Thursday, October 20, 2011

Sailing and Château in Montreux

Our new friends, Richard and Michèle, whom we met at the Monte Rosa hut, invited us to visit their home in Montreaux.  This post is the first day of our wonderful weekend with them!

When we got off the train in Montreaux, Richard met us right on the platform!  We walked the short distance to look at the lake and see if there was enough wind for sailing.  Though most Americans call it Lake Geneva, it is called Lac Léman in French and Genfersee in German!  The first recorded name of the lake is Lacus Lemanus from Roman times.  But, whatever you want to call it, Lac Léman is a beautiful lake and the largest lake in Switzerland.

Here are some statistics on the lake from my favorite first resource, wikipedia - Max. length – 73 km (45 miles), Max. width – 14 km (8.7 miles), Surface area – 580 km2 (224 mi2), and Max. Depth – 310 m (1,020 ft).

Richard and Michèle have a stunning home - but I will save that for a later blog!  So, after a cup of coffee and packing some warm clothes for the lake, we were out the door.

Darrell and I tried to stay out of the way while Michèle and Richard readied their beautiful sailboat - a J/100 for those sailors among you.  The winds were fairly light but we made great progress across the western end of the Lake.

Michèle at the tiller.
Richard with the sheets.
If we had continued to sail south, we would have ended up in France for dinner!  Instead we headed back to the harbor.  On the way we saw a beautifully refurbished steamboat that has been sailing on the lake since 1910, and then we got to roll on the waves it created as it went by!

101 years old, and still gorgeous!
With Michèle’s light hand on the tiller, we arrived smoothly into the harbor.  Their sailboat is moored off the main docks so they use a small dinghy to get to and from the boat.  Here is Michèle directing Darrell on where to row.

A good system: Michèle directs, Darrell rows! 
When we got back to the house, Michèle cooked us a special Swiss dinner, while we watched the sunset over the lake.

Michèle in her gorgeous open kitchen

Sunset over Lac Léman

Michèle and Richard on the patio, with the last glow of the day’s sun.
After dinner we drove down to the lake and then walked along the shore towards Château Chillon.  There are flowers that bloom all year long and line the path.  Weeping willows overhang and the expansive view across the lake is très romantique!

The castle was having a special night called “La Nuit de L’epouvante” or Night of the Scarecrows.  We didn’t see any scarecrows but it did look like Halloween with children and adults dressed in costumes, especially ghoulish ones!  There were plenty of witches around, which enhanced the remarkable exposition on medieval torture.

Le Château Chillon
Château Chillon is one of the best preserved medieval castles in Europe.  It is built on a small island, and if you drained the Lake, you would see it is perched on a sheer cliff that plunges 300 m - like diving off the Eiffel Tower.  During medieval times, the path by the lake served as a major thoroughfare between southern and northern Europe.  Due to the steepness of the surrounding area, the route was controlled by this nub of land.  It’s history as a stronghold dates back to at least 1150.

The special exposition was on the witch-hunt in this area during the 15th to 17th centuries.  We learned a little too much about different methods of torture to be comfortable.  The dungeon also held a political prisoner/scholar, François Bonivard, from 1530-36 whose story gave rise to a poem by Lord Byron entitled “Prisoner of Chillon” after he and Percy Bysshe Shelley visited the château in 1816.

Château dungeon where prisoners were kept.
In fact, there are so many writers, musicians (home of the original Montreaux Jazz Festival of course!), and artists that have lived or been influenced here, that the city had benches made along the lakeshore with buttons to push to get audio of their works.  Unfortunately, many of the recorders in the benches don’t work anymore…

As we left the château we had changing views of witches, ghosts, and bats from the light display.  It was such an amazing experience to see the château at night on such a special evening!  Merci Richard et Michèle!

Bats on the Château

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