For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Winter Escape

Postcard: view over Montreux and Lac Léman towards the seven summits of the Dents du Midi.  Out of sight to the west (the right) an intimidating chain of mountains — the northern limit of the French Alps — plunges precipitously down to the lake in a jumble of snowfields, cirques, bare grey slopes and glaciated valleys.

In a bid to escape the madness of Christmas and the mayhem of New Year, Sunday 1st January found me on a Eurostar train to Paris then a TGV-Lyria train to Geneva. I'd half intended to walk a few sections of the Swiss Chemin de Saint-Jacques/Jakobsweg, but in the end I did shorter, circular walks, and visited some of the historic towns and villages of Switzerland's south-west corner: Lausanne, Montreux, Sonzier, Glion, Fribourg, Sierre and Veyras.

Lake Geneva, or Lac Léman, formed the centrepiece of my stay. I was at once seduced by its ever-changing moods and colours. I saw it in rain and sunshine, mist and snow. From the hills above Montreux the Alpine panorama on the far side of the lake was magnificent, particularly the jagged peaks of the Dents du Midi, which loomed menacingly over the flat, broad valley of the river Rhône's upper reaches. This mountain chain, in the Swiss canton of Valais, has seven summits, or 'teeth'; and in October 2006, after several years of boiling hot summers and subsequent thawing, a huge mass of rock detached itself from La Haute Cime, the most easterly peak, causing a massive landslide.

One outstanding walk took me from the heights of Sonzier up the Route du Pont de Pierre, past skeleton trees and crashing waterfalls, over an old stone bridge which spans the Gorges du Chaudron, through Glion (the view of the Dents du Midi from the Buffet de la Gare's restaurant window is quite breathtaking) and back down to Montreux with its charming old quarter.

On fine days I watched a low sun progress over the French Alps, bathing the snowy peaks in a rosy light. On milder, mistier, rainier days the mountains, which dropped sheer onto the lake's southern shore, all but disappeared. Sometimes the orange glow of a streaky sunset lit up the western horizon. And by night a waxing moon trailed the sun across the sky, but following a higher orbit — silvering the lake, which, along its northern edge, already twinkled and shone with headlamp beams from the snaking autoroute and the lights of all the shoreside settlements between Montreux and Lausanne.

Occasionally a Föhn wind warmed the valleys, producing briefly an exceptionally soft microclimate. Buzzards yelped, and herons beat a slow, direct and airy course above the streams and rivers. Little railways twisted impossibly up steep, wooded slopes and around rock faces, connecting remote hamlets and farmsteads. Even when hidden in a gorge or cutting, you could still hear the screech of their metallic glide. And among new buildings and modern chalets were scattered older, eighteenth-century houses, painted green and gold, with slate roofs and wooden balconies, and tumbledown wooden barns, little changed for centuries.    

Postcard: view looking east from Lac Léman across Montreux. You can clearly make out the shadowed ravine of the Gorges du Chaudron.

18 comments:

Suman said...

A perfect escape! Your lucid description makes the whole place dance alive in my imagination, as if I were there.
The second picture is absolutely stupefying.

Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

Robert, you convey the excitement of walking there so well. I have also enjoyed some day walking in Switzerland, but in Ticino. A grt-grt-grandfather came from a mountain village near Locarno (Corippo) and I have very much enjoyed walking on various tracks in that area.

Ruth said...

Oh my, I felt as if I were reading Leigh Fermor again, just magnificent descriptive writing of a fabulous place. I am so happy for you (and for me).

Goat said...

I knew you were up to something again. That's quite a way to escape the Mad Season. Very envious, and looking forward to more tales from your ramblings.

Dominic Rivron said...

Happy new year! Certainly a change from the plains of Eastern England.

So far this year I've got no further than absorbing myself in well-thumbed OS maps.

Not been blogging in earnest over Christmas, so missed you quotes post.

Had I caught it I would have contributed "Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life." Karl Marx.

George said...

Pure magic, Robert! What a wonderful break from the madness of the holidays. I so admire the way you find opportunities around every corner to add strands of adventure to the fabric or your life.

I've hiked quite a bit in Switzerland—mainly in the areas of Grindelwald and Zermatt—and I enjoyed every step of every journey. It's such a beautiful, invigorating place!

Welcome home. You were missed.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Sounds like a lovely break Robert - hope you have come back refreshed.

Susan Scheid said...

How fine that you thought to do this, and how wonderful that you could! Thanks for giving us such a lovely a glimpse.

Herringbone said...

..."in a bid to escape the madness.." awesome. Great description of the landscape. Could sense the observation. The landslide of 2006 is interesting. Geologic events always seem so prehistoric! Nice report!

ksam said...

Sigh! Green glow...me! Thanks for sharing and I agree.. great idea to simply run during this time of year!!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments. Switzerland is truly a little piece of Paradise on earth.

Ruth said...

By the way, I am happy to tell you that when I was in college I hiked from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen, Switzerland, a tiny little hike (with a herd of pigs) that only took an afternoon. I would love to do it again, but for many days.

am said...

Thank you for this walking meditation (-:

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Amanda for your visit, and Ruth for the extra comment about your Swiss hike. (With pigs? Hmm..!) As for Leigh-Fermor, I fear you flatter me too much, Ruth. If only I could write one-tenth as well...

Rachel Fox said...

It does look gorgeous... and I have an old contact who lives in that area... maybe I should visit!
x

The Solitary Walker said...

It is absolutely gorgeous, Rachel, and you should visit at once!

Arija said...

Thank you for this walk around these familiar places. The snow-covered Dents du Midi are a picture to behold.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for visiting, Arija.