Montreux, home to a famous jazz festival in the summer, lies in the canton of Vaud (YES! another canton!) around the lake from Geneva. The hour-long train ride gave us enough time to eat our sandwiches and look at these snow-covered vineyards which go on and on for kilometers, extending up from the lake.
Tourists come to this little resort town on the Swiss Riviera for relaxing, jazz, and to see the Château de Chillon, which, according to Rick Steves is Switzerland’s Best Castle Experience. He may be right, although if you like a castle in ruins in a rugged landscape with no one else around, you should look elsewhere as the Two Small Potatoes have. I can see the appeal of various castle experiences, so why would one have to choose?
Entrance fee at 12.50 CHF is beginning to seem cheap to us. Perhaps we are acclimating to this country, but, actually, I think it IS a good price for a full two hours of exploring (and nice, warm bathrooms). We skipped the audio tour and relied on the written one in the Rick Steves book, but there are plenty of explanatory signs in English (French and German) in most of the rooms, so I got plenty of history and explanation along the way.
I may not remember all the historical details of this castle (which started as a Roman outpost, surprise!), but basically, there were three periods of occupation: The Savoy Period from at least 1005 and home to the Counts of Savoy, the Bernese (German speaking people) from 1536-1798, and the Vaudois Period (back to French). It now belongs to the canton of Vaud and continues to be restored.
This castle sits on a rugged rocky island that juts just barely into Lake Geneva, and it’s the first castle I have ever seen that has water in its moat.
We went through courtyards, the cellar (and dungeon), bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, up into the keep for a cloudy view, up and down stairs and wishing there were fires in the massive fireplaces. We oohed and ahhed at the furniture, the murals, the weaponry, the various hardware on the doors, the secret passageways, and the water fountains.
Lord Byron, after visiting Chillon, was taken with the story of the prisoner, Bonivard, who was chained to a pillar in the cellar for six years before the Bernese stormed the castle and released him. He wrote The Sonnet of Chillon and The Prisoner of Chillon. You can see where Byron carved his name in the pillar.
While we were there, we saw a room that we could not enter with a fire roaring in the fireplace, and the table set with party favors. The sign on the door said not to disturb the prince(ss) that was celebrating his/her birthday. What a cool party idea!
The room that creeped me out a bit was also in the cellar. No one else was there, but all of a sudden we saw moving shadows of several people. Turns out they were projected on the wall, oh, so silently.
We agreed that this was a Swiss highlight, and that it would probably be better with a sunny day, although the number of tourists would probably be much higher. We did enjoy the relative quiet of our tour.