Spiez & the Thunersee: Alpine Magic Part 7

Posted on March 18, 2015 by Mickey

Welcome to the final part of Alpine Magic! In the last post, I went exploring Wengen during an amazing afternoon and evening, and then hiked to the top of the Mannlichen. In this final part of my 7 part Alpine Magic travel blog series, I visit Spiez and it’s wonderful castle on the beautiful Thunersee lake.

We had packed all our bags at Hotel Oberland in Lauterbrunnen where we had been staying, and jumped on the train out of Lauterbrunnen for Interlaken. Interlaken itself is a beautiful town that’s situated between the Thunersee and Lake Brienz, connected by the Aare river that flows between the two lakes. While I would have loved to have a day to explore Interlaken, all we had left was one afternoon before having to head back home to America, and we had chosen to spend it in Spiez. So we switched trains in Interlaken and sped off to Spiez.

Spiez, Switzerland

We arrived at the train station from Interlaken and were immediately floored by how beautiful the views were across the town and lake. Spiez is a beautiful little town to get lost in. Numerous vineyards and orchards dot the surrounding hillsides and it’s main attraction is the Schloss Spiez, or Spiez Castle. And it has a gorgeous harbor, nestled against the beautiful Thunersee! We were there on a day with perfect spring weather. There were dozens of sailboats out on the lake, kids playing football (soccer) on the lawn in front of the harbor and a lot of people just enjoying a beautiful day in an amazing Swiss town!

Our first order of business was lunch. We stopped at a place near the train station called Brasserie 66. I think I had a salad of some kind, but I honestly don’t even remember. What I do remember was the amazing view from the terrace of the restaurant towards the castle and lake. (Are you seeing a theme yet? This town had amazing views!) Once we had paid, we started our walk down to the castle. Before we got very far, I turned towards the west and saw a church standing tall among other buildings as seen in the photo below.

Spiez Church
Spiez ChurchPrints Available
A church on the hillside of Spiez, as seen from the train station

Like everywhere else in town, the walk down to the castle had gorgeous views all around. The next three photos show the views at various points on our walk down to the castle entrance.

Spiez Castle on Thunersee
Spiez Castle on ThunerseePrints Available
Panorama of Spiez castle, harbor and the Thunersee
Spiez Schloss
Spiez SchlossPrints Available
Spiez Schloss (German for castle) and it’s beautiful surroundings
Spiez Castle
Spiez CastlePrints Available
Spiez Castle with the Thunersee in the background

Schloss Spiez (Spiez Castle)

We walked by all sorts of people enjoying the amazing weather, especially as we got close to the lake. When we found the castle entrance, we were told our admission was free because of the Swiss Pass. Yet another reason the Swiss Pass was such a great deal for us! We were excited to begin exploring this castle!

The castle of Spiez was built in 933 by Rudolph II, King of Burgundy. Early on, it was settled by Freiherr von Strättligen, and has changed ownership and been passed down by many important families in the region. It has also undergone many renovations over it’s nearly 1,100 year lifespan. It went through major construction in the 13th centuries. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle became a residence to the von Bubenberg and von Erlach families.

In the late 1920’s, the Spiez Castle foundation purchased the castle and did some major restoration work. This included an armory with displays of many different weapons, armor and beautiful shields in displays. You can see one of the shield displays and a wall of various swords and weapons in the photos below.

Shields Display in Spiez Castle
Display of Shields
A display of shields in Spiez castle
Weapons Display in Spiez Castle
Display of Weapons
A display of weapons in Spiez castle

On the lower floors of the castle, lots of windows out onto the Spiez Harbor and towards the church show the beauty that surrounds this amazing castle. The first window below shows how thick the castle walls were closer to the ground floor. These walls were almost 10 feet thick, creating a great defensive barrier around the castle.

Spiez Castle Window
Window in Spiez Castle
A window to a view of the church in the castle
Spiez Castle Window
Another Spiez Castle Window
Another window in the castle at Spiez

Another beautiful room in the castle featured a library in a wood-paneled bookshelf with an old ceramic stove next to it. The castle was filled with beautiful and interesting treasures like these. The Spiez castle had a number of these ceramic stoves in some of the rooms throughout. I had read that these stoves were built into the walls in ways that kept the rooms cold during harsh winters without smoke pouring out into the rooms.

Spiez Castle Antiques
Antiques in Spiez Castle
Library of books and ceramic stove

The kitches of Spiez castle were set up in a way that made you visualize what life would have been like cooking centuries ago in a castle like this. Plaques were set up on the walls of the kitchen (and everywhere else in the castle) with really interesting information and facts about the room.

Spiez Castle Kitchens
Kitchen in Spiez Castle
A kitchen in the castle of Spiez

The most interesting room in the entire castle to me was the gorgeous banquet hall, which was built in 1614. It’s been renovated over the years with polished wooden floors, beautiful wooden doors and hand crafted antiques such as the hand-crafted wooden trunk and table and chairs. The room also has some beautifully created stained glass windows depicting various medieval themes along with various family portraits and an intricately designed ceiling. I shot multiple closed up images of this room from the corner and stitched them together in the photo below. This is one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken.

The Marble Room (Elegance)
The Marble Room (Elegance)Prints Available
The banquet hall in Spiez castle.

