The Retirees go Abroad – All aboard The Chocolate Train

The weather has been kind. Wednesday after an exciting day on the glacier we were treated to a lovely sunset over Lake Geneva. The promise of a fine day for tomorrow.

We enjoy the vineyard and know we will miss this place when it is time to go.

It’s an early start to shower have breakfast and get prepared to be in Montreux by 8.30 am even though Montreux is only 4 minutes by train from Villeneuve. We make the station ahead of time but this allows us to double check that we get the correct train. At Montruex we find the office of Golden Pass and collect our tickets. All aboard. The rain snakes its way out of Montreux giving spectacular views of the town and its lake.

As we travel along the countryside surprises us with its beauty and ruggedness. Photography is difficult because of the reflections in the windows.

Finally we reach Cailler. Cailler is a Swiss chocolate brand. It was founded by François-Louis Cailler in 1819 and bought by Nestlé in 1929 when the company fell on hard times during the Depression. The tour of the factory tells the story of cocoa how it was found by the Aztecs stolen by Cortez and introduced to Spain and then Europe. The Dominican order opposed it as sinful whilst the Franciscans approved of it for consumption even during Lent. By 1819 Louis Cailler had developed the chocolate block we know today and he made a fortune and a factory at Broc (where the tour is conducted) but he never exported. It was Nestle that had the international contacts hence the buyout in 1929. You won’t find Cailler in Australia which is a damned shame as it is beautiful chocolate.

After the history you go to a tasting room where through an audio guide you hear about the Nestle programme for helping indigenous women in Africa become self-sufficient and secure the resource (Coca beans) for Nestle. You hear about the nut growers and the Dairymen who are all part of the Cailler team and you get to taste the nuts and the chocolates – as much as you can eat provided you don’t try to leave with any uneaten.

After the gift shop we needed a cup of coffee/tea to wash away the taste of the chocolate. But the allure of the gift shop was hard to resist so we bought 3 bars of milk chocolate – we are pensioners and have to watch the pennies.

The tour finished and our taste for chocolate slaked we board a bus and travel to the villages of Gruyere. The village is most famous to us as the name of a type of cheese principally associated with fondue dining. But it started as the name of the village that was given to the local cheese. Dominated by its chateau the village is a reminder of the violent times of the past when it was necessary to have a fortified place to live and work. There are many remnants of this history apparent in the village. Apart from the modern entry there are a number of fortified gates around the village and two walls an outer and an inner wall before reaching the chateau.

The village church is remarkably large and well maintained but it also is surrounded by earlier fortifications

There are two museums in the village; a Tibetan museum and the HR Giger Museum. The Giger museum is a strange futuristic fantasy art museum and there is an adjoining café which takes its theme from the movie “Alien”. We had lunch there and even that was alien so far as Kerry was concerned

However the tour allowed us three hours at the village where two was plenty. After the village we returned to the bus and travelled literally down the hill to the cheese factory. Well after the Cailler tour the cheese factory was never in the hunt. We got the story of how cheese was made and stored and its different vintages plus the obligatory samples and gift shop but not as interesting or tasty as Cailler. Perhaps the most interesting was the cheese turning robot that spends its life going up and down the aisles of cheese rounds turning them over at the assigned time.

The tour has ended and it is time to board the train and head back to Montreux. Not a very vigorous day but tiring eating all that chocolate.

The Retirees go Abroad – Glacier 3000 at Mont Scex Rouge Switzerland

We awoke early to arrive at Col du Pillion for the first cable car at 9.00 am. The agent at the local tourism Office had suggested that Wednesday would be fine weather but this was outstanding – not a cloud in the sky and a predicted 26C.

Everything went to plan and we arrived just in time to share the first car with a tour bus of Indian or Pakistani tourists, a cross country skier and some grocery deliveries for the cafeteria on the mountain. We bought our tickets which was a bit of a shock as the cost was about 128€. And yes the car for the trip from Col du Pillion to the first base was big enough to hold more than a bus load and travel 1500m in 53 seconds.

So before we could get scared about the height of the climb or the sheer rock faces we were passing, we had arrived to take the second cable car another 1300m to the top of Mont Scex Rouge. Up there the hot spring day was forgotten and a below zero temperature was keeping the ice solid and the snow thick. We learned later that it had snowed over night with very strong winds. We could see the mountains opposite and the avalanche protection in the form of fences across the face of the mountains, we could see the suspension bridge and snow-capped peaks. Below we could see the verdant green valleys.

Gingerly we headed to the suspension bridge another 100 or so metres above us, A few more steps to climb but this time iced over with pools of melted ice water gathering in the morning sun. The bridge is made of metal suspended on four ropes and connecting with the adjacent peak roughly 180 metres away. At the end of the bridge is a large Tissot watch giving you the correct time but also the altitude. There is a viewing platform there covered in ice and snow but the view is spectacular including what I think is an old volcanic caldera now a lake surrounded by mountains.

After catching our breath and the views we gingerly crossed to the ski chair lift to descend to the glacier. The glacier is about an hour long at this point so we set off to walk to the Tour St. Martin and the café on the precipice. Buses ply the route for those not willing to walk and the snow dozers are preparing the snow for the weekend skiers – Yes we are coming into summer. About an hour into the walk we found it too hot to continue with jackets on. The Cable car station is now just a strange blimp on a white carpet stretching into the horizon. There are only two colours white and blue.

