Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Letter from Europe

  • — Issue 2016/32 posted by hidden europe on

If you've eaten too much over the holidays and fancy some exercise, why not join us on a walk around Lake Geneva. Let's focus on the Montreux Riviera, which sweeps softly around the north-east part of the lake. It is densely settled with communities like Vevey, Clarens and Montreux all nudging up against one another.

article summary —

Dear fellow travellers

Grab your coat and come along with us. We're off on the trail of a few celebs today. Come now, we hear you say, that's not the normal hidden europe style. We don't normally chase celebrities. But cast back to early this month, when we recalled the 200th anniversary of the publication of Lord Byron's poem The Prisoner of Chillon. Byron is just one of dozens of writers, artists, poets and composers who have been drawn to the shores of Lake Geneva.

So, if you've eaten too much over the holidays and fancy some exercise, why not join us on a walk around the lake. Let's focus on the Montreux Riviera, which sweeps softly around the north-east part of Lake Geneva. It is densely settled, to be sure, with communities like Vevey, Clarens and Montreux all nudging up against one another. But, in clear weather like today, there are glorious views across the lake to the Alps away to the south.

Within the compass of a few hours, it's possible to walk through places associated with more than a score of key figures in three centuries of European art, literature and philosophy. We'll follow just part of a route which runs in total to 24 kilometres, showcasing the creative work of men and women of ten different nationalities.

Early in our walk, we'll see where Graham Greene and Charlie Chaplin lived and then drop down to the lakeshore to catch a glimpse of the Petite Maison Corseaux which the Swiss architect Le Corbusier designed for his parents in 1924. It's a modest building which nicely exemplifies many of the architectural principles cherished by le Corbusier.

Moving on into Vevey, we'll see places associated with Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Victor Hugo. Don't worry if you cannot remember all the names, because the great thing about this walk is that all along the route there are benches which talk to you. Yes, you can sit in the sunshine, enjoy the view and listen to a potted biography of a famous writer or artist associated with that particular stretch of the route. There is also a downloadable app and a website dedicated to this fine literary ramble.

Continuing around the lake to Clarens, we'll hear about Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Leo Tolstoy and Igor Stravinsky, but the benches are silent on other famous Clarens residents: the anarchist writer Peter Kropotkin and the radical geographer Elisée Réclus. The two men worked together for a spell in Clarens.

Soon we are in Montreux, described by Vladimir Nabokov as "a rosy place for riparian exile." Nabokov should know; he spent the last 16 years of his life living in considerable comfort in the Montreux Palace Hotel. Another former Montreux resident is Swiss writer Johanna Spyri who wrote Heidi, an outstanding piece of children's literature. Now let's cut down and see where Freddie Mercury lived before going up to the hill to pay homage in Glion at the place where Rainer Maria Rilke died.

Nabokov often liked to describe himself, despite his Russian roots, as being "as American as apple pie." It's a description that fits another Montreux regular, namely F Scott Fitzgerald. But time flies and we must leave you to wander on your own. Watch out for those talking benches, and along the trail you'll learn more about Byron and Hans Christian Andersen.

Thanks for joining us. We wish all our readers a very Happy New Year!

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

This article was published in Letter from Europe.

About The Authors

hidden europe

and Susanne Kries manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers. They delight in discovering the exotic in the everyday.