Trains, Boats and Wine Tasting in Lake Geneva’s Lavaux Region
My last day in Switzerland was a whirlwind.
It was one of train rides, a boat trip, boarding a boat that went nowhere, a drive through vineyards to wine tasting at a winery with a stunning view of Lake Geneva, slamming a couple of beers in Lausanne, getting back to Zurich for dinner and closing the night in one of my favorite Zurich bars listening to a guy from Bulgaria (Bulgaria!?) who looked and sounded like Rod Stewart.
I’ll save hiking the Alps for another day.
It’s amazing how much you can do in Switzerland in a day. The train system is fantastic – and on time – and the place is so compact you’re seldom more than two hours from anywhere. So it was hardly ambitious to wake up in Zurich and wind up there again, with a lot of activity packed in between on the other side of the country. I went from people speaking with that hard German accent to one where the first word said to me was “bonjour.”
Out of the train window, I caught glimpses of what awaited me – small wineries clinging to hills with vines that looked like they might slide into Lake Geneva – but once I got there it was even more exhilarating. And I would be arriving to this wonderful new world from a boat. What could be better?
But before that boat was a brief stop on another boat. This one didn’t move; it’s the temporary home of the Olympic Games Museum. The main museum is being expanded at the Olympic Committee’s impressive headquarters in Lausanne; with the 2012 London Games just a month away at the time of my visit, this was something I had to do while I had the opportunity. Read about it here.
The moving boat was right around the corner and what a cool way to get to a winery. It’s the CGN Cruise can be used for transportation like a ferry or for a sightseeing adventure. It has a nice restaurant in between the open decks of the bow and stern. The boat hugs the coast and makes a stop in something called Lutry. We were hardly disembarking in New York City; our stop was Cully. The trip took precisely 33 minutes.
Along the way, Lausanne’s landscape gave way to the small hills with the vineyards I had seen from the train.
I was with another journalist and we were met at the Cully dock with a representative from Tourism Lausanne. We hopped in her small SUV – the first time I had been in a vehicle in nearly a week in Switzerland – and she drove us through the village of Cully. It was so cute, I wanted to get out and hug it. It’s so small, I probably could have hugged it.
In seconds, we were driving up hills and around curves lined by old stone walls and surrounded by vineyards. Our destination was Domaine du Daley. Started in 1392 by monks, it’s the oldest winery in Switzerland. And, from my perspective, the most scenic. It has a deck on a plateau overlooking the vineyards, the towns of Cully and Lutry, and Lake Geneva. It was gorgeous.
It was slightly overcast and started to sprinkle. And it was still gorgeous! If it’s this beautiful on a somewhat cloudy day, I thought, how spectacular it must be when it’s clear and sunny. It must be stunning.
There are several small wineries here – you can read more about them and how to get to them here on PubClub.com – but we were the only people in the area. I’ve been to Napa Valley and Sonoma, two wine regions in California, and you can’t take a step without hitting a tour group. Here, we had to holler to locate our tour guide.
And out she came, a charming and beautiful girl, Romina. She’s of Italian descent but spoke with a French accent so thick we had to lean in and concentrate to understand what she was telling us. Although after the tour when she said “well, ready to taste some wine,” that can through loud and clear!
The wines here are terrific. We had the place to ourselves and I took my freely-poured samples over to an oak barrel overlooking the lake and soaked up the scene. The drizzle had stopped and the sun was beginning to present itself. It was a moment to savor every second. There’s a complete review of Domaine du Daly here in PubClub.com’s wine section.
Hesitantly, we left, back down those narrow, hilly and curvy roads. The simplicity of it all still sticks with me, and will for some time. We had lunch in Lutry across from Lake Geneva on the patio of Rue du Rivage. The waiter spoke only French and I was in Switzerland. That took some getting used to on my part.
I ordered a bottle of local wine, assuming the three of us would share it, but the other journalist, a music writer named Kevin Wierzbicki, switched over to beer (his preferred beverage and yes, we got along great), and our tour guide had plans later and wasn’t drinking.
So it was up to me to drink the entire bottle, and I was not going to leave one drop of it after the exhilarating experiences of earlier in the day. Kevin and I were then dropped off in downtown Lausanne and since he had spent the previous night there and I had never been and had an hour before my train left for Zurich, he offered to show me around town.
About all Kevin showed me was a bar – again, we got along great – and we had a beer. Then he ordered another. By now, time was getting tight, so I slammed the second one. That meant I had a few glasses of wine at Domain du Daley and an entire bottle at lunch and now two quickly-consumed beers.
After all that, you would think that I stumbled onto the train, but I would have preferred that to what I did when walking on it.
Somehow, I landed sideways off the platform and instead of stepping onto the little plank that comes out, my foot suddenly plunged through a little gap that I obviously didn’t know existed. I was practically touching the track, one leg wedged between the platform and the plank. Before I could ponder my fate, someone grabbed me under my arms and lifted me back up, leaving some of my skin on the plank as souvenir to the Swiss rail system.
Acting like a cat that just ran head-first into a sliding glass door but still wanting to maintain its cool, I said “well thank you,” and made my way up some stairs to a seat.
I lucked up and found a series of seats that were together like a couch. My lower leg was bleeding where the skin had scraped off and it also hurt, but some of the pain was masked by the alcohol. The alcohol was, as Homer Simpson would say, the cause of – and solution to – my problem.
I took out a napkin, placed it over the wound and laid down, using my backpack as a pillow. I slept for 3/4 of the trip.
By the time I arrived in Zurich two hours later I was limping but no longer bleeding. It was a gorgeous evening in Zurich, and I walked from the train station along the river to the hotel, which I estimated would take about 20 minutes. stopping frequently to take photos of people by the water.
That was until I looked at my watch and realized I had about five minutes to meet the Zurich Tourism person and two other journalists for dinner. I was still at least 10 minutes from the stately Ambassador, so I sprinted into the hotel, announced myself to the guide, ran upstairs to wash my wound and change shirts, then went to dinner.
There were for of us, our guide a male journalist from Russia (boring) and a lively Spanish female journalist. We were all part of a bigger press trip that earlier included visits to Basel (which I loved) and Winterthur.
After a fine Swiss meal and a single glass of wine at LaSalle, one of the Zurich’s finer restaurants, the lively Spanish journalist and I were not done. Salome Garcia and I got along so well on the trip we joked about getting married. (We were just joking, right Salome? If not, I’m still game, ha ha!) So I took her to the Splendid Bar, a splendid bar that features rotating musicians from all over the world singing rock ‘n roll covers from behind a piano.
On this night, “Rod Stewart” was on the keyboard. Salome and I had a couple of beers, met the manager and watched as the small crowd became bigger as midnight approached. Eventually, we decided to call it a night because we both had to fly out in the morning. But not before enjoying a walk along the river on a gorgeous night in Zurich.
What a day, and what a way to end a trip to Switzerland!