The Chateau de Chillon: Alpine Magic Part 3
Part 3 of my Alpine Magic travel adventure took me to the beautiful Swiss Riviera of the town of Montreux and Switzerland’s most famous castle, the Chateau de Chillon, which was built on the edge of Lac Leman, better known as Lake Geneva. If you haven’t read the first two parts of Alpine Magic, which focused on Zermatt and the Matterhorn and Chamonix-Mont Blanc in France, you can find them to the left.
Day 6: Wednesday, May 27th, 2009 – On to the Chateau de Chillon
We awoke to an overcast morning in Chamonix, France. I didn’t bother to shoot a sunrise, as the sky was covered with low-hanging clouds blocking the sun and mountains. We made our way down to the delicious breakfast at Hotel L’Arve that was again full of amazing bread, cheese, jams and fruit. With the weather being cloudy and a full day ahead of ourselves, we packed up to head off to the train station. The “Mont Blanc Express” train ride from Chamonix to Martigny had some spectacular scenery and views when we first arrived. I regretted not shooting photos two days before, as the foggy weather kept the views completely cloudy on the way back into Switzerland. While the views were gone, the sort of dreamy feel of taking this train ride up into the clouds and mountains across the border back into Switzerland was still beautiful nonetheless.
We enjoyed the train ride back to Martigny, then changed trains to head for Montreux. The train ride from Martigny to Montreux was also beautiful, full of views of the Alps and various vineyards, but town of Montreux itself was gorgeous! We knew we had a mile or two walk from the Montreux train station to our intended destination of Chateau de Chillon, but I had found information that some train stations had lockers you could rent to stuff your luggage in. We really did not want to lug our entire luggage with us to the castle, so we inquired about the lockers and lucked out that the Montreux station had lots of storage lockers available. After stuffing our luggage in our locker, we immediately set out to explore Montreux.
While Montreux’s history spans back to being a settlement on an important Roman road, it’s more recent history has been as a major tourist destination. Montreux was already becoming an international tourist destination back in the early 1800s, and is famous for the annual jazz festival. Montreux has attracted poets ever since Lord Byron first visited and wrote Prisoner of Chillon Castle in 1816. Lord Byron, Leo Tolstoy, Mary Shelley and Igor Stravinsky were all visitors of Montreux and it’s beauty. One famous aspect of Montreux is the statue of Freddie Mercury, vocalist for the band Queen, who called Montreux his home until his death in 1991. While Montreux is famous for this history of music, jazz and the many poets that visited, it’s probably even more famous as possibly the best section of the Swiss Riviera. The promenade along the shore of Lake Geneva is possible the most beautiful lakeside walk I’ve ever taken. Both palm trees and mountain pine trees can be found, along with colorful flowers. Hotels and restaurants line the promenade and continue up the hillside into the foothills of the Alps above. Color, especially the green of the trees and the green-blue colors of Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman in French – as we were in the French speaking part of Switzerland here) was as vivid as possible.
Everywhere we looked, people were just out enjoying themselves, walking or riding a bike along the promenade, sitting on various benches enjoying food from a local spot or just watching the ducks on Lake Geneva below. Watching people enjoy lunch on the benches made us hungry. We knew we needed to move fast, as we had a mile or two walk to our main destination, the Chateau de Chillon, so instead of hitting up a restaurant, we stopped at the local grocery store, Migros, and picked up some sandwiches. We walked while we ate, enjoying the amazing scenery, like the view below, looking towards the Chateau de Chillon in the distance.
Walking along the Swiss Riviera towards the Chateau de Chillon castle, I really regretted not planning a night in Montruex. Just thinking of the photo opportunities I would have had of a sunrise, sunset or night scene over Lake Geneva and the Chateau de Chillon left me disappointed I hadn’t looked into it. If I ever get to return to Switzerland, it’s a must-do on my next trip. I also remember thinking it would have made one of the best locations to spend a honeymoon or anniversary someday. Montreux just exudes romance. Maybe it’s the history of famous poets who have called the area a second home. Being married now, it’s one of the top places I would love for my wife to see. Being able to go on an evening walk along the promenade would be amazing!
The Chateau de Chillon
Approaching the castle from the north, you get a great view of the Alps to the south. They make a stunning backdrop to the castle and are the subject of many photographs from people who visit. In fact, any angle of the castle is beautiful (one of mine is featured towards the bottom of this page). I had done some research and found that entrance to the castle is free with a Swiss Pass, which was great for us and another reason to recommend using the rail passes as a way to travel in Switzerland. What I hadn’t realized is that some of the boat rides from various towns on the lake are also free with the Swiss Pass. While we were a little disappointed we didn’t take advantage of that, it’s hard to be sad that we walked the beautiful prominade instead. Unfortunately the boat times back to Montreux were a little too late for us to take back when we left the castle.
The Chateau de Chillon has a history dating back more than 1000 years. While there is no definitive date for when the earliest parts of the castle were built, it began as a Roman outpost as early as 1005AD to control the road from Burgundy to the Great Saint Bernard Pass. By the mid 12th century, the Count’s of Savoy used it as a summer home and in the mid-1250’s, Chillon castle was expanded by Peter II, a Count of Savoy. As the castle was built on a rocky island, the lake actually forms a natural moat, with a modern bridge to it’s entrance. We entered into the castle, exploring the various courtyards, the largest of which is the “The Courtyard of Honor”. We entered into the castle, and decided to save the dungeons for last, as they were supposed to be pretty awesome. We climbed up to the top, where various sentry walks line the castle. These have some nice views out onto Lake Geneva. But on the shore-side, the walls were built far more defensively, to protect from attacks.
Walking through more of the castles rooms, we came to the Grand Ducal Hall, also known as the Aula Magna, with it’s checkered walls. Black marble columns support the 15th century wooden ceiling. The Aula Nova, which was once the banquet hall now contains a museum, including various weapons and armor like the ones on display below.
We continued through the castle to the Grand Burgrave Hall, with it’s support arches that hold up a large wooden ceiling. Various furniture and paintings adorned the room. There was also a chapel dedicated to St George on the northeast side of the castle with a rib-vaulted ceiling and various frescoes along the wall.
Next, we made our way down towards the underground chambers that were once used as a prison. These are possibly the most famous parts of the castle, as Lord Byron’s poem The Prisoner of Chillon was written about the Chateau de Chillon’s most famous prisoner, Francois de Bonivard. Bonivard was a Genevois monk who was imprisoned from 1532 to 1536 here. The giant vaulted ceiling encompasses a lot of the grandier of the castle, as seen below:
I can see why the Chateau de Chillon is Switzerland’s most famous castle. It’s beautiful, inside and out. I really wanted at least one decent shot of the castle from the outside as well and so before getting on the bus to the Montreux train station, I tried one more shot of the castle, which you can see below. It was a real struggle to get a good photograph, due to harsh lighting and lack of any filters to smooth out the water. (I had unfortunately forgotten them in the travel bag back in the locker) But this shot turned out alright, and has an almost storybook feel to it which lends to the castle’s fairy-tale beauty.
We jumped on the bus back to the heart of Montreux, grabbed our stuff out of the storage lockers and boarded the train for our next destination: Lauterbrunnen and the Berner Oberland. More on that adventure in a few days when I post part 4.