Friday, 30 October 2009

Inspirations from Montreux

Although never having visited Montreux before, it was a place that I had long heard about. This was not through travel books or TV documentaries but through music. First it was through the lyrics of 70’s group ‘Deep Purple’ who sung about it in the rock anthem ‘Smoke on the Water’ and later through the countless jazz recordings from concerts at the famed Montreux Jazz Festival. It was a mysterious place of which I had no visual images in my head that I could draw upon. So when the train from Geneva pulled into the station, both Jules and I were amazed at the sheer beauty of the surrounding area.

We had arrived in autumn and the leaves had turned a brilliant range of shades from bright yellow to deep red, adding to a stunning vista looking out toward the lake and rugged snow capped mountains beyond. It was now the end of the tourist season and the town itself was somewhat quiet. The famed Jazz festival (one of the largest in the world) had come and gone for another year (July) and many of the hotels, including ours were relatively empty. Although I would have dearly loved to have attended the festival itself, in many ways this was possibly the best time to see the quiet side of Montreux; not only for the stunning leaves, but simply to enjoy the place much as locals do throughout the year. It is truly a beautiful place with crisp clean air and as you look around you can well understand why many notables such as Noel Coward, Dame Joan Sutherland and Freddie Mercury chose to make their home here. In fact, as we walked alongside the mirror-like lake, we come across a life size statue in tribute to the ‘Queen’ front man, posed in full performance mode, such was the regard they had for him in this picturesque town. Further along the lakefront is the famed convention centre with a small park that contains numerous tributes to the many jazz artists who have performed here since it began in 1967. The great Miles Davis played here no less than eight times, as did other legends such as Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, Dizzy Gillespie and Les McCann.

Back at the eastern end of the lake is one of the most picturesque castles that you could ever hope to see. Chillon Castle looks as if it’s an apparition directly out of a fairy tale. Jutting out from the shoreline and positioned almost in the lake itself, this 12th century chateau is quite something to behold, with its wonderful medieval spires of varying heights. Jules and I donned an ipod head set and spent ages just wandering around the labyrinth of rooms and passageways, learning about its fascinating history. The noted English poet Lord Byron had done a similar thing back in the early 1800’s and in the dungeon we found the pillar on which he had carved his name. The castle and indeed the dungeon itself would provide inspiration for one of his most celebrated works, ‘The Prisoner of Chillon’ (1816). During his travels around Lake Geneva, Byron was accompanied by the writer Mary Shelley who was likely to have also found inspiration here for her classic novel ‘Frankenstein’ (1818).

Like many others who have visited Montreux, we both felt that this was a very special place and could well understand how it had energized so many artists, musicians and writers. As we sat on a bench eating our Swiss ice-cream, there was little to be done than to just take it all in.

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