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.|