The tower appears close enough to touch but is still some 15 minutes away. We are starting to struggle in the fresh snow so it is with relief and excitement that we reach Tour St Martin and the end of the glacial ice. Here a café has been erected on the precipice looking almost 3000m straight down to the valley below. We stop at the café for barley soup and a hot chocolate and to soak up the atmosphere. We encounter a Swiss couple enjoying a wine which may have come from their vineyard in the valley below and chatter on not really knowing what we are talking about but loving it just the same. There are some Dutch and Korean couples and we all just embraced this special place. It was the waitress that told us about yesterday’s terrible weather and that the cloud was so low you could not see the Tour let alone Mont Blanc or the Matterhorn. She also explained that the hut is lined externally with metal to protect it against the wind blown debris which has left pock marks in the metal cladding.

We decide to head back and our return journey is much quicker. We also encounter our friend the cross country skier who passes and repasses us two or three times as we journey back to the Cable car base. As you would expect there is a gift shop and it includes a Tissot watch shop. Our friend at the Tourism office tells us that it is quite the fashion to buy your new watch at 3000m. We journey home and flop into bed exhausted by the walking and the sun. At about 7.30 pm we rise to get some dinner and have a glass or two watching the sun go down about 9.30 pm.

The Retirees go Abroad – Villeneuve Switzerland

The weather has improved but we are expecting rain tonight so we have put off going to the Glacier at Mont Scex Rouge to Wednesday and chosen to visit the La Vaux region and its vineyards this afternoon. A visit to Chantal at the tourist information office on Monday gave us all the information we needed about taking it easy enjoying our villa and seeing the important bits around the place.

We drove over to Chexbres a small village in the hills of the La Vaux region. We tracked along the lake through Montreux until climbing into the hills. On Friday we will walk back to Montreux to its casino with its Freddie Mercury Museum and past the Chateau de Chillon. Chexbres presented as a pleasant hilltop village with loads of charm but it was not in the vines so we moved onto Cully to catch the La Vaux Express through the vines. I am quite intrigued by the fountains appearing in all the villages particularly as we have filled up a number of times. Oh and I found some more lavender for Ron.

On the way to Cully we saw a number of interesting things about vineyards in the La Vaux: the steepness of the farms, the presence of the lake, and the way in which every space is used for vines and the various ways the farmers travel amongst the vines.

Cully is another village steeped in charm and it also benefits from the pier at which the Montreux paddle wheeler stops on its tour around the lake. It also celebrates liberation from Bern at the hands of Major Davel with everything from streets to Hotels named after him. Whilst we were there awaiting the Express we saw the Montreux docking.

Our tour on the Express started about 3.00pm. Our train took us on a journey through the streets of the villages and the vineyards that surround them.

By the time we returned to Cully we took the time to look more closely on the village, the fishermen on the pier, and the mermaid in the lake. On the way back to Villeneuve I was fascinated by the yellow awnings on the hotel at Montreux.

The Retirees go Abroad – Bregenz Austria to Villeneuve Switzerland

After leaving Bregenz we anxiously watched “Tommy” to pick up our trail in Switzerland as we had the maps for Switzerland. After some backward and forwards and after buying our Swiss vignette (the road tax sticker) we made it into Switzerland.

It is very much like Austria or Austria is very much like Switzerland I don’t know which. Even down to the onion domes on some of the churches. We decided we would break our trip and call into Lucerne to see a bridge. Kerry had read about ten famous walking bridges in the world to see (and no the Goodwill Bridge was not one of them) and amongst the bridges was Kapellbrucke in Lucerne.

The Kapellbrücke (literally, Chapel Bridge) is a covered wooden footbridge spanning diagonally across the Reuss River. The bridge is unique since it contains a number of interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, although many of them were destroyed along with most of the centuries-old bridge in a 1993 fire. Subsequently restored, the Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.

After a hot beverage in the form of a hot chocolate, we left Lucerne for Lausanne or at least a village outside of Lausanne or so we thought. When we arrived in Villeneuve we were struggling with where the hell was our accommodation. We seemed to be going into the vineyards and then low and behold we ended up at a Cave for Domaine du Scex du Chatelard. Is it possible that we were staying in a vineyard – YES! We were a little early so we went back to the village to poke around.

Christine met us at 3.00pm as arranged and we took possession of the villa – a studio really with a kitchen dining room overlooking our Greek themed patio under the peach tree looking at the vines and a bedroom/lounge room. Both rooms have large windows looking over the village. Then there is the bathroom. Obviously an afterthought, there is part of the rock wall behind the villa extruding into the bathroom. Perfect in every way. We even had our own Grotte. We are staying at Domaine du Scex du Chatelard. Our photos of the vines show what a delightful place it is.

We very quickly noticed that sky diving is an important past time in Villeneuve with multiple sky divers drifting towards earth at different times during the afternoon. They were so frequent we even forgot about them.

We walked down to the village to buy some groceries and found that not much was open. So we ended up at the Hotel du Soleil for dinner. The incumbents are of the oriental persuasion so it was soup and dim sims for dinner. Not much chop for the price.