Montreux is the yin to Geneva’s yang. The two Swiss cities bookend Lake Geneva, a crescent-shaped body of water bordering Switzerland and France. Geneva is all go-go-go, wrapped up in the fast-paced world of finance, diplomatic relations and international organizations like the Red Cross and the United Nations.
But Montreux – just a short train ride away – is the yin: think passion, nighttime, slow and sultry. And at no time does Montreux show its true colours like during the annual Montreux Jazz Festival.
Jazz Festival 101:
The 45th Montreux Jazz Festival runs July 1-16, 2011. All the info is at www.montreuxjazz.com.
This top-drawer jazz event was founded by Claude Nobs in 1967 and has featured all of the jazz greats from Miles Davis to Ray Charles to . . . well, the list is very long.
Over the decades, a wide range of music styles have been incorporated into the festival, although jazz is still at its heart and historic core.
In 2011, there are 12 venues, of which 10 are free. The 16-day festival features over 1,000 musicians and 1,000 hours of music – but you won’t get it all to yourself. They’re expecting 229,999 other visitors.
The 2011 blockbuster line-up includes performances by Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Paul Simon, George Benson, Dr. John, Ricky Martin, Sting, Quincy Jones and Deep Purple.
The Fairmont Le Montreux Palace is a Belle Époque gem right in the heart of the Jazz Festival action. Every year, world-renowned artists stay at the five-star property (stop by for a nightcap at the hotel’s Lobby Lounge Bar or Harry’s New York Bar and you might find yourself sharing the pretzel bowl with Carlos Santana or Eric Clapton).
The three rooftop, panorama suites on the seventh floor (known fondly as the Jazz Floor) are named after the festival founder Claude Nobs, singer Freddie Mercury and musician and producer Quincy Jones. Your chance of booking the luxurious 1,180 square foot Quincy Jones Suite during the Festival: zero (the big guy stays there himself every year).
The hotel has another 235 recently renovated rooms and suites decorated in one of two styles: traditional colours and fabrics with an air of the period of the early 1900s, and contemporary with clean lines and subtle, muted color schemes. They’re a good bet at any time of the year.
The Jazz Festival is obviously the event to attend. Besides the venues that are hopping with music, Montreux lays claim to many great moments in musical history.
The late Freddie Mercury – the iconic rock singer and songwriter behind the band Queen – kept a second home in Montreux. In the town’s main square, along the beautiful lakeside walkway, is a statue of Mercury facing Lake Geneva. Every September, fans and bands from around the world gather at the statue to pay tribute to the singer on Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day. This year the singer would have been 65 years of age.
Smoke on the Water, an anthemic rock riff made famous by the English band Deep Purple retells the unfortunate events of 1971, when an exuberant Frank Zappa fan with a flare gun set the Montreux Casino on fire, burning it to the ground. In 2004, Smoke on the Water was ranked number 426 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Songs. They’ve rebuilt the casino, should the urge strike to try your luck.
But if you need a break from the hub of the music, the medieval Château de Chillon, on the eastern edge of town, is the jewel of the Swiss Riviera and one of the country’s most popular historic sites. The castle was built in stages (dating back to the 11th century) – surrounded by thick stone walls it has been a home to the Dukes of Savoy, a fortress under the Bernese rule, and a dank and dark prison. Poet Lord Byron cemented the Château’s place on the literary map when he penned his famous narrative, The Prisoner of Chillon, detailing the sufferings of the monk François Bonivard, a political captive held in the semi-darkness of the castle dungeon. Not such a good time for Bonivard, but a great tour for visitors these days. www.chillon.ch
Trip planning information? Try www.myswitzerland.com
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Josephine Matyas is an award-winning freelance writer with a jonesing for travel, and a passion for the outdoors, food and photography. Her modus operandi is to quickly toss the map out the window once she hits the road.
Located: Kingston Canada
Likes: almost anything outdoors, ecotourism, food and music, history, heritage and culture