The moment you board Swiss Air’s 7 p.m. flight to Geneva, you can sense the magic that makes Switzerland one of the most popular international resorts — the smell of mountain air, the soothing waters of Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). Flight time to Geneva’s Cointrin Airport is about seven hours. On arriving, board the shuttle bus for the train station. Your destination is Montreux, The home of the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Montreux puts the “in” in international festivals. In terms of appeal, Newport can’t touch it. Almost every major Jazz musician, critic and aficionado who can afford it will descend on the picturesque village during the three weeks of scheduled events. There also will be a myriad of college and high school Jazz bands, inner city Jazz groups and free-lance “giggers” from Europe, North America, Japan, Africa and any other city, country where Jazz is in the mainstream.
The festival begins right after the closing of the Newport Jazz Festival in New York on July 7 and continues until the 23rd. This year marks the 12th anniversary of this monumental tribute to the Jazz world, sponsored by Claude Nobs.
The ride to Montreux takes a bit over an hour. European train travel is very different from riding Amtrak. You will glimpse old world majesty as you pass through the medieval castled villages right out of story books. Lake Geneva — 225 square miles — will be your constant companion.
Pulling into Lusanne, the second largest city on Lake Geneva, you will notice the five towers of the cathedral at St. Maire, the seat of the cantonal government (Switzerland is divided into small territorial districts called cantons, similar to our states.) On the last leg of your journey to Montreux, you will see rich vineyard slopes and pass the town of Vevey, the home of the late Charlie Chaplin. Montreux is just around the bend.
Montreux, nestled under a steep mountain range overlooking the clear waters of Lac Leman, is a place where you can enjoy the serenity of Swiss country living. The air is clean, since there is no industry and the Federal Office of Hygiene recommends Montreux as a health resort. The villagers greet you with an enthusiasm unmatched in all of Europe, for Switzerland is the home for people from all over the world attracted by the political neutrality of the country. French and German are the official languages.
It is not where you stay in Montreux but what you do that counts. But unless you make reservations beforehand, you’ll probably have difficult difficulty getting hotel accommodations because Montreux overflows with tourists at this time of the year. The Eden au Lac and the Eurotel are both excellent facilities. They offer restaurants, swimming pools and are located in the heart of Montreux. The Hotel Europe and the Helvetie are moderately priced. And most hotel room prices include a petite dejeuner — breakfast of coffee and pastries.
If you’re not absorbed in a Jazz symposium or technique session during the day, you can visit one of the most interesting historical attractions in Montreux, the Castle of Chillion. The castle, with its conical reddish brown roofs, lies offshore on a rock island near the eastern entrance to the village. It was built by Peter II of Savoy during the 13th Century. Poet Lord Byron wrote a poignant poem entitled “Prisoner of Chillion,” which recounts the fate of Francois Bonivard, a Swiss patriot and church official, imprisoned for his fervent support of the Reformation faith.
Your visit to Chillion will keep you knee-deep in déjà vu hours after you’ve left the castle grounds. Walking back to the village, you can discover the tranquility of Montrose and the easiness of its citizenry. There are many old world craft shops with some of the finest artifacts in the world. The Swiss are famous for their time pieces, so this would be a prime time to purchase yourself a handcrafted watch or o’clock. The prices are low here compared to the states.
Finding a place for a tasty dejeuner a La forchette (luncheon) is quite easy. Montrose is full of caring places. The Pavilion de Montreux is an exquisite restaurant on the Quay de Vernes. It provides a breathtaking view of the lake and many native wines and choosers. Try a cheese omelette made with the native Gruyere cheese or you can visit the famous factory just outside of Montrose in the town of Gruyeres, where are the cheese is made daily. It’s a must! Au Parc, adjacent to Place de Marche, is another local café with some tasty cuisine. For that special evening feast, go to the Casino de Montreux, a chic spot for dinner, dancing and an evening of live entertainment. It also is the place where many of the Jazz concerts are held.
Montreux is a superb base for one-and two-day excursions to other parts of Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy and France. If you anticipate traveling to other countries, it’s best to get a Eurail pass before you leave the US. This pass permits you to travel inexpensively by train and ferry to other European countries. The pass is priced according to the length of time you plan to travel throughout Europe and ranges from $180 for 15 days to $450 for 3 months.
Don’t go too far because the Jazz Festival is your reason for visiting Montreux. There are endless days and nights of music by such greats as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Stanley Clarke, Michael Carvin, Billy Cobham, Jerome Richardson, Kenny Burrell, Woody Shaw and other Jazz giants. You’ll meet many of these performers at symposium’s and record exchanges. Maybe you’ll run into your favorite artist on the dance floor at the Montreux palace.
If you truly love the spiritual zest jazz creates, then the Montreux jazz festival is the place to go to enjoy Americas original art form.