Chapter Three: Montreux & Gruyéres, Switzerland
Day Five – Masson Maison, Missed It By That Much, Chillin’ At Chillon, Red Light-Green Light, All Quiet On The Love Making Front
Good-bye France – Hello Switzerland. via Michelin doesn’t let us down this time, and it is an easy and pretty three-hour drive through the luscious countryside to Montreux and the Hotel Masson. Our host was a charming, graceful and helpful woman who gave us the bad news that it was supposed to rain the next day. Oh well, it was sunny at the moment, so we unloaded our stuff in our room (with a great Lac Leman view) and drove over to Vevey just a few miles away. Of course, we missed lunch by 5 minutes.
I was a little disappointed in Vevey after what I had read. But to be fair, it was a Monday and most of the stores were closed. In hindsight, with Tracy’s love of antiques (including her husband), had the shops been open, we might not have been able to afford the remainder of the trip. But we wandered around for a bit through the town. I think these were the last boat rides for the autumn.
Oh well, to hell with food. We’d gained enough weight in the past few days. We drove the five miles back to the Chatéau de Chillon, a fantastic medieval castle on Lac Leman. This was my second visit here.
There is an English fact sheet, which allows one the freedom to go on a numbered tour at a pace of one’s own choosing.
There are very good views of Montreux from different areas of the castle, but the castle itself is just a neat place to hang out for a couple of hours. At Chillon, it is fun to pretend you’re back in the 15th or 16th century; at least if you pretend you’re not one of the prisoners like Bonivard, who was tortured at Chillon for about five years.
When Lord Byron visited Chillon, he was so moved that he wrote The Prisoner of Chillon, which is based upon the experiences of Bonivard. Byron even took time to scratch his name on one of the columns (known today as graffiti), and you can still see it today.
Chillon is a must-see if you’re into castles and history. It is also a good place to take kids, because they can use their imagination to the fullest, although it doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what Tracy is simulating in the photo below (OK, I set her up, but she went along).
We spent a good 60 – 90 minutes walking around Chillon.
Departing the castle, the weather was still accommodating, so we thought about taking the cogwheel train to Rochers-de-Naye, a place with stupendous views 6,700 feet above Lac Leman.
Arriving at the train station in Caux, it was pretty hazy, so we thought the view at 3,600 feet sufficed. Anyway, it was 4 o’clock and we had yet to sip a glass of wine.
We hung out at the outdoor cafe in Caux for about an hour.
Then it was time to get back to town. The traffic signals in Montreux are a bit perplexing. If you are not in to multi-tasking, do not drive in Montreux. First of all the signals are small, and it was very difficult to tell whether the light in your direction was green or red, and there always seemed to be about three lights at every intersection blinking in a direction that had me guessing. We’re still alive, so I must have done a pretty good job, but I did see some genuine looks of terror from Montreux pedestrians.
We enjoyed a little wine on our lake-view veranda and decided on eating at the hotel. It was a good choice. The four-course meal was 33€ and included melon and jambon, cream of tomato soup (delicious), sliced chicken in mushroom cream sauce with rosti potatoes and apricots soaked in liquor (now how could that be bad?).
The twin feather beds had been pushed together for ultimate romance, but the hotel was extremely quiet for an all out love making session, so we opted for the Marcel Marceau version. Neither of us said, “Be mime tonight.” The rain started coming down which made for a relaxing sleep.
The next morning, after breakfast at our hotel (we had breakfast every morning figuring that I’d find some way to miss out on lunch), we headed off for the town of Gruyéres, a town we had heard good buzz about. We turned off at a place we thought was Gruyéres, because it said it was and there was a big cow on the roof (a fake cow, by the way). “Well this is nothing like what I had read about,” I said to Tracy.
“That’s because I believe we are just at a rest stop,” she replied. “Gruyéres is still a couple of exits away.” So I was just a little off. We hopped back in the blue bomber and headed to our appointed destination.
Gruyéres was cute, but not as cute as I had imagined (sort of like that blind date that had a good personality). It was, however, much nicer than the rest stop.
We were able to meet and greet some cows (of the real variety) up close and personal, toured Le Château de Gruyères, its’ lovely gardens and then the heavens opened up. Fortunately it was noon, which meant we could actually order lunch. And boy, am I glad we did. On the small, cobblestone main street was a restaurant called Auberge de la Halle. The menu included macaroni and cheese made with gruyére cheese. Up until that minute, I had never tasted a better macaroni and cheese than the one I make (handed down from my mom).
I realize that macaroni and cheese is hardly a delicacy, but this dish at the Auberge de la Halle was magnificent. So much so that, I have stolen the idea and have made it my own.
Cheese and noodles were mixed in with onions and chives and served in a hollowed-out, wooden bowl. On a rainy and chilly day, I couldn’t imagine a better lunch. It made the trip to Gruyéres well worth the excursion.
We drove back to Villeneuve, which is a pleasant little town next to Montreux. We window-shopped and found a great wine store where we, of course, bought a bottle of wine for the veranda. More importantly, there on Villeneuve’s newsstand was the Herald Tribune and USA Today. We had not read any news for nearly a week, and I was having news‘ withdrawal.
In between rain showers Tracy and I devoured every word from our papers (turned out we hadn’t missed anything), sipped wine and, damned if wasn’t time to eat again. It’s hard to believe I only gained a couple of pounds on this trip. Thank goodness for hiking.
Fondue was our meal of choice, and we hailed a cab (well, actually the hotel called) to take us to Caveau de Vignerons (recommended by friends and the hotel as the best place in Montreux to eat fondue). The woman who greeted us led Tracy and me into the restaurant (very cute…the restaurant, not the woman, although she wasn’t bad). The image is from the internet.
Soon we realized we had stepped into Greta Garbo’s favorite restaurant. “I vant to be alone”, and boy were we alone. Except for a couple of guys at the bar in front, that’s the way it remained for the nearly two hours we occupied our table. The fondue was nothing special, and the bill was too high. It might have been that bottle of champagne I ordered, come to think of it. Dessert, on the other hand, was a treat. Chocolate fondue with assorted dipping fruits makes any dining experience much better.
We enjoyed Montreux enough, but not enough to ever return, however.
Next: Chapter Four – Grindelwald, Switzerland