On my way from France to Italy, I decided to take a shortcut through Switzerland via Lake Geneva, or Lac Leman as it is locally known. It is early evening when I finally set eyes on the lake and the high mountains on the southern French side are barely discernible in the heat haze. Pully Port provides safe haven for the night where I watch the sun set in the direction of Geneva.
It’s a 2km walk along the lakeside footpath to the main port of Lausanne, Ouchy. From here, numerous ferries depart for Geneva, Montreux and Evian in France. However, the best way to cruise the lake is on one of the Belle Epoque steamboats. Eight boats were commissioned by CGN between 1904 and 1927. All were originally powered by a steam engine but several were converted to diesel electric propulsion in the 1950s, only to be reconverted in recent or planned renovations.
Currently, M/S Helvetie is docked in front of the Olympic Museum and is being used for a free temporary exhibition about the presence of the Olympic Committee in Lausanne. It’s an opportunity to see one of these wonderful boats without having to pay for the pleasure. The interior décor is plush, especially in the first class lounge, but it’s hard to imagine how she would really have looked nearly 90 years ago with the absence of any seating.
An hour’s drive along the lake, just beyond the town of Montreux, is Chateau Chillon, an island castle and former prison. Lord Byron added to its notoriety with his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon” and left a souvenir of his own visit by carving his name onto a pillar in the dungeon. Several coaches are already parked along the roadside and the steamer “La Suisse” arrives just after I do, disgorging even more tourists. I decide that viewing the chateau from the outside is enough and continue my journey into the Rhone Valley and the mountain pass which will take me to Italy.
There are two options to reach Italy from Brig. The faster but more expensive and less interesting of the two is to take the vehicle train through a tunnel carved beneath the mountains. As the sun is still shining, I prefer to take the more adventurous option and climb up to the Simplon Pass. It’s a slow crawl behind large lorries, over high viaducts and through winding, concrete-covered road sections. However, when I finally reach the top it is all worthwhile. The sun glints off the snow covered peaks and the sound of cowbells can be heard in the distance. A giant stone eagle looks down on the passing traffic and the pink circular Simplon Pass Café serves as a beacon for weary drivers.
I spend the night behind a large hotel which has closed for the winter and the next morning, the previously glorious scenery has disappeared behind the low cloud and mist.