustling but also relaxed and local at the same time. That night we had dinner at Bis, inhaling small plates that included a light and fluffy “cheese cake” (goat cheese) drizzled in fresh honey, ceviche covered in coconut milk, and risotto swirled with golden beet puree.

That night, the heat overtook us and we joined some locals who were swimming alongside the promenade. Families lounged on the rocky shoreline just steps away from the bustle of the city, creating a relaxed vibe that felt like a nightly gathering of neighbors. The sunset consumed the land around it while kids splashed in the calm water, like a sky on fire. A few bars sit along the waterside, but these close early like much of the city (so people can rest like human beings, I suppose). We managed to snag a few strong mojitos at L’ilot Bar before it shut for the night around 9pm (!!), chatting with our waitress who funny enough was originally from the U.K..

Our hotel (Eurotel) may have been tall, gawky, and touristy, but in our high up room I felt surrounded by ethereal beauty. I’m not the same person as I was two years ago when I dreamt of staying in these exact rooms, but that’s okay. A longer journey got me here. I played Queen out loud on my phone tonight, in homage.

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