France and the French-speaking Switzerland

Château de Chillon near Montreux, Switzerland
From the 24th of December to the 1st of 2010 I had a wonderful Christmas vacation with two of my French friends travelling from Paris to the French-speaking part of Switzerland, where we visited Geneva, Neuchâtel, Lausanne, and Montreux, from which we headed back to France and visited Évian-les-Bains, Annecy, Lyon, and Beaune on the way back to Paris. The route included a total of ten stops including the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte located 55km southeast of Paris. Since destinations were small cities, towns, and a castle, which were quite close to each other, time was adequate and we were in no rush throughout this 9-day journey. Even though daytime was shorter in winter, we had the azure sky enough for fun, and most important of all, pleasant moments passed as we spent the festive period together surrounded by Christmas trees and Christmas lights with all those beautiful places as backgrounds. I was so thankful for the kindness and company of my French hosts without whom neither would I be able to see places on this nice route by car, nor would I travel at ease in French-speaking places.


Jet d’eau, Geneva, Switzerland
I landed in Paris on the 24th. As I had already seen quite much of the city in a previous trip, I didn’t plan to do lots of sightseeing there this time. I had a delicious homemade meal and a warm and peaceful Christmas Eve instead. The next morning we needed to depart early as it took almost 5 hours on the road before reaching Geneva. On arrival in the afternoon we lunched the first thing. All diners were enjoying fondue, a Swiss national dish of melted cheese served in a communal pot over a portable stove and eaten by dipping long-stemmed forks with bread into the cheese. I was the only one who opted for a dish of pasta. I could hardly stand the extremely heavy smell of cheese in the restaurant, but I did believe fondue was a perfect dish for cheese lovers. We then spent the rest of the day touring around the center of Geneva where there were Cathedral St-Pierre, Russian Orthodox Church, and other monuments. Jet d’Eau, one of the largest fountains in the world, was visible from the waterfront of Lake Geneva.  The sky turned dark quite early and we started to see pretty Christmas lights around the city.

Neuchâtel and Lausanne

Neuchâtel, Switzerland
On the 26th morning we departed for Neuchâtel, 1.5-hour drive northeast from Geneva. Although it’s a city as well as the capital of the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel on Lake Neuchâtel, it’s like a lovely little town. There was an area that I would call it an old town full of antique buildings. Maison des Halles, Fountain du Banneret, Hôtel du Peyrou and the alike were beautiful especially on a sunny day. We went up to the highest point that overlooked the city crowded with pretty houses alongside Lake Neuchâtel. In the afternoon we arrived in Lausanne, a city situated on the shores of Lake Geneva and 54-minute drive south from Neuchâtel. Lausanne is the fourth largest city of Switzerland and the smallest city in the world to have a rapid transit system of 28 stations. Besides, the city is located at the limit between the extensive wine-growing regions of Lavaux and la Côte. We simply went sightseeing by walking around. There were much less attractions than that in Geneva. Also, it’s getting cloudy and dark. We enjoyed a bit of window-shopping amid Christmas lights and festive decorations by the end of this Boxing Day.


Château de Chillon near Montreux, Switzerland
On the 27th morning we headed to Montreux, a municipality located on Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps and only 27-minute drive southeast from Lausanne. I would say it’ a quiet, peaceful town. From alongside the waterfront there was a breathtaking Southwest view over Lake Geneva. Weather was very nice this day, so we took quite a lot of pictures while walking around. Instead of taking a full brunch, we decided to take some Swiss sweets in a local café restaurant. I had a chocolate one which was sublime! Then I realized it’s an age-old café founded in Montreux in 1879 – Zurcher Montreux. As our taste buds got satisfied, we set off for Château de Chillon, an island castle located at the eastern end of Lake Geneva and 3km from Montreux. It took only 5 minutes to go there by car. The castle is listed as “Switzerland’s most visited historic monument”. If you plan to visit Montreux or anywhere in Southwest Switzerland, you definitely don’t want to miss this beautiful castle inside which there are four great halls, three courtyards, and a series of bedrooms open to public. Entry fee per adult is CHF12.

Évian-les-Bains and Annecy

Palais de l'Isle, Annecy, France
The first stop back in France was Évian-les-Bains or Évian, a renowned holiday resort and spa town on the shores of Lake Geneva in south-eastern France and only 45-minute drive west from Montreux. We settled in a local restaurant for a late lunch. There we had Évian mineral water, which makes up a part of the foundation of the economy. Obviously there were not many attractions, and so we left this town after the meal. It took almost 1.5 hour on the road to reach Annecy, a commune also in south-eastern France situated on the northern tip of Lake Annecy. The most remarkable site might be Palais de l’Isle, a castle built in 1132 in the center of the Thiou Canal. It was once the primary residence of the Lord of Annecy, and later the Count of Geneva’s administrative headquarters, then a courthouse, a mint, and finally a jail. This historical monument houses a local history museum nowadays. The site looked extraordinarily great at twilight. I would have taken some perfect pictures if I had a professional camera. Just before dark we got back in the car and departed for Lyon. What a long day!

Lyon and Beaune 

Inner City of Lyon, France
It took 1.5 hour to drive from Annecy to Lyon. It’s late when we arrived. We dined and then called it a day. On the 28th morning we went sightseeing in Lyon, a city as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in east-central France between Paris and Marseille well-known for its historical and architectural landmarks. I could see that it’s a nice city full of eye-catching constructions. Unfortunately, it’s a cloudy and rainy day or we would certainly have spent a nice day there. We did go up to the highest point that overlooked the city, but due to undesirable weather conditions the pictures I took were nothing compared to the panorama of the inner city of Lyon on a sunny day I could see on other websites. Instead of following the original plan of seeing Lyon for a whole day, we continued to head north towards Beaune, which wasn’t really on our itinerary. It took another 1.5 hour on the road before we lunched in a nice bar restaurant in Beaune. Since it’s still raining in the afternoon, we only toured around the comprehensive shopping area clustered around the central square with a focus on gourmet food, fashion, and wine.

Paris and Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte 

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, France
It should have taken less than 2 hours to head northwest from Beaune to Paris. Traffic jam was unavoidable, however, approaching the New Year. We arrived in Paris late on the 28th. The next day my hosts weren’t free, and so I toured around Paris alone to see places I hadn’t seen yet and then spent the rest of my day shopping in La Defense. The end of the day we had delicious homemade soup and pizza together. They were not only my kind hosts, but also brilliant chefs. In the evening of the 30th, with company of these two locals, I revisited some main attractions which I could feel safe visiting alone only in daytime during my previous trip to Paris in August 2009. I realized Paris was very beautiful both in daytime and at night. On the last day we visited Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, a baroque French castle located 50-minute drive southeast from Paris. It’s a pity renovations were in progress in some parts of the property, but Christmas trees and decorations at the entrance front as well as in rooms inside the castle looked very nice. In the evening of the 31st, we spent the New Year Eve happily together and of course there was a tasty full meal.