It would be hard to find a more inherently relaxing couple of hours in Switzerland than sitting in a Belle Époque paddle-steamer, surrounded by polished wood and brass, which is in turn surrounded by sparkling water and mountains. Slow travel at its best.
There is one place in landlocked Switzerland where you can almost feel as if you are beside open water: on the northern shore of Lake Geneva, the largest lake in the Alps. An azure expanse sprinkled with golden sunlight stretches as far as the eye can see, while rocky peaks tower over the opposite shoreline, which is actually French not Swiss. In fact the lake is so large, you cannot take one boat from end to end but have to disembark and change at some point. That merely means you can explore places along the shore. Such a hardship.
The grand scenic tour from Geneva takes nine hours by paddle-steamer, but you don’t have to do the whole journey to appreciate the lake. Why not simply glide to Lausanne to discover the hilly cathedral city, or hop over to Evian in France for its colourful market and eponymous water?
Interior of the La Suisse (Geneva to Lausanne) © CGN
Perhaps the prettiest part of the lake is the eastern end, from Lausanne to Montreux, where the lakeshore is designated a Unesco World Heritage site for one special reason: its vineyard.
Switzerland may not be as famous as its neighbours for its wines (and I’m excluding Austria from that sentence), but these south-facing slopes are one giant vineyard, known as the Lavaux, dating back to the 11th century. Every possible square inch seems to support a vine so that villages appear to be afterthoughts, hemmed in on all sides by cascading terraces of plants. It’s the perfect backdrop to a boat trip out to Chateau de Chillon, Switzerland’s grandest castle, situated at the head of the lake.
For more information and timetable see: www.cgn.ch