Sunday, October 28, 2012

Montreaux, Switzerland -September 9 and 10, 2012

Fountain - Lake Geneva
 It takes approximately three hours to travel from Zermatt to Montreaux; with a transfer in Brig. Zermatt was German Swiss. Montreaux is French Swiss. The difference between the two places is palatable.

I thought I could walk to my hotel.  I'm wrong. Tourist office staff tell me I should take a cab because it is a steep uphill walk. I take their advice, and I'm glad for it.

Walkway - Lake Geneva
I'm early; my room at the Tralala Hotel is not quite ready. I'm offered a glass of wine and within about five minutes I'm told I can go to my room. Glad to be relieved of my suitcase, I leave the hotel to venture down to beautiful Lake Geneva. I hang loose over an expensive lunch in a first-class restaurant that overlooks the lake. Tomorrow, I'm off to see Chateau Chillon.

September 10, 2012

The day stretches out before me and I take my time. Instead of heading immediately to the lake, I wander streets that will guide me through the center of Montreaux. After a breakfast that lacks substances, coffee and pastry is all that is available, a French breakfast is similar to that of an Italian, and I cannot find the simple, yet hardy, breakfasts offered in Zermatt.

Chateau Chillon - Lake Geneva
I walk for what seems like miles and still no sign of the castle. The manicured gardens that border the lake are so classy, charming, and French that my wanderings are not aggravating, but pleasurable. Eventually, I ask and learn I have been walking for a long time in the opposite direction of the castle.

I turn around and continue to walk. I do not want to run out of camera battery power. Finding a store that sells batteries proves a challenge. I ask around, batteries are not sold in hotel gift shops or in pharmacies. People working in these places explain I need to go to the commercial center. Eventually I discover that what they call a commercial center, I call a shopping center. In the shopping center I need to find a camera shop. (My camera does not need specialized batteries; regular AA is all that is required.) With a sufficient supply of batteries, I return to the lake and continue my walk. This time I head in the direction of the castle.

This castle is very different than Malaspina castle. It does not sit on top a mountain, but is situated on a rock rising out of Lake Geneva. It is somehow less imposing, friendlier. The cone shaped roofs of the chateau add fairytale elegance, a famous place, occupied since the Bronze Age.

From the 12th Century until 1536 Chillon was in the hands of the Savoy family.  The Savoys conquered most of the area that is now French speaking Switzerland. They controlled major trade routes linking Italy to northwestern Europe. In 1214, Thomas 1 of Savoy founded Villeneuve, two kilometers from Chillon. There he constructed a tollbooth and warehouses, and Chillon became an important governing center.

Since the Savoys governed such an expansive region, in order to maintain control, it was necessary to travel among castles within their territory, occasionally staying at Chillon. However, because of Chillon's strategic position a castellan (governor of the castle) maintained permanent residence. By the end of the 15th Century, until the Bernese conquered the area, the castle was generally neglected because the Savoys preferred other locations.

In 1536 the Swiss, more accurately the Bernese, occupied Chillon. For over 260 years it maintained is position as fortress, arsenal and prison.

In 1798 the Bernese left the castle and in 1803 it became the property of the Canton of Vaud, which was founded that same year. In the 1800s, Romantic intellectuals rediscovered the middle ages. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote La Nouvelle Heloise in Chillon. Chillon also inspired Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo. However, it was Lord Byron's poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, that above all other writings brought tourists by the thousands to see the castle.

Although tourists flocked, the Vaud government paid no heed, and altered the castle to make it better suited for the storage of war weapons. However, eventually, at some point near the end of the 19th Century, the castle officially became a tourist attraction.

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