Palm trees and Swiss Alps should not co-exist. This combination is something that should defy the realms of nature…but yet, there it was in dazzling green, blue and white splendor. Travel and Leisure lists the Chemin Fleuri as one of the world’s most scenic walks, and it only takes one glance to understand why. Glorious scenery, top-quality jazz and a relaxed atmosphere define the city of Montreux, Swizterland, and combine for a dazzling display at the captivating lakeside promenade that extends for 10km along the shore of Lake Geneva, from the old town of Vevey to the Château de Chillon in Montreux. The path is lined with palm trees, exotic flora and fauna, and fascinating sculptures (sometimes bordering on bizarre), while breathtaking views extend across the lake to the Alps and into Savoy.
I hopped off the train in Montreux, just 1.5 hours from Geneva, and headed down to the water. I decided to first jog left, towards Château de Chillon, and then double back to explore the rest of the path to Vevey. Almost immediately, I was stunned by the beauty of the brilliant flower gardens, flashing every color of the rainbow, set against the sparkling blue lake and snow-capped mountains. After a minute I was able to pull myself out of my daze and continued to hike on, hoping the rest of the path would live up to this stunning introduction. It took me a long time to make it the 4km to the Chateau because I was compelled to stop every few seconds to take admire and photograph the tremendous views in hope of taking a little bit of the beauty home with me.
The oval-shaped 13th-century fortress, a jewel at the edge of the lake, is a maze of courtyards, towers and halls, with its own beach and wine cellar. It became famous after Lord Byron wrote the poem The Prisoner of Chillon following a visit to the castle in 1816 ( The excerpt below captures the view nicely). The castle’s silhouette has since been immortalised on canvas by Painters William Turner and Gustave Courbet, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexandre Dumas and Mary Shelley have all written about it.
“And o’er it blew the mountain breeze,
A small green isle, it seem’d no more,
Scarce broader than my dungeon floor,
But in it there were three tall trees,
And by it there were waters flowing,
And on it there were young flowers growing,
The fish swam by the castle wall,
And they seem’d joyous each and all;
The eagle rode the rising blast,
Methought he never flew so fast
As then to me he seem’d to fly;
And then new tears came in my eye,
And I felt troubled—and would fain
I had not left my recent chain;
And when I did descend again,
The darkness of my dim abode
Fell on me as a heavy load;
It was as is a new-dug grave,
Closing o’er one we sought to save,—
And yet my glance, too much opprest,
Had almost need of such a rest.”
After admiring the fortress I began to retrace my steps, continuing past Montreux and on down the 10km trek back to Vevey, where I would catch my train home. I found myself in a constant state of wonder as I walked the path – how could the world possibly be this beautiful? The sights were breathtaking throughout the entire 3 hour journey, passing from grass sculptures to bright green parks full of blissful sun bathers, frisbee and table tennis players, to inlets full of bobbing boats in after a day of sailing, all with gorgeous flower arrangements strung in between like colorful beads on a necklace around the lake. At one point I passed a sculpture of Charlie Chaplin, who apparently lived near Vevey for 25 years, until his death when he was laid to rest in a nearby cemetery with his wife Lady Oona Chaplin.
As I approached Vevey, the path transitioned from flowers to a line of stubby trees that hadn’t quite sprouted this year’s set of leaves. Part way through the trees, just before the old town center, I noticed a large fork sticking up out of the water against the clear blue sky – a marker for a local art museum and a perfect summary of this incredible hike – somehow beautiful, strange, and full of wonder. Shaking my head in disbelief of this amazing country, I wound my way through the cobblestone streets of the ancient downtown to the train station, and jumped on the short train back to Geneva.