08 Jun 2009

Once home to Charlie Chaplin and the birthplace of milk chocolate... What a delicious destination!

When it comes to Switzerland there are three things everyone knows about the country – it’s got great skiing (Gstaad and Klosters are just some of the A-list-saturated slopes nearby), it’s famous for its chocolate and there are some very pretty lakes.

So, where better to head to when visiting Switzerland than the town of Vevey? Not only is the picturesque medieval town nestled on the north shores of Lake Geneva with amazing views across the water of the Swiss-French Alps, it’s only 45 minutes drive away from some of the country’s best skiing and more importantly, it’s the home of chocolate... literally!*

And when it comes to staying in Vevey, the most romantic lakeside location is the Grand Hotel Du Lac. Not only is the boutique hotel the inspiration behind Anita Brookner’s prize-winning book Hotel Du Lac – which is no surprise considering the hotel has a glamorous history dating back 140 years and is one of Switzerland’s most exclusive hotels.

With awe-inspiring views over Lake Geneva towards the Swiss-French Alps, the hotel boasts an exclusive Bellefontaine Spa. However know that you will be getting a free facial every morning, as you open your bedroom window and take a deep gulp of crystal clear fresh air that has blown straight across the waters from Evian. Amazing.

Spend your long lazy summer afternoons on the hotel’s glamorous terrace either watching people stroll around the lake, reading what Ms Brookner had to say about the hotel or celeb-spotting your fellow guests – Christopher Lee has been to the hotel and it’s where Shania Twain escaped to when she split up with her husband.

And when the time comes to leave the opulence of the hotel, a gentle stroll along the lapping shores of Lake Geneva later and you’re in the heart of the medieval town – head there on Tuesdays and Saturday for market days, especially at the end of August for the Marches Folkloriques. Here, visitors buy a wine glass and spend the day tasting the grape while listening to brass bands and watching folk dancing. Or if that sounds like too much excitement, simply enjoy a stroll through the narrow streets filled with little boutiques and (naturally) an abundance of chocolate shops.

There are also several museums and galleries to visit – including The Alimentarium Museum which was opened in 1985 and covers the history of food from canning to packing to eating to cooking. Sounds like a strange topic for a museum, but it’s honestly fascinating. Another favourite Vevey pastime is to look out for signs of Vevey’s famous residents, including Victor Hugo, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Graham Green and of course, Charlie Chaplin who made Vevey his home when he was chucked out of the US.

So why did Charlie choose Vevey and Switzerland to end his days (especially when France and Italy are right next door)? Maybe it was something to do with the fresh mountain air and relaxed atmosphere or the glamour and history or, lets face it... it was probably the mountains of chocolate. Whatever the reason, we don’t blame him!

*In 1887, Daniel Peter created the first choccie bar in Vevey and the rest, they say, is history. Vevey is also the headquarters for Nestle which started
in the town in 1867.

While you’re there...

Explore the lavaux vineyards
Switzerland has some of the most amazing wines – but sadly no one knows about it as the country drinks what it produces – so make sure you take a tour of the Lavaux wine region. Built 800 years ago by monks, the 10,000 terraces of vineyards spanning over 830 hectares have been named a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as home to the grape growing region.

Dine at Denis Martin
Switzerland’s most talked-about chef, Denis Martin is the country’s answer to the UK’s Heston Blumenthal, and his two-starred Michelin restaurant in Vevey is a must-visit for food lovers. His molecular cuisine is a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience – think liquid nitrogen and 27 courses – but make sure you book in advance as the waiting list is understandably long!

Head to the heights
Hop onboard a vintage paddle steamer from the quayside in Vevey and head to Montreux, home to the famous Jazz Festival in July (if you’re a fan of Dave Matthews, Lily Allen, Black Eyed Peas and Jeff Beck then get there for July 3 when the festival starts). From there, take the quaint cog railway up to the top of Mont Rochers-de-Naye for amazing views across Lake Geneva and beyond, before heading back to town for a tour around Chateau de Chillon – one of Switzerland’s most romantic lake castles.