Luxury Watches, The Hadron Collider & a bit of Chocolate.
On this trip to beautiful Switzerland I realise I know nearly nothing about science, discover probably the most influential silent film star in the world had eight children and that there is more to this country than chocolate and birds that pop out of wooden boxes.
If you thought Switzerland was all mountains, cuckoo clocks and chocolate you’d be far off the mark. Switzerland is a versatile and varied country and yes they are there are plenty of clocks, chocs and views to die for but as I discovered on my recent trip it offers so much more.
My train from Geneva sweeps north, hugging Lake Geneva then following its contour heads east past Lausanne and on to Vevey. Charlie Chaplin made it his home from 1952 until the end of his life in 1977. Ever since the emergence of Vevey as a fashionable resort in c19th it has been attracting the rich and famous, Hemingway loved it, as did Noel Coward and Dostoyevsky, Graham Green is buried there, you get the picture.
The train is to Switzerland as the car is to American: the go to form of transport. It works so well, like clockwork really. Spring is a wonderful time to visit. My train journey allowed me to watch Switzerland waking up, flowers blooming, lush green fields, scarecrow vineyards and the lake a deep blue but there was still a smattering of snow of those famous mountain tops.
My hotel, The Modern Times was new, very modern and slick with among others things both chilled still and sparkling water available on tap on all the landings. It sits above the town but a neat silent train connects you in about seven minutes. The edge of the lake is really peaceful and calm, (like the Swiss) the town, traditional.
The hotel is, as you’d imagine, homage to Chaplin, with silent movie clips playing in reception and an art installation tribute it doesn’t overdue it but recognises his importance to the region. The food is good in the open smart restaurant with lovely staff and perfect samples of local wines (Pinot Noir was my favourite).
Charlie Chaplin was a victim of the McCarthy era America and the House of Un-American Activities Committee and was subsequently denied re-entry to the States despite having made the country his home for 40 years he chose to settle in Switzerland, the States loss and Europe’s gain. The Manor House in Vevey where he lived with his wife and eight children has now been restored and transformed into Chaplin’s World museum with a replication of his studio days in the extensive grounds.
Behind the clown there was a scriptwriter, actor, and producer and director who came from an extremely impoverished background. The house has been preserved, as it was when he lived there with lots of interactive screens and clips from his films and personal mementoes. The studio concentrates on his professional life and again is full of interesting props, costumes and sets. It’s a rewarding experience to discover so much about somebody so famous but who was ultimately a shy man.
This is an excellent museum for the aficionado as well as the novice offing an insight into his world with lots of home movies showing his natural comedic tendencies and a caring family man. At the start of the studio tour there is a 10 minute film about Chaplin, which in itself is a great reminder of what an influence he was on modern filmmaking and comedy through film. This is a must see museum which informs and entertains in equal measure. There’s even a smart phone app to help you explore the exhibits in greater depth.
If you fancied something sweet that Switzerland is famous for then you can’t go wrong with a visit to Läderach’s chocolate experience in Vevey. They run chocolate workshops, chocolate-tasting sessions and they even make pairs of Charlie Chaplin’s boots from the film ‘Goldrush’, in chocolate of course! And dare I mention the international headquarters for Nestlé is also in Vevey, they also run chocolate tours.
I moved onto the Royal Savoy Hotel in Lausanne for a spot of absolute 5* luxury. This is a palace of dreams. Exquisitely decorated throughout in plush grey and neutral tones. I had strawberries and macarons on long sticks waiting for me in my room when I checked in. My room had a state of the art lighting system and an iPad to control everything including room service. The Signature chef Marc Haeberlin cooks a mean meal too.
The official Olympic museum is to be found in Lausanne looking out over Lake Geneva as well as a lovely gallery Des L’ysee next door that had a an exhibition of Swiss Magnum photographer Werner Bischof ‘s work. Covering late 1930’s until 1954 when he died his moving pictures are of the old photojournalism school. These intimate studies of rural life in Italy a priceless record of times past. His work in Indo China and India are reminiscent of Robert Capa and Cartier Bresson, it’s no wonder he joined Magnum.