Wooden staircases like the one below took us up into the castle tower, where thin windows out over the Thunersee and back towards the town of Spiez would have been useful for defending the castle in times of turbulence and war. The views out over the church and Thunersee were beautiful, if a bit hazy by the time we reached the top of the tower on that day.

Spiez Castle Towers
In the Spiez Castle Tower
Climbing one of the towers of Spiez Castle

After we had fully explored the beautiful castle, we walked back out towards the castle church. We had hoped to also look inside it, but a wedding ceremony was taking place, so it was obviously off-limits. Pity, as it looked beautiful from the outside at least! We spent some time wandering the castle grounds and ran into a statue of Adrian von Bubenberg along with an interesting fountain, both of which can be viewed below.

Spiez Castle Statue
Spiez Castle Statue
A statute of Adrian von Bubenberg outside of Spiez castle
Spiez Castle Fountain
Spiez Castle Fountain
A fountain outside of Spiez castle

One of the best things about the castle was the perfectly manicured gardens and the views of the harbor to the south of the castle! The garden flowers were magnificant. I don’t know whether they are this well kept through the entire summer into the fall, but in late May, the colors of the various flowers in the garden were extremely vivid. The grass and trees around the place were as vivid green as any green I’ve ever seen. And the beautiful blue-green color of the Thunersee out across the lake and in the harbor of Spiez were also extremely colorful. We wandered around enjoying the views with the rest of the tourists. Some of the images below show just how beautiful the entire area is!

Spiez Harbor
Spiez HarborPrints Available
The harbor of Spiez from just outside of the castle
Spiez Gardens
Spiez GardensPrints Available
The perfectly manicured flowers of the Spiez castle gardens
Spiez Harbor View
Spiez Harbor ViewPrints Available
Enjoying the beautiful view of the harbor at Spiez from the gardens

After this amazing afternoon through Spiez and it’s castle, it’s safe to say this town on the southwest shore of the Thunersee is an amazing place! I know in the previous blog that I sung the praises of Chamonix, Montreux, Lauterbrunnen and especially Wengen as some of my favorite towns in the world, but Spiez adds to that list! It was a great day watching all the people having fun out near the harbor, out on the Thunersee on their sailboats, exploring the castle, or enjoying lunch while looking out over the lake and mountains in the background.

Our Swiss adventure was coming to an end at this point. We enjoyed the train ride back to Zurich in the late afternoon and evening, making it back to Zurich just after sunset. I had booked us into rooms at a hotel called Park Inn as it was fairly cheap and near the airport. Thankfully they also had a shuttle. What I didn’t know, was that it was themed after the famous fast food restaurant McDonald’s. (when writing this article, I’ve found that they’ve removed the McDonald’s theme from the hotel between the time we stayed there in 2009 and now) It was actually pretty interesting. It was a really clean hotel, with an elaborite and funky design, as you can see in the photo below.

Zurich McDonalds Themed Hotel
Zurich Park Inn Room
A room in the McDonald’s theme hotel in Zurich

Our night there went good. We managed to get a good night’s sleep knowing we had a long trip home to the USA. When we got to the airport, we had an hour or so to spare and so we did a little shopping at the grocery store across from the airport. As I hadn’t really gotten any souveniers to bring back for friends and family, I dropped a good 75 swiss francs on Swiss chocolate to haul back in a checked bag. There’s not much better than Swiss chocolate to give as a souvenier from Switzerland!

As our Alpine Magic adventure in the Swiss and French Alps ended, I thought back to how amazing it was. It’s been almost 6 years since I was in Switzerland, and I’ve longed to go back ever since! While I’d love to revisit some of my favorite places there, there were a number of places I missed out on in the short time I was there that I really would like to see!

Posted under: Switzerland

The Chateau de Chillon: Alpine Magic Part 3

Posted on March 9, 2015 by Mickey

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.

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.

Montreux and Lake Geneva
Montreux and Lake GenevaPrints Available
The view from one of the piers on the prominade from Montreux to Chillon

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.

Chateau de Chillon Courtyard
Inside Chateau de Chillon
Looking down upon the courtyards of Chillon castle.
Chateau de Chillon Tower
Chateau de Chillon Tower
One of the towers and sentry walks in the upper reaches of the castle.

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.

Chateau de Chillon Armory
Armory of Chateau de Chillon
Armor on display in Chateau de Chillon

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:

Chateau de Chillon Dungeon
Chateau de Chillon DungeonPrints Available
The famous dungeons of Chateau de Chillon
Chateau de Chillon Cellar
Chateau de Chillon CellarPrints Available
The wine cellar of Chateau de Chillon

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.

Storybook Chillon
Storybook ChillonPrints Available
Switzerland’s famous Chateau de Chillon castle

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.

Posted under: Switzerland

FWAPhoto of the Day

Posted on August 8, 2011 by Mickey

Elegance - The Marble Room

I just found out my photo, Elegance from the castle of Spiez, Switzerland just won fwaphoto.com’s photo of the day for August 3rd! I’m pretty excited about that as I’ve submitted a few photos into their system and now can finally say one of them passed with flying colors! You can check out the page for it by going to http://www.fwaphoto.com/#/2011-08-03/.

Posted under: News & Updates