It’s hard to visit Switzerland and not be reminded at some time or another of how they make world-class timepieces. I wandered around the Phillip Patek Watch Museum in Geneva. It was like walking around the world’s most expensive jewelry shop. Gold, silver and platinum everywhere, the creativity and level of detail is astounding. The company started in 1839 and the displays illustrate their progress and development in watch making. A warning though, they are very strict on no photography (they have plenty of security guards patrolling and on the lookout) it’s a must for any horologist. Queen Victoria put the company on the map when she bought a watch for Prince Albert in 1851 at the World’s Fair, they’ve never looked back since.
Switzerland may be known for its traditions but there is new burgeoning art scene in the Des Bains area, previously full of warehouses now the galleries are moving in; Mamco is here and so are the baristas in the upsurge of trendy coffee shops. I checked out Birdie, a tiny place with seductive cakes, enigmatic youngsters hanging out and super good coffee, basically as cool as it gets. Bastion Frison has created a hipster central vibe with killer coffee and pastries – don’t make the mistake of not going, soon everyone will be talking about this place.
Geneva sits on the eponymous lake right on the tip of Switzerland, it once was French but now acts as a sort of ‘entry zone’ to Switzerland for the rest of us. It’s French speaking and very walkable, it has 100km border with France but only 4km with Switzerland. Along the lakeside (where you can take a boat for a short hop on your train pass to the other side) you’ll find restaurants and bars peppering the coastline. You can see sitting up on the side of the mountain Diodati Villa, where Mary Shelley wrote the beginnings of Frankenstein.
Geneva is also home to a few other notable institutions, the Calvin museum is there with an impressive awray of artifacts and the only known portrait of Calvin drawn from real life by one of his students. The Red Cross Headquarters is also there with a superb and provocative museum outlining their work done over the years. The UN have a strong presence as well with an impressive building and 25 hectares of gardens all of their own.
The other real big name in town is of course CERN home to the Hadron Collider amongst other things. Straddling France and Switzerland with much of the ‘business’ end of things underground it is a vast establishment. Founded in 1955 it is a collective of 21 member states all working together (and sharing information with the world) in the pursuit of greater understanding of science. 11,550 practicing scientists use the facility that is manned by 2,500 staff. It’s here that they prove E=MC2 and where the world wide web was conceived by Tim Berners-Lee to share information to the scientific community back in 1989. I won’t begin to try to explain everything they do there (my guide was excellent and made me feel as if I fully understood everything when I was there but it just seemed to fade the moment I left the building) But needless to say they have lots of firsts and I’m told the world’s biggest machine at 27km in circumference.
Switzerland offers so much for so many. In just a few days I discovered how little I really knew about science, provoked an interest in one of the world’s finest entertainers, experienced watch envy of the highest marque, travelled across beautiful scenery and ate some delectable chocolate shoes and I didn’t mention skiing once!
For more information on Switzerland visit www.MySwitzerland.com or call our Switzerland Travel Centre on the International freephone 00800 100 200 30 or e-mail, for information firstname.lastname@example.org; for packages, trains and air tickets email@example.com.
Swiss International Air Lines
UK to Zurich:
SWISS offers up to 115 weekly flights from London Heathrow, London City, Birmingham and Manchester to Zurich. Our fares include all airport taxes: one-piece hold luggage and free ski carriage (excluding Economy Light fare). Fares start from £71* one-way (Economy Light fare) and from £86* one-way (Economy Classic fare) (*Please note this is a leading fare and is subject to change, availability and may not be available on all flights. Terms and conditions apply.) For reservations call 0345 990 9161 or visit: www.swiss.com
UK & Ireland to Switzerland:
SWISS operates more than 180 flights to Switzerland from London Heathrow, London City, London Gatwick (seasonal during winter), Birmingham, Manchester and Dublin from as little as £38 one-way* (Economy Light Fare only includes hand luggage). The all-inclusive fares start from £54 one-way*, including all airport taxes, one piece hold luggage and free ski carriage.
(*Please note this is a leading fare and is subject to change, availability and may not be available on all flights. Terms and conditions apply.) For reservations call 0345 990 9161 or visit: www.swiss.com.
By road, rail and waterway throughout Switzerland: The Swiss Travel System provides a dedicated range of travel passes and tickets exclusively for visitors from abroad. The Swiss Transfer Ticket covers a round-trip between the airport/Swiss border and your destination. Prices are £99 in 2nd class and £160 in 1st class.
For the ultimate Swiss rail specialist call Switzerland Travel Centre on 00800 100 200 30 or visit www